Federal News Service September 8, 2004 Wednesday
HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE SUBJECT: PROGRESS IN THE RECONSTRUCTION AND REHABILITATION OF IRAQ
CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE JOEL HEFLEY (R-CO)
COLONEL MICHAEL LINNINGTON, USA, FORMER BRIGADE COMMANDER, 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION;
LIEUTENANT COLONEL JEFFREY SPRINGMAN, USA, FORMER COMMANDER, 3RD BATTALION IN SUPPORT OF THE 4TH INFANTRY DIVISION; CAPTAIN PATRICK COSTELLO, USA, FORMER ADA, 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION;
LIEUTENANT COLONEL BRYAN P. MCCOY, USMC, FORMER COMMANDER, 3RD BATTALION, 4TH MARINE REGIMENT; CAPTAIN MORGAN SAVAGE, USMC, FORMER COMPANY COMMANDER, 3RD BATTALION, 4TH MARINE REGIMENT
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REP. FRANK LoBIONDO (R-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And gentlemen, I echo the comments of all my colleagues and thank you for serving your country so well, for making us so proud, specially Colonel Linnington. Relationship with your brother for about 20 years now. So I feel special kinship towards you. A couple of questions that I have. On a local South Jersey talk radio show which I'm on pretty frequently and open up to questions to callers, there's one particular caller-it's easy to tell from his comments where he's coming from-but he's insisting that he has a contact with a friend that has either a son or a grandson that's been in Iraq. So that's where his connection is coming from. And he is continuing to insist that-a couple of things-not all of our troops in harm's way have body armor. You talked about the up-armored Humvees and I think I've got your take on that. And that also morale is nose- diving, that it was okay for a while but now that the rank and file troops believe that they shouldn't be there, that they're not getting the right equipment in all cases, that there is more that we can be doing as a nation to support them and that, if the truth be known according to this individual, that morale is really a problem.
Colonel Linnington, could you start with trying to make some comments on that?
COL. LINNINGTON: Congressman, that's about 180 degrees out from my experience. As I left the 101st, morale was at an all-time high. We were exceeding enlistment rates and our equipment was getting refurbished and refit amazingly quickly, primarily due to the resources that were given to us by your committee and by the United States Congress. So I appreciate that.
Body armor was not an issue in our unit. Everybody had it when we got there and we left it in Iraq when we came back home for units that were replacing us. And the things that we had, the up-armored kits for our vehicles, we left all that in Iraq as well so that units coming in would have it when they came in. We didn't take any of it home. And as we refitted our equipment upon return, part of the refit of the equipment is replenishment of the stocks and the things that we left in Iraq.
There's lots of indications of morale in a unit. And the biggest thing, I think, is troops wanting to stay in the unit and stay in the Army to do what they are doing. And overwhelmingly, our troops' morale is high. There is no other way I can justify the comments of the caller that talked to you on the radio.
REP. LoBIONDO: Okay. Any --
COL. McCOY: Yes, sir. I'll address the body armor question first. I'll restate for the record that 100 percent of my Marines and sailors had both the SAPI plate and a separate vest and ballistic goggles. With regards to morale, I can assure there is no sense of victim-hood, from where I stand, in my battalion, my regiment, my division, a few individuals notwithstanding. The families where you would expect to see the first cracks in morale, since our families in my battalion endured 13 out of 18 months were deployed to Iraq. We came back for five months and then redeployed. They are solid. We are as proud of them as they are of us.
Finally, we're doing what Marines do. This is why we joined. It's an all volunteer force. Marines join to do this, to fight and win their nation's battles and that's exactly what we're doing.
Last week I had the opportunity to go to Bethesda to visit a Marine, Corporal Peter Bagarella (ph), from Cape Cod. He wasn't one of my Marines but he was a Marine from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines that relieved us in Haditha. This Marine had lost a foot and his eyes to an IED.
He's going to regain his eyesight. What was significant and striking was this young Marine's morale was sky-high. And even though he knew, you know, he had lost his foot, his first concern was to get back to his unit and to get back to his comrades.
We believe in our mission. We trust in our brothers, and we have fought with a happy heart. To suggest that there is dissent in the ranks is, again to echo Colonel Linnington, is 180 degrees out from my experience, sir.
REP. LoBIONDO: Colonel.
COL. SPRINGMAN: Sir, I saw high morale also. Again, reenlistment rates were over 100 percent. Soldiers knew they were doing what soldiers do. Families. I had several soldiers reenlist in Iraq who said the main deciding factor was their wife was happy with the support she was getting and everything was going well back here in the States as well as with the soldier deployed, sir. Also saw soldiers who were wounded drive on with the mission that day, drive on with patrols because they didn't want to leave their fellow soldiers out there. Of course, the more seriously wounded were evacuated right away. But we had soldiers continue.
PSC Chapman (ph) I remember was hit and his Interceptor body armor stopped it. He had a black and blue mark. But it probably would have killed him, had he not been wearing his Interceptor body armor. Got up and drove on with the mission a few minutes later, sir. I saw morale high while I was over there, sir.
REP. LoBIONDO: Captain, your experience the same?
CAPT. SAVAGE: That's correct, sir. I would say morale and happiness do not always coexist. Getting ready, standing at the gates to do a grim task doesn't mean that you're happy about it, but at the same time, Marines volunteer to be tested.
And at the end of a deployment, if the Marines are fortunate enough to come back to our families, we know how we did. And for the five and a half months we were in Iraq, or the seven months we were gone, Marines constantly sought to be tested. And the worst thing for a Marine was to spend time away from his unit, as I know personally, sir.
REP. LoBIONDO: Captain Costello, any different?
CAPT. COSTELLO: Yes, sir. Similar thoughts. First of, 100 percent of my soldiers had body armor. There was never a time that there was a body armor shortage within my unit. I think the caller that you referenced may be confusing morale with being homesick. There's no doubt in my mind that every soldier that's over there right now would rather be back home.
And, you know, some of the e-mails or phone calls that family members or friends may receive some time may be not so optimistic or not so happy and things like that. But I did not witness any morale problems. I had one discipline problem in a year that required an Article 15 for almost 100 soldiers. You know, my guys had smiles on their face constantly. Would they rather be home? Yes.
REP. LoBIONDO: : Thanks.
Mr. Chairman, could I indulge for another minute?
REP. HUNTER: Yes.
REP. LoBIONDO: Just real quickly. And I'll just ask Colonel Linnington and Colonel McCoy. When I was-when I visited-as you know, they arranged for us to have meals with the soldiers-one of the comments I heard was that most of our troops get to watch Armed Forces Network, which is basically our cable system.
And along the lines that we heard before that you were mentioning, none of the good news stories are basically making the TV networks. Do you think that the troops that are watching that at the time over in theater recognize that? And is that causing any kind of a problem that they're seeing good things happening on the ground and then are watching TV when they're coming off duty and saying, you know, where's the good story? Do you hear any of that? And I know I'm over time, so I would just ask the two of you to comment briefly.
COL. LINNINGTON: Troops tend to watch football games and wrestling and boxing and things. And, believe it or not, as Pat said earlier, we tended to leave the news off while we were in theater. So it didn't affect them.
REP. LoBIONDO: Didn't affect them that much.
COL. LINNINGTON: And the ones it did, I mean, you know, they understood the importance of the mission and took pride in what they were doing. So they took it for what it was worth.
REP. LoBIONDO: Okay.
COL. McCOY: I concur with that statement.
REP. LoBIONDO: Okay. Thank you, again. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your service to our country.
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