War's Other Victims

With An Exhausted And Stressed U.s. Military, Is It Any Wonder Horrific Incidents Occur?

July 13, 2009|By Lawrence J. Korb

Now that the U.S. has for all practical purposes ended its combat role in Iraq by withdrawing from its cities and towns, we should pause to honor those brave men and women who have sacrificed so much these past 75 months. But we should also think about two veterans of that war whose crimes shocked the Army and the nation. In many ways, they were also victims of this war.

On May 7, Private Steven Dale Green, 24, was convicted of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then killing her and three members of her family on March 11, 2006, in Iraq, when he was 21 years old. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. On May 11, - between Private Green's conviction and his sentencing - Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, was charged with gunning down five American service members at a counseling center on an American military base in Baghdad.

While Private Green and Sergeant Russell (if he is found guilty) should receive appropriate punishment for their crimes, they are not the only ones who should be held responsible for these terrible acts. The military and civilian officials who did not speak up about allowing the all-volunteer Army to fight long wars, for which it was not constituted, should also be held accountable, as should the politicians who tried to fight the war on the cheap - and the American people who originally supported the war but refused to make any sacrifices to support it. Had these people acted responsibly, Private Green would never have been allowed to join the Army and Sergeant Russell would not have done three one-year tours in Iraq over the past six years.

When this country transitioned to the all-volunteer force in 1973, it was decided that the peacetime Army would be comparatively small. Without the hidden tax of conscription, manpower costs would double. And because it does not have as many skills that can be transferred to the private sector and because it needs to recruit more people than the other services, the Army has the most difficult time attracting high quality recruits. But if the nation became involved in a "long war," the Guard and Reserves would serve as a bridge to conscription. This is why young men still must register with the selective service when they turn 18.

By the summer of 2003, it became clear that the war in Iraq would require maintaining a large number of troops on the ground for a prolonged period. Moreover, as the war become increasingly unpopular, it became more and more difficult for the Army to attract qualified people to its ranks. If there was ever a time to reconstitute the draft, it was in late 2003, and certainly by early 2004. But since our political leaders lacked the stomach to take such action, and because the American people refused to support it, they forced our military leaders to resort to stopgap measures that violated their own policies and caused irreparable harm to their troops and the nation.

To attract a sufficient number of volunteers, the Army greatly lowered its educational, aptitude, moral and psychological standards. By 2005, the Army began to take in more and more non-high school graduates with low aptitudes and criminal convictions by granting them waivers. One of the people receiving a "moral character" waiver in January 2005 was Steven Green, a high school dropout with three criminal convictions and psychological problems.

Within nine months after joining the Army, Mr. Green was deployed to Iraq. Two months into his deployment he began to show signs of acute stress disorder, and four months later he committed the atrocities. In May 2006, a month after his return from Iraq, the Army discharged Mr. Green due to an antisocial personality disorder, but the damage had already been done.

Similarly, because the Army did not have enough soldiers, it could not allow the troops sufficient time between deployments. According to Army policy, a soldier should have a minimum of two months at home for every month spent in a combat zone. But given the demand for troops in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, soldiers were lucky to receive one year at home between yearlong deployments. In fact, after the surge of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates extended the tours of Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan to 15 months and allowed them only 12 months at home. That same year, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have mandated that troops could not be sent back to a combat zone without spending a minimum of one month at home for every month spent in a combat zone.

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