Saturday, July 05, 2003

It's starting to look like US armed forces are getting stretched thin:
After criticizing the Clinton administration for overdeploying and overusing the country's military in the 1990s, the Bush administration is now doing exactly the same thing -- except on a much larger scale. Hordes of active-duty troops and reservists may soon leave the service rather than subject themselves to a life continually on the road. Much more than transforming the armed forces or relocating overseas bases, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must solve this problem before the Bush administration breaks the American military.

The problem is most acute for the Army. Even as most Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel go home to a grateful nation, the Army still has more than 185,000 troops deployed in and around Iraq. Another 10,000 are in Afghanistan. More than 25,000 troops are in Korea; some 5,000 are in the Balkans; and dozens here and hundreds there are on temporary assignments around the world. Nearly all of these soldiers are away from their home bases and families.

So, how are the families of the troops back home handleing all this? Not too well right now:
Ms. Leija is still upset. The panic has passed, but not the weariness. Or the anger. Anger that her husband, Capt. Frank Leija, has not come home yet, even though President Bush declared two months ago that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." Anger that the end of that stage has not meant the beginning of peace, that the Army has assigned new duties for her husband and his men that have nothing to do with toppling Saddam Hussein.

And anger that the talk in Washington is not of taking troops out of Iraq, but of sending more in.

"I want my husband home," Ms. Leija, a mother of three children, said. "I am so on edge. When they first left, I thought yeah, this will be bad, but war is what they trained for. But they are not fighting a war. They are not doing what they trained for. They have become police in a place they're not welcome."

Military families, so often the ones to put a cheery face on war, are growing vocal. Since major combat for the 150,000 troops in Iraq was declared over on May 1, more than 60 Americans, including 25 killed in hostile encounters, have died in Iraq, about half the number of deaths in the two months of the initial campaign.