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American soldier morale sinking in Afghanistan

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November 15, 2009

Morale has fallen among soldiers in Afghanistan, where troops are seeing record violence in the 8-year-old war, while those in Iraq show much improved mental health amid much lower violence, the Army said Friday.

It was the first time since 2004 that soldier suicides in Iraq did not increase. Self-inflicted deaths in Afghanistan were on track to go up this year.

Though findings of two new battlefield surveys are similar in several ways to the last ones taken in 2007, they come at a time of intense scrutiny on Afghanistan as President Barack Obama struggles to craft a new war strategy and planned troop buildup. There is also new focus on the mental health of the force since a shooting rampage at Fort Hood last week in which an Army psychiatrist is charged.

Both surveys showed that soldiers on their third or fourth tours of duty had lower morale and more mental health problems than those with fewer deployments. And an increasing number of troops are having problems with their marriages.

The new survey on Afghanistan found instances of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress at about the same as they were in 2007 but double 2005’s cases. That was 21.4 percent in 2009, 23.4 percent in 2007 and 10.4 percent in 2005.

That compares to a lower 13.3 percent in Iraq, down from 18.8 percent in 2007 and 22 percent in 2006. (Surveys have been done every year in Iraq, but were only done during three years in Afghanistan.)

The Afghan report also found a shortage of mental health workers to help soldiers who needed it, partly because of the buildup Obama started this year with the dispatch of more than 20,000 extra troops.

Efforts to get more health workers to Afghanistan were made a little harder by last week’s shooting. The psychiatrist charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder was slated to go to Afghanistan. Some of the dead and wounded also were to have deployed there to bolster psychological services for soldiers.

Still, officials told a Pentagon press conference that they expect to meet their goal next month of having one mental health worker for every 700 troops — workers that include psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and so on. There were 43 in Afghanistan at the time of the survey, while 103 were deemed needed; and since the survey, there has been what Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker on Friday called an aggressive push to send the rest.

The new Afghanistan survey found that individual soldier morale was about the same as previous studies, but that unit morale rates were significantly lower.

For instance, when asked about their own morale, 17.6 percent rated it high or very high, down from 23 percent in 2005. When asked about their unit, only 5.7 percent gave the two highest ratings, a decrease from 10.2 percent in 2007 and 10.5 percent in 2005.

The findings come from surveys and interviews with troops and mental health workers at the wars.

In Iraq, some 2,400 soldiers in randomly selected platoons filled out surveys from December 2008 through March 2009, and a mental health assessment team went to the warfront for a month starting in late February to analyze the results and hold interviews and focus groups. In Afghanistan, more than 1,500 troops in more than 50 platoons filled out the surveys from April to June, and the assessment team went through the same process from May through June.

It’s the sixth such survey, a program that was groundbreaking when started in 2003 in that it was the biggest effort ever made to measure the health of troops — and the services they receive — right at the warfront in the middle of a military campaign.

The survey was different from previous ones in that it sampled two types of platoons. Some were maneuver units that war-fighting groups engaged in combat-related tasks and others were support units such as aviation, engineering and medical elements less likely to have as much direct exposure to violence.

Other findings of the Afghanistan survey included:

  • Junior enlisted soldiers reported significantly more marital problems than noncommissioned officers, stating they intended to get a divorce or that they suspected their spouses back home of infidelity.
  • Exposure to combat, long recognized as a strong factor in mental health problems, was significantly higher this year than rates in 2005 and similar to rates in 2007 for the combat units.
  • Combat units reported significantly lower unit morale in the last six months of their tours of duty, more evidence of the wearing affect of long deployments.
  • Troops in their third or fourth deployment reported significantly more acute stress and other psychological problems, and among those married, reported significantly more marital problems compared to soldiers on their first or second deployment.
  • Troops who spent up to four hours daily playing video games or surfing the Internet as a way to cope helped lower their psychological problems, but spending time beyond that had the opposite effect. Those who exercised or did other physical training decreased their mental problems, regardless of the time spent.
  • Troops reported more and better training in suicide prevention and other mental health programs that the Army has been increasing over recent years in an unprecedented effort to focus on the force’s mental health.

“Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to face stress from multiple deployments into combat but report being more prepared for the stresses of deployments,” Schoomaker said.

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Associated Press writer Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Army Medical Department: http://www.armymedicine.army.mil

7 Responses to American soldier morale sinking in Afghanistan

  1. Carl Nemo

    November 15, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I thought our readers might enjoy a letter from a Recon Marine on duty in Afghanistan.

