I don’t have anything interesting or unique to say on this subject, other than to respond to the bare fact that Time magazine (Aug 29, 2011) is reporting that there were 32 suspected active duty and reservist suicides recorded by the Army in July 2011. This is the “highest monthly toll on record.”
This is frightening, principally because we are continuing to wind down combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. One might think that as the specter of deployment decreases, so ought suicides by soldiers involved in those deployments. However, the numbers appear to be trending upward. What if they continue to go upward? How long can they continue to stay this high?
Retired LTG Jack Keane, as recorded in one of Bob Woodward’s books on the Iraq War (and “Surge”), famously said to President Bush that “sometimes wars break armies.” His point was important to note, in that, from time to time, a national commitment to combat necessarily pushes its ground forces past a breaking point. Wars can do this in different ways. Civil War battles often took 30% casualties. General Grant, at Shiloh, sustained more casualties in one battle than all other previous U.S. wars combined. Even more than at Waterloo ~ and there were 20 more Waterloo-equivalents to come. These more recent wars are different in that it is the grind and repetitive nature of deployments. This seems to be what is breaking the Army.
The difference, of course, is that the force now is not drafted ~ is is recycled and reused. This means the long term physical and mental health of soldiers is at a higher premium than during the Civil War, arguably ever (considering the small percentage of U.S. citizens currently serving in uniform).
We can’t keep losing soldiers this way, both from a national strategic perspective and the fact that each one represents a family tragedy. That said, I’m saddened to write that I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. I hope I’m wrong.