Stress is a word much in the news lately with the economic crisis responsible for much of it. Yet the US Army sergeant who allegedly killed five of his fellow soldiers at a counseling center in Iraq should make us all think long and hard about its consequences. The incident took place, ironically, at a center where soldeisr can come to get help with just that issue, stress.
Those of us who think things are tough here (and they are) should stop for a minute and think about what life is like for soldiers fighting overseas. Many have been subject to the military’s stop loss policy, which in many cases extends their tours of duty just at the time they were looking forward to coming home.
The particulars of this incident, as told by military officials both on and off the record, show that the alleged shooter got into a verbal altercation at the center. His weapon was taken from him at that time for his own safety. He later returned with another weapon. There are conflicting reports about whether he was ordered back to the center, or came of his own volition. It’s also not known what if any relation the shooter had to his victims, five US soldiers just like him.
This we do know. The military is dealing with increasing numbers of stress cases among soldiers both in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are studies suggesting that 15% of soldiers returning from Iraq do so with some type of emotional problem. We also know that the military will promise a full investigation and a long look at how to alleviate stress among the troops. Will it work? Will the effort last past the time this incident fades from memory?
One other thing is for sure. Third and fourth combat tours of Iraq and Afghanistan should end, and end fast. It’s difficult for most civilians to imagine what it’s like to function under the minute by minute fear that your next move could be your last. To live that way for extended periods of time invites stress, and at times extreme reactions to it.
Our men and women in uniform are performing an extraordinary service to the people of this country. We need to make sure the military doesn’t make it any more difficult than it needs to be. None of this, of course, excuses the outright murder of five people, in or outside the military.
But it should put our stress in perspective, shouldn’t it?