Army Suicide, Divorce, and Accident Rates Up

Some alarming news from UPI on the declining health and morale of our soldiers:

The acting secretary of the U.S. Army says he is seeing a troubling spike in key morale indicators among soldiers — suicide, divorces and accidents.

Acting Secretary Pete Geren told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday at his nomination hearing to become the civilian head of the Army that he discusses suicides and fatal accidents at a weekly meeting with senior military leaders. “Our Army leadership every week, in addition to everything they’re doing all week long, is alerted to those two indicators as well as the other indicators,” he said.

Geren said he tracks absent-without-leave rates, desertion rates, drug rates, criminal activity, and accidents. “We have seen most of those indicators hold steady. Three have not held steady and are troubling. Accidents have increased, as have suicides and have divorces,” he said.

An Army source said the numbers of fatal accidents, divorces and suicides is not significantly spiking, and at the end of the fiscal year is likely to not to appear to be an increase over pre-war levels. However, viewed in a short span of time, it is an increase and a real concern.

Geren also said the Army will be kicking off a service-wide educational program to teach soldiers how to identify symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. “We’re going to teach every leader in the Army how to spot some of the emotional stresses of PTSD and other mental disorders while they’re still in their infant stages,” Geren said. “They have got to know what’s going on mentally, emotionally and physically with their soldiers and they have got to be in a position to step up and meet the needs of those soldiers and not let a problem fester there. We’re working to try to make that frontline soldier a better judge of the needs of the people that he or she leads.”

It’s good that the Army’s top leaders are monitoring these trends and taking proactive steps to mitigate the damage.

It’s odd, though, that Geren and the “Army source” appear to be on a different sheet of music on this. Are the spikes mere statistical anomalies or are they a response to real increases in stress caused by the OPSTEMPO?

FILED UNDER: General, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    The problem is that people join the military never actually believing they have to do what we pay the military to do which is hurt, slaughter, main, destroy and wreck other people and blow up things. They join for the benefits, for an education, for security, or because they have no other options. But when they are sent off to war and find that people fight back with the intention to hurt, slaughter, maim and wreck the lives of our soldiers they get all depressed about it. This is natural.

    Suicides, divorces, and accidents are all part of the human response when the reality of their choice of careers hits them.

  2. James Joyner says:

    The problem is that people join the military never actually believing they have to do what we pay the military to do

    There’s not a single person currently serving in the United States military to whom that applies. We’ve been at war now almost six years and pretty much constantly deploying folks into harm’s way since 1990. That just doesn’t fly.

  3. ken says:

    There’s not a single person currently serving in the United States military to whom that applies. We’ve been at war now almost six years and pretty much constantly deploying folks into harm’s way since 1990.

    James your use of the euphemistic ‘into harm’ way’ instead of the more accurate ‘war zone’ is proof of what I am saying. Not even you, sitting in the safety and comfort of your home, can bring yourself to describe accurately what our military is used for and what they face when we use them.

    They are deployed to kill people, to destroy things, to main, hurt, slaughter and subject others forcibly to their will. When they try to do this they are met with opposition that gives back and more to them.

    It is when the delusion you promote fails and the blinders fall from their eyes and the reality of their choices hit them that they become depressed and start having problems. Theirs’ is the human response to the degradation they face when doing the job we pay them for.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Sometimes it’s a war zone, sometimes it’s not. Many of the humanitarian relief missions and peacekeeping ops of the 1990s weren’t wars or even eligible for hostile fire pay but they’re still more dangerous than garrison duty or normal FTX’s.

  5. Michael says:

    Ken,
    The problem isn’t that they are doing those things over there, the problem is that when they come back home, they are no longer used to NOT doing those things.

    We send them through hard and fast training so that they can do those things when required without having the breakdown’s you blame them for. These breakdowns are happening AFTER they do all those things, when they come home. The problem is that while we spend weeks preparing them to be soldiers, we don’t spend any time preparing them to be civilians again.

    It’s like training a pit bull for dog fighting, then sending him home to a loving family with small children. What do you think is going to happen?

  6. ken says:

    Many of the humanitarian relief missions and peacekeeping ops of the 1990s weren’t wars or even eligible for hostile fire pay but they’re still more dangerous than garrison duty or normal FTX’s.

    Right. And that is about the extent of what they believe will happen when they join up. Even today most do not join or re-elist to get into the fight, but for bonus money or health benefits for their family or a hoped for education etc. They view the time in ‘harms’ way’, as you put it, as small price to pay for what is otherwise unattainable: a good job with benefits and a secure retirement income.

    Today the thinking is they might do a short time away from home, get some glory like a warrior in some ancient tale or bask in the reflected glory from the notable warriors amongst their unit, and then be allowed to come back home, get on with their lives, and have fond memories of their role in what they can only hope turns out to be a worthwhile war.

    Initially it never enters their mind that what they are engaged in is nothing more than wrecking mayhem and destruction on a bunch of people who don’t deserve it and who will answer their attacks with counterattacks of even greater destruction.

    When their time is up and they come home it is natural for them to get all depressed about it. When where the’ve been and what they’ve done hits home is a normal human reaction to become all screwed up as a result.

