Vice Chairman Returns From Trip Designed to Entertain, Showcase Troops
By Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2008 Back home after an eight-day trip that included some out-of-the-way locations, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he found troops to be motivated and saw some eyes opened to the work U.S. servicemembers are doing.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright took three congressional staff members, an employer of Army National Guardsmen and five United Service Organizations entertainers on his Nov. 9-16 trip.
The general said his trip was designed to get some recognition for the forces for the job they’re doing and bring them a “slice of home” with some entertainment. The vice chairman’s tour included stops at Thule Air Base, Greenland, and three locations in Alaska — places people usually don’t visit when the weather gets cold.
“We spent a significant amount of time and focus going to places that people don’t normally visit,” the general said.
He said these trips offer the opportunity to thank troops for their service and help people understand their contribution is important no matter where they are, whether it’s the missile fields, the radar sites or the demilitarized zone in Korea.
The general said he found troops still are motivated to do their respective missions.
“I found a substantial motivation inside the forces, including Iraq and Afghanistan, all over the world and found people believed what they were doing was making a difference,” the vice chairman said. “I did find varying levels of satisfaction about what they were accomplishing, which I wouldn’t have expected to not find. But by and large, the more opportunity they have to do their mission, the more opportunity they have to both interact with allies and locals, the more satisfied they were.”
Cartwright said he did find obstacles to overcome, including getting greater mobility in Afghanistan and seemingly everyone wanting more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. But overall, he said, morale was good.
“The forces that are out there that have been on repeated deployments are getting tired, but it’s not detracting from their motivation or their job performance,” the general said. “If we can get the time at home to start to grow a little bit, I think it will make a big difference in retention, on their mental health, their perspective about being in an all-volunteer force and staying for extended periods of time in the military.”
Cartwright also said the mood of troops in Iraq has changed since he was there a year ago.
“[Last year], there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but we weren’t sure what the light was,” he said. “This year, it was very clear that we are on a path to move forward in Iraq, because we have fundamentally changed the mission out there and the perspective of the warfighters about why they were there and what they were there to do.”
Along with the mood change, Cartwright said, the U.S. troops are seeing greater capability out of their Iraqi counterparts.
“Their confidence in the Iraqi military and police was substantially higher than anything I’d seen in the past,” the general said.
In Afghanistan, Cartwright said, significant challenges remain.
“Even if we have troop increases, there’s still a substantial amount of work to be done,” he said. “Everybody there that I talked to believed there was a way forward in Afghanistan, but it was going to take longer and it was going to take substantially greater resources because of what is needed in the way of an infrastructure base to build from.”
Cartwright said trips like these are important because of what he sees when he looks in young troops’ eyes.
“You feed off their energy,” the general said. “There’s no way you cannot do that. No matter how far removed I am from my first tour, I can see myself. You also see in their eyes the fact that they’re starting to understand other perspectives than their own.”
The vice chairman said it also was important for the congressional staffers he brought along to interact with the troops, sometimes one-on-one, to “see morale levels for themselves.” He said the staffers were able to talk to both senior leaders and the warfighting privates in an unscripted environment.
“They’re better served and we’re better served for them understanding what’s going on out there,” the general said.
Cartwright said bringing the Guard employer, Patrick Smith, was important so he could see the mission first-hand. Although Smith has a medical background, Cartwright said, he brought Smith to several locations with different missions so he could see the other pieces of the Defense Department mission.
“If we just take him to one spot [and] say, ‘Here’s the mission that relates to what you and your people will do,’ I think he misses the bigger picture,” the general said.
Cartwright said one of the most surprising aspects of the trip was seeing the interaction between rappers D-Roc and Kaine of The Ying Yang Twins, whom he called “patriotic Americans,” and the troops.
“It’s similar to what you see when you take entertainers into the hospital the first time,” the general said. “If they’re sincere about what they’re doing and their visit, it will change them. There was a two-way exchange with The Ying Yang Twins. They converted an awful lot of people who looked at them with skepticism, and they got converted by seeing people out there serving their country and making a difference.”
(Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump is assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Public Affairs Office.)