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US Defense Officials Monitoring Troop Morale in Iraq - 2003-10-16

America's top defense officials say they are closely watching for possible morale problems among the more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The promise of attentiveness to possible morale problems comes from both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Staff.

It follows an informal survey of troops in Iraq by the semi-official military newspaper Stars and Stripes, that found a third of the soldiers felt their morale was low or very low.

The survey also found nearly half of those questioned said they do not plan to remain in the military - suggesting a possible future manpower problem.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld acknowledges there could be an impact in the future if commanders do not pay attention to the needs of military personnel today.

"The effects of stress on the force are unlikely to be felt immediately," he said. "They are much more likely to be felt down the road. So we have to be attentive to that and we are."

For his part, General Myers says the new survey of some 2,000 military personnel in Iraq, while unscientific, provides a "useful insight."

He acknowledges conditions in Iraq are tough and dangerous. But he agrees commanders are focusing on the morale of the troops.

"Morale is really important because it's people who get the job done," the general explained. "There should be no confusion about that. We often focus on the high tech piece of our business and the equipment and so forth, but in the end it's the individual soldier, sailor or marine, Coast Guardsman that make the difference."

Meanwhile the Stars and Stripes newspaper is quoting the top U.S. commander in Iraq as describing complaints about morale as "expected."

But Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez says troops are focused and understand and support their mission.

In the newspaper's survey, some two-thirds of those questioned rated the war in Iraq as worthwhile or very worthwhile with only a third saying it was of little or no value.

Over 330 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq, close to 200 of them since the end of major combat operations.