Special Ops Troops’ Marriages Shaky, Survey Shows

A state of perpetual war is incompatible with good mental health and stable family relationships.


From the Department of Everyone Saw This Coming:

USA Today (“Special forces’ marriages on shaky ground, survey shows“):

Marriages among many of the nation’s elite troops — Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers and others — are so damaged after years of war that one in five commandos say that if given the chance, they would have married someone else or not at all.

The results of a first-ever survey of special operations forces, troops drawn from all four branches of the military, show a highly trained force where small sectors are struggling with alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, anger and emotional numbness. As many as one in four say they sleep five or fewer hours each night.

The elite troops have conducted the most secretive combat missions of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including the 2011 raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed. An executive summary of the survey results was provided to USA TODAY.


Suicides also have increased among special operations personnel, nearly doubling from 2011 to 2012 from 10 to 19, including the death of a SEAL team commander who killed himself shortly before Christmas while deployed to Afghanistan. This year, there have been six potential suicide cases through May, says Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ligia Cohen, a spokeswoman for Special Operations Command.


A University of Pittsburgh study shows the annual injury rate among special operations troops is as high as 46%, compared with 24% among conventional troops.

“We beat our guys up in training, frankly, because we have to, to see if they have what it takes to succeed on the battlefield,” [Navy SEAL Capt. Thomas Chaby, appointed by McRaven to lead an effort to restore the force] says. “We can’t wait until they’re up in the mountains of Afghanistan to see how they’re going to respond. We have to find it out now.”

War, as William Tecumseh Sherman told us long ago, is hell. A state of perpetual war, which has existed since 1991 not just 9/11, is simply incompatible with good mental health and stable family relationships. The news here isn’t that so many are struggling to hang on but that far more are not.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.