That Times of London article on American military morale brought back more than a few memories of my own deployment with the 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. Honestly, I can’t say that I was surprised by any of the comments reported in the Times piece. A few things to note:
First, it looks as if many of these comments were made immediately (or shortly) after the death of friends and comrades. This was always the absolute lowest point for any of us (and those losses haunt us still). I can remember a stretch between February and April of 2008 when our own casualties skyrocketed, and the sense of anxiety and grief on our FOB was palpable. But guys still did their jobs — and did them well.
Second, many of these soldiers are being interviewed nine months into their deployment. We called that stretch, which begins from roughly seven months and lasts until ten months (or longer, depending on the length of the deployment), the “dog days.” The separation from family feels acute, the end is not quite yet in sight, and the constant isolation and danger wears you down.
Third, deployments are just hard. My year in Iraq was the hardest year of my life, and I was not “outside the wire” every single day like the troops on the line. Plus, my family situation was extremely stable and supportive (my wife is a rock). But so many of these guys put their lives directly on the line every day even as wives and girlfriends stray and child-custody battles rage at home.
However, none of this means that our guys are “cracking,” or that the strain means that they are anything less than superb warriors. Even the Times acknowledges that re-enlistment rates are high in at least one of the units that has faced tough fighting. Our own re-enlistment targets were met relatively early in the deployment. The bottom line is quite simple: Our Troops are under strains that civilians can’t comprehend, yet they will continue to fight with courage and honor for as long as their nation and their commander in chief directs.
You can’t ask for more than that.
– David French is a senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund and director of its Center for Academic Freedom.