- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

President Bush was right to say that the war on terrorism will be long and hard. Our military planners are undoubtedly looking not only at the coming campaign in Iraq, but what will come after it, and how we will meet those challenges. One part of any military force's ability to fight is its morale. The morale of our front-line forces the Special Operations troops, Air Force and Navy pilots, and the others who are first to go in harm's way is very high. Morale is a key to fighting readiness, and the great majority of the people serving in these high-profile forces have a concomitantly high morale. But our sources tell us that all is not well with many of the others, including many who may have to go into combat in the near future.

There are many ways to measure morale. It can be measured objectively by comparing re-enlistment rates to the rate of military disciplinary actions. A unit with high re-enlistment and low courts martial is thought to have high morale, and vice versa. There is much more to the question because morale is not something that can be measured merely by counting numbers, and the factors that really determine morale are different in peace and war. In peacetime, factors such as overall quality of life, work hours and schedules, and the time away from home all affect morale. In war, things are different. But a year after September 11, Americans including many in the military have followed all too well the president's advice to get back to normal. And "normal" for us is peace, not war. While many of our troops have been in the fight and some of these brave people have been killed or injured, most of our active-duty military still lives in its peacetime mode. The president and the Pentagon leadership need to change this norm so that wartime morale can be present to support wartime capabilities.

In wartime, morale is built around things such as unit cohesion. If a group of troops train and fight together for long periods, they will do better in both situations. Our sources say that turnover in combat units, particularly in the Army, is too high. There is also a "zero defects" culture in many units, which creates unease and deprives junior officers of the chance to learn from mistakes. The intensity of operations can also drive morale down when it is not offset by sufficient "down time." In peace, frequent turnover in commanders leaves small units in a constant state of intense effort, because each new commander needs to make his presence felt. Now we are at war. The troops especially those who train and fight most intensely need to be given enough time to rest, recuperate and rebuild their unit cohesion.

There are far too many other factors that contribute to wartime morale to discuss all of them here. But we are at war, and the concerns about morale are both legitimate and increasing. Because this war will be a long one, the morale of the troops must be a constant concern. Better to examine it now, before it becomes a major problem, and take whatever steps may be needed to ensure that all of our troops have the sort of morale that contributes to their combat readiness.

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