Tag Archives: Iraq

Suicide Soldiers. Why are So Many Killing Themselves in active duty?

The Army says there are already as many active duty suicides in their ranks this year as all of last. That number has reached 140. This news won’t get nearly as much play as whether the terror trials should be held in New York, or whether alleged Ft. Hood Shooter Hasan is a radical  Muslim terrorist. Yet it ought to concern everyone who say they honor the service of our military.

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In addition to the active duty soldiers who took their own lives, another 71 committed suicide after being taken off active duty, a 25% increase over last year. Army brass are cautioning about drawing any conclusions about why more soldiers are killing themselves. However, the stress being sent to Iraq and/or Afghanistan more than once might be a good place to start.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to do one tour in either of these war zones, spend a few weeks home with your family, then find out you’re going back. Obviously this may not represent the experience of a majority of suicides, and in fact one third of them had never been deployed abroad. Yet it could play a role.

This increased suicide rate takes on added significance in the wake of the Ft. Hood Massacre. The actions of the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, have caused the military to take a second look at whether it’s missing signs of depression in its ranks. Consider that the rate of suicides per 100,000 people in the US is 11.1. Among active duty soldiers, that number is 20 per 100,000.

Something is wrong here. The folks at the top of the military food chain acknowledge this, and let’s hope they get to the bottom of it. Even as the President talks about phasing out the stop loss policy that sends soldiers back into harm’s way again and again, it hasn’t stopped yet.

Part II may have a bit to do with the current state of the US economy. Even as we say we honor the service of our military, the economic downturn has made it more difficult for them to find work after their service is done. Some may see staying in the military as an unpalatable job of last resort.

And then there’s this. Could some soldiers be so stressed out at the prospect of being sent into a combat zone that they take their own lives? Until the hysteria began, Maj. Hasan was believed to be experiencing  just that kind of stress.

So you tell me. Why are so many soldiers killing themselves? And what do we need to do to stop it?

Resources:

Soldier Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention Lifetime

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More Troops to Afghanistan?

As a person who detests war in all its forms, my short answer would be, “I hope not!” Yet it looks like President Barack Obama is toying with the idea. There’s a new report from the top US commander in Afghanistan, one the New York Times describes as detailing the deteriorating situation there.

The Times says the classified report, by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, didn’t ask for additional US troops, but that request could be coming soon.

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If and when it does, it will come at a time when Americans are increasingly asking the same questions that were being asked about Iraq just a few years ago. What exactly is the mission? What constitutes victory? How much longer will US troops fight and die for a regime that many here see as hopelessly corrupt?

President Barack Obama has a dilemma on his hands. For many of his supporters, sending more troops to Afghanistan, regardless of rationale, isn’t “Change we can believe in”.  The recent Afghan elections are alleged to have been rife with fraud, fraud on behalf of the guy the US is backing, Hamid Karzai. Reports say his government only controls one third of the country, about the same as it did four years ago.

The Taliban, America’s clear enemy in the region, seems to materialize and vanish at will, making President Obama’s possible call for more troops look like an exercise in futility. There are rising references to Afghanistan being “Obama’s Vietnam”, a quagmire that will only deepen no matter how many more troops are sent.

And now conservative columnist George Will, of all people, has an op-ed in Tuesday’s Washington Post calling for the US to get out, and soon. His rationale is telling. From his WAPO piece:

“U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters”.

To which we can only say, whoa! Certainly a substantial reduction in US troops poses some potential political problems for the president. Yet the facts are clear. More US military personnel died in August in Afghanistan than at any time since the beginning of the war. The war is now eight years old, twice as long as World War II.

So the question is this. Should President Obama commit more US troops to Afghanistan, or should he start a gradual reduction with an eye toward withdrawal? You tell me.

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Will We Ever Know Why Soldier Killed Five?

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?

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