The growing resentment is especially felt by those whose fathers, husbands and brothers have been mobilised as military reserves.

Thousands who are organising themselves in to protest groups now fear the extended deployments are severely affecting troop morale.

Relatives are e-mailing Congress to voice frustration, have set up web sites and are writing petitions to demand shorter deployments, a more predictable rotation of troops and fixed homecoming dates.

 Rumsfeld tries boosting morale
at Camp Babylon

Families of "weekend warriors" - the nickname of Army Reserves and National Guard who are more accustomed to devoting a weekend a month and two weeks summer training rather than a year in the desert - are particularly bitter by extended call-ups.

New fathers

"There are single parents, business owners, employees and new fathers in our unit. The reserve system is not designed to supplement the military for such an extended period of time," says a petition set up by families of the 129th Combat HET Transportation Company Reserve Unit in Kansas.

The website for the petition http://www.129bringthemhome.com said Army Reserves families were disillusioned by a decision to keep reservists on the ground beyond 12 months.

"Morale is absolutely pathetic," said Rachel Trueblood, whose husband, a staff sergeant, is based in Kuwait. "Some of the guys out there are saying 'Let me get out of here, we are sitting out here doing stupid stuff and risking our lives."

Trueblood said it was unclear when her husband would be home. "We are meant to be the back-up force not the active one," she said.

A spokesman for the Army Reserves acknowledged some troops were "surprised" by how long they would be deployed but he said morale was high and troops wanted to do their duty.

Boots on ground

"The policy is clear. It says boots on the ground for one year," he said. "It possibly could have been communicated a little bit better up front. We want everyone to know that when you mobilise you will spend a year in theatre and that is probably going to mean 14-16 months."

In the absence of many troops from other countries, the US military is relying on National Guard and Reserve Troops to bolster its 130,000 troops in Iraq. About 20,000 Reserve and National Guard troops are in Iraq and nearby states.

Military families understand troops must serve during times of war but complain of being told their loved ones are coming home only to then have leave cancelled.

"There are single parents, business owners, employees and new fathers in our unit. The reserve system is not designed to supplement the military for such an extended period of time"

Petition set up by families of the 129th Combat HET Transportation Company Reserve Unit in Kansas

"They just shouldn't be jerking these guys around. It's a real morale buster," said Daphne Smith, whose son-in-law is a pilot in Iraq and returned home from Afghanistan only to turn around a few weeks later to go to Iraq.

"We don't want to seem like we are whining, but we are afraid that mistakes will start to happen if morale is low because they are there too long without a break," she said.

Military reserves

Former Desert Storm planner retired General Daniel Christman, who is on standby reserve status himself, said the key to keeping up troop and family morale was predictability.

"Families need to have the basis for personal planning and once that has been announced the military needs to stick to that," said Christman, now with the US Chamber of Commerce.

Employers of military reserves, he said, also needed an accurate timetable to enable them to plan their own staffing.

Christman said he feared army recruiting and retention could be affected by the long deployments.

Army officials said they have to date seen no adverse impact on recruiting and retention in the Guard and Army Reserves despite the large numbers of troops deployed.

If there were doubts about the morale among the reserves, Aljazeera.net found disillusionment and anger among full-time US troops occupying the Iraqi capital. 

Liberators

 

"Our guys are disillusioned," said Corporal Miller, one of the non-reserve US soldiers stationed in central Baghdad. "First they told us that we would be welcomed as liberators, and [George] Bush promised us that we would not have to stay in Iraq.

 

"However 'stabilisation' is just another word for 'occupation' no matter what Bush tells America," he said last month.

 

Corporal David Slaughter with the 4th Infantry Division in the central Iraqi town of Taji was more direct: “Unfortunately, the only way to get out of Iraq early is either in a body bag or on a stretcher." 

 

While senior members of the US Administration continue to deny that Iraq is fast becoming another Vietnam, the troops on the ground have no problem making such an analogy.

''The only way to get out of Iraq early is either in a body bag or on a stretcher" 

Corporal David Slaughter

 

"My only mission here is to survive my tour," said Sergeant Chris Jones. "If I get home alive, I plan to get out of the army and forget forever that there is a place on earth called Iraq."

 

Representative John Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defence Appropriations Subcommittee, grilled Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday about over-extended US troops.

Rumsfeld replied nothing was more important to the military than its people and they were working hard to find a balance.