Morale: Homesteading In Iraq


November 19, 2007: The U.S. Army is determined to see that everyone who can go to war, does so. For as long as there have been organized armies, there have been soldiers who deliberately, or through dumb luck, avoided being sent off to the combat zone. But in this age of computer databases, the army was able to identify 37,000 soldiers who could go to Iraq or Afghanistan, but have not yet done so.

Currently, 59.4 percent of the 515,000 soldiers in the active duty army, have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan at least once. There are good reasons why the other 41.6 percent have not gone. Most of them don't do a job that is needed in the combat zone. There are a lot of technical specialists who are only needed at a handful of locations, and usually none of them are near any fighting. And then there are the replacements. Each year, about 12 percent of the troops are new recruits, who undergo four or more months training before you can send them overseas. Then there are troops with a medical condition (including pregnancy) that temporarily, or permanently, prevents them from going to a combat zone.

But that still leaves plenty of troops who could go but, for some mysterious reason, have not. In the past, a clever malingerer could avoid "going to the front" by simply coming up with imaginative ploys. Anyone who has been in the service has witnessed this sort of thing first hand. Even in peacetime, these scamps will hustle to avoid a tour in an area that is simply unpleasant (Korea, Alaska, Greenland, Eastern Turkey and so on), and often get away with it. But with computer databases, it's become easy to spot the malingerers, and send them off. In some cases, troops with over 20 years of service, will retire rather than go into harm's way. This has even happened in the marines, where troops agitated to get into a combat zone, if they had not yet done so.

On the other side of the coin, there are many troops who have gone to Iraq, and pretty much stayed. The army won't release numbers about how many "homesteaders" (as the troops call soldiers who like a place so much, they connive to stay their a long time) are there, but it's a common phenomenon. Iraq isn't nearly as dangerous as the media makes it out to be, especially if you have the right kind of job on one of the major bases. The combat pay, bonuses and tax breaks make homesteading potentially attractive. Again, as in past wars, some of the homesteaders probably went into some business on the side (legal or otherwise) and are inclined to stick around for as long as life is good and income is high.


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