President Donald Trump wants U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, but top noncommissioned officers from the services and combatant commands maintain that troops are still eager to go there and to other combat zones.
The general attitude in the ranks on risky deployments is "quite the opposite" of what many might believe, said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Metheny, the top noncommissioned officer for the NATO Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
"They're disappointed when you have to tell them about the force caps" on the estimated 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan, Metheny said at Pentagon briefings Wednesday by senior NCOs on a range of issues.
The opportunity to deploy is also a factor in recruiting and retention, he said, pointing to what he said is a 108% retention rate for those serving in Afghanistan.
Other senior enlisted leaders at the briefings echoed Metheny, stating that the chance to deploy overseas in the nation's defense is a motivating factor for those who join.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said troops in Afghanistan are committed to bringing stability to a region in turmoil, even after 18 years of war. "They're still executing the mission they've been given," he said.
"The threat of combat or the threat of injury or death is always a concern" in any war zone deployment, he said, "but I think the men and women who choose to serve, it's because they look and see the great work that the men and women are doing serving in the military."
He pointed to a recent video that went viral of a Coast Guardsman who leapt aboard a semi-submersible and slammed his fist on the hatch to take into custody suspected drug runners.
"When that Coastie got on top of that submarine -- there are going to be young men and women out there that say, 'I want to do that,' or when they see sailors doing freedom of navigation operations" in the South China Sea or the Taiwan straits, Troxell said.
Deployments are also a plus for the National Guard, said Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, senior enlisted adviser to the National Guard Bureau.
"The biggest question I get from our young men and women today is not, 'Will I have to go downrange?'" Kepner said. "It's, 'Deployments are not going to stop, are they, Sergeant Major?'"
Marine Sgt. Maj. Troy Black said that acceptance of risk is one of the attractions of the Marine Corps.
"They want to come serve their country, and the risk of it is just part of the deal," said Black, who took over the role of Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps on Friday.
Troxell backed up Black, stating, "Every young man and woman that I run into -- they want to go to the places that we've been going to in the past years like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and places like that, even though there's that inherent risk all the time."
The enlisted leaders spoke after Trump restated in blunt terms his frustration with the progress of the war in Afghanistan and his desire to broker a peace deal with the Taliban to speed the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
At an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump called the war in Afghanistan "ridiculous" and said lengthy overseas engagements are turning the U.S. armed forces into the world's "policemen."
"I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people," Trump said. "If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone in 10 days. And I don't want to do -- I don't want to go that route."
"So we're working with Pakistan and others to extricate ourselves," he said. "Nor do we want to be policemen, because basically we're policemen right now. And we're not supposed to be policemen."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.