    All this survey mumbo jumbo simply adds confusion concerning the very heart of the matter; ie., the effective waging of war for all time and places and what it takes where the rubber meets the road; ie., the daily life of a grunt, one of the best the best; ie., a Force Recon Marine!

    *****

    From the Sand Pit – Message From a Recon Marine in Afghanistan…..

    The Sand Pit:

    It’s freezing here. I’m sitting on hard, cold dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush Mountains , along the Dar ‘yoi Pomir River , watching a hole that leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave. Stake out, my friend, and no pizza delivery for thousands of miles.

    I also glance at the area around my ass every ten to fifteen seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. I’ve actually given up battling the chiggers and sand fleas, but them scorpions give a jolt like a cattle prod. Hurts like a bastard. The antidote tastes like transmission fluid, but God bless the Marine Corps for the five vials of it in my pack.

    The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and drink water. That requires couriers and that’s where an old bounty hunter like me comes in handy. I track the couriers, locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info into the handheld, shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link that tells the air commanders where to drop the hardware. We bash some heads for a while, then I track and record the new movement.

    It’s all about intelligence. We haven’t even brought in the snipers yet. These scurrying rats have no idea what they’re in for. We are but days way from cutting off supply lines and allowing the eradication to begin.

    I dream of bin Laden waking up to find me standing over him with my boot on his throat as I spit into his face and plunge my nickel-plated Bowie knife through his frontal lobe. But you know me, I’m a romantic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This country blows, man. It’s not even a country. There are no roads, there’s no infrastructure, there’s no government. This is an inhospitable, rock pit shit hole ruled by eleventh century warring tribes. There are no jobs here like we know jobs.

    Afghanistan offers two ways for a man to support his family: join the opium trade or join the army. That’s it. Those are your options. Oh, I forgot, you can also live in a refugee camp and eat plum-sweetened, crushed beetle paste and squirt mud like a goose with stomach flu, if that’s your idea of a party. But the smell alone of those ‘tent cities of the walking dead’ is enough to hurl you into the poppy fields to cheerfully scrape bulbs for eighteen hours a day.

    I’ve been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks, and Turkmen and even a couple of Pashtuns, for over a month-and-a-half now, and this much I can say for sure: These guys, all of ‘em, are Huns… Actual, living Huns.. They LIVE to fight. It’s what they do. It’s ALL they do… They have no respect for anything, not for their families, nor for each other, nor for themselves. They claw at one another as a way of life. They play polo with dead calves and force their five-year-old sons into human cockfights to defend the family honor. Huns, roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who feed on each other’s barbarism. Cavemen with AK-47’s. Then again, maybe I’m just cranky.

    I’m freezing my ass off on this stupid hill because my lap warmer is running out of juice, and I can’t recharge it until the sun comes up in a few hours. Oh yeah! You like to write letters, right? Do me a favor. Write a letter to CNN and tell Wolf and Anderson to stop calling the Taliban ‘smart..’ They are not smart. I suggest CNN invest in a dictionary because the word they are looking for is ‘cunning.’ The Taliban are cunning, like jackals and hyenas and wolverines..They are sneaky and ruthless, and when confronted, cowardly. They are hateful, malevolent parasites who create nothing and destroy everything else. Smart.. Pfft. Yeah, they’re real smart.

    They’ve spent their entire lives reading only one book (and not a very good one, as books go) and consider hygiene and indoor plumbing to be products of the devil. They’re still figuring out how to work a Bic lighter. Talking to a Taliban warrior about improving his quality of life is like trying to teach an ape how to hold a pen; eventually he just gets frustrated and sticks you in the eye with it.

    OK, enough. Snuffle will be up soon, so I have to get back to my hole. Covering my tracks in the snow takes a lot of practice, but I’m good at it.

    Please, I tell you and my fellow Americans to turn off the TV sets and move on with your lives. The story line you are getting from CNN and other news agencies is utter bullshit and designed not to deliver truth but rather to keep you glued to the screen through the commercials. We’ve got this one under control The worst thing you guys can do right now is sit around analyzing what we’re doing over here, because you have no idea what we’re doing, and really, you don’t want to know. We are your military, and we are doing what you sent us here to do, keep you safe, and keep the fight off of American soil.

    extract from post to onemansblog.com category politics posted January 28, 2009 non-copyright

    *****

    There’s nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting for other than to hopefully gain a safe, stable pipeline easement from the Black Sea to the to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan and eastward to India. It’s all about Caspian Basin oil extraction along with its by product natural gas that keeps us in the region. These Western tomcats in the MIC and the “oil patch” have been marking the Hindu Kush and that region with their spoor in hopes of staking out new territory in far off regions. Unfortunately this is just another fight of many throughout many millennia in that region that will send these city bred couch cats slinking back home licking their psychological wounds while pondering their failed agenda.

