SUPPORTING THE TROOPS
October 17, 2004 - The Army is conducting an investigation. Army reservists phoned home to tell their parents that they had refused orders to go on a mission that they regarded as suicide. The mission was to deliver water contaminated fuel once before rejected to front line troops in Taji, Iraq. The convoy was to run through some of the most dangerous parts of the Sunni Triangle. The soldiers told their families that the fuel trucks they were to drive were in dangerous condition; inadequately maintained and unarmored and that the fuel they were to deliver to the fighting from was contaminated and had been once rejected. The convoy did not include a combat escort and would have gone without the usual helicopter gunship air cover. The entire platoon said, “No!”
Dangerous missions are the lot of a soldier. Soldiers die and are maimed in war. It is the business of a soldier to kill and to be killed; to maim and to be maimed. In war the life of a soldier is just as expendable as is a .50 caliber machinegun round or a 500 pound bomb. That is the nature of war. People are merely another weapon of war to be used up in the fight against the enemy. But a platoon said no and the Army is investigating.
The supply of ammunition is not inexhaustible. It must be manufactured. It must be packaged and shipped and assembled, allocated and carried to the front of battle. A wise commander conserves the supply firing it only when it is necessary and when it can be expended to good effect. Neither is the supply of soldiers inexhaustible. The wise commander expends their husbands their lives as carefully as he conserves rifle rounds. He insures that they are well equipped for their mission, that their mission is necessary and that the risk of wasting their lives is outweighed by the importance of a successful outcome – which advances the conditions of victory. But a platoon said no and the Army is investigating.
Supporting the troops means far more than giving lip service to the endeavor in which they are engaged. Supporting the troops means insuring that they mission upon which they are sent has a purpose vital to the struggle; that the mission is can be achieved; that they are provided with the manpower, equipment, and supply necessary to its achievement; and that their lives are not unreasonably risked. Supporting the troops means questioning – questioning the rationale for the war; questioning the conduct of the war; questioning the objectives of the war; and forcing the old men who send the young out to die to justify the mission and give those who are called upon to execute it the means to achieve it.
When we raise those questions we are indeed supporting the troops. When we remain silent meekly accepting the waste of young lives as the commander stumbles from engagement to engagement without a clear idea of where he is leading them and why, then we are not supporting anything except expending their lives to no purpose. That is why we must ask whether the mission is being achieved; whether Iraq has been less dangerous for the world after March 19, 2003; whether the Middle East is a more peaceful and less dangerous place now than it was before the war started. Unless the answers to those question are “Yes” then it is time to relieve the failed commander and assign a new one in his place.
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