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Commander's letter tackles troops' morale in Afghanistan

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY


WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan — A U.S. Army commander in Afghanistan has responded to concerns
about low morale among his troops in a personal letter that assures them they are contributing to the "overall
success of the mission" here.
As the Obama administration debates the military strategy in Afghanistan, the letter offers a rare glimpse about
how that debate is playing out among troops on the battlefield in one of the country's most violent provinces.

Col. David Haight, of the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat team, sent the letter to the 3,500 men
and women after two of them were killed in combat and his chaplains reported that many were disillusioned
about the war.

READ THE LETTER: Full text


TRAINING: Center gives taste of Afghanistan
"From the individual's foxhole, it is probably often difficult to see the bigger picture," wrote Haight, who
provided a copy of the letter to USA TODAY.

Haight wrote that "some (soldiers) may ask why" efforts to clear valleys of insurgents or keep roads open are
"so important (or) really worth it. ... I am here to solemnly testify that it is all important."

In an interview after sending out the letter, Haight said that some of the public debate may have reached soldiers
in the ranks.

"I can tell a soldier to do anything, and he may or may not in his mind question why," Haight said. "But if you
explain the why very, very clearly, he will not only accomplish the mission, but he will do the mission to a
much higher standard."

"Morale is something that varies by person and circumstance," said Army Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a Pentagon
spokesman. "But based on conversations with commanders in the field, morale across the force is generally
pretty good."

The letter itself wasn't unusual, said Lt. Col. Paul Swiergosz, spokesman for 10th Mountain Division, based at
Fort Drum, N.Y. Haight writes a letter every month in the unit's newsletter, Swiergosz said. He said the unit's
soldiers remain focused on their mission.

Haight said he wrote the letter after a request by Capt. Jeffery Masengale, a chaplain who told British newspaper
The Times that many soldiers worried their mission was pointless and the Afghans reluctant to help them.

Masengale declined to comment.

Staff Sgt. Stephen Barnes, a squad leader fighting in the Tangi Valley, said "there's a lot of soldiers that are
going to be glad as hell that (the chaplain) has spoken up. Because out of fear of reprisal, they don't speak. I will
say it. Morale has gotten low. I will say it on the mountaintops."

An Oct. 2 incident in which an Afghan police officer shot and killed two of the brigade's soldiers — Sgt. Aaron
Smith and Pfc. Brandon Owens — set off much of the unit's frustration, Haight said. The Afghan police officer,
who had worked with Americans for five years, escaped after the attack.
Contributing: Jim Michaels in McLean, Va.

Find this article at:


http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2009-10-15-commander-letter-to-troops_N.htm?csp=

Copyright 2009 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

****

Colonel to troops: 'I'm proud of you'

Here is the text of the Oct. 12 letter from Col. David Haight to the membersof 10th Mountain Division's 3rd
Brigade Combat team:
To All Spartans,

I just wanted to take the opportunity to let every single member of TF Spartan, and attachments, know how very
proud I am of each and every one of you. We are all very busy accomplishing what we must on a daily basis but
I wanted to pause just long enough to let you know that I recognize the tremendous sacrifice of all and I want
you to know that it is appreciated. Because our roles are very different and some are much more visible than
others, I wanted to ensure that everyone understand that the CSM and I recognize that every single person in the
Task Force plays a very pivotal role and that means EVERY single MOS serving out there in the biggest FOBs,
to the COPs, to the most remote Ops.

You all remember that we were going to east Baghdad, but a few months prior to deployment, we were
reassigned to Afghanistan, specifically the provinces of Wardak and Logar. We weren't sent here to observe a
tennis match at Wimbledon. We were sent here for some very specific reasons — the most important highways
in Afghanistan run through our provinces which had become the most enemy-infested, violent, and problematic
areas in Regional Command East (RC-E).

Many things have occurred precisely as we predicted. We knew that the winter season, while enemy activity
would be less, would be a good time to establish our footholds by maneuvering our companies into outlying
district centers to partner with the ANP and ANA. At first, we couldn't even get the ANSF to leave the wire. It's
still difficult and there have been set-backs, but the ANSF improves everyday and now we consistently partner
with these forces and we dominate the battle space.

