Morale: No Sex Please, We're American Soldiers

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December 16, 2010:  Now that things have calmed down in Iraq, troops are more subject to forbidden activities than to hostile bombs and gunfire. The new dangers include women and alcohol. Troops are forbidden from establishing relationships with local women in Iraq, and warned against buying booze and drugs from Iraqis. In Iraq, few women cover their faces, or wear any head covering at all. Many of them are quite attractive, and frequently cast admiring glances at U.S. troops (who often do foot patrols in public areas). But there are not supposed to be any marriages. This is a particular problem in Islamic countries, where non-Moslem husbands are expected to convert and elopement often leads to the bride being murdered by her angry family. It's not a new problem for American troops. There have been U.S. bases in Turkey for decades, usually in rural areas full of conservative Moslems. Americans are warned to stay away from the women, and generally have. Assignment to these bases is considered a hardship tour.

But in the last two decades, more and more overseas assignments have become hardships, at least in terms of the usual troops entertainments, no matter where the troops are. Restrictive lifestyle rules have been imposed on U.S. troops in combat zones since the 1990s, when American peacekeepers were sent to the Balkans. This was all the result of enforcing General Order Number 1. That means imposing a "no booze, no sex" rule on troops in the combat zone. The alcohol prohibitions apply on or off base, as do the prohibitions on sex, marrying locals or even gambling. Troops are encouraged to spend more time in the gym, or with their video games, or praying. Troops having sex with each other is generally tolerated, although that can cause trouble as well. Only about ten percent of the troops in combat zones are female, and not all are single or in the mood.

While the troops are not happy with General Order Number 1, they adapt. But in non-combat zones, where there is no General Order Number 1, the troops continue to get in trouble with booze and sex (especially when the two go together, which often results in rape, or worse.) The difference is more stark these days because so many American troop commanders are, or have been, in combat zones.

This is not to say that the military has not tried to modify troop behavior in the past. It has. Anti-smoking campaigns have been a big success, and drug testing has, for all practical purposes, eliminated drug addiction from a commanders list of "things to fret about." For over a century, the military has tried to convince the troops to give up drinking. The U.S. Navy, in 1914 (six years before Prohibition), outlawed alcohol aboard ships. Despite much grumbling, this worked, and has worked ever since. But once the sailors hit land, demon rum takes over. However, it was the navy experience with shipboard prohibition that led army generals to believe it could work in combat zones. It has, but imposing a no-alcohol rule at home is seen as not practical. Well, maybe not yet?.

 

 


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