Army Ranks See Imbalance in Iraq War Sacrifice
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In just a few minutes, President Bush will hold a press conference. He'll be speaking about a White House report on the war in Iraq that's being released this morning. It shows limited progress. The report gives eight of the 18 benchmarks outlined by Congress a rating of satisfactory. Most of those refer to military issues. While another eight benchmarks, mostly related to political reconciliation, are deemed unsatisfactory. Two others show mixed results. Congress ordered the interim report when it passed the president's war funding bill earlier this year.
This week, we're reporting on how Americans feel about service and sacrifice in a time of war. Like thousands of parents, Mark Hertling has a son serving in Iraq. He's actually had two sons serve there, and a daughter-in-law. And as commander of the 1st Army Division, Mark Hertling himself is getting ready for his second deployment to Iraq. He's at an Army base in Germany now. He spoke with Steve Inskeep about his wife, his two sons, and the war.
STEVE INSKEEP: It can be hard to keep track of the Hertling family as they move from military base to military base. Major General Mark Hertling has seen both his sons become officers. We first met them in 2004 when his son Todd recalled a moment from his first deployment in the Iraq war.
First Lieutenant TODD HERTLING (U.S. Army): We were at a border outpost on the Syrian border. My promotion to first lieutenant was coming up and my dad ended up flying in from Baghdad in a Black Hawk to attend the promotion, and he was able to pin on my silver bars. And at the same time, you know, I was thinking about my family back home.
INSKEEP: The family back home included Todd's brother Scott, who was at West Point and would eventually get his own orders to Iraq. And then there was their mom, the general's wife, Sue Hertling. She told us in 2004 that it was getting hard to explain her life to her relatives.
Ms. SUE HERTLING (Wife of Major General Mark Hertling): It's interesting and I've got to be careful how I word this when we go visit family. It's almost like we can't relate anymore because they're talking about what lawn treatment they're going to use. And it's just a different set of priorities.
INSKEEP: That was Sue Hertling in 2004. Today, the war in Iraq goes on. And when General Mark Hertling sat down to talk recently at a military base in Germany, his thoughts drifted back to his wife.
Major General MARK HERTLING (U.S. Army): Sue has basically gone through these last four years with one of the men in the Hertling family being in Iraq for every part of those four years, with the exception of about three or four months.
INSKEEP: Your wife has had to be worrying about you, or worrying about a son, or worrying about the other son almost all the time.
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: And now worrying about a daughter-in-law, too.
INSKEEP: I'm just thinking about the fact that each time you've seen one of your sons sent into Iraq, which has happened three times now, the war has been less popular than the last time. How does that affect people preparing to go into combat?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: It certainly weighs on the soldier. We still feel the support of the American people, but we also feel - and I heard someone say this the other day - that we are sometimes feeling like we are an army at war, not a nation at war.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that difference. When someone says I support the troops, is that all they have to do as far as you're concerned, they support the troops?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: Well, Steve, we've had some interesting discussions over a few German beers about that particular subject. It's very nice to have people say that they support the troops, but I think those in the military, those in the government sometimes don't see the actions being backed up by the words.
INSKEEP: Do people as they get ready for their second or third or I guess by now fourth tour in Iraq begin to wonder if they're giving a disproportionate share compared to other Americans?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: I think they do. They understand the importance of this conflict. And there's also quite frankly the military culture of wanting to succeed at anything you do. So I think those who have been there two or three times, yeah, there's certainly a feeling that folks could do more to assist.
INSKEEP: Are your sons going to stick with the military for a while?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: I don't know. I think our oldest one will, although quite frankly we had some interesting discussions when he came back the second time. He was tired and he wanted to get to know his girlfriend who is now his wife and he wanted time for his family. And he saw in the near term repeated deployments. Scott is in a unit that's been extended for 15 months. His morale is not as high as it was a few months ago because he knows he has to stay a little bit longer, but he also is seeing some successes over there.
INSKEEP: How often do you run into civilians?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: Not much over here in Germany other than Germans. But when I get back to the States we're with families, we're with friends.
INSKEEP: What are some things that civilians say to you about the war?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: Steve, it's a mixed bag. They all understand that we are sacrificing a great deal. Although sometimes they don't quite know the measure of some of that sacrifices. I have just described it to you. They don't know the time away from loved ones along with the extensions. They don't understand the memorial services where we honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. They understand we're doing something special.
INSKEEP: Did you say they don't understand the memorial services?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: No, they don't. Just the various rhythms of that memorial service - the playing of the "Taps," the salute by the rifles, the soldiers that, after the memorial are done, go up to the altar and salute the boots and the helmet and the picture. No, civilians don't understand that. They understand death, but they don't understand the brotherhood of the military family.
INSKEEP: Can I just ask a question of you as a parent?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: Sure.
INSKEEP: I've got a daughter, she's very young, and every time she almost falls, my heart stops. She doesn't even have to fall, just almost falling. I mean, I may not survive parenthood and I'm just wondering how it is that you handle knowing that a son is in Iraq and then another son is in Iraq and then the first son is back in Iraq?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: We pray a lot. And we realize that they are doing what they want to do in serving their country and in serving our soldiers. And that because of them, in our case our children as leaders, young leaders, that they're going to help bring other soldiers home alive. But I know what you mean about your young daughter. We've had nights where we've watched the news and both Sue and I go to bed very concerned about what's happening there.
INSKEEP: Is there some point at which you might say I've done enough or my family has done enough?
Maj. Gen. HERTLING: I've got to think about that one for a second. Actually, no.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: Major General Mark Hertling speaking to Steve Inskeep. Mark Hertling commands the 1st Armored Division, which is planning to deploy to Iraq by early fall. His son, Captain Todd Hertling, is currently studying in an Army program in Indiana. The other Hertling's son, Scott, is in Baghdad serving with an Army Stryker Brigade.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.