Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No relief for the armed forces

Army Staff Sgt. Bobby Martin Jr. has been fighting insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan longer than the entire three years the Korean War lasted.

At age 34 and finishing a fourth combat tour, he has seen five of his men killed since 2003. Four died this year, including two on Martin's birthday in May. Thirty-eight cumulative months in combat have left him with bad knees, aching shins and recurring headaches from a roadside blast, ailments he hides from his soldiers.

Out of earshot of his troops, Martin concedes, "This is a lot of wear and tear."

American soldiers of the 21st century are quietly making history, serving in combat longer than almost any U.S. soldiers in the nation's past, military historians say.

For many, the fighting seems without end, a fatalism increasingly shared by most Americans. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll conducted late last week found that 67% believe the U.S. will constantly have combat troops fighting somewhere in the world for at least the next 20 years.

. . . The cycles of combat have been so long and so frequent that nearly 13,000 soldiers now have spent three to four cumulative years at war in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army records. About 500 GIs have spent more than four years in combat, the Army says.

"Undoubtedly this is unprecedented," says Stephen Maxner, a military historian and director of the Vietnam Center and Archive in Lubbock, Texas.

This was one of the things the Democrats promised to change.

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