Combat in the Iraq War: Stress on Our Soldiers
As if you needed any more convincing that the War in Iraq isn’t going as well as they’ve been trying to tell us, a new article in the New York Times highlights the growing stress on soldiers as they endure longer and more repeated tours.
It’s not a new discovery that combat induces anxiety, trauma, and even depression in soldiers, but the new decision by the Bush Administration to lengthen many tours from the traditional one year to 15 months causes concern among many, especially when it comes to the misplaced combat anger directed at civilians.
According to the article, the Pentagon’s new survey suggests that “extended tours and multiple deployments, among other policy decisions, could escalate anger and increase the likelihood that soldiers or marines lash out at civilians, or defy military ethics.” Another sad fact, as recorded by the Pentagon, shows “suicide rates for soldiers in Iraq from 2003 to 2006 were 16.1 per 100,000, compared with the average Army rate of 11.1.”
While I’ve always hesitated to call the War in Iraq a second Vietnam, the similarities in combat conditions and trauma are striking. Much like Vietnam, the unpredictability of the War in Iraq (civilians who may be suicide soldiers, unmarked roadside bombs, a population going through its own civil war, and general confusion as to a distinct goal) is forcing soldiers to stay on constant alert and distrust many of the civilians they’re there to protect. Prolonged anxiety and uncertainty in any situation is exhausting and frustrating, but when combined with weapons, reactions and mistakes can carry heavy consequences. The recent Abu Ghraib torture scandal and My Lai massacre of 1968 are no exceptions to the rule.
And let’s not forget that most of the men and women fighting overseas are 18-24 years old. Think of what your body goes through when it comes to the every day stress of college – and then multiply it by guns, little to no sleep, fear for your life, homesickness, and possible death on a daily basis.
“You can endure a lot of physical and mental exhaustion as long as you feel you’re having an impact, you’re accomplishing something and that you have some control over your situation,” explains Dr. Andy Morgan, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University who was interviewed for the article. “If you don’t feel you have any of that, you quickly get to a point where the only thing that’s important is keeping yourself and your buddies alive. Nothing else much matters.”
By increasing tour lengths and adding repeat deployments in an attempt to reach their desired outcome in Iraq, the Bush Administration is actually harming the very soldiers it claims to love and respect. If our President really wants to bring peace to a crumbling nation, increasing the discomfort and strain on our troops is a strange way to go about it
(An interesting sidenote: the public release of the survey detailed in this article, which was conducted during August and September of 2006, was belated until after the Bush Administration’s intention to “expand the active duty Army and Marine forces by 92,000 troops.”)