It’s easy to forget that we are fighting two wars. Despite not being on the news every night, we still have 15-20 deaths every month in Iraq. So the immediacy of things tends to wane, as the thoughts of war are not at the forefront. But a declining economy means that recruiting is up; as people are struggling to find work they are turning to a large, reliable employer who is one of the few expanding right now – the US military.
So it’s important to remember that war takes a mighty large mental toll on a number of people, and unfortunately our military does not have a very good handle on it.
Late last month the Army released figures showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. The Army says 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008 with another 15 still under investigation. “Why do the numbers keep going up?” Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Pentagon news conference Jan. 29. “We can’t tell you.” The Army announced a $50 million study to figure it out.
It is not just the suicides spiraling out of control. Salon assembled a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers over the past four years, by no means a comprehensive list. In-depth study of 10 of those cases revealed a pattern of preventable deaths. In most cases, the deaths seemed avoidable if the Army had better handled garden-variety combat stress reactions.
This is an especially timely notice for me, as I’ve started doing daily 5AM PT in preparation for the possibility that I may be enlisting this summer if my current job goes away and I cannot find other employment.
We need to do better for those who elect to serve, be it out of patriotism or a desire for gainful employment. We have the resources to do better. Now we need to instill the will to do better in our military institutions.