It’s real, it’s damaging and the Army is openly talking about it.
WASHINGTON â€” Army leaders are expressing increased alarm about the mental health of soldiers who would be sent back to the front again and again under plans that call for troop numbers to be sustained at high levels in Iraq for this year and beyond.
Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiersâ€™ mental health.
The stress of long and multiple deployments to Iraq is just one of the concerns being voiced by senior military officers in Washington as Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior Iraq commander, prepares to tell Congress this week that he is not ready to endorse any drawdowns beyond those already scheduled through July.
Folks, we can be in Iraq indefinitely because of some assumed threat that will happen if we leave, but we do so at a very steep cost. To say our military is overstretched is an understatement, and I can’t help but think that this is the Army saying, “We need to go…soon.”
The Army study of mental health showed that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers â€” a critically important group â€” on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders. That figure is far higher than the roughly 12 percent who exhibit those symptoms after one tour and the 18.5 percent who develop the disorders after a second deployment, according to the study, which was conducted by the Army surgeon generalâ€™s Mental Health Advisory Team.
The Army and the rest of the service chiefs have endorsed General Petraeusâ€™s recommendations for continued high troop levels in Iraq. But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, and their top deputies also have warned that the war in Iraq should not be permitted to inflict an unacceptable toll on the military as a whole. â€œOur readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it,â€ Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army vice chief of staff, said in stark comments delivered to Congress last week. â€œLengthy and repeated deployments with insufficient recovery time have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and our families, testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before.â€
Our fighting men and women are some of the finest in the world, but they aren’t machines, and yet we’re treating them like they are. For me the message is clear. Time to start drawing down the troops. I’m not talking about yanking them out all at once, but we need to be ready to fight the next time and our troops are just plain worn out, both physically and mentally. And if we ask them to fight for our freedom again, we at least owe them some reasonable amount of time to recover from these hidden wounds.