The Department of Defense met its recruiting
goals for December, 2007, as it has nearly every month since the war on terror
began after September 11, 2001. Last month, nearly 17,000 new recruits joined
the active duty and reserve components. All the media talk of economic
recession helps, as does the decline in stories about troops dying in
Afghanistan or Iraq. Combat casualties were way down in December, and many (of
the few)media stories coming out of
Iraq are about U.S. success. Re-enlistment rates continue to be above average,
which takes some of the pressure off the recruiters. Historically, the
recruiters biggest problem has been a strong economy.
But the army has lowered its recruiting
standards a bit in the last few years, while it also upgraded its screening and
training methods. Thus quantity and quality have been maintained. But it's
known from past experience that higher quality (in terms of test scores and
skills) troops are better able to survive combat.
These days, survival is easier, but
that leads to a problem with the long term effects of multiple combat tours.
The army is facing an unprecedented situation. Never before has it had so many
troops who have experienced so many days of combat. In the past (Vietnam, World
War II) casualties were several times higher. but combat was not as prolonged.
Thus few troops lasted 200 or more days in combat. During World War II, it was
found that 200 days was the average combat exposure a soldier suffered before
starting to experience debilitating PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
The patterns of combat were different
than during World War II. For example, the bulk of the troops in Europe went in
after June 6, 1944. The fighting in Europe ended eleven months later. In the
Pacific, the fighting tended to be episodic. A few months of combat were followed
by many months of preparing for the next island invasion or battle. In Vietnam,
not a lot of people went back for multiple tours, and those who did spend a
year with a combat unit, spent less time incombat than they would in Iraq. Even during Vietnam, it was noted that
many of those who were in combat for 200 or more days, did get a little punchy.
In Iraq, army combat troops often get
200 days of combat in one 12 month tour, which is more than their grandfathers
got during all of World War II. And some troops are returning for a third tour
in Iraq, which is now fifteen months. The army has found ways to avoid the
onset of PTSD (better accommodations, email contact with home, prompt treatment
for PTSD), but many troops are headed for uncharted territory, and an
unprecedented amount of time in combat. Thusnew programs to spot PTSD as early as possible, and new treatments as
Then there's the money factor. Combat
pay and re-enlistment bonuses for combat troops provides a temptation to ignore
PTSD symptoms and stay in a combat job. There are plenty of non-combat jobs you
can transfer to, and for many of those, there are also large re-enlistment
bonuses. This problem largely affects senior NCOs, who take a decade or more to
develop, and provide essential combat leadership. Given the experience and
maturity of these men, problems are not expected. But the army and marines have
to keep a close watch, because it's a unique situation and no one is sure how
it will all turn out.