SANTA ROSA, CALIF.
In Iraq, there were the days that ran together in a never-ending stream of patrols, mission after mission that left him cursing the superiors who sent him out into the teeth of the insurgency. There were the nights when mortars crashed nearby, close enough to smell the sulfur. And there was the question that went unanswered every time a friend was ripped by shrapnel or cut down in an ambush: Why are we fighting this war?
Yet when the time came for Sgt. Jason Waits to decide what he would do when his tour in the Army National Guard ended, he barely paused. Before he even left Iraq, Sergeant Waits reenlisted. And if he is sent back, he "won't have a problem."
It is a glance at one of the most unexpected developments of the war in Iraq. Even as the conflict drags on, undermining recruiting efforts and testing the patience of the nation, American soldiers are so far continuing to reenlist at levels that surprise the Pentagon and pundits alike. To the head of the National Guard, this is the legacy of America's "next greatest generation": a band of soldiers more sophisticated than any before in history, which has been asked to adapt to a new style of warfare and often serve multiple tours - all as a volunteer force.
At a time when Army soldiers are under international scrutiny for roadside shootings and prison abuse, comparisons to the generation that landed on the shores of Normandy might seem curious, but they are more than mere rhetoric, analysts say. The American soldier's commitment to the cause in Iraq and Afghanistan has been historic and decisive, allowing the United States at least a measure of success in an engagement for which it was not prepared.
"The design of the all- volunteer force [after Vietnam] was to make this kind of [open-ended] commitment difficult," says Thomas Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "But there have been some extraordinary levels of motivation going on, in terms of serving the country in a time of crisis."
Page 1 of 4