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Ret. General: 'If you can't embrace the brutality of combat, you shouldn't be in the infantry'
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Wednesday June 20, 2007
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Dan Abrams reported Tuesday on MSNBC's Scarborough Country that "US commanders in Iraq are reportedly rejecting a recommendation ... that troops on the front line ... should get a month off for every three months that they serve."

"These are the toughest, most courageous combat troops we've ever fielded," stated retired General Barry McCaffrey in defending the rejection. "They are mostly not damaged by their combat exposure. In fact, they come home grateful for hot water, for living in this country, and for their families, not the victims of PTSD."

When shown statistics from a new report indicating mental health problems among 30% of soldiers who were in combat 56 hours a week, McCaffrey shot back, "Oh, come on now" and invoked the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. "It's a tough life," he insisted. "If you can't embrace the brutality of combat, you shouldn't be in the infantry."

According to an American Forces Press Service article, "About 19,000 U.S. soldiers died, and 47,500 were wounded and more than 23,000 missing" in the Battle of the Bulge.

Prof. Charles R. Figley, a psychologist and expert on combat stress, rebutted McCaffrey's argument, saying, "We have never had a military engagement with this much intensity for this amount of time. ... There's all kinds of evidence to show that you just can't go that far without expecting breakdowns on the battlefield."

Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America remarked that "roughly one in three returning veterans are going to have some kind of mental health issue. Now, we can tell them, 'Be tough, suck it up,' or we can deal with what is really a readiness issue. ... We're running our people very hard, and we need to give them breaks so they can rest, refit, and also retrain."

Figley acknowledged it was unrealistic to assume the Army would give units month-long breaks, but added that the study shows "deployment is associated with morale ... The Marines have six months and ... even though they have as much, probably more intensity with regard to combat, all of their numbers look much better than the Army."

General McCaffrey -- a frequent tv commentator who has been criticized by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh for orchestrating a post-cease fire massacre of hundreds of Iraqi troops during Gulf War I and by The Nation for pressing for the invasion of Iraq while sitting on the boards of multiple defense contractors -- stood by his opinion. "In World War II there was no tour length," insisted McCaffrey. "You went for the duration."

The following video is from MSNBC's Scarborough Contry, broadcast on June 19.