Morale: Unexpected Antidote for Combat Fatigue

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October 10, 2007: How do American troops avoid combat fatigue after multiple one year tours to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan? One of the unexpected reasons appears to be the ready access to the families left behind. Email, video conferencing and cheap phone access do something never before experienced in a combat zone. The troops remain involved with the lives of their families. Spouses can still share decision making, and comfort each other. The kids get to hear from dad or mom several times a week, and the absent parent doesn't become a stranger. At first, it was thought that all this contact with back home would make things worse for the soldier. You know, after a hard day of fighting, you come back to base and get a bunch of emails about a leaky roof and kids misbehaving at school. But when surveys were taken, it was found that the hassles on the home front tended to displace worries about the combat right outside the wire. In fact, combat stress counselors are getting more visits from troops upset about family issues, than about combat experiences. In fact, nearly as many troops are stressed out over personality frictions with other troops, than with the mental pressure from combat.

Now all this varies by unit. Most troops get to Iraq or Afghanistan, and hardly, if ever, leave the well protected base they live and work on. Aside from an occasional rocket or mortar shell, they never get involved with combat. So, naturally, these men and women are going to be more sensitive to pressures from back home, or from fellow troops. Combat units will be more focused on violence or stress they encounter outside the base. But even with this group, at least among the married guys, domestic and peer related pressures are crowding out combat stress.

It is believed that the email and cheap phone access gives combat stress welcome competition for a troops attention, and anxiety. Given a choice between worrying about a child's illness, or that IED that nearly blew up your truck today, the soldier will concentrate on the kid's well being. No one expected this, and the phenomenon will be studied for some time to come.

 


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