MORE than half of US soldiers in the Iraq war reported morale problems in their units, with particular concern over long deployments, but suicide rates have dropped, an Army report said today.
The leading source of stress for the soldiers, aside from actual combat, was the long deployment in Iraq, the report said. Army personnel generally serve a full year on the ground in Iraq, and many have had their duty extended for additional weeks or months shortly before their scheduled return home.
Lieutenant General Franklin Hagenbeck, the Army's personnel chief, said in April the Army was exploring six or nine-month tours of duty, but cautioned that shorter tours would be possible only if the Pentagon was able to draw down the overall troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marines currently serve seven-month stints in Iraq.
Now there's a switch. In Vietnam, when the Army tour was one year, Marines did 13 months. That had been their standard overseas tour for years and they saw no reason to change it. It was no doubt wonderful to know that they faced 30 days more exposure than Army personnel.
Seventeen per cent of soldiers reported emotional, alcohol or family problems or experiencing moderate or severe stress, compared to 23 per cent a year earlier, the report said.
Acute or post-traumatic stress symptoms were the top mental health concern, affecting at least 10 per cent of those surveyed.
Soldiers in transportation and National Guard and Reserve combat support units reported higher rates of mental health problems and lower perceptions of combat readiness and training than soldiers in combat units, the report stated.
That's no surprise. I'm sure they'd much rather be back home fighting wildland fires or filling sandbags during a flood than being exploded at.
There's always time for humor, though, even if most of us don't quite get the joke. From YahooNews:
As they have throughout their history, the Marines here often turn to jokes or pranks to relieve the tension of living in constant danger, these days while patrolling dusty streets of this western Iraqi town.
The humor is often dark and almost always salty, focusing on aching backs, alcohol, their own mortality - and, of course, old girlfriends.
Other Marines pack boulders in their friends' backpacks before patrols, then try to suppress laughs as they watch their buddies struggle with the extra weight - as if Marines weren't laden enough with body armor, weapons, ammunition and other gear.
I don't advise getting caught doing that. We used to throw the Joker out of a deck of cards to save weight.
Today's comparison to Vietnam:
"At least in the 'Nam, they had booze and women," Toland jokingly complained last month, speaking of the Vietnam War.
Oh boy! Tiger piss and Mama-san's Boom-Boom Room! Let's go to town!
And, during the ride to
Iraq's western border for the Operation Matador offensive on insurgents in mid-May, one Marine from the 3rd Battalion dozed off, prompting the others to quietly put on their gas masks.
"Wake up! Gas attack!" they then screamed.
Their startled, gasping friend scrambled to throw on his own mask as the others burst into laughter. Three weeks later, some of them still chuckled at the memory.
It's comforting to know that some things never change.