March 02, 2004

'Bullet Magnets' Prepare for Iraqi Frontline: The largest troop rotation in US history starts this month - but the reservists have little training or appetite for battle

Another US soldier has been killed in Iraq. For what? Scores of Iraqi were also killed in a wave of bombings. These people would not have been killed if the _resident had not led the US into this foolish military adventure...The Emperor has no uniform...As Al Gore said in Tennessee recently, "He BETRAYED this country!"

Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian/UK: They simply do not
know how to fight. Some freeze in training exercises.
At the firing range, they blast away, and the targets
still stand. They were trained in technical skills,
not combat capabilities. "These people are what I
call bullet magnets," says Colonel Rick Phillips, who
is in charge of training.

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Published on Monday, March 1, 2004 by the Guardian/UK

'Bullet Magnets' Prepare for Iraqi Frontline: The largest troop rotation in US history starts this month - but the reservists have little training or appetite for battle

by Suzanne Goldenberg in Fort Bliss, Texas

The lead vehicle in the convoy has disappeared over
the hill. The road ahead is flanked by two
suspicious-looking car wrecks. In the back of the
pick-up truck, the troops are getting twitchy.

All six soldiers jump out of the truck and sprawl in
the dirt, triggers at the ready. Minutes later, they
clamber back in. Nobody thinks to look behind until a
smoke grenade explodes three yards away. The buzzer
sounds. "A grenade. We're dead, dude," says Private
Tyler Franzen.

The death toll in Iraq has been especially high for
reservists, National Guard members and support units.
There is no frontline in Iraq, and no zone of safety
for non-combat forces. Most reservists and support
units have not been trained for a guerrilla war - with
lethal consequences.


They were wiped out within the first five minutes of
their drill on convoy movement, and the implications
register quickly. Days from now, Pte Franzen and the
319th Signals Battalion could be in Iraq. "This makes
me more scared," he says. "I am preparing for the
worst."

Their trainer calls troops like these "bullet magnets"
- army reservists or National Guard soldiers, weekend
warriors with minimal combat training pressed into
service.

Tens of thousands are on the move now as the Pentagon
carries out the largest rotation of forces in its
history, relieving battle-weary soldiers in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Kuwait with fresh forces. By late
March, 130,000 troops will be leaving Iraq and
105,000, including some of the 319th, will arrive. As
many as 50% of these will be reservists or National
Guard.

Some units, like the 319th, will be raised virtually
from scratch. The signals battalion, based in
Sacramento, California, was barely at half-strength
when it was mobilized, and reservists have been
drafted in from as far away as Puerto Rico, Delaware,
and Georgia to be sent off to what the troops call the
"sandbox"

They are joining a different war from the one fought
by the invading force that set off last year to
liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein. Today, the mission
is far less clear, and more dangerous. The original
rationale for the invasion - weapons of mass
destruction - has been discredited, and so has the
notion of a swift military victory. The toll for US
forces in Iraq is approaching 550 dead.

A number of officers and troops at Fort Bliss say it
is important to draw a line between personal feelings
and duty. A few reservists say they have had run-ins
with anti-war protesters; they feel the troops are not
being supported as they should.

Nobody at Fort Bliss is raring to go off to war, but
they are going to honor their obligations. Specialist
Michelle Matthis, 21, volunteered to fill vacancies in
the 319th once it became clear her own unit would not
be deployed. But even she seems somewhat ambivalent.
"It's so I can get the war over with," she says.

Others are resigned to going to this war, but they say
it will be their last. The cost on family life is just
too great, says Jim Akers, 40, a warrant officer. This
is his first deployment after 22 years in the
reserves.

He knows the Pentagon is worried about a steep drop in
re-enlistments in the National Guard and reserves, but
after Iraq he will have done his bit. "Even $1,000
extra a month is not going to keep me there," he says.
"I will retire when I get back. I am not going to put
my family through this - or myself."

By the time the troops have arrived at Fort Bliss in
western Texas, they should be all but ready to go. But
the fact of their deployment has yet to sink in. "I
kind of expected this, but I didn't think it would
happen," Pte Franzen says. He signed on for the
college benefits in January last year. Two days before
basic training, his girlfriend learned she was
pregnant. Now he is 19 - too young to drink in Texas -
has a three-month-old son, and is days away from war.

The shock of deployment was even greater for veterans
like Maritess Leyson, 37, a computer systems
administrator from Chicago who describes her 18 years
in the army reserves as a "hobby job". When the call
came last November, the single parent was in a panic
to try to soften the news for her three teenage
children. Then she had to find them a home after her
sister balked at taking them. "When it was time for me
to go, it hit me like a brick wall, oh my goodness,"
she says. "It's scary, but I signed on the dotted
line."

None of the reservists raises the possibility that
they might be killed - their instructors do that for
them. "If the Iraqis executed an ambush with any
degree of efficiency some of you might not come home,"
says Major Shawn Marshall, after drill.

What he does not need to say is that the death toll in
Iraq has been especially high for reservists, National
Guard members and support units. There is no frontline
in Iraq, and no zone of safety for non-combat forces.
Most reservists and support units have not been
trained for a guerrilla war - with lethal
consequences.

They simply do not know how to fight. Some freeze in
training exercises. At the firing range, they blast
away, and the targets still stand. They were trained
in technical skills, not combat capabilities. "These
people are what I call bullet magnets," says Colonel
Rick Phillips, who is in charge of training. "What
they find over there is that these kids aren't pulling
the trigger. They are waiting to engage."

At Fort Bliss, that knowledge is especially acute. The
base was the home of Private Jessica Lynch and the
mechanized unit that took heavy losses in the opening
days of the war when their truck took a wrong turn
near Nasiriya, and drove into an ambush. Eleven
soldiers were killed; and others taken prisoner.

Those blunders led the Pentagon to institute basic
battleground drills for all forces departing for Iraq.
Col Phillips has four days to drill survival instincts
into his people. He knows he can not make warriors out
of them."I just want to give them enough to help them
to come home."

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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Posted by richard at March 2, 2004 01:16 PM