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Question of the Day
Nonetheless, there is a problem: The Army is now short several thousand officers in aggregate. The reason is not what one might think. As noted, officers are not quitting in droves. Rather, the Army is trying to increase the number of its officers as it enlarges the number of brigades in its active-duty force by at least 25 percent.
In addition, the Army did not enlist enough young officers in the early 1990s, meaning the current pool of officers from which to recruit for mid-level positions is too small.
How about the general morale of the force? One way to assess this is to look at those having serious problems in their lives. Soldiers and Marines’ divorce rates have leveled off somewhat at about 3.5 percent, after reaching 3.9 percent in 2004, and are not worse than in the general population — but still above the 2.9 percent of 2003.
Suicide rates reached 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers in the U.S. Army in 2006, not far off from the age-adjusted and gender-adjusted average for the U.S. population on the whole (for males, for example, the rate is 17.6 per 100,000), but still much higher than the rate of 9.1 per 100,000 soldiers in 2001.
Most of all, many soldiers and Marines face huge personal challenges and often tragedy, in part due to the strain of the wars. These trends area serious reason for worry. But as noted, they are not totally out of the norm of historical experience either.
For one group of soldiers surveyed in 2008, among those who had been to Iraq on three or four separate tours, the fraction displaying signs of post-traumatic stress disorders was 27 percent (in contrast to 12 percent after one tour and 18.5 percent after two).
As of early 2008, among the 513,000 active-duty soldiers who have served in Iraq, more than 197,000 had served more than once, and more than 53,000 had deployed three or more times. That means almost 15,000 people have faced PTSD after a third or fourth tour. We must of course do everything possible to help these individuals.
As we near Memorial Day, the above statistics should not only cause us considerable concern at a policy level, they should of course further reinforce our desire and commitment to honor those who serve our nation in uniform, now and in the past.
Thankfully, however, they do not add up to a broken force or a military on the verge of collapse. We should not continue to deploy them lightly at the pace of the recent past.
But the picture that emerges from the above information is that our soldiers and Marines are continuing to find it within themselves to do the near-impossible to protect the country.
Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
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