Disgruntled soldiers were “cherry picked”

Posted: Mar 06, 2007 12:03 AM
Disgruntled soldiers were “cherry picked”

Sean Hannity has – pardon the cliché – hit the nail on the head. This past Sunday on his new program, Hannity’s America (9:00 pm Eastern on FOX News), he took to task CBS’s recent 60 Minutes piece that featured a handful of active-duty soldiers speaking out against the Iraq War.

“CBS left out several important parts of the story,” said Hannity. “The most glaring omission is that of context.” He went on to describe how the 60 Minutes segment was introduced by correspondent Steve Kroft, who said, “[There is] dissension in the ranks for the large group of soldiers and Marines who are fed up.” Hannity then discussed the segue into the segment wherein a group of young-looking U.S. soldiers dressed in civilian clothes began to express how America’s efforts in Iraq are simply not working, soldiers are dying everyday, and “we can’t stay in Iraq for the next thousand years.”

According to Hannity:

“What wasn’t immediately clear to the viewer was exactly how many troops are expressing these opinions. According to press releases issued by the group on Monday morning – after the 60 Minutes piece aired – more than 1,400 active duty members were in the process of sending letters of redress to their congressmen. The group’s website also has a running counter of the number of troops who have expressed similar feelings. As of Friday afternoon, that number stood at 1,701. … That number constitutes only about one percent of all U.S. troops serving in Iraq. And since the group isn’t just soliciting the grievances of current troops in stationed in Iraq – but all active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines (including Reservists and National Guardsmen serving all over the world) – that number actually gets even smaller as a percentage of the whole.”

Hannity continues, “ According to the Pentagon, as of December 31, 2006, there were 1,371,533 active-duty U.S. military personnel around the world. Meaning that 60 Minutes devoted their lead segment to the opposition of one-tenth of one percent of all armed forces.”

For perspective, Hannity then provided clips of interviews with U.S. troops he and his reporters interviewed after the airing of 60 Minutes episode, all of whom expressed a pride in service and a resolute desire to complete the mission.

They weren’t the first to do so.

During a Monday phone chat, Hannity told me, “Not one [servicemember] that I’ve met – from Iraq to Walter Reed to Bethesda – has said anything other than the fact that the mission must be completed. That’s why I knew this [the 60 Minutes segment] was a hit piece. They cherry picked [the interviewed soldiers].”

Not surprising, because I too would be hard-pressed to find active-duty soldiers as opposed to our efforts in Iraq as those featured on 60 Minutes, particularly among those who have been to Iraq one or more times. Doesn’t mean they are all happy about the war’s progress, but they are in fact all-volunteer soldiers who – by and large – believe in what they are doing.

Moreover, I’ve discovered over the past four years of writing about the Iraq War, that the only fair measure by which we might glean any real understanding of how serving soldiers and newly enlisted members of the military might actually feel about the overall Iraq mission is by looking at recruiting and retention numbers. Those numbers are almost always exceeding goal. And on those rare occasions when they are not exceeding goal, they are still exceedingly high.

Let’s look at the latest numbers: According to the January 2007 recruiting statistics released by the U.S. Defense Department on February 12, “Retention in the services remains solid. The Marine Corps and Air Force are meeting or exceeding overall retention missions. Army met 109 percent of its year-to-date mission and Navy met 93 percent.”

I find it particularly interesting that the Army and Marine Corps – both branches whose members are heavily involved in ground combat in Iraq – have exceeded January’s recruiting goals by 111 and 108 percent respectively. And despite what many on the left would have us believe, those percentages are not a reflection of a decrease in actual numbers. On the contrary, goal numbers are increasing making it potentially tougher to recruit. And the most amazing numbers may be found in a deeper analysis of numbers of infantry troops and convoy truck drivers who continue to re-up in record numbers.

“Look, you can talk to 10 soldiers on Camp Victory in Iraq; and if you ask them about the Iraq mission, you’re going to get 10 different answers,” says Chris Berman, a former Navy SEAL who served as a private contractor in Iraq and today operates Granite Tactical Vehicles. “But the majority – many of whom have volunteered for multiple tours taking them back in harms way to Iraq – will tell you, ‘we must complete the mission.’”

Like me, Berman believes Hannity is correct: Those disgruntled G.I.s must have been “cherry picked.” And in a sense 60 Minutes was also correct: There is a “large group of soldiers and Marines who are fed up.” But the vast majority I’ve been talking with over the last four years are not nearly as fed-up with the war’s lack of progress as they are with the morale-sapping propaganda that has indeed contributed to that lack of progress.