More Trouble From Fort Bliss

Following this fascinating article in the L.A. Times in November, about an Army National Guard unit that complained the training at Fort Bliss, in Texas, hadn't prepared them for duty in Iraq, today comes news that a soldier from that unit has gone AWOL, just a week before they were supposed to leave for Iraq.

Spc. Joseph Jacobo, 46, a former Marine who rejoined the National Guard to help the Iraq war effort, told a reporter he couldn't find anyone on base who could fix his M-4 assault rifle. More from the article:

The soldiers, who trained at the Army's Ft. Bliss Training Complex, said there were equipment problems, including trucks without adequate armor and a shortage of night-vision goggles. They also said they had received very little "theater specific" training to prepare them for conditions in Iraq. For example, the soldiers said they had learned nothing about convoy protection or guarding against insurgents' roadside bombs.

Airing their concerns publicly, Jacobo said, only seems to have made matters worse. He said soldiers who were suspected of having spoken to the newspaper were called "cowards" and "yellow-bellies" by their supervisors. Equipment woes were not addressed, commanders became more strict and morale reached new lows, he said.

"They didn't change anything," Jacobo said. "How are we supposed to have any pride?"

I have spoken to many soldiers who say complaining publicly about things like equipment shortages is cowardly, and others -- especially Vietnam veterans -- who believe soldiers have a duty to speak up. Jacobo would seem to have earned the right to complain, but nonetheless, the penalty he faces for going absent is very real: According to the article, if he's found to be deserting, he could serve five years in prison.

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