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U.S. soldiers in Iraq say:
We want out!

By Nicole Colson | March 10, 2006 | Page 2

U.S. SOLDIERS want out of Iraq. According to a new Zogby International/Le Moyne College poll of troops currently stationed in Iraq, nearly three out of four think the U.S. should withdraw within a year. Some 30 percent think the U.S. should leave immediately.

"In a way, it surprises me that people were so honest," Kelly Dougherty, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who spent about a year in Iraq, said in an interview. "A lot of soldiers are being stop-lossed. They're being sent back for repeated tours of duty, and their mental and physical health is suffering. Their family life is being completely destroyed, and right now, they see no end in sight."

According to the poll, 45 percent of troops surveyed were on their second tour of duty, and 29 percent were in Iraq for a third time or more. While the Bush administration insists that the U.S. must stay in Iraq for as long as it takes to "get the job done," just 23 percent of the soldiers surveyed agreed. That spells further trouble for the U.S. occupation.

As Dougherty commented, "It's hugely demoralizing to, first of all, be sent over repeated times and, second of all, to not know when you're going to be able to get out because your voluntary time has already passed. So I know a lot of soldiers who are really upset...I saw an Onion article, and it said, 'Troops devise their own exit strategy: Operation Screw This.' I think that's funny, but it's also totally reflective of the mentality of a lot of troops over there now, at least in my opinion."

The Pentagon dismissed the survey. "The poll's findings certainly aren't reflective of the attitudes we see displayed by the majority of troops," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable told reporters.

But that comment doesn't fit with the Pentagon's desperation to recruit fresh troops. Military officials are implementing a number of new measures to entice new recruits.

In addition to increasing the number of Army recruiters by as much as 25 percent in some areas of the country, in January, Congress raised the maximum age of Army enlistment from 34 to 39. And according to the Los Angeles Times, last year, more than 11,000 new soldiers--almost one out of every six people recruited to the Army--had a problem in their background that normally would have disqualified them from military service, including medical problems, a criminal record, or drug or alcohol problems.

Douglas Smith, spokesperson for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., told the Baltimore Sun that the increased number of waivers isn't a sign of desperation, but rather that the Army is now looking at the "whole-person concept" when it comes to potential recruits.

But once those recruits become warm bodies inside the military, they cease to matter to the Pentagon as "whole people."

According to a survey of more than 222,000 Iraq war veterans published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than a third sought psychological counseling soon after returning from Iraq.

Roughly one in five returning soldiers met the military's "risk criteria for a mental health concern," such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Nearly one in 10 were diagnosed with PTSD, many after witnessing people being killed or wounded.

Even so, Dougherty and others say the number of vets suffering mental health ailments is almost certainly higher--and "treatment" is difficult to come by. "[P]eople who I've talked to have seen people--either themselves or their friends--who have asked to get treatment for PTSD or for some kind of emotional problem and have been ridiculed publicly," said Dougherty. "That right there, if that happens to one person in a unit, is a big deterrent to anyone else to seek out help. "

Additionally, she said, troops who seek treatment while still active aren't entitled to confidentiality. "[T]hey'll go back to your command and say, well, 'They said this and this happened, is it true?'" Dougherty said. "And if the command doesn't want to look bad, then they'll say, 'No, they're lying. They don't have PTSD. They just have a personal grudge.'"

That kind of treatment, says Dougherty and other antiwar veterans, proves that despite the Bush administration's rhetoric about "supporting the troops" is hollow. "I'm really glad this poll came out," Dougherty said, "because we can say that we're in the majority of not only public opinion in the nation, but public opinion in the military."

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