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As I feared, the occupation of Iraq is growing increasingly ugly and I worry about the troops – the grunts down on the deck who increasingly spend their days and nights dodging terrorist fire. Until the brass hats stop their squad-leader-in-the-sky routine and those Big Unit Search and Destroy operations, dust off the lessons-learned from past successful guerrilla-fighting and start looking after their troops instead of their careers, we’ll continue to get our collective butt handed to us.

If our regulars in Iraq were draftees, bet on it: there would be open rebellion. That’s why those who run the Pentagon Pre-Emptive War Machine want professionals with their lips sewn shut. It’s practically part of the job description.

With all-volunteers – active and reserve – livelihoods are at stake. Seventy percent of the force is married and spouses are afraid to sound off at the risk of hurting their families. They just suck it up.

But word of what’s going on in Iraq keeps leaking out anyway. The bold warriors over there continue to como by e-mail even though they’re constantly warned Big Brother’s reading their dispatches and they’re going to be in for it if they’re caught writing to a gadfly like me. Others get around this totalitarian type of censorship by routing messages through their loved ones or via snailmail to yours truly at P.O. Box 11179, Greenwich, CT 06831.

What grunts and moms and dads and spouses are saying is that our supply machine in Iraq is broken. Which is a shocker since there’s never been a better logistical performer than the U.S. Army.

Even though Iraq presently costs you and me over 3 billion bucks a month and generals are living in palaces, the kids are complaining about the basic stuff so important to grunts: hot chow, decent water, mail and spare parts to keep vehicles, aircraft and weapons going. They’re ragging about eating lots of dust and their Hobo Junction living conditions. Some combat units haven’t gotten mail in over 40 days, while for months many have been chowing down MRE’s – which after a few weeks are like eating bark from a tree – with a side of hot drinking water laced with enough chlorine to make even a lifeguard squeamish. And for those in the combat arena, spare parts are harder to obtain than a cold drink.

Relatives are responding by sending whatever they can to help – Kool-Aid and WD-40 and decent rifle lubricating oil because the standard-issue gun oil sucks.

The reason the troops need this kind of support from home is that the Pentagon went into Iraq too light, expecting it would be Slam Bam Goodbye Saddam followed by a victory parade down Fifth Avenue. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their tech-loving crew believed their own simplistic propaganda and now our soldiers are paying the price on a complicated insurgency battlefield without the logistical depth to do the job.

It’s Basic Leadership 101 to look out for the troops. Surely with the amount of green being spread around the brass could put more of the budget to what that entails: Not only training ‘em hard to keep ‘em alive in the toughest contest yet invented by supposedly civilized men, but also keeping their bellies full with the best food going, making sure they and their gear are being maintained in top shape for the killing job they must do and busting a gut trying to make their living conditions as decent as possible.

Good units seldom want for zilch, especially American units. Because when the supply system lets them down, they usually can send the scroungers out. Call it what you want: liberate, steal, hijack – that’s the time-honored soldiers’ way to get the stuff the system didn’t provide.

But that only works when there are enough supplies in the pipeline. Today, the depots in Iraq are in bad shape – and our troops are suffering accordingly – because the dilettantes in the Pentagon and the senior field commanders thought they could run a war and an occupation on the cheap.

Congress needs to hot foot it over to Iraq and talk to the kids on the ground – away from the brass – and fix a bad situation before it gets even worse.

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