Follow by Email

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stay Single. Stay Alive.

In an effort to reduce their suicide rate, so I've heard, the Army is planning to somehow train troops to be more "mentally resilient." The horrors of war, the strain of being away from wives and families, and - to cap it all off - the agony of just being in the Army are too much for many of today's soldiers. So, somehow, the Army plans to "train" soldiers to be mentally tougher.

The Army has recognized, so they say, that mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. But, the Army's physical fitness program, as applied on a daily basis, is pretty lame. At Ft. Bragg (NC) in the late 90s, PT consisted of running for an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and doing push-ups and sit-ups for an hour the other two days. According to the Army's own field manuals, flexibility, coordination, and balance are important parts of physical fitness, but those elements were completely ignored in actual day-to-day PT (physical training). I'd expect the Army's mental training (MT?) to be the mental equivalent of running up and down Ardennes Street every day for an hour. Even if the Army could launch an effective program, where would units fit an hour of MT into their training schedules?

Consider, too, the number of people in the military now who were raised to believe that spanking is child abuse, that virtually any misfortune is "unfair," and that every player on even the worst Little League team deserves a trophy. Forget having to try out for a team - everyone plays and everyone is a winner in this generation's mind. With that mindset, virtually any dose of reality could cause one to retreat permanently from the battle field of life. Wouldn't the Army be better off screening and passing on mentally "weak" recruits?

Before they launch an ineffective program to prevent something which will sometimes occur anyway, the Army needs to determine exactly why soldiers kill themselves. I don't believe the horrors of war are driving life-long video-gamers over the edge. Young soldiers probably saw more graphic violence on their computer monitors before they enlisted than they'll ever see in Iraq or Afghanistan. The stress induced by Army life in general has been driving recruits to suicide - or at least alcoholism - for decades. There's something else that is likely causing soldiers to take their own lives and mental toughness training is not likely to overcome it.

Jack and my mother dated in high school and my mother really wanted to marry him. Fortunately for me, Jack recognized that being married was not conducive to surviving in the jungles of Viet Nam during a war. He told my mother that he wouldn't marry her until he returned. To be married or even engaged would distract him and probably get him killed. He survived two tours in 'Nam as a Green Beret with only minor wounds. Smart fellow, Jack.

I tend to believe that worrying about spouses back home, especially unfaithful ones, leads to more soldier suicides than anything else. I don't have any numbers to back that up because I don't have access to the info, but I'm willing to bet that at least half of the suicides we've heard about are related to a soldier's wife packing it in or shacking up with someone who isn't deployed. (I haven't heard of any female soldiers committing suicide. I also haven't heard about any female soldiers coming home from a deployment and killing errant husbands.)

The Army has given impressive lip service to Family Support Groups, but at the end of the day the military is no place to be married or to raise children. If the Army is truly concerned about soldier suicides, they should go back to their old philosophy: If the Army wanted you to have a (spouse), they'd issue you one.

No comments:

Post a Comment