Troop strength is a recurring topic of discussion regarding our difficulties in Iraq. Unfortunately, what began as cries of "not enough troops" from left-leaning political partisans eventually grew into a choir that included more credible individuals. Among them were people very familiar with the situation in Iraq: Anthony Zinni, Senator Joe Biden, Colin Powell, and Frederick Kagan, to name a few.
It is disappointing that intelligent people who are well versed in military affairs are capable of seeing a forest but fail to recognize that it is composed of trees, with some trees bearing more fruit than others. To put it in less abstract terms, we have enough troops in Iraq, but far too few of them are engaged in hunting down our enemies and training our Iraqi allies. Rather than maximizing the number of soldiers in Iraq, we should be focusing on maximizing the effectiveness of the soldiers who are already there.
Small units of soldiers and Marines in Iraq are working around the clock to capture or kill our enemies while safeguarding civilians and infrastructure. These are the people whom we tend to envision when we think of veterans, yet they represent a minority of the troops in Iraq. On our larger base camps, much larger numbers of soldiers, airmen, and Marines are working the same 9 to 5 duty hours that they work back home.
This disparity between the front line and rear echelon is as old as war itself. The terms "front line" and "rear echelon" are now somewhat outdated, but the concepts remain the same. Our nonlinear battlefields in Iraq certainly have no front lines, but there are most certainly areas that are secure or not secure, where the differences are as well defined as the front lines and rear echelons of past wars. Bases where soldiers face a significant risk of being shot, mortared, or struck by enemy rockets are not secure. Large camps and bases that are cordoned off with berms and other protective obstacles, where soldiers are able to roam about without helmets or protective vests, are secure. The relationship between the frontline and rear echelon of the past has been replaced with the relationship between the secure and not secure areas of today.
While our troops who patrol the streets of Iraqi cities are more lethal, suffer fewer casualties, and cause fewer civilian casualties and collateral damage than in wars past, the troops in secure areas are becoming exponentially less efficient, turning our base camps into money pits into which our tax dollars quickly disappear. Peruse the publications put out by the military Public Affairs Offices in Iraq and you will see countless examples of our defense budget and manpower being put to gratuitous waste. A special event for the Soldiers now and then is understandable -- a church service, a visit from a celebrity, perhaps some better-than-normal food. But if you browse through the Anaconda Times or the Scimitar, to name only a couple examples, one will see that it is commonplace to hold tournaments for softball, basketball, and water polo in the summer, and to organize fun runs and competitive runs ranging from a 10-mile run to a marathon in the cooler months. There are education centers where soldiers can take college classes. There are radio stations, restaurants, coffee shops, beauty salons, massage parlors, and even post exchanges that sell lingerie, condoms, cologne, and perfume. On some base camps, most notably Camp Liberty, Camp Victory, and Logistics Support Area Anaconda, civilian attire is nearly as common as the starched military uniforms -- even among the troops -- and the pool, volleyball courts, and basketball courts are packed all day long.
The majority of soldiers, Marines, and airmen in Iraq enjoy a level of comfort that does not logically correspond to a military at war. Contrary to the sacrifices and hardships that most Americans envision our troops to be making, most of our troops are being only slightly inconvenienced by their tour in Iraq. As small units of dedicated Soldiers and Marines take the fight to our enemies, logistical functions are thinly spread amongst tens of thousands of troops on secure base camps.
Of course, not all troops should be closing with and destroying the enemy. We need supply clerks, medical personnel, mechanics and secure areas for them to execute their duties. However, many of our maintenance functions, food services, laundry services, and supply functions at our secure areas are outsourced to Kellogg, Brown and Root.
With our new "modularity" concept now in action in Iraq, where battalions are more self-sustaining and have dedicated support companies, someone needs to explain why we still need tens of thousands of additional support personnel. Their abundance of leisure time is an indicator of their necessity.
The so-called "tooth to tail" ratio is an issue that the military has always struggled to keep the lid on. Unfortunately, the lid is gone and the problem is out of control. Our tail is far too large and our teeth are far too small. Until we fix this, our problems will continue. We will continue to be frustrated by effectiveness well below our potential or we will pursue an economically unsustainable troop buildup. Neither is acceptable. We have more than enough troops in Iraq. We can and must use them more effectively.
The author is an Army Officer who has served in Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia-Herzegovina and OIF I and OIF III in Iraq. He is currently on patrol in Iraq. He is writing under a pseudonym.