I was looking at the weather forecast for Basra, Iraq, for this week. By this Friday it will be over 100 degrees “with Brilliant Sunshine.” I know tanks don’t have AC and it will climb to over 140 inside one of them. At 100, in the sun running around in combat, the heat can be a killer by itself. Water will be just as important as fuel, maybe more important for our troops. I know from experience, they don’t get you “cool” water, but pretty warm stuff.
What do the troops know? Not the Generals or the officers, but the troops. The young men and women that are actually doing the fighting. Yes, there are pilots fighting too, but you have to remember that they are in climate-controlled cockpits, a few miles above the desert floor and when they return from their flight they get good chow and a shower. Helicopter pilots are just as hot as the ground pounders until they get some altitude, but probably in the desert they only get a warm breeze up there. Those guys on the ground standing at a road security check point will be getting fried in all of their equipment. Guys will strip down as much as possible if there is a lull in the action, but it sounds like over in Iraq they are pretty buttoned up. You only have so many seconds to get your chem/bio suit on if there is a chemical attack. I don’t even want to think about any time in the sun with a gas mask on.
I do remember how just awful water tasted out of a canteen. Come to think of it, though, when you were sweating like a pig it felt like a security blanket to have a few full canteens. A Marine out in that desert will have to look out for his buddy and if a guy isn’t sweating they better start pouring the water into him.
Back to what the troops know. At the low enlisted level you really don’t need to know too much. You need to know where to get food, water, and ammunition. You want to know where medical help is. You want to know where the next friendly unit is and you want that unit to know where you are so you don’t shoot each other. Everyone knows where the enemy is. At this level the enemy is anyone who isn’t a Marine.
I doubt if a lot of these Marines know precisely where in Iraq they are. I doubt if they care. If they are on a road they probably know Baghdad is that way and Kuwait is back the other way. When they come to a new little town, the Marines will give it their own name. Maybe they will refer to some spot in the road or town as “where Corporal Stevens was hit” or “where Joey bought it.”
In combat your world tends to get real small. There is you and the guys with you. Everyone and I mean everyone else is suspect. Americans talk about supporting the troops; well those troops don’t give a hoot about what is going on back here. Their whole focus is on staying alive and wondering how the heck they got into this in the first place. Supporting the troops is a Washington thing started by people that have never been in combat. Supporting the troops is a ploy to get support for the war. Marines at the front are saying, “You want to support me? Well then get your ass out here.”
That is the trouble with our leadership. Most were never in a war and those that were tended to have been officers. Combat veterans don’t make good politicians because they will tell you the truth. You learn that in combat, bullshit is not allowed. Bullshit gets Marines killed and come to think about it, the bullshit flowing out of Washington kills them too.
The reason that veterans in Congress can vote for war is that they were probably officers and even though some officers do see combat, they are still the last to get blood on their hands. Officers do not put troops into body bags. Officers do not hold compress bandages on some Marine’s wound.
Officers are the last to have to carry the body of a dead or dying Marine back to an aid station. An officer is never a corpsman. Hey, I know we couldn’t win a war without officers, but we also couldn’t have a war without officers.
Wars are made up of small units of enlisted men trying to kill each other and the officers are telling these enlisted men on both sides where to go and officers also coordinate the supplies so that the men killing each other will have enough ammunition to keep it up night and day.
When you get to the really high-ranking officers like the generals, they are not even in the same country as the troops. In today’s wars they are in air-conditioned offices near the hotel with bar and pool. Just look at Tommy Franks’ uniform. Starched to the max. and no trace of sweat. These guys never even have to see blood on a Marine; everything they see is on a television screen, so it can stay impersonal. Guys getting killed and wounded are just numbers and if those numbers stay below projections then everything is all right.
Generals and those in Washington never have to know that Private Anderson who was killed last night had a new baby daughter, or that Corporal Johnson was a sprinter and that is why the whole unit mourns for the loss of his legs. Even when these guys do come out to the field, you know that there is a hundred times more security for the area they are going to fly into. The whole area is “policed up,” even the cigarette butts are gone. Every Marine is looking his best and supplies that were lacking all week are there now.
Generals see no blood or body parts lying around.
Generals only see parts of the war zone that we have already won. High-ranking officers will tell you they put in their time even if it has been over a decade since we had a real war and that only lasted a week. American Armed Forces did have some real glory years where our reputation was built up for being a military power, but think back to WW 2. Even the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower had his headquarters in the theater of operations and General Patton was leading his troops in person. The leaders of today look at projections and talk of things like “Shock and Awe,” but when all is said and done it still comes down to one man killing another. War hasn’t come that far in the last couple of thousand years. Weapons change, but blood still splatters the victor.
Jim Glaser [send him mail], a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran and Commander of VFW Post 3869, works to educate the American public on the consequences of war. His personal website is James-Glaser.com.