Then and now: A look at how the military has changed this decade

by manderle | October 12, 2011 3:34 pm

By MEGAN ANDERLE and DAN O’LEARY

As soon as Americans were under attack the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Cory Smith, Sgt. 1st class, knew war was imminent.

“I started to mentally prepare myself for what was to come,” Smith said. “Units started to get plugged into tasks, and force protection was urgent, as you can imagine.”

Smith, who joined the military in the ‘90’s, said his battle buddy, who got out of the military after Desert Storm, re-enlisted two days after 9/11. Several of his soldiers who he has led over the years enlisted for the same reason.

“They were putting people in right and left. They joined because they felt it was their duty to bring justice,” Smith said. “As morbid as it sounds, another friend of mine, a recruiter in New York City, was handing out his business cards right after the towers hit.”

Though the number of recruits at the time is statistically insignificant, according to the USA Today[1], Smith said he doesn’t think the majority of recruits at the time would have joined if 9/11 hadn’t happened.

“If you’re already a patriotic person, you’re going to want join the fight,” said 2nd Lt. John Mandrafina. “I always wanted to join the military before it happened, but I also joined because I wanted to kill the people that did this and make sure it never happens again.”

As of June 2011, there are roughly 1.4 million people are active duty according to the U.S. Personnel and Military Statistics. There were about 22,000 less in September of 2002.

Like airports, bus terminals and other areas of transit, bases across the country had heightened security around the 10-year anniversary. At Fort Hood in Texas, where Smith works, measures were conducted  anywhere from closing express lanes on post to more random vehicle searches, more police patrols and ID checks at shops.

A lot has changed in the last 10 years. The military has fought two wars in the Middle East, which have since subsided. They’re beginning to scale back after a three-year surge. Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders have been caught. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, and the media has talked about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than ever.

These changes, some for the better, others for the worst, have kept the military in the spotlight this past decade, and the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 has forced soldiers to take stock of what it was like then and what it’s like now.

Over the course of the past decade men and women of the military have had more than their fair share or complications and controversy. Enlisting in Americas greatest time of need as well as the worst financial drought in history brought forward questionable reason in the public eye.

Many soldiers built themselves up for that one moment of getting deployed, and if and when they do come back home, having endless uncertainties about how the rest of their life.  Many come home  having to find a job and a place to live an enormous challenge in today’s economy, one that can adds to the stress and mental illness of  already struggling soldiers.

According to CBS News, an average of 39 percent of soldiers returning home have reported serious psychological symptoms such as anger, depression or alcohol abuse.

[2]

Photos from armor basic officer leaders course at Fort Knox from January, 2011. photo courtesy of John Mandrafina

Morale of the Army: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Troops were sent to Iraq in March of 2003, at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Smith said the morale was very high at the time he enlisted in 1992, and it only got stronger after 9/11.

“Joining right after Desert Storm the spirit of victory was still flowing through the veins of the veterans and infused to us new soldiers,” Smith said. ”We trained and played like they fought, hard. Right after 9/11 happened, the Army was ready and willing to go to war.  Let’s go and kick some ass.”

“I felt like a God when I went out the back ramp of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle when on a patrol or a raid,” he added. “We were there on a mission to get bad guys and we were going to get them.  

After Operation Desert Storm in August 1990, when Iraq took control of Kuwait and the United States successfully forced Iraq out in four days, reestablishing order in Kuwait, the military scaled down drastically, getting rid of any officers or enlistees who didn’t have good records and making the requirements more rigorous for people to join. They had to build these numbers back up in 2003. Over the course of a three-year surge, an additional 30,000 troops were placed overseas, according to the Military Times.

[3]

photo courtesy of John Mandrafina

 ‘Joining to Earn a Paycheck, Not to Fight’

Many people who joined the military immediately after 9/11 did so because they felt obligated to defend the country at a time in which most Americans were grieving.

Are people still joining today with the tragic day in mind, to “get the bad guys” who  took innocent American lives on arguably the most tragic day of this generation? Because the market is bad? To stay out of trouble?

The answers are varied; every soldier has his or her own story.

Smith said he thinks new enlistees still have 9/11 on their minds, but the bad economy also makes the military a viable option for some.