    Disclaimer: This is not in reference to our superb ground forces, but the wealthy, jaded couch potatoes that scheme these wars of adventurism for the purpose of stealing resources while wasting the lives of America’s sons, daughters and families.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Afghanistan_Pipeline

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. Doc_Holiday

    November 16, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Nemo Man

    I still have friends in the Corps, in fact it is my former unit that is stationed in Afghanistan right now. Two friends which I shared the same blood, sweat, and tears in Iraq with are there and they tell me that it is an exciting time for them. Because they are doing what the Marines trained them to do. FIGHT!!!

  3. Sandra Price

    November 16, 2009 at 5:16 am

    Carl, thank you for this….I remember when many of us here at CHB discussed whether the pipeline from the Black Sea through the Pakistan/Afghanistan area would bring us to a state of war. So quickly did our leaders claim the Taliban was behind 9/11 that bingo the pipeline took the top story.

    But not for long as we were called Conspiracy bums. It makes me wonder how many American leaders used a war for personal gain of the Oil Companies.

    Today our government is making millions in the Industrial Military Complex bringing many of our best and brightest men and women to write as you brought here; that is, those who survive.

  4. Carl Nemo

    November 16, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Sandra Price et al.,

    I’m thinking that you and other readers might enjoy this one-stop shopping master link; ie. 9/11 and the “energy connection”. It will also clear things up for a lot of folks concerning as to why we are in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. and its not 9/11 either. 9/11 is simply the excuse for our intervention in these regions.

    http://www.heartson.com/Politics/background.html

    Granted these intrigues were birthed during the Clinton years then carried on into the infancy of G.W. Bush/Cheney’s tenure in office, but we are still left with this fetid baggage of basically a gas pipeline deal gone bad.

    So within the failure of the deal for the “oil patch”, the MIC has made hundreds of billions in ill-gotten lucre at the expense of this failed pipeline pact. The rest is history both past to present. There’s really nothing more to be known about these engineered conflagrations except for the U.S. extending itself into a region that generally speaking is a vacuum for U.S. hegemony over planetary oil/gas resources.

    Carl Nemo **==

  5. mtnmopar

    November 16, 2009 at 11:15 am

    The liberals are creating the same stupid situation as Nam. Soldiers are risking their lives and are handicapped by so called “Rules of Engagement”. When I was in the army, granted a long tome ago, our rules were no quarter, no prisoners and leave no enemy alive behind you.
    Either let them fight or get them out while they are still alive. Politicians are too stupid to win a war.

    Dave

  6. Carl Nemo

    November 16, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Thanks Doc_Holiday for the feedback. I wrote this piece so readers could have a first hand glimpse of what it’s like confronting the enemy in these remote regions of the world.

    They also need to be alerted as to how corrupt liassons between corporate America; ie, “big oil” and the MIC can both exploit and waste the best of our best on ill-planned, minimally supported wars of adventurism for the purpose of simply stealing resources from third world regions without proper compensation.

    Everyone is well aware of the Corp’s can do ability in terms of accomplishing the mission, but few are aware of a special group within the Marine’s that are in my opinion a cut above many of our SOC branches excluding SEALS; ie., “Force Recon Marines”. So I thought I’d supply a link concerning these elite forces within our finest combat branch of the military, the USMC. : )

    http://www.forcerecon.com/strongmenarmed.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Marine_Corps

    My three brothers and myself are all retired from the military representing all branches of the service except the U.S. Coast Guard, myself former USN. Many folks aren’t aware that the USMC is a component of the USN with their purpose being to provide security for our vessels on the high seas and in port while being the armed, land based thrust for USN operations.

    Disclaimer: USN SEALS have a different mission than Force Recon Marine’s, but a Recon’s training is just as grueling if not more so intense and demanding than for the SEALS. The SEALS generally get the headlines while a successful Force Recon mission will never be known or appreciated by the public in general.

    Carl Nemo **==

  7. griff

    November 17, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa,” by E.B. Sledge (1981, Presidio Press, $7.99) is a must-read. Thought I’d throw that out there for any one that likes books.