09 October 2010

How quickly we forget when we were in the trenches...

While the disturbing spike in Army suicides cannot be attributed to any one factor, I'd like to highlight one disturbing contradiction in the Army's official policy:
The study [on suicides, headed by General Chiarelli] revealed a clear link between suicide and other behavioral problems, such as illicit drug use, alcohol abuse, disciplinary infractions, misdemeanors and felony crimes.
[T]he Army, to meet recruiting requirements, began issuing more waivers for recruits with drug and alcohol offenses and criminal misconduct - troops who in the past would not have been deemed eligible. In 2007, the Army began cutting back such waivers, and Chiarelli said he doesn't believe it's a significant factor in the suicide rate...
So there's a "clear link" between drug abuse and criminal misconduct, yet granting waivers for such behavior is not a significant factor in the increase in suicides?  Interesting.

So, who's to blame, according to the Army's report?
To fix what the report called the "lost art of leadership in garrison," the Army intends to improve training and education to instill in leaders the importance of order and discipline away from the battlefield. The report noted the value of "un- announced health and welfare checks in the barracks accompanied by military police working dog sweeps, unannounced 100 percent urinalysis tests," and inspections of privately owned vehicles. It takes commanders to task for not filing the proper paperwork after a soldier has been in trouble with law enforcement, which makes it difficult to track problems. Compliance rates for filing what's known as a DD Form 4833, which documents misconduct, have fallen from 99 percent to 65 percent, masking the true level of misconduct across the force, which is likely much higher, researchers found.

Commanders either aren't aware of the importance of nipping problem behavior early, "or they are ignoring risk factors to retain soldiers to maintain deployment strength," the report said.

So the problem rests solely on the shoulders of company commanders?


The rapid pace of deployment-redeployment-training-deployment leads to a spike in soldier misconduct, only exacerbated by the fact that far too many of the soldiers recruited into today's Army are granted criminal waivers.  Commanders are thus faced with the choice of chaptering out problem soldiers--all the more difficult now that the separation authority has, in many cases, been raised to the two-star general level--or going into combat empty-handed.

That means that even if company commanders do manage to chapter out problem soldiers--no small feat, given the rapid op-tempo of home station training between deployments--they're faced with the chances of either a.) receiving another problem soldier, b.) receiving an untrained soldier just before deployment, or c.) not receiving a replacement at all.

Faced with such a dilemma, I think it's an affront for the Army's leadership to place the blame squarely on company commanders and subordinate leadership.

Major General Robert Scales, former Commandant of the US Army War College, seems to agree:
"This report literally whistles past the graveyard," says retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, who served as commandant of the Army War College in 2000 and authored a number of books on military strategy and leadership. Suggesting that officers and NCOs or garrison staffs are responsible for a rising suicide rate because of lax leadership, as Scales reads the Army's report, is "irresponsible," he says. "This report basically allows people off the hook for the inability to resource these two wars with the people necessary to do it. It's got nothing to do with politics. It's got to do with the lack of perception of what land warfare does to a ground force," he says. "Rarely have I ever read anything that so badly misses the mark. It's trying to find little nooks and crannies in the Army's management of these two wars and it absolutely misses the point of what's been going on."
Scales says too few troops have been carrying too heavy a burden for too long. "I don't care if you've got an army of Robert E. Lees, the anecdotal evidence clearly shows the ground forces are going through an unprecedented realm of emotional stress," he says. "I think it's irresponsible to blame leadership."


Mav said...


Mav said...

For all the ‘FaceBook’ “Likes” that can’t or choose not to leave a comment, go to this FB page [Warfighter Symposium]and “Like” it and to see what a bridge on this topic may be possible of building.

Kanani said...

I remember years ago, going through stats (and this was before we were military, but struggling to help a loved one who had mental and developmental issues). There is a correlation between mental and developmental issues and rates of depression, crime, unwanted pregnancies and suicide. Plus, a lot of drug use just isn't being done for social issues. A lot of it is being done as a means of self medication. Scary, but true.

I have no doubt that a lot of kids who are being brought in by recruiters who are overlooking these issues. Often there are notations on school records. If there's a note, it's a flag. If there's a criminal record to go with it, it's a double red flag.

I think a lot of these individuals lack a social coping mechanism that helps them deal with perception and also stress.

I'm sure you could find out more from oganizations like NAMI, or talking to a really good behavioral therapist. But I agree with you. There is a correlation. And we really can't ignore any part of this issue --from recruitment to treatment of trauma and stress related disorders anymore.

Unknown said...

Dead-on observations.

I think it's time that more officers took the time to express their thoughts in forums like this. Abu M, Best Defense, etc could use more feedback from the company-grades. I think there are a lot of us (myself included) that could benefit from more dialogue, rather than sitting back, seething about the innumerable problems and policies that we can't influence.

I'm curious about what kind of feedback you get from your command about your blog, if any.

FYI...The FB share link doesn't work for me. Could be my computer; I usually result to the old-fashioned link 'copy-paste'.