Attrition: Breaking Bad Habits


December 27, 2007: The U.S. Army noticed a pattern of self-destructive behavior among many troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, some 120 soldiers died from accidents within six months of returning to their home base. In the next six months, another 60 died.Two things figured in most of these deaths; bad driving and alcohol. Especially in Iraq, troops learn to drive fast and recklessly. That's the best way to avoid roadside bombs and ambushes. Unlearning those driving habits, which are obviously dangerous back in the United States, is more difficult than first thought. Another problem is that troops often come back with a lot of cash. They can't spend a lot of money over there, and they get paid extra (combat pay and the like.) This often leads to buying a new car or, worse, a motorcycle. Lots of motorcycle accidents.

And then there's the booze angle. No booze allowed in combat zones. Many troops develop a powerful thirst, and deal with it when they get back. Mix that with a fast new car, and old Iraqi driving habits, and you get accidents. Getting drunk makes one liable to all manner of accidents. Then there's the hard charging attitude one develops in a combat zone. It can be a life safer when you are getting shot at, but can lead to accidents, sometimes fatal ones, back home.

To deal with the problem, the army has made the troops, and their families, aware that the problem exists. That, in itself, goes a long way towards helping troops avoid problems. The army also developed a set of guidelines for how to safely adjust to life back home, and how to recognize the symptoms ofcombat fatigue (or PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder). With all the attention PTSD has gotten in the media, troops are more willing to seek treatment. Extreme cases of PTSD are pretty obvious, but it's the more subtle ones that army wants to catch early. These are easier to cure if caught early.


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