Friday, March 26, 2004

Army survey reports low morale

The US Army has finally released its report on the mental health issues soldiers are grappling with in Iraq. Amongst a variety of details, the Army has found a suicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers in Iraq, which tops the Vietnam war rate of 15.6 and the first Gulf war rate of 3.6. Additionally,

The report also detailed low morale among Army soldiers, with 72 percent of those questioned characterizing morale as either low or very low in their unit and 52 percent saying their personal morale was either low or very low.

Combat stress was caused by seeing dead bodies, personally coming under attack or knowing someone who was killed or seriously wounded, the report said. Other factors included soldiers' uncertainty over when they would go home.

The report found that soldiers who showed signs of depression, anxiety or traumatic stress were more likely to say it was too difficult to get help from the Army.

About 57 percent of personnel in combat stress-control units and 67 percent in mental health offices attached to Army divisions in Iraq cited insufficient supplies of key medications, including antidepressants and sleep medications.
I also ran across, via the MojoBlog, an article by a former Army commander who served in Iraq. Initially published in January, it illustrates rather vividly the chaos soldiers have been experiencing:

An explosion rocks the vehicle in front of you, throwing soldiers onto the street. You see the vehicle rise up onto two wheels before settling and rolling to a stop. AK-47 fire and RPGs are heard almost simultaneously. Your soldiers stagger about trying to shake off the effects of the concussion. Some fire wildly in different directions because the cracking of the AK-47s are echoing off the buildings, so you cannot pinpoint the direction of fire. The battle drill says to clear the kill zone, but you have competing priorities. First, you have casualties that need to be secured, assessed and stabilized. Second, if you run, you won’t kill the enemy or deter them. You must fight back and hopefully kill them. Do you stay in the kill zone and fight?

This happened to my soldiers and me. Sadly, this has happened to my company and me on several occasions in various forms. On this day, I lost a platoon sergeant and it was a devastating experience to many soldiers. He is alive but when I got to that truck he was a pile of blood and matter. His leg was completely blown off with shrapnel wounds all over him. He stayed there as we secured everything, trying to still lead his soldiers. We fought back that day, killing one suspected enemy and detaining two more. This reaction occurred due to rehearsals, AARs, aggressive leadership at every level, and discipline.

...American soldiers are facing men with a cell phone is one hand, a RPG in the other, and ill-conceived hatred in their heart. This enemy is asymmetric in the most unpredictable way. US forces will face this threat for months in Iraq, if not years...
No wonder stress levels are so high.