We knew that the summer months would bring increased enemy activity. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader
headquartered at the Quetta Shura in Pakistan transmitted that Wardak would be his main effort because it
straddled Highway 1 and provided direct access to Kabul. We knew that security for the elections would be of
the highest priority and we knew that election results would be contested.

We knew it would initially be difficult to establish contracting systems that would execute projects to build
economic and infrastructure capacity and increase the quality of life for the Afghans and create jobs. But we've
obligated over $50 million to this effort and the impact is seen everywhere one looks.

We knew that developing good governance would be difficult because of the culture of corruption that runs
rampant in this society. But, we continue to help and supervise local politicians and are seeing evidence that
these councils are improving their ability to prioritize projects and execute a budget (on) behalf of the people in
the districts and provinces.

Still, from the individual's foxhole, it is probably often difficult to see the bigger picture that I outlined in the
above paragraphs. Some may ask, "Why are the Jalrez, Nerkh, and Tangi valleys so important?", "Is domination
of the Kherwar bowl and the road networks through Charkh and Baraki-Barak really worth it?" I am here to
solemnly testify to all of you that it is all important.

While it may be hard to see the tangible gains or benefits from every mounted or dismounted patrol, every hour
on the OP or guard tower, every vehicle repaired, every conversation with a local leader, etc… it all adds up to
the overall success of the mission. I've attached one slide that provides a snapshot of our devastating impact on
the enemy organization in both provinces since 21 August 2009.

We have crushed him during his most active period.

Some may be surprised to know that our losses have been just slightly over half of what was projected by
analysis of historical combat trends. While less than expected, that doesn't do much for me because every loss
that we've suffered is devastating. These weren't just SSNs on a roster, they were sons, husbands, fathers, uncles
… and they were our brothers and friends. It is our solemn responsibility to honor them each and every day by
making their sacrifice matter. We do this by never forgetting them, taking care of and staying in touch with their
families, and most importantly winning on this battlefield, like you're doing every day.

I'm proud of you and sincerely appreciate your sacrifice. We have a little over two months left to go. We will
not slow down or relent in any way, rather, we will "sprint through the finish line." Remain vigilant, alert, and
continue taking care of your buddies.

Col. David Haight & CSM Delbert Byers

Find this article at:


http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2009-10-15-letter_N.htm
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Comments: (19)Showing: Newest first Oldest first Most recommended New: Most recommended!

blight10mtn (0 friends, send message) wrote: 2h 24m ago


Well after reading all of the above comments and the stupid ones I have to say this, as a proud 3RD BDE Spartan and part
of this team currently in country I will say, the reason of why we are fighting there is becuase you live in a free country and
we have freedom and we will not take nothing from another country at the cost of our own, the reason a person wrote
earlier of loosing a buddy and he dont know why is because he is a AMERICAN and will fight for your freedom I am
proud of him and so is every american. If you dont believe in the war and you are Soldier get out out when the time is up
and go live in ISRAEL and fight there and protect your own damn butt, I am proud to have served 19 years in the Army and
2 tours to Afghanistan with the Spartans. Climb to Glory Sir!!!!

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dbrain (0 friends, send message) wrote: 7h 15m ago


what did the letter say??? Nothing really !!!! Same thing as always - I'(??) m proud of you - you are doing a needed service-
blah blah so stay the course while I am back where it is safe !!!!
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darth_gator (23 friends, send message) wrote: 8h 45m ago


armyguy76 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 3h 35m ago
As a soldier in 2-87 I find it hilarious that our Brigade Commander wrote this letter after our chaplains story. This is the
only letter that I have seen from him after close to 10 months in country. The only other time that I have seen or heard
anything of the Colonel is when one of my friends were killed. He would fly in for the memorial service and leave roughly
15 minutes later. It made us laugh. The morale of this unit is incredibly low and due to already cr@p treatment from
company level leadership on up, the younger soldiers are either scared to admit it or feel it will not do any good because
change will never come. The only thing that keeps us going anymore is the man to our left and right. We have not been told
a purpose for our friends deaths or any sort of real reason for us being here. Ask anyone in the " rank and file "...the troops
that actually see the "real" Afghanistan and they will tell you that these people do not want us here, they do not want our
help, and they want us to go home. Sometimes the people that need help the most will not accept it. I think it is time to
accept that and bring us all home.
<<<<<<<<<<
You need to pull your head out of your a$$. First of all I have serious doubts you are in the Army, you sound like a crying
quitter to me. The Commander isn't there to write you love letters, he's there to lead, accomplish a mission and get you
home. I suggest if you want love letters you ask your girl friend to write them. If you don't like it then I suggest that when
your time is up (if you are real) get out and go home.

