Fort Hood (Texas), July 4: Luisa Leija was in bed the other morning, she recalled, when her nine-year-old daughter bounded in the room, saying, “Mommy, Mommy, there’s a man in uniform at the door.”
Leija, the wife of a young artillery captain in Iraq, threw on a robe and took a deep breath. She dashed to the door, thinking: “This is not happening to me. This can’t be happening to me.” A soldier in full camouflage was on the doorstep. It was a neighbour locked out of his house. Leija is still upset. The panic has passed, but not the weariness.
Or the anger. Anger that her husband, Captain Frank Leija, has not come home yet, even though President Bush declared two months ago that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended”. Anger that the end of that stage has not meant the beginning of peace, that the army has assigned new duties for her husband and his men that have nothing to do with toppling Saddam Hussein.
And that the talk in Washington is not of taking troops out of Iraq, but of sending in more. “I want my husband home,” said Leija, a mother of three children. “I am so on edge. When they first left, I thought, yeah, this will be bad, but war is what they trained for. But they are not fighting a war. They are not doing what they trained for. They have become police in a place they’re not welcome.”
Military families, so often the ones to put a cheery face on war, are apparently growing vocal. Since major combat was declared over on May 1, more than 60 Americans, including about 24 killed in hostile encounters, have died in Iraq, about half the number of deaths in the two months of the initial campaign.
Frustrations became so bad recently at another base, a colonel had to be escorted out of a meeting with 800 seething wives. “They were crying, cursing, yelling and screaming for their men to come back,” said Lucia Braxton, director of community services at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The signs of discomfort seem to be growing beyond the military bases.
According to a Gallup poll published on Tuesday, the percentage of the public who think that the war is going badly has risen, from 13 per cent in May to 42 per cent. Likewise, the number of respondents who think that the war is going well has dropped, from 86 per cent in May to 70 per cent a month ago to 56 per cent.
The latest poll was based on telephone interviews.
News this week has not helped. Yesterday, eight US soldiers were hurt in hit-and-run attacks, and an enraged crowd of Iraqis stomped a burning Humvee.
“The soldiers were supposed to be welcomed by waving crowds. Where did those people go'” said Kim Franklin, whose husband is part of an artillery unit, 3-16 Bravo, also known as the Bulldogs, commanded by Leija’s husband. The widening chaos in Iraq means their husbands will stay longer. And they do not need a poll to tell them public opinion is shifting.
“When my husband first deployed, people at work were so sweet, giving me days off, saying take whatever time I need,” said Franklin, who answers phones at a financial institution near Fort Hood.
“But it’s not like that today. Now they look at me kind of funny and say: ‘Why do you need a day off now' Isn’t the war over'’ ”