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Interview with Larry Syverson

Aired August 11, 2003 - 20:28   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Some hope tonight for battle weary soldiers and their families. The commander of the army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq says he would like his troops to get a vacation of sorts midway through a 12-month deployment. He says, he's seeking approval to let troops fly home to Fort Campbell Kentucky, for up to two weeks.
I'm joined from Oakbrook, Illinois, by retired U.S. Army general and CNN military analyst, David Grange.

I'm also joined from Richmond, Virginia, by Larry Syverson. He has two sons in Iraq right now. His son Bryce has been there since May. His other son, Brandon has been there since April.

General Grange, first to you. Is this a good idea?

BRIG GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is a good idea for all the considerations worked out. One, it has to be more than just the soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division. It has to involve the whole theater. And I'm sure the combat and commander in that area will want that done. Second, it's a lot of logistics involved in doing something like this. The type of flights, movement to the departure sites and then when they come back. So, i is a lot of pieces to consider. I think it's a great idea as long as it's worked out properly.

BLITZER: It is also not only risky in terms of flights getting out of Iraq and into Iraq, the surface to air missile systems, the terrorist others might have, it's also quite expensive.

It would be an enormous financial burden, wouldn't it?

GRANGE: It would be expensive. As for moral, I'm not as concerned about the expense. What the military would probably do is back haul -- in other words there, soldiers would go back on aircraft that may have brought in mail or brought in critical supplies like parts for vehicles and helicopters. That type of thing.

BLITZER: Larry Syverson, what do you think?

You have two sons serving there, is that a good idea?

LARRY SYVERSON, FATHER OF 2 SOLDIERS IN IRAQ: Well, the way I look at it the main issue is not whether they get a week or two to come back to the states or wherever they go. To me the main issue is what are the troops doing there to begin with instead of bringing them some place home, for instance, for two weeks, we should be bringing them back permanently. As far as the issue itself of the vacations, I'm torn between the two of whether they should or shouldn't have it. I would love to see my sons. But then the dread when they're at the house with me, I'll be watching them sitting at the kitchen table, watching TV on the living room -- at the living room couch. The whole time I'll be thinking, taking pictures thinking soon they'll be going back to Iraq, back to a war zone back to guerrillas who have been egged on by the president "To bring it on."

BLITZER: General Grange, that's a fair point that Larry makes that it might be even more painful for the loved ones to have them so close for a week or two and then have to say good-bye once again. You lived through that experience in Vietnam and other tours of duty.

What do you think?

GRANGE: It is emotional. And the hardest part is to go back into the combat zone. I understand completely. And the soldiers can have a choice if they feel that it will be too traumatic to go back to the United States or somewhere else to meet their family, whether it be a dad or mom or spouse or children, then they don't need to go. I think it's great, though, that the opportunity may be available for those soldiers that are going to be overseas for a year tour. Anything less than that, I don't believe it worthwhile to do it.

BLITZER: Larry, the fact the commander of the 101st Airborne Division is floating this idea, which has not been approved by the Pentagon, would indicate there say problem involving morale.

What you hearing from your two sons who have been there now for several months?

SYVERSON: Well, my son Brandon (ph) is in Tikrit, he still lived on his tank. He slept on his tank every night. He's a tank commander with the 4th Infantry. And he's had one shower. He talks about the heat and the boredom. In fact the last letter he mentioned that he had some kind of a bizarre flu for about three or four days which makes me think that that pneumonia they talked about last week may be in his area. And the main thing he says that all he drinks is water, he wants Kool Aid.

Though, it is interesting, Bryce (ph) in Baghdad, he talks about also the boredom, the heat, all they have to drink is water, send Kool-Aid. But their morale now is OK. However, I've been reading articles in the paper where the soldiers are starting to talk about, well if it happens to me, it happens. And that's not something we want the troops to start thinking that it is predestined, if something is going to happen to them, it will. They need to leave, get their minds back in order so that they can remain safe and come home as soon as possible to their families.

BLITZER: All right. General Grange, the last word on this, a clearly sensitive subject.

GRANGE: Morale is very important. First of all, it is a voluntary military so people went there, wherever you go, when you volunteer, you agree to go where the military sends you. You don't vote on it. Number two, they should be able to drink something besides water because there is Kool-Aid in the military rations that are issued. The other point is that the morale obviously is very important, but soldiers always are going to complain about conditions. I remember how long we went without a shower in Vietnam, and living in a jungle for a year and another one after that. It is not a pleasant experience. And the anticipation of possibly dying or having your friends die emotionally strains you. But that's part of being a trooper.

BLITZER: And these are volunteers. General Grange, thanks for joining ounce this sensitive subject.

And Larry Syverson, good luck to you and your two son and to all the U.S. forces serving out in Iraq right now.

Appreciate both of you joining us.

SYVERSON: Thank you. My pleasure.


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