Recommended 3| Report Abuse

stop_the_bs (0 friends, send message) wrote: 9h 8m ago


After 911, we went into Afghanistan to kill Osama bin Laden, destroy Al Qaeda & those who support them (The Taliban).
Now, we need to pursue smart strategies in achieving our goals. Iraq was a blunder ($2-3T debt; >4K dead; >30K wounded;
in '02 we knew it was Iran, not Iraq, that pursued WMDs! http://bit.ly/keQep ).

Afghan is not an easy nut to crack -- tougher terrain, porous border with Pakistan, more challenging supply routes, and
these thugs are more inclined to use dirty nukes. If Pakistan can't destroy the Taliban, would we fare better, or would it be
wiser putting hefty bounties on Osama bin Laden & Mullah Omar, and morphing the war into a Pakistani-Taliban affair?

If we didn't waste our resources and brave lives in Iraq and let the Taliban solidify their power base, the surge + financial
incentives (to Pakistan) would be our best strategy. Now, it's a much tougher call.

Obama is smart & effective. Domestically, the problem is the right wingnuts fight him every step of the way -- birthers &
tea baggers are even more thuggy than Osama bin Laden! But if the ocean pirate situation is an indication, we'll sock it to
Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, the Taliban (and right wingnuts! :). Just watch!

About Col. Haight's letter... great intention. A good writer could help make it more effective - I.e. less verbose!

http://twitter.com/whybs

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Tigereye (0 friends, send message) wrote: 11h 17m ago


Dear Colonel Haight,

I am the Uncle of a 10th Mountain Division Warrior. As a former Soldier and American, I'm very proud of my nephew
Christian and his combat team. I am devastated by the losses we have experienced, especially my Nephews injuries and the
soldiers who died in the ambush he was involved in. I am amazed at the great speed used by the Army to remove Christian
from the battle field. I am deeply thankful to Sgt Orlando from the 118th out of Fort Bragg for placing the tourniquet on
Christian’s leg. Sgt Orlando’s quick action saved Christians life. Thank you to all the other men and women involved in
saving this warriors life.
I had conversations with Christian prior to his enlistment and after his return from your first deployment; I want to share
this. Christian and his fellow soldiers all want to return home knowing they not only made a difference, they want nothing
more than to insure that their children, brothers, uncles, aunts, all other fellow Americans will not have to fight this battle
again. When I visited Fort Drum last year and talked with some of his fellow soldiers, they shared the same resolve. One
Sgt told me how proud he is to fight for this country against the terrorist Taliban/Al Qaeda. He was solid in his conviction
that even if it cost him his life, he would gladly pay with his life if it meant the terrorist are destroyed. To allow the Taliban
who help fund and arm Al Qaeda a foothold or foundation to rebuild on; is to spit in the face of our Military men and
Women and this country. I pray you and all our troops God's blessings. You are an honorable leader sir; I know Christian
and his fellow soldiers are proud to serve with you. Thank you for your service Sir.

Sincerely,

Uncle T

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armyguy76 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 12h 27m ago


As a soldier in 2-87 I find it hilarious that our Brigade Commander wrote this letter after our chaplains story. This is the
only letter that I have seen from him after close to 10 months in country. The only other time that I have seen or heard
anything of the Colonel is when one of my friends were killed. He would fly in for the memorial service and leave roughly
15 minutes later. It made us laugh. The morale of this unit is incredibly low and due to already crap treatment from
company level leadership on up, the younger soldiers are either scared to admit it or feel it will not do any good because
change will never come. The only thing that keeps us going anymore is the man to our left and right. We have not been told
a purpose for our friends deaths or any sort of real reason for us being here. Ask anyone in the " rank and file "...the troops
that actually see the "real" Afghanistan and they will tell you that these people do not want us here, they do not want our
help, and they want us to go home. Sometimes the people that need help the most will not accept it. I think it is time to
accept that and bring us all home.

