Survey: Morale Suffers, Training Lacking for Iraq; Military Newspaper Review Shows Guard, Reserves Strained

Article excerpt

Byline: Gregory Piatt, Times-Union staff writer

Morale is suffering among active duty, National Guard and reserve soldiers in Iraq and their training is insufficient to carry out the complex mission in the country, according to a survey conducted by a military newspaper partially funded by the Pentagon.

The survey and subsequent stories done by European Stars and Stripes also said about half of almost 2,000 soldiers surveyed said they wouldn't re-enlist after their current obligation is up.

The paper passed out questionnaires in August at nearly 50 camps and found that 49 percent of those who returned them rated their unit's morale low or very low.

The newspaper's findings appear to contradict previous statements describing high morale by President Bush's administration and congressional delegations that have visited Iraq.

Yesterday, two U.S. senators who recently returned from Iraq, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Larry Craig of Idaho, said at a Pentagon news conference that troop morale was high.

Even U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., writing in an opinion piece for the Times-Union on Sept. 29, said "morale remains high."

But the commander of the Florida Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, acknowledges there is a problem at least with his troops, and he's trying to schedule a trip to Iraq to address morale issues, said Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, Burnett's spokesman.

In meetings with family members this week, Burnett heard from spouses who relayed the message from their husbands that morale in Iraq is not good, Tittle said.

Tittle said the general told the families, "We know there are morale problems."

Stars and Stripes said the survey was not scientific and did not necessarily represent the views of every soldier in Iraq. But Defense Department officials didn't dispute the results at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. In fact, morale was stressed as an important issue.

"Morale is really important because it's the people who get the job done," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an Associated Press story. Myers said he read the news stories and the survey questions and considered them "useful insight," as does the feedback given from congressmen and others who visit Iraq.

The newspaper said the commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, challenged the survey results, saying, "There is no morale problem."

Many of the reservists and Guardsmen said they feel like second-class soldiers who don't receive the same equipment, support and treatment as their active-duty counterparts, the newspaper said.

Furthermore, the survey indicated 35 percent of the soldiers said their mission is mostly not clear or not clear at all.

Spc. Patrick Jeffers of the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment said this week while on rest and recuperation leave that active duty leaders have shoved his unit to different jobs because they don't know what to do with the Guard troops. There is no organization from the leaders, said Jeffers, who is based in Balad, Iraq.

"Tell us what our mission is, if not then send us home," Jeffers said. "I'll do my job 100 percent, but tell me what's my job."

Sgt. Wayne Spettel of the 3rd Battalion 124th Infantry Regiment agreed.

"We've trained to do our job and have done it far above the standards of a National Guard unit," Spettel wrote in an e-mail last month.

"Our problem is we're tossed around and used to risk our lives cause the active (duty) unit won't get on the streets," wrote Spettel, who is based in Baghdad. …