“We are still in the 9/11 generation so there are still people joining with 9/11 in mind,” he said. “People might also be joining because of the bad market. I have a soldier on my roster that has been laid off four times in the past three years.”

CJ Thomas, a 2nd lt., graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2009 and joined the following year because of the bad market, but said he’s happy he made the decision.

“I just graduated college, didn’t have job, so I looked into the military,” Thomas said. “First, it was just a job. Now it’s a lot more than that. It’s nice to be able to make a change in individuals’ lives.”

Cpl. Gavin Doumit, of the Texas National Guard, said that the large number of recruits has caused a decrease in quality.

“Before I got off active duty we got a slew of new soldiers fresh out of basic [training] and they were some of the sorriest excuses of soldiers i’ve ever seen,” Doumit said. “It’s just sad that they come in and waste a position that someone who wants to be there can fill.”

As America was facing the biggest crisis on home soil since Pearl Harbor, being extra-selective of recruits was not high on the priority list. When push came to shove, these individuals who joined to avoid a bad market acted out just to avoid getting deployed.

“Several of them purposely got in trouble thinking they wouldn’t be able to deploy if they acted out, but they soon found that they were mistaken.” added Doumit.

[4]

photo courtesy of John Mandrafina

Public’s perception of military

The media had a significant role in shaping the public’s view of the Iraq war. According to the Pew Research Center, in a survey of 1500 Americans, 72 percent were in favor of the Iraqi war in March of 2003. By 2008, 54 percent of people were not in favor.  Some may attribute this to shift in content over the course of time.

“Once the war got boring, priorities got a little skewed, and the media only focused on the ‘juicy’ stories,” Smith said.

Over time, Smith said the media has focus on the “misconduct” of soldiers, such as killing innocent civilians, too heavily, causing the publics’ support to change.

“I can almost guarantee that incidents of rape and killings of non-hostiles happen in every conflict,” he said. “Were these Soldiers wrong for what they did? Yes, but, you have to take into consideration that you are putting 18 or 20-year-old kids into these high stress situations where emotion can take over reason, especially if the day before that same soldier had his buddy killed at the same spot.”

When asked if these occasions of misconduct at all, Smith said they should, but the school that the unit rebuilt should get equal, if not more coverage. This would give the public a more popular opinion of what the military does and the fact that they have done some good for Iraqi people.

Smith said that the media is responsible for establishing the misconception that the money the U.S. has spent while in Iraq is wasteful, not helping anyone.

The money spent in Iraq is upwards of $3.3 trillion, according to estimates by The New York Times.

“Do you know what the Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center is? Or how many schools the military has rebuilt in Iraq? Exactly. Case and point,” Smith said.  “They talk about money being spent, but they don’t know what that money is going to, and how it is helping people.

Smith said only veterans recognized soldiers’ accomplishments, rather than the public at large.

“Civilian population didn’t really pay attention to us as once the dust settled from Desert Storm,” he said. “The vets knew that there are always operations going on, and they always gave us their respect.”

Like Smith, Thomas disapproves of the coverage.

He criticized reporters for only covering certain events of the military, without knowing the context of these soldiers’ lives.

“A lot of people talk about things they don’t understand,” he said. “They may go cover something for a month or two, but they don’t experience a soldier’s life. They haven’t done something in a soldier’s shoes.”

In contrast, Mike Pearson, a civilian, said he thinks the media’s coverage in Iraq started out as being thorough, but it is now spotty.

“When things first started getting serious after 9/11 you were really kept in the loop and got a fairly good idea of both sides of the war, very few biased reporters,” Pearson said. “Unfortunately now all I really hear about is when something odd happens and a bunch of people die.”

[5]

photo courtesy of John Mandrafina

Military’s presence in Iraq

According to Gallup.com, a website that reports on global affairs, 4 in 10 Americans are in favor of staying in Iraq until the situation there gets better, but 60 percent are in favor of establishing a timetable that plans out when troops will gradually leave.

Smith, who was deployed to Iraq for a year in 2008, said he thinks the U.S. should continue a presence there, because we’ve made that commitment.

