The U.S. Army plans to accelerate its Congressionally mandated expansion,
and add 65,000 active duty and 9,000 reservist troops by 2010, instead of 2012.
This is being done to increase dwell time (how many months spent at their U.S.
base for every month spent in a combat zone) for troops. Increasing the size of
the force sooner is made possible because of the recession, which means
military recruiters have less competition from civilian employers. Moreover,
the army sees fewer troops going overseas in the next few years, with troops
levels in Iraq declining more than those in Afghanistan will increase.
Currently the army has nearly 700,000 troops on active duty, with about a
quarter of them reservists.
also sees increased "dwell time" as a partial cure for combat
fatigue, and a major boost for morale. Currently, because of last year's surge
campaign in Iraq (the addition of five more brigades in Iraq and extension of
tours from 12 to 15 months), troops
spend a bit less than a month at home for each month in combat. This year, the
dwell time will return to one month at home for each one in combat. By 2009, it
will be 1.5 at home for each one in combat. Eventually, the army wants to get
dwell time up to three months for each one in combat. With the accelerated
expansion of the force, that may be accomplished within five years.
of repeated trips to combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan is having an effect
on American troops, as mental health professionals expected. Currently, for
every soldier killed in combat, at least one is sent back to the United States
because of severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and several others are
treated in the combat zone for less severe cases. During World War II, PTSD was
an even more serious problem. In the European Theater, 25 percent of all
casualties were disabling PTSD cases. In the Pacific Theater, the rate varied
widely, depending on the campaign. In some of the most intense fighting, like
Okinawa in 1945, PTSD accounted for over a third of all wounded. In Iraq, less
than ten percent of the wounded are PTSD.
of combat, and how to deal with it, has been a hot research topic since World
War II. The war on terror is unique
because it is sending more troops into combat, for longer periods, than ever
before. As expected, the more time troops spend in combat, the more likely they
are to suffer from disabling degrees of stress. The troops who have been in
combat are being closely monitored by mental health professionals, more so than
at any other time in history.
two major theories to dealing with the stress. On one hand, if troops can stay
at their stateside base for 18-24 months between 12 month tours, or 12 months
between six month tours, they will recover sufficiently to deal with another
bout with combat. Research indicates that the six month tours are easier to
recover from. With email and easy communications with people in the combat
zone, the shorter tours do not waste as much time, getting the lay of the land,
as in the past. Thus the shorter tours are more effective than in the past,
where troops had to spend their first few months just getting to know who was
who and what was what. Units know a year or more that they are going over
there, and who they are going to replace. The two units now get in touch months
before the relief, and bring the new crew up to date with written reports,
pictures and even videos. This preparation is also believed to lessen the
development of PTSD.
during World War II that researchers began compiling lots of data on troop
stress and its effects. It was discovered that most troops were likely to
develop debilitating PTSD after about 200 days of combat (that is, the stress
of having your life threatened by enemy fire). But today there are other
factors. Israel noted, after the 1982 war in Lebanon. That reservists were more
sensitive to the aftereffects of combat. The Lebanon conflict used a larger
number (than previous wars) of older reserve troops, who tended to be more
prone to coming down with stress disorders. This was probably due to the fact
the full time soldiers are constantly conditioned to deal with stress. While
this is often referred, often derisively, as "military discipline,"
it has been known for thousands of years that such practices reduce stress and
panic during combat. Apparently it reduces the chances of coming down with
stress problems as well.
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 stress problems (better accommodations,
email contact with home, prompt treatment for any problems), but many troops
are headed for uncharted territory, and an unprecedented amount of time in
combat. Thus new programs to spot stress
related problems, as early as possible, and new treatments as well. The stress
angle has been more intensively studied in Iraq than in any previous war.
Naturally, the more you look, the more you find. A recent survey of troops who
had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, found half of them still had some mental or
physical health problems six months after returning from overseas.
the money factor. Combat pay and re-enlistment bonuses for combat troops
provides a temptation to ignore stress 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. Currently, it appears
that many combat veterans with hundreds of days in action, may be transferred
to non-combat jobs, before they become permanently impaired. This was a
practice used, informally, as far back as World War II.