U.S. Military Faces Strain in Achieving Iraq Plan

Phil Carter, an Iraq war veteran and contributing writer for the online magazine Slate, talks about how the U.S. military could be strained as it tries to achieve benchmarks for future progress in Iraq.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The U.S. military in Iraq to make those benchmarks achievable, will be broken in attaining them. That's the message in a piece by Slate.com contributing writer and Iraq war veteran, Phil Carter, a frequent guest on our show. Phil, welcome back.

Mr. PHIL CARTER (Contributing Write, Slate.com contributing): Hi Alex.

CHADWICK: We just have too few troops for Iraq and Afghanistan, you write. And you can tell that by the decision to redeploy Army brigades to Iraq sooner than earlier planned and for longer periods. I confess that I missed this news last week, but the Pentagon announced this is how it's going to make the surge work through these redeployments?

Mr. CARTER: That's right. You got a double whammy here where they are lengthening the tours of some units in combat, and shortening the time that they spend at home in between tours.

So that, for example, one unit in Texas was told it's going to go back to Iraq, about seven months after it came home from the last tour in 2005-2006.

CHADWICK: And what would one have expected when your unit redeploys to the United States. What would be the expected time that you'd stay there?

Mr. CARTER: The promise made to a lot of these soldiers was at least a year, and that was to give them time to take leave, to reintegrate with their families, to rotate to new assignments if necessary.

And most important, to go through a period of retraining with all of the replacements and new personnel that would get in, so that the next time they went over they would go as a cohesive and well-trained team.

CHADWICK: Because when these brigades redeploy back to the United States some soldiers leave. They say my enlistment's expired and I, I'm not sticking around for anymore - so they get a bunch of new soldiers in there.

Mr. CARTER: That's right. And even though the U.S. military has been at war for four or five years it gets a lot of new soldiers in; new privates, new officers. At any given rotation 40 to 60 percent of a unit will be new and so they have to train them.

CHADWICK: You write about signs of stress in the military.

Mr. CARTER: Right. The symptoms are, are starting to appear and they're fairly severe. We see junior officers, captains and mid-level officers, majors and lieutenant colonels leaving the military in larger numbers than, than we would expect or that would be healthy. We also see sergeants leaving the military. These personnel are the like the canaries in a coal mine. They are the ones who see the writing on the wall most clearly, and they're the ones who have made the decision to vote with their feet to get out.

CHADWICK: In your piece in Slate you site an editorial that ran a few days ago in the Washington Times by retired major general Robert Scales, former commander of the army war college. Someone who presumably knows quite a lot about deploying troops and retaining them.

Mr. CARTER: Yeah. Major General Scales is one of the army's leading intellectuals and his op-ed was an important one because it signified a real shift within the military establishment. These are men who led troops during Vietnam, and most important, lived through the rebuilding process afterwards and they see many of the same signs of breakage today that they saw in the 1970s. They didn't happen all at once, back then but they happened surely and they don't want to go through that again. They know that it takes a generation to build a military and only a few years to break one.

CHADWICK: Break it. Break it. You use that term and General Scales used that term as well. Breaking the military.

Mr. CARTER: That's right. And many others do as well. General McCaffer(ph) uses that term and General Batiste and General Eaton. Many of the other generals who have spoken out about their concerns use that term. They idea is that a broken military will take time to heal. This is not something that can simply be put back together with a time table from congress or with additional funding. I takes 5, 10, in some cases 20 years to rebuild a generation of officers and NCOs - non-commissioned officers - that are necessary to lead a, a military.

CHADWICK: When you see General Scales writing about this, using this term and other retired generals; are these people who didn't like the Iraq War from the beginning or are these people who are speaking for the officer corps because they can now. They're no longer on active duty and if you are on active duty you can't say this kind of stuff.

Mr. CARTER: What's interesting is that they're really coming from all over the political spectrum. Most of these people probably did support the war and may still support the war. But they're concerned that the breaking of the military is both undermining our performance in this war and the next. And so they're really speaking out now on behalf of the institution and with a very strong interesting in American National Security.

CHADWICK: Phil Carter returned from a year's tour in Iraq last fall. He's now an attorney in Los Angeles and a contributing writer to Slate.com and a friend of DAY TO DAY. Phil thank you.

Mr. CARTER: Thanks Alex.

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CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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