“Of course we’re not happy,” says Specialist James Evans, 25, from Florida, as he burns trash at the 3rd Infantry Division’s headquarters in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, scene of frequent clashes since the end of the war two months ago.
“I should be playing on the beach,” he says. Instead the military police unit he is assigned to has just been told its tour has been extended indefinitely, after arriving in Kuwait in September last year.
The first time his tour was extended he was angry, he said, the second he grumbled, but now, the third time, he is used to it.
“When I get off the plane I’ll know it’s finished.”
The first thing he wants to do when he gets home, he says, is to take a shower. “I’ll play with the hot and cold taps.”
Part of the 3rd Infantry Division, one of the spearheads in the US-led invasion of Iraq, has already gone home. But around 10,000 others are sitting it out in Iraq, not expecting to return until late September at the earliest.
Not enough toilet paper
Most US soldiers say jobs done
For Specialist Robert Bedford, 25, the mission has been too long. “It’s time to go home. People have been here so long,” he says.
He wants to go home and see his family, above all his sick mother, he says, complaining about how long the mail takes to reach them.
In a recent letter to the Washington Post, one army captain in Iraq wrote that another reason for the plummeting morale is the US army’s inability to provide a minimal quality of life to its troops down to the most basic items like toilet paper.
The daily attacks on coalition forces hardly help.
“At the beginning you think you’re invincible but it’s like in Vietnam, the longer you stay, the more you see your people die,” Bedford explains.
“We’re in a situation where they shoot at you,” he says, adding: “We’ve done our job.”