Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fatigue Cripples U.S. Army In Iraq

Lieutenant Clay Hanna looks sick and white. Like his colleagues he does not seem to sleep. Hanna says he catches up by napping on a cot between operations in the command centre, amid the noise of radio. He is up at 6am and tries to go to sleep by 2am or 3am. But there are operations to go on, planning to be done and after-action reports that need to be written. And war interposes its own deadly agenda that requires his attention and wakes him up.

That is the lead from an article in tomorrow's guardian. As a veteran, I can just relate to this in a very small way. We went out on training excercises in the woods for three weeks at a time. Your sleep schedule becomes very irregular. You are not pulling 8 hour days, it becomes more like 15 to 16, and this is just training for a few weeks at a time. You become exhausted by the time you are finished.

One can only imagine what it's like for people on their fourth tour in Iraq. Your time to sleep finally occurs, and just as your are settling down, there is a mortar attack nearby. Your unit will have to deal with it. There aren't any timeouts in Iraq. If you lose sleep, you lose sleep.

Attempting to get regular sleep as violence is all around you is another trick completely even on days or nights when your sleep isn't interrupted by events. When a soldier is amped up on caffeine just to get through the days, eyes bloodshot, memories of a buddy having their legs blown off fresh in his head, 5 hours of sleep in the last sixty hours, and he has to make the judgement if an approaching car is civilian or combatant, one can see how easily a horrible mistake can be made.

Troops must get rotated out to be an effective professional force. You can not tax a body to the limits and expect the mind to be in perfect operating condition. Think of how fouled up people became after one tour in Vietnam. You knew going in that you would go, serve a year 'in country' and then be done.

The psychological effect of being in Iraq for a year, not knowing if it will be extended three extra months when you have already served eleven straight is tough. Knowing that you may only be back home for less than a year and then start this grueling slog in 130 degree heat once more, if you survive with your life and your limbs is cruel.

Military recruitment is down. We can not meet quotas. We are destroying the minds of several of our brave men and women all to satisfy George W. Bush's ego. We either fix this problem now, or we will have a much larger problem years down the road.