“There has always been unrest,” he said. “Have we helped the nation? I honestly believe that we have. Are they prepared to maintain the stability once we leave? That I am not totally sure of. Afghanistan it’s hard to tell due to the fact that I have not been there, and it is such a tribal nation.”

“I think that we will always have a presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan; it will end up being like Korea or Germany,” Smith added.

Mandrafina said his concern are the insurgents, who might gain a substantial following again, even though the U.S. has killed many of their key leaders, like Hussein and Bin Laden. This has forced Al-Qaeda to operate in fragments. They’re not as structured or as united as they once were, Mandrafina said, and we the U.S. needs to keep it that way.

“If we leave, insurgents could become a greater threat,” Mandrafina said. “If these people weren’t fighting us, would they be devoting more time to terrorist attacks?”

Future of the military

Because the surge into the Middle East is completed, there isn’t as high of a demand for enlistees or officers as there was three years ago. They’re in the process of scaling back. Over the next five years, the Army alone will cut 50,000 jobs, according to the Army Times.

Officers like Smith, however, remember the sacrifices they made in Iraq to serve America in a post-9/11 world.

“I had a saying for my soldiers: ‘We are here to win their hearts and minds, until they become a combatant,’” Smith said.

As soon as Americans were under attack the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Cory Smith, Sgt. 1st class, knew war was imminent.

“I started to mentally prepare myself for what was to come,” Smith said. “Units started to get plugged into tasks, and force protection was urgent, as you can imagine.”

Smith, who joined the military in the ‘90’s, said his battle buddy, who got out of the military after Desert Storm, re-enlisted two days after 9/11. Several of his soldiers who he has led over the years enlisted for the same reason.

“They were putting people in right and left. They joined because they felt it was their duty to bring justice,” Smith said. “As morbid as it sounds, another friend of mine, a recruiter in New York City, was handing out his business cards right after the towers hit.”

Though the number of recruits at the time is statistically insignificant, according to the USA Today, Smith said he doesn’t think the majority of recruits at the time would have joined if 9/11 hadn’t happened.

“If you’re already a patriotic person, you’re going to want join the fight,” said 2nd Lt. John Mandrafina. “I always wanted to join the military before it happened, but I also joined because I wanted to kill the people that did this and make sure it never happens again.”

As of June 2011, there are roughly 1.4 million people are active duty according to the U.S. Personnel and Military Statistics. There were about 22,000 less in September of 2002.

Like airports, bus terminals and other areas of transit, bases across the country had heightened security around the 10-year anniversary. At Fort Hood in Texas, where Smith works, measures were conducted  anywhere from closing express lanes on post to more random vehicle searches, more police patrols and ID checks at shops.

A lot has changed in the last 10 years. The military has fought two wars in the Middle East, which have since subsided. They’re beginning to scale back after a three-year surge. Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders have been caught. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, and the media has talked about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than ever.

These changes, some for the better, others for the worst, have kept the military in the spotlight this past decade, and the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 has forced many soldiers to take stock of what it was like then and what it’s like now.

Future of the military

Because the surge into the Middle East is completed, there isn’t as high of a demand for enlistees or officers as there was three years ago. They’re in the process of scaling back. Over the next five years, the Army alone will cut 50,000 jobs, according to the Army Times.

Officers like Smith, however, remember the sacrifices they made in Iraq to serve America in a post-9/11 world.

“I had a saying for my soldiers: ‘We are here to win their hearts and minds, until they become a combatant,’” Smith said.

For a timeline of the Iraq war, click here[6].

To read about Iraqi soldiers in 2005 in the USA Today, click here[7].

Endnotes:
  1. according to the USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-09-08-9-11-recruits-cover_x.htm
  2. [Image]: http://integritas.ramaporecord.org/?attachment_id=1249
  3. [Image]: http://integritas.ramaporecord.org/?attachment_id=1250
  4. [Image]: http://integritas.ramaporecord.org/?attachment_id=1247
  5. [Image]: http://integritas.ramaporecord.org/?attachment_id=1251
  6. here: http://thinkprogress.org/report/iraq-timeline/
  7. here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-09-08-cover-side_x.htm

Source URL: http://integritas.ramaporecord.org/?p=1026