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DoD Leaders Keeping Eye on Troop Morale

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2003 – The Defense Department takes every report of low military morale seriously, and DoD leaders said today they must remain attentive to the needs of service members and their families.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said they constantly ask people who have visited service members about troop morale. The two discussed the morale situation during a Pentagon press conference.

The question arose from a nonscientific poll of service members in Iraq conducted by The Stars and Stripes newspaper. The survey indicated that roughly a third of the troops in Iraq classified their morale as low and said they would not re-enlist.

DoD officials said there is no indication of a dropoff in retention. All active duty and reserve components made their recruiting and retention goals.

Overall, the retention indicators remain good, Rumsfeld said. "On the other hand, the effects of stress on the force is unlikely to be felt immediately," he said. "They are much more likely to be felt down the road."

Myers said morale is important "because it is people who get the job done. There should be no confusion about that."

DoD and the services are examining the situations service members find themselves in around the world. Rumsfeld said the services are undertaking a host of initiatives to address the circumstances of U.S. troops.

"They are just enormously important to our country, these young men and women who are doing such a terrific job around the world," Rumsfeld said. "We have to see that we manage the force in a way that is appropriate to them, and that they are paid properly and they have the right kind of certainty in what's going to happen in their lives, and that we do the best possible job in respect to their families."

Myers said he understands what U.S. service members are going through in Iraq. "I don't think we can ignore how tough conditions are in Iraq," he said. "We are still a nation at war. We're at war against terrorism. The focus right now is Afghanistan and Iraq, with Iraq probably being a more dangerous place."

The living conditions for U.S. service members are still "pretty austere," Myers said. And he said that while the service members are volunteers and are proud to defend the United States, "our obligation is to try to make life as predictable to provide quality of life to allow them to connect with their families," Myers said.

Myers said that both the secretary and he "put out our tentacles" to find out what service members are thinking. He and the secretary also visit troops in the field and try to gauge their morale that way.

"I always worry as a four-star (general that) somebody is bringing us the happy folks," Myers said. "(That) I want to see the folks who have the complaints and they won't let them near me."

Rumsfeld said service members recognize the importance of their tasks, and the survey holds that up. Fully two-thirds of those surveyed said they understand why they are in Iraq, and what the United States is attempting to do there.

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