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Troops oppose strikes on Syria by 3-1 margin

Sep. 11, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
NPY-Mosul Although wounded, Staff Sgt. Shannon Kay
Although wounded, Staff Sgt. Shannon Kay, of 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, fires on an enemy position after being attacked with a car bomb, Dec. 11, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. The debate about striking Syria is also revealing a strain of isolationism growing inside a battle-weary military that has spent more than a decade supporting high-tempo war operations overseas. (File photo)
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Although wounded, Staff Sgt. Shannon Kay, of 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, fires on an enemy position after being attacked with a car bomb, Dec. 11, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. The debate about striking Syria is also revealing a strain of isolationism growing inside a battle-weary military that has spent more than a decade supporting high-tempo war operations overseas. (File photo)

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Flashpoint: Syria
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To the list of skeptics who question the need for air strikes against Syria, add an another unlikely group — many U.S. troops.

“I haven’t heard one single person be supportive of it,” said an Army staff sergeant at Fort Hood who asked not to be identified by name.

A Military Times survey of more than 750 active-duty troops this week found service members oppose military action in Syria by a margin of about three to one.

The survey conducted online Monday and Tuesday found that about 75 percent of troops are not in favor of air strikes in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to kill civilians in that country.

A higher percentage of troops, about 80 percent, say they do not believe getting involved in the two-year-old civil war is in the U.S. national interest.

The results suggest that opposition inside the military may be more intense than among the U.S. population at large. About 64 percent of Americans oppose air strikes, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll published Monday.

The Military Times survey is an unscientific sampling of Military Times readers and reflects the views of many career enlisted members and officers.

For many troops, money is a key consideration. Troops question the cost of bombing Syria at a time when budget cuts are shrinking their pay raises, putting their benefits package at risk and forcing some of their friends to separate involuntarily.

“We don’t have money for anything else but we have a couple hundred million dollars to lob some Tomahawks and mount an expensive campaign in Syria?” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Larue, a 39-year-old maintenance expert at Fort Eustis, Va., referring to the precision-guided missiles that are likely to be used in any strike.

The debate about striking Syria is also revealing a strain of isolationism growing inside a battle-weary military that has spent more than a decade supporting high-tempo war operations overseas.

“People are just sick of it,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Harvey, a nuclear-trained officer who works at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

“It’s like the old pre-World War II isolationism, I hear grumblings of that. People would rather withdraw all our troops and let the rest of the world figure out what to do. I think there is a lot of credence to that argument.”

Among troops who do favor mounting strikes against Syria, moral and humanitarian concerns are a top consideration.

“It’s a moral issue. If we’re we are going to set ourselves up as the moral leaders in the world, then we have to act,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Noel Cumberland at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

Army Staff Sgt. Derek Harris agreed. “I’m not talking about it from a national security standpoint or a political standpoint. I’m talking about human rights,” Harris said.

Harris also said he is undaunted by the prospect of U.S. military involvement escalating beyond air strikes and requiring the Army to deploy ground troops.

“It doesn’t worry me. It’s not that I welcome it, but I definitely wouldn’t mind getting back to work,” he said.

Many troops have concerns about the strategic logic of striking the Syrian regime and implicitly helping the rebels where, which include some extremist groups linked to militants in Iraq who were killing U.S. troops just a few years ago.

“In my eyes, the rebels in Syria are the same as the insurgents in Iraq,” the staff sergeant from Fort Hood said.

Yet for now, he said he is benefiting from the uncertainty hanging over the U.S. military.

He said he’s facing administrative separation for repeatedly failing to meet the Army’s weight standards. But for now, that is on hold as his commanders brace for the possibility of a spike in operational tempo.

“They put a stop on my paperwork. They were, like, ‘Well, were going to keep you just to see what happens, in case there’s going to be deployments.’ ”

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