A new press release from Multi-National Corps-Iraq—the operational command with direct responsibility for U.S. forces in Iraq—reports some pretty impressive news that hasn’t received any stateside coverage that I’ve seen. The command has not only met but exceeded its retention quota, meaning the number of soldiers who enlist for another tour: “The theater-wide goal was 16,510, but MNC-I career counselor reenlisted 18,721 Soldiers.”
Cynics will note that reenlistment bonuses in theater are tax-free; if soldiers waited until they got back home to receive them, they would have to pay taxes. But while that consideration may determine the timing of reenlistment, a few thousand dollars is hardly enough to make a soldier risk his neck if he doesn’t believe he’s doing something worthwhile. The press release quotes MNC-I’s commander, General Ray Odierno, as saying, “Meeting and exceeding re-enlistment goals is a powerful message about the commitment of today’s force and how our soldiers feel about the army and their mission.”
He’s right. In an all-volunteer army, the troops have a vote on whatever mission they’re on. If they don’t want to serve, they don’t have to (although, admittedly, their efforts to quit could be stymied temporarily by a stop-loss order). In the case of Iraq, the evidence suggests that most of our troops want to serve. In some ways, that’s a more powerful indicator of whether we can continue to maintain our present military commitment than a poll measuring civilian sentiment.