Sunday, January 28, 2007

How Do We Measure Troop Morale?

Much has been made of this Military Times poll from last December, which purportedly shows a drop in support for the way the Iraq war has been prosecuted. Senator Webb even referred to it in his attack on the war in his State of the Union response (although he didn't specifically cite it). The tiny handful of actively engaged anti-war activists in uniform are given as much press time as they can handle. So we're about to face a Carter-era crisis of troop defection, necessitating either a full scale retreat or a draft, right?

I don't think so.

The media (2003) has been banging this drum (2004) for years, now (2005), based on anecdote, inaccurate polls, and wishful thinking. What's more, I don't doubt that there's a hell of a lot of folks in uniform (a substantial majority, in fact) who wouldn't much rather be at home raising families than being shot at and bombed by fascists. I'm quite concerned about the effect on Reservists, who I think have been overused in a system still designed for a WWII type mobilization effort. And there's no question, I think, that we have too small of an overall force, that our people are spread too thin, and as a consequence, we are not as flexible and are more vulnerable now than is prudent.

But to the narrower question of morale. How to judge it? Polls of military members are difficult to conduct scientifically. The phrase, "A [griping] sailor is a happy sailor" is a truism older than Noah, which makes the results difficult to decipher. And the various press reports are hopelessly biased.

So let's just count heads. If they're staying, it probably means they're generally optimistic, and think they're being treated fairly. In an economy boasting 4.5% employment, with veterans even less than that, it's not like they can't take that training and get a better deal. So what is it?

They're joining. And they're staying. In ever increasing numbers. Higher than pre-9/11 rates. Voting with their feet. And that's a poll you can track with certainty.

Marine veteran W. Thomas Smith, Jr. explains why the retention and recruitment rates aren't reflective of the doom and gloom picture of imminent collapse distributed by the MSM:
What the numbers do suggest, and what we who have worn the uniform of the United States have always known, is that soldiers and sailors gripe. They get frustrated like everyone else. They blow off steam. And they have been doing so since armies first marched and navies sailed. They complain about the food (even when it is superb). They dismiss the equipment as being worthless (even when it is the best in the world). And they sometimes grumble that their leaders are stupid (though those leaders might be tactical masters on the battlefield). The unhappiest and most rebellious of those who gripe are also the most vocal in their griping.
To me, this doesn't validate or invalidate the Iraq policy per se. If war policy was based on how cushy we can make the lives of soldiers, I'm not so sure we'd be speaking English today. But undoubtedly, the probability of victory is a powerful retention motivator, while certainty of defeat would drive those numbers down. And that gives me a lot of cause for optimism.

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