Why are our troops suffering in such filth and discomfort over in Iraq?
That's been an odd puzzle, since where killing of troops by guerrillas may be somewhat beyond the control of the military, you would think that delivering decent facilities for daily living wouldn't be such a challenge for this high-tech army.
The problem is that it's not the high-tech army taking care of those living conditions, but private industry on contract. For over a decade, the military has been shifting its supply and support personnel into combat jobs and hiring defense contractors to do the rest. And the process has accelerated under Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
And despite the alleged wonders of private enterprise, those companies have left soldiers in filth, heat, and garbage.
Why Private Contractors Fail Soldiers: While soldiers can be ordered into combat zones, civilians cannot. So US troops in Iraq have had to suffer through months of unnecessarily poor living conditions because contractors hired by the Army for logistics support plain failed to show up. Even mail delivery &endash; turned over to civilian contractors -- fell weeks behind.
"We thought we could depend on industry to perform these kinds of functions," Lt. Gen. Charles S. Mahan, the Army's logistics chief, said in one interview.
Soldiers have progressed from living in mud, then the summer heat and dust. One group of mothers organized a drive to buy and ship air conditioners to their sons. An Army captain ended up turning to a reporter to have him send a box of nails and screws to repair his living quarters and latrines.
For almost a decade, the military has been shifting support jobs over to the private sector. And the result in Iraq has been a disaster for the troops. Not surprisingly, when the going gets tough, the civilian business folks take a hike.
Enron Accounting on Contracts: And apparently, the chaos of cost-plus contracts with overlapping deals is a big reason the White House has no idea how much the Iraq Occupation is costing American taxpayers. Thanks to all these overlapping contracts with multiple contracting offices, the Pentagon can't keep track of which contractors are responsible for which jobs -- or how much it all costs. That's one reason the Bush administration can only estimate that it is spending about $4 billion a month on troops in Iraq.
Rumsfeld has already proposed handing 300,000 additional military logistics jobs over to private contractors, further endangering our troops in any future conflicts. But heck, at least Dick Cheney's buddies at Halliburton are making lots of money. So who cares if the soldiers have to suffer for it? Or that the budget numbers on the war resemble an Enron accounting sheet?
Grunt Soldiers Take a Budget Hit: And the indifference to front-line soldiers' needs isn't restricted to hiring substandard contractors in Iraq. Soldiers and their families have been targeted for nasty budget cuts to help pay for all the goodies handed to Halliburton et al. These budget cuts effecting military families back home just adds to the general low morale of troops in the Iraqi deployment.
Army Times has been scathing in its criticism of the cuts and budgeting enacted by the GOP-controlled Congress. These include:
Canceling a "modest proposal" to increase the benefit from $6,000 to $12,000 to families of soldiers who die on active duty;
Rolling back recent increases in monthly imminent-danger pay (from $225 down to $150) and family-separation allowance (from $250 down to $100) for troops getting shot at in combat zones;
Refusing to consider military tax relief to help military homeowners, reservists who travel long distances for training, or parents deployed to combat zones;
Passing pay raises for some higher ranks, but capping raises for the lowest ranks at 2%, well below the average raise of 4.1%;
Enacting a $1.5 billion cut in the military construction request for 2004
As Army Times wrote: "Taken piecemeal, all these corner-cutting moves might be viewed as mere flesh wounds. But even flesh wounds are fatal if you suffer enough of them. It adds up to a troubling pattern that eventually will hurt morale -&endash; especially if the current breakneck operations tempo also rolls on unchecked and the tense situations in Iraq and Afghanistan do not ease."
All of this makes for the most deadly combination for a soldier: an administration that loves war and hates the troops.
Nathan Newman is a labor lawyer, longtime community activist, and author of the recently published book Net Loss [Penn State Press] on Internet policy and economic inequality. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.nathannewman.org.