Heat Casualties

SYNOPSIS: A follow-up to the NYT column Thanks for the M.R.E.'s where Krugman provides his sources

Some people have asked me for the source of the letter about water shortages in Iraq. It's not Hackworth's site - I know he's often accused of self-promotion, though there's no reason to question the letters he passes on. But anyway, I took it from  Stars and Stripes - lead letter, under the headline "Heat casualties"

Here's the text, in case the letters are taken down:

My name is Pfc. John Bendetti. I’m assigned to the 220th Military Police Company with the Colorado Army National Guard. We arrived in Kuwait one month before the war started.

Just before the war ended, we were sent to Iraq. We arrived during the “winter” months. We’ve been living at Tallil Air Base. We’re currently living off Meals, Ready to Eat, T-rations, and junk food from the local post exchange. We’re also currently living without air conditioning. During the day the temperature reaches 127 degrees in the shade.

Due to more attacks on convoys, more items are becoming rare. Two examples are mail and bottled water. Our mail has been reduced to two times a week. Due to a lack of bottled water, each soldier has been limited to two 1.5 liter bottles a day. We’ve had two soldiers drop out due to heat-related injuries.

A person with common sense knows that a normal person can’t survive on three liters of water a day. One would think that the Army could coordinate with the Air Force and have supplies flown in from Kuwait. All I’m saying is that we’ve been “climatized” to the heat, but new troops have not. There will continue to be more heat casualties until something is done.

Hopefully we won’t have to lose someone because of someone’s stupidity. We need to come up with a solution quick!

Pfc. John Bendetti
Tallil, Iraq

Here's another, from more recent  letters :

It frustrates me that those who want to tell soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq to buck up are in the U.S. or Germany. None of them knows what it’s really like out here. I’m tired of people like the writer of the letter “Attitude appalling” (July 20) who say that noncommissioned officers’ attitudes out here are appalling. I’ll tell reader’s what’s appalling: The way officers, especially upper-level officers, have stripped NCOs of their ability to take care of their soldiers and give them direction. Why would the Army’s backbone, the NCO Corps, have its soldiers puzzled and perplexed at this deployment/war? It’s because the ones in power are the officers, and they’ve drawn us all out here into this conflict without a real mission just to fulfill their need for promotion or recognition.

There are thousands of soldiers in Kuwait who were never supposed to be here. My unit was told that we weren’t supposed to be here. We were told by a lieutenant colonel on our second day in country that we were supposed to demobilize and return home. We asked if we could return. He laughed and said, “No. We got you here. Now we will find something for you.” As with tens of hundreds of other units, we were without a mission. How do readers think our morale was as of day two in country, let alone all the other units that sat here waiting for a job but never got one? Like us, they are still waiting for a way home.

I feel bad for 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and everyone on this deployment. We got shafted by upper-level officers who don’t care about their soldiers’ well-being and are so selfish that they’d mobilize battalions and battalions of soldiers who are not needed and have no mission. Then those officers return home without their soldiers, who are stuck in country with new officers who want to get theirs and are thinking of themselves, not their soldiers.

It is so much worse. If I could only find the words to describe the harsh reality here in Kuwait and Iraq, I would. Politics and selfishness are at the lead of this nation-building operation, the complete opposite of all Army values.

So the next time anyone wants to slam NCOs or any other soldiers for the situation that we’re in, they shouldn’t blame us. They should look at the big picture and see what hell we live in out here. They have no right to sit in Germany or the States and judge us and our conditions.

Spc. Jason K. Sapp

And here's an excerpt from the Financial Times story on 8/11:

But the growing dependence on such private sector support concerns some military experts. Part of the problem is that contractors are not subject to military discipline and could walk off the job if they felt like it. The only thing the military could do would be to sue the contractor later on - the last thing on the mind of a commander on the battlefield.

This is not just an idle possibility. Since the end of the recent war in Iraq, US army officers have complained that their troops suffered poor living conditions because civilian contractors sometimes failed to show up. Even the mail handled by Halliburton was slow to get through.

"We thought we could depend on industry to perform these kinds of functions," Lt Gen Charles S. Mahan, the Army's logistics chief, was quoted as saying by Newhouse News Service this month. He said it got "harder and harder to get (them) to go in harm's way".

One senior US official says the use of private contractors has "been going on now for at least two decades and it has really intensified lately and has got some of the military planners . . . pulling their hair out". In part, says the official, this is because US military planners are looking at a possible war on the Korean peninsula, one that would be "a more traditional conventional war, if you will, one that will be bloody as hell and fought on cross-compartmental terrain that makes the desert looks like child's play.

"These people can't do that," the official continues. "You've got to have military cooks and military people doing all this logistics tail and so forth. You aren't going to get contractors to go. You have got this situation . . . where better than 20 or 30 per cent of services that used to be done in house by combat trained people are now (done by) contractors."

Critics, do your homework!

Originally published on the Official Paul Krugman Site, 8.13.03