By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 13, 2007 – While the buzz at home centers on benchmarks measuring progress in Iraq, troops on the ground are focusing on their mission and what they're accomplishing, a senior enlisted advisor said today. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight said via conference call from Iraq he seldom hears his soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team talk on a big scale about whether "we are going to win this thing or not win this thing."
Rather, he said, they're looking at their own slice of the action - in their case, security operations in Iskandariyah - and focusing on the changes they're making there.
"North Babil (province) has changed quite a bit in the past eight months we have been here. It's a tribute to what the men are doing," Knight said of his Fort Richardson, Alaska-based troops. "I think they are motivated to try to see the difference here, and get (the Iraqis) to do it on their own."
Eight months into their deployment, the troops remain focused and have resisted any tendency to get complacent, he said. "The soldiers' motivation has not changed," Knight said. "They are moving forward, faster and harder every day."
Even when they learned that their deployment was being extended to 15 months, Knight said they remained rock-solid. "We were prepared for this to happen, and I don't think morale has changed much as a result," he said.
"Most of the men want to go home and see their families, of course, but they want to get the job done," Knight said. "They are making a difference here."
Knowing that their families are being well taken care of at home helps the troops stay focused on their mission, he said. Knight cited services ranging from good housing to quality child care as important quality-of-life offerings at Fort Richardson.
"The family quality of life overall is outstanding for the soldier and his family," he said. "And especially while we are gone, the post tends to take good care of the soldiers."
Attractive retention bonuses sweeten the package, making more soldiers opt to stay in the Army, he said. Those who reenlist while they're deployed get their bonuses tax-free.
"So if a guy gets a $20,000 bonus, that's exactly how much goes in his bank account," Knight said. At home, taxes would chew up about $3,000 of that, leaving $17,000.
This is paying off with high retention rates. Knight said his battalion is just one soldier away from reaching its retention goal for the deployment. The 4th Brigade overall has more than doubled its goal since deploying. "They will be hitting 1,000 this week," Knight said.
Another big motivator for the troops is knowing they have the support of the American people.
"We appreciate everything that everybody back home is doing for us," Knight said.
"Soldiers receive packages from many, many different people from all over the world, and they appreciate that," he said. "They appreciate the phone cards, the extra toiletry items they receive in the mail and the letters from the young kids from the churches."
"We have great morale here in Iskandariyah," he said. "The entire brigade is motivated. You have a great bunch here, and you can be proud of the servicemen and -women you have serving here in Iraq."