BAGHDAD – As you get away for a long Independence Day weekend this evening, you might want to give a little thought to an event taking place in Baghdad tomorrow. Eleven hundred Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines–the equivalent of two entire battalions–are celebrating the 4th of July by re-enlisting in the midst of what many call an “unpopular” war.
It is thought to be the largest mass reenlistment ceremony in the history of the United States military, and is twice the size of last year’s event where 588 military members reenlisted. The ceremony will be held in the Al Faw Palace which once belonged to Saddam Hussein. During a practice beneath a 40-foot high American flag today, nearly the entire marble floor of the immense rotunda of the palace was covered in a sea of camouflage uniforms representing all branches of service. Even the rehearsal was an awe-inspiring site.
No matter the timing, people reenlist for various reasons. But during a war there are often two. The first is financial. Many reenlistments make the military member eligible for bonuses that can range from a few thousand dollars to forty thousand or more. Since bonuses earned while deployed in a combat zone are exempt from federal taxes, reenlisting in Iraq can save the service member many thousands of dollars. However, even if the extra money is why one might consider reenlisting overseas, actually reenlisting in the middle of a war only happens when the service member likes his job, his unit, and his mission. That is the second, and more important, reason why most people who reenlist overseas, do so.
It is perhaps counterintuitive, but it is the military’s deployed units that often have higher reenlistment rates. Years ago on a deployment to Kuwait I saw it myself in my own unit. Soldiers were actually excited to be doing what they joined the Army to do. Our cavalrymen fired more rounds from their tanks and Bradleys and drove their vehicles more miles in just a few months while deployed than they did in years of garrison service. Upon their return home to Fort Hood life for Soldiers and officers returned to the mundane: police calls, days spent toiling in the motor pool, and staff work. Lots and lots of staff work. Boredom, even more than deployment, made reenlisting less popular.
To be sure, the military could use a little more of the mundane and familiar these days. Families are hit especially hard in this era of recurring long deployments. A larger Army—the active component was nearly fifty percent larger at the tail end of the Cold War—along with a bigger Marine Corps are certainly necessary in order to share the deployment burden more broadly. Until the time comes that the military expands (if such a time ever comes), it is these 1,100 who have volunteered to go into the breach. Again.
And that is why it is all the more important that you pause a moment to think of and thank those few among us who serve and who volunteer to continue to serve.
A report of the ceremony.