Wednesday, October 21, 2009
As the economy sputters along, trying in vein to shake off the worst recession in history and America taxpayers are forking out $12 billion dollars a month to keep 117,000 combat troops stationed in Iraq, it comes as a disturbing surprise to learn many of the troops spend their time in Iraq taking salsa dancing, yoga and martial-arts classes.
Pfc. Adrian Vesik heard that war could be hell. He was happy to discover when he arrived in Iraq earlier this year that his war experience also would include salsa dancing, yoga and martial-arts classes.
“When I signed up for the Army, I thought I was going to be a hero — go out and do some fighting,” says Vesik, 19, during a break at a Filipino-Okinawan jujitsu class. “I haven’t come close to doing anything that I was trained to do. I work, maybe, four to five hours a day. I have time to try all these new things. It’s not so bad.”
Because of new rules that require Iraqi approval for all U.S. missions, and a general decline in violence nationwide, many of the 117,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq say they now have more idle time than at any previous point in the six-year war.
Combat is still a daily reality in some parts of Iraq, and U.S. troops are being killed here at a rate of about one a week.
But for many troops in places such as this large military base in southern Iraq, traditional soldiering such as kicking down doors and searching for roadside bombs has at least partly given way to book clubs, karaoke nights, sports and distance-learning university programs.
The image of idle and bored U.S. combat troops certainly calls into question the wisdom of President Obama’s timeline of not withdrawing military personnel from Iraq until August, 2010. In addition to the staggering $12 billion dollar a month expense, there appears to be no security justification for keeping 117,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq at least another year.
Salsa dancing, yoga, martial-arts and distance-learning classes are widely available in the U.S. and I am confident that given a choice, our troops would prefer returning home to their family and friends.