  7. brainy435 says:

    “It’s odd, though, that Geren and the “Army source” appear to be on a different sheet of music on this. Are the spikes mere statistical anomalies or are they a response to real increases in stress caused by the OPSTEMPO?”

    I don’t think there is a disconnect here. The Army is representing what it views as a statistical anomoly and at the same time covering itself for the onslaught of gotcha politics that will require everyone disgruntled about the war to beat the military about the head and shoulders with this. If it continues, that’s one thing, but for now it’s not indicative of anything.

    Also, ken, you’re full of it. I spent 6 years in the Navy, on a sub, in the late 90’s. Everyone on my sub was damn near giddy when Clinton ordered us to bomb Iraq in 98… we were finally going to be able to defend our country and do what we always trained to do. Other subs in the vacinity who were not part of the strike were jealous that we got to fight… at least till they got their shot at Kosovo a few months later.

  8. Obviously, we need to banish the military and get everyone to be nice to each other through some sort of progressive good vibes meditation or something.

  9. ken says:

    Also, ken, you’re full of it. I spent 6 years in the Navy, on a sub, in the late 90’s. Everyone on my sub was damn near giddy when Clinton ordered us to bomb Iraq in 98… we were finally going to be able to defend our country and do what we always trained to do.

    We paid to you kill people, some innocent, and blow up some buildings. You did it from the safety of a nuclear submarine several hundred miles away from any danger to you. Good for you.

    That is how you expected it to be when you joined up, right?

    You would have been shocked and surprised beyond belief to have met with a counterattack which destroyed your sub. And had you survived that counterattack you may have had the reality of your calling finally made real to you in a very personal way. You may even have ended up as one of those who get all upset and depressed about it.

    That is similar to what a national guardsman or typical army recruit believes as well; ie. they might wreak havoc on others but they will remain safe and secure personally.

    It is when their safety and security is challenged by people answering attack by counterattack, death by death, hurt by hurt, that the reality of what your line of work is all about is fully realized by those employed in it. And that is a very demoralizing and depressing thing for anyone with a normal human nature.

  10. Anjin-San says:

    Part of the problem may be that “support the troops” is nothing more that a slogan to the Bush admin…

  11. You would have been shocked and surprised beyond belief to have met with a counterattack which destroyed your sub.

    If that’s true, I suspect it would have only been because they were in fact prepared for it and were surprised only that the enemy’s attack had unexpectedly overcome the measures and countermeasures taken to ensure their survival and the mission’s success.

    You may have some legitimate points to chew on, but when you marinate them in blind partisanship, coat them in caricatures of what “the other” really thinks and believes, and then deep fry them far too long in overheated congealed contempt, they no longer seem palatable to someone who’s desperately trying to keep an open mind about these things.

  12. brainy435 says:

    Ah, yes, ken. I obviously know less about combat than you since I only saw it twice while you play Splinter Cell constantly. Most cowards like me sign up for duty in enclosed metal tubes hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean where if ANYTHING goes wrong everyone on board dies a horrible, inescapable death. Like those Russian pansies on the Kursk who for days waited excitedly to see whether they would die of starvation or asphyxiation.

    I mean, it’s not like my boat was ever behind enemy lines surrounded by superior numbers of enemy vessels while conducting surveillance, right? Or that if there HAD been any response of the naval variety, my sub would have been severely compromised by the fact that you can see subs with the naked eye in the clear, shallow Gulf waters, negating our natural stealth advantage.

    Equally obvious is that your ignorant rantings clearly trump any knowledge of the situation I may have gleaned from my little brother who spent two tours in theater during this war.

    But at least you “support the troops.”

    Asshole.

  13. just me says:

    My brother in law was flying helicopters in one of Clinton’s humanitarian missions-those missions weren’t without risk.

    Also, there is this little book and later a movie made about it called “Black Hawk Down” maybe you should try reading it sometime, after all that was a peacekeeping mission.

    All that said, I think I agree with you in one matter-I am not sure that anyone grasps fully the horror of war, wartime or peacekeeping mission, shooting and getting shot at-even if they sign up knowing they may go to war, I am not so sure they “get” it until they actually get there and experience it.

  14. James Joyner says:

    My brother in law was flying helicopters in one of Clinton’s humanitarian missions-those missions weren’t without risk.

    That was my point. It was “harm’s way” even though not a “war zone.”

    Also, there is this little book and later a movie made about it called “Black Hawk Down” maybe you should try reading it sometime, after all that was a peacekeeping mission.

    Well, no. I’m not sure how to classify the warlord hunting phase of RESTORE HOPE but it certainly wasn’t a peacekeeping op. It was initially a humanitarian intervention but it eventually morphed into something else in classic “mission creep.”

  15. Holly says:

    I believe that when someone is deployed into an active war zone and experiences death; that experience must mess with their mind. I remember growing up my mom and dad a mom and pop store. The disturbed, drunk veterans of Vietnam were everywhere and they were messed-up bad. Liquor was their only salvation in their mind. Death and actually being the one to kill or watch a killing is not an everyday event. That’s my opinion.