What the Troops Think

I read on Michael Yon’s blog today a letter submitted by a sergeant major currently in Iraq. Go read it first.

The letter is nothing original or ground-breaking — I just want to bring it up because there’s a lot going on there. Sergeants major tend to be fiercely loyal to the military, obviously. They’re the most high-speed soldiers and leaders and you can pretty much depend on them to take care of soldiers’ needs.

What they are not is necessarily war, counter-insurgency, or intel experts. In the Special Forces community, however, sergeants major would almost always have been a team sergeant, first sergeant, and intel sergeant (or Fox, for 18F, their job number or MOS). What that means is that they would have been read onto intel programs and would know quite a bit about training indigenous forces and fighting guerrillas. It’s just the nature of their job. I bring this up because I know many of my senior leaders did not follow the big Army sergeant major mindset — they don’t necessarily think Iraq is going well but they blame it on the cultural complexities and tribal differences rather than what the sergeant major blamed in his letter: American civilian morale.

“We win every time whenever they stay and fight. But mostly, they hit us, then run away and blend into the crowd. We’re winning a day at a time. And we are taking the fight to them.”

Have you heard this before? Vietnam, right? We never lost a tactical battle but it didn’t matter because we lost the strategic war. Didn’t some Vietnamese general say that? Until the day that we are attacked again on our own soil, the argument that “we fight them there so we won’t have to fight them here,” will have legs. It is somewhat of a mystery actually why Al-Qaeda hasn’t struck the US again, or crippled the oil industries in the Middle East, for that matter, to send a political shockwave throughout the world. Anyway, I was searching for that Vietnamese’s quote but I then came across this book review for a very good book about the Vietnam War, On Strategy:

“The one great idea I take away from the colonel’s book, however, is his thesis that the United States lost the Vietnam War primarily because it oriented itself on destroying the VC, which Summers says was a myth, a facade, a smokescreen, a secondary force that American forces exhausted themselves on. The heart of the enemy’s strength was the North Vietnam conventional forces–the NVA.

“The importance of this insight cannot be overstated, because it is indispensable to understanding the dissolution of the American homefront. The US thought it was pursuing the strategic offensive by organizing ‘search and destroy’ missions against the VC spread across South Vietnam. In reality, we had adopted the strategic defensive, since we were not taking the fight to the enemy’s main force–the NVA. We mistakenly identified the VC as the enemy’s center of gravity, spent years hunting the VC down as public support ebbed away, and in 1973 watched bitterly from afar as NVA tanks–not VC–overran Saigon.

“Summers is saying we fought the wrong guys in Vietnam. This is remarkable all by itself, but it also (if true) invalidates the cacophony of criticism that disparages the US (and attributes our failure) for not incorporating more counter-insurgency tactics against the VC.”

The sergeant major then begins to talk about the war back home. He says that Americans are soft and don’t know anything about the military (which is true), but then he extends that to say that Americans have “lost their resolve since 9/11”. I think it is absurd to blame Americans for not having the stomach for Iraq. Clearly Americans were screaming for someone’s head after 9/11, and clearly Americans gave more than a little benefit of the doubt to the Administration to do what it needed to do. But even these so-called ignorant Americans can figure out that Iraq is not working and that the “War on Terror” is losing.

The only people who still believe in the “war” in Iraq are the people who should have been among the first to realize their strategy needed to change. And this includes big Army sergeants major whose task is to motivate their troops for battle.

To top this letter off, the sergeant major then quotes Darryl Worley (“I say there are some things worth fighting for. Our freedom and the piece of ground we call The United States of America.”). I’ll save you a trip to Google and tell you that this guy is country singer.

Yeah, he quoted a country singer in a letter about fighting a war.

I thought it was okay when he starts off the letter with some folksy tale about some rednecks sitting around fishin’ n’ huntin’. But then it just gets laughable: “The American Armed Forces has an empty beer can and the war in Iraq is like that small catfish pond. If the American people will be patient and supportive, we’ll have that fish fry.”

Well Ayaaallllll be dayaammned! We gawt ourselves a good ol’ fashioned bewwwwndawgle hurr!

The lesson from this letter is that you can find a soldier to give any opinion you want to write down about the “war”. Even if they’re a sergeant major. But you have to consider what they do for a living. Most soldiers, even those who have been to Iraq, have probably barely ever been outside the wire. An even smaller percentage have ever had access to any intel. I’m not saying that every intel guy is more skeptical about Iraq, because there’s certainly a large percentage who hate liberals, brown people, common sense, and peaceniks, but in terms of the intel community as a whole I think that they’ve been mostly right in their assessments but have been ignored.

That’s why I’ll shortly be putting up a splash page on my site that reads, “Support Our Intelligence Community” to mirror others’ “Support Our Troops” ribbons and banners. =P

The good thing about the letter is that it shows high morale for the fight. Even my friends who are deploying are sort of looking forward to it — they are reasonably satisfied with their pay, bonuses, chances for advancement. They have high job satisfaction and many people I know have re-enlisted. They enjoy being soldiers and being in the Army — I am fairly certain that people who don’t support the “war” would re-enlist just because they see soldiering as a way of life and career and not just as a way to contribute to the “war”. This is a disconnect that many civilians aren’t aware of — they see all soldiers as supporting American foreign policy for better or for worse, but mainly it’s just a bunch of joes wanting to work hard and make a good career for themselves.


  1. “I am fairly certain that people who don’t support the “war” would re-enlist just because they see soldiering as a way of life and career and not just as a way to contribute to the “war”. This is a disconnect that many civilians aren’t aware of — they see all soldiers as supporting American foreign policy for better or for worse, but mainly it’s just a bunch of joes wanting to work hard and make a good career for themselves.”

    In my opinion, reenlisting implies that you agree to keep fighting this war – it doesn’t make it different if you don’t agree, you still have to follow orders.

    When I signed my contract in December, I agreed to my boss’s terms & conditions. Same thing.

  2. I didn’t really meet that many soldiers who joined for the express purpose of carrying out the “War on Terror” or going into Iraq. Those I met who did were often like me — pretty liberal to begin with but wanting to do counter-terrorism stuff. Thus a lot of them migrated into the special ops community, where that sort of stuff is more of a priority.

    For most soldiers and Marines, nothing about re-enlisting says agreeing to keep fighting the war. All the moral ambiguity and misdirection being played out in the press and Beltway doesn’t really affect the boots on the ground.

  3. You mistake my words. I don’t mean to say that most soldiers are in it FOR the war, but there is still a tacit understanding that reenlisting means you might be called to fight in it. That’s what I mean.

    If I sign up to be a receptionnist at an abortion clinic, I can’t really claim I am against them – or if I do, I’m a hypocrite.

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