Recommend 4 | Report Abuse

absbill1 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 13h 42m ago


Col. Haight is to be commended for his letter. A great leader inspires those who follow him and makes them understand
just how important each and every one of them is.
As a military veteran all I can say is it is a shame there aren't more like him!

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letswin (0 friends, send message) wrote: 14h 17m ago


excellent letter...i think at least once every 90 days we (americans stateside especially) need to see the towers fall and the
chaos caused thereby. may pres obama seek godly wisdom in the next decision to be made regarding Afghanistan.

Recommend 3 | Report Abuse

hatter1951 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 15h 11m ago


for you who don't know why americans fight in other countries - we fight for freedom and liberty, not only for ourselves
but for others as well. we fight that others may live in peace. when others can live in peace and freedom then we may also
live in peace and freedom. this is the price of OUR freedom.
Recommend 7 | Report Abuse

CHURT82 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 15h 36m ago


I wonder sometimes if we as Americans think the Attacks of September 11, 2001 happen to another country? I wonder
sometimes if we as Americans know that over 3,000 Americans lost their lifes that day? I wonder if we as American know
that countless Americans were hurt that day? Maybe we should just forget September 11, 2001 and just bring our soldiers,
marines, airmen, and sailors home from Afghanistan. I mean if the Attacks of September 11, 2001 is not worth fighting for
WHAT IS?

CHURT82 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 15h 51m ago


COL Haight is a leader, in which I would follow any time and any place. Having spent seven years in the U. S. Army I can
say without any doubt he cares about his soldiers. Maybe if we had more of that type of leadership in other parts of our
society we wouldn't be in the situations we are in now. WHOOA!

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lucesociator (37 friends, send message) wrote: 16h 46m ago


Thank all of you warriors for your dedicated service to our country. Many may have doubts about whether this will work
out, and the outcome is not sure. But what we don't doubt is your dedication to your task, to your comrades, to this country.
I salute you and thank you again for you doing what so few are willing to do, put your lives on the line in hopes that a better
world will have a chance to emerge from your efforts.

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marilynguilford (0 friends, send message) wrote: 16h 50m ago


While we are fighting anywhere out side of our borders, let us support our troops, pray for our troops, and encourage our
men and women. I belong to a group that sends gifts, just things from home that helps our comfort, we send to our troops to
make their time a little easier where ever they my be. Check the internet, you will find the organization. May GOD BLESS
AMERICA. mARILYNGUILFORD

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John in NC2 (45 friends, send message) wrote: 16h 59m ago
There is no longer a reason to remain in that godforsaken place. Full withdraw now.

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machlavelli (0 friends, send message) wrote: 19h 27m ago


All the world are with the front line men and women, fighting this war on terrorism, we in the UK, are with are soldiers, we
are called the borrows by the USA, as we have no equipment but we try. Kipling poam called IF you can keep your head,
when all around you are losing, can never be so apt for the fallen comrades, get home safe all, jack reacher is proud of you
all, FUBAR

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CaliSoldier (0 friends, send message) wrote: 19h 52m ago


First of all I am very proud to be a Spartan!
COL Haight is a great commander and because of his leadership we have accomplished a lot within the last 10 months in
Afghanistan. I was very touched by the email he sent out. We are doing the right thing by fighting against the War of
Terrorism. As mentioned in the text above, every single Spartan is important to the unit's mission and we will never forget
our fallen Soldiers, who lost their lives so our families and loved ones can be safe back home.
Climb to Glory!

Recommend 16 | Report Abuse

JNB31 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 20h 16m ago


"quite well*" it is early

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JNB31 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 20h 17m ago


I think he answered it quit well. It might not be the strategic importance of it from a national perspective, which is not in his
lane or "foxhole" if you will, but he lays it out for the guys on the ground that he leads and what they see. He is not
addressing the nation, but his soldiers and you can clearly see that his priorities are:
1. Developing infrastructure to better the Afghan way of life
2. Developing a level of governance in those two provinces (again not the national level in Kabul) that provides for their
residents
3. Defeating the enemy

It is not his question to answer "What are we fighting for in Afghan that is worth endangering American lives?"

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ramos (0 friends, send message) wrote: 21h 14m ago


While I am proud of Colonel Haight and the efforts he is making to take care of his troops, the letter still does not answer
the fundamental question, "What are we fighting for in Afgans that is worth endangering American lives?".