|U.S. Troops Want Rumsfeld to Send Them Home|
Fri Sep 5,11:02 AM ET Add Top Stories - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Saul Hudson
TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) - If they had the chance, U.S. soldiers at a base in Iraq (news - web sites) would have had one question for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: When are we going home?
But Rumsfeld canceled a speech he was due to give on Friday to the troops at their base at the palace of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) in his hometown of Tikrit.
"I don't give a damn about Rumsfeld. All I give a damn about is going home," Specialist Rue Gretton said, humping packs of water bottles on his shoulders from a truck.
"The only thing his visit meant for us was we had to clean up a lot of mess to make the place look pretty. And he didn't even look at it anyway," Gretton said after soldiers swept the dusty streets around the complex of lakes and mansions.
They also erected a stage and set out chairs for a speech that Rumsfeld canceled due to a tight schedule. Instead, the Pentagon (news - web sites) chief briefly thanked soldiers after a meeting with military leaders.
"It was good for morale," said Major Josslyn Alberle, a spokeswoman for the Fourth Infantry Division headquartered at the palace.
Sergeant Green, 40, did not think so.
"If I got to talk to Rumsfeld I'd tell him to give us a return date. We've been here six months and the rumor is we'll be here until at least March. This is totally, totally uncalled for," she said.
Green, who asked not to be identified by her first name, complained she would miss seeing her 16-year-old through her whole school year.
HARD, REAL HARD
Rumsfeld has been criticized for sending too few troops to Iraq, leaving them stretched thin on extended deployments trying to help rebuild the country and fight a guerrilla war. He has urged allies to supply some 15,000 additional troops and hopes training Iraqi forces will ease the burden on U.S. troops.
When the Armed Forces Network showed earlier footage of Rumsfeld saying that fresh U.S. troops were unnecessary in Iraq, soldiers at the base threw their hands in the air and shouted "No way" at the television.
"I ain't happy. No way am I happy seeing that," said Specialist Devon Pierce, whose wife was due to give birth to his first son in two weeks. "This tour is hard, real hard. It's too much. It should be six months."
Other soldiers said they could not complain openly about their long deployment for fear of being disciplined. Earlier this year, military leaders warned their troops they should not show disrespect for Rumsfeld after a rash of criticism from soldiers in Iraq appeared in the media.
Guerrillas regularly attack the palace complex with mortars and rockets. But soldiers acknowledged that with air-conditioned rooms and burgers and hot dogs in the mess hall they had it easier than many of the more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Many also said that while they wanted to be with their families at backyard barbecues or on trips to the baseball park, they knew what they signed up for by joining the army and were committed to stabilizing Iraq.