Military Leaders Must Keep Faith With Troops, Says Top Enlisted Leader
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Apr. 20, 2007 Troops continue to trust senior military leaders, but they will lose that trust if the military does not keep its promises, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey said here today.
“They trust us, and we just cannot let them down,” said Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While the chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, participated in meetings with U.S. and Iraqi leaders in Iraq, he asked Gainey to meet and speak with servicemembers across Baghdad.
Gainey specifically wanted to assess what effect the new 15-month deployment policy is having on soldiers. Under the policy, active-duty Army units will deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of operations for 15 months. The units will then be guaranteed 12 months at home station before deploying again. The policy does not affect reserve component soldiers or the other services.
Gainey said it is a good policy because it allows the Army to surge to and maintain 20 brigade combat teams in Iraq through the summer. It also allows units deploying to Iraq the ability to complete their training, he said. “Had they not done this, we’d have had five brigades deploying before they finished training,” he said.
The sergeant major visited soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, which includes some soldiers on their third rotation to Iraq. “I walked around and spoke to soldiers where they worked,” Gainey said. “They are concerned, but they are willing to soldier on because they are soldiers.”
Some of the soldiers, he said, are worried that the emphasis on units in the deployment will make the Army lose sight of the individual. “They want the Army to consider ‘boots on the ground’ time, not units on the ground time,” he said. Some soldiers come into country in the advance party for units or stay longer. The feeling is that they should receive credit for all the time they spent on the ground.
The next day, Gainey visited soldiers at Forward Operating Base Callahan in the middle of Baghdad. It is a new FOB and the 82nd Airborne Division unit there had to secure the area, defend and fortify it, and begin patrolling. The FOB is in an old burned-out shopping mall right in the middle of the city. “It’s like a seven-story Alamo,” Gainey said.
The soldiers battle heat, lousy living conditions, isolation and pigeons. “The birds have nested inside the building and they are everywhere,” he said. “And then you still have to deal with the enemy.”
The soldiers in the FOB have been hit a few times by rocket-propelled grenades and the like, but nothing that has yet penetrated the defenses. “But the troopers go out on constant mounted and dismounted patrols,” Gainey said. “They see they are making a difference in that area of Baghdad, and they are proud of what they do, and what they have overcome.”
Gainey said the place reminds him of an earlier deployment, when his unit lived in a tractor factory in Bosnia. “It’s the pits, but they are making the best of it,” he said.
Finally, the sergeant major traveled to FOB Warhorse. The soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division there told Gainey that they were concerned about what happens under the new policy when a soldier finishes a tour with one unit and then is transferred to another unit that is getting ready to deploy.
The soldiers had no problem serving alongside reserve component soldiers who will be mobilized and deployed for 12-months, Gainey said, because active-duty soldiers understand the National Guard and Army Reserve serve differently.
The soldiers have more of a problem with why the different services have different deployment tempos, he said. “We need to do a better job of explaining why the services deploy the way they do,” he said.
Gainey said all the soldiers he met were motivated and ready to do their missions. The soldiers at Callahan and Warhorse are extremely focused on their combat mission, he said. “You can see it in their eyes,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Stevie Soanes, who accompanied Gainey on his trip. “They are very intense.”
All the soldiers were annoyed that their families found out about the new Army policy before they did. “The soldiers told me their morale crashed when that happened,” Gainey said. “I hope whoever leaked that to the press is happy with himself.”
All the soldiers still trust defense leaders, but they are watching, Gainey said.
“They are looking at the way we respond to the deployment cycle,” he said. “We cannot break this 15-12 contract. Military leaders would lose all credibility, and that would hurt the country.”