Friday, August 17, 2007

Combat Stress

I’ve read many articles about the highest suicide rate in decades in our volunteer military, and about the underlying causes of it. It seems that combat stress is not the basic issue, really, but the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are without doubt the proximate cause. As you might suspect, the issue is complex, variable and difficult but overwhelmingly goes something like this:

You are young, haven’t been married very long and have a couple of kids. You’ve been moved to a strange town far from family and childhood friends. Your job involves long hours and doesn’t pay very well, so your wife works, and even with that you still need food stamps to get by.

Financial issues cause stress in your marriage. Separation stresses your marriage even more, and when you return it isn’t over as another separation looms. Your wife is angry and upset and your children are growing up without you. The military cannot tell you when, or if, it will end.

Add to that picture 15 months at a time, fifteen months, of being all but constantly in a free fire zone. Of being in a place where you can walk nowhere without weapons, body armor and constant vigilance.

The British Army has a standard of six months in combat being followed by two years at home base, a 1:4 ratio. We are currently using 15 months of combat followed by one year home based, a 5:4 ratio, and the one year home based is frequently cut short.

This is the way that our government “supports our troops.”

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