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08 June 2012


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"They are family men with wives, children and responsibilities in the homeland"

Heaven watch over them all....

Bill H

Well said, but I think they need to rethink their mission as well. Do they want to be an Army, or a police force? Or, perhaps, what amounts to prison guards on a national scale?

Ishmael Zechariah

Colonel Lang alludes discreetly to George Orwell's 1939 essay "Democracy in the British Army" where the enlisted personnel are described as: "In the nineteenth century the British common soldier was usually a farm labourer or slum proletarian who had been driven into the army by brute starvation. He enlisted for a period of at least seven years – sometimes as much as twenty-one years – and he was inured to a barrack life of endless drilling, rigid and stupid discipline, and degrading physical punishments. It was virtually impossible for him to marry, and even after the extension of the franchise he lacked the right to vote. In Indian garrison towns he could kick the “niggers” with impunity, but at home he was hated or looked down upon by the ordinary population, except in wartime, when for brief periods he was discovered to be a hero. Obviously such a man had severed his links with his own class. He was essentially a mercenary, and his self-respect depended on his conception of himself not as a worker or a citizen but simply as a fighting animal."

I am an expatriate and know the Turkish Army; we never,ever, regarded our soldiers as such. From what I have read, this was not the case for the US population and officer corps either. Could Colonel Lang please clarify this for me?


Ishmael Zechariah

r whitman

This is not a new problem. I come from a much older military time (1955-1961). We had one actual suicide and two more attempted in my basic training company.Several years ago I became acquainted with a retired officer who served as a company commander of a basic training company in the 1960's. He said he spent most of his "agony" time on suicides and awols.


So what do we have here? If, huge "if", if the easy to google figures can be believed, we have, simultaneously,a suicide 'epidemic', and a rape 'epidemic'. If those numbers can be corroborated, what the hell is going on here? Both epidemics carried out by alleged "married. bourgeois, middle class people"?!!!

Ah, forget it...I don't expect any answers. There is no one in Washington that will pick up this rock and see what is underneath it. And if one is found...he or she will be eased out of Washington.


IMO "they" also need to rethink the reward. No one can survive doing the same thing over and over unless there is some personal reward for doing so; some personal sense of accomplishment, some sense of progress to a goal, some sense of being valued. After a while, just doing what you're told to do doesn't cut it no matter how well you do it.

I know it's a strange correlation to even consider but I have to wonder what the graph would look like if you plotted over time drone strikes on one axis and active duty suicide on the other. My hunch is that this successful depersonalization of action against the enemy as represented by drone strikes makes the average soldier feel less valued, less important and, moreover, less necessary. All dimensions that are associated with suicidal behavior.


r whitman

I am from a military era as old as yours. In those days draftees committed suicide because they could not adapt to Army life. Homosexuals were particularly likely to do that. this was ironic because they could have avoided the draft by declaring themselves. In my rifle platoon, 1962-54 two men killed themselves in the barracks. This is different. The men killing themselves now are doing so for some set of reasons that are not related to the old reasons. pl



If you are a Turk who lived in the post Kemalist Turkey you were taught to believe (correctly)that Ataturk's nationalist army created modern turkey and was the guardian of the republic. This country is much older that modern Turkey. Throughout the existence of our republic and our Army, enlisted men in peace time have been thought of as people unrelated to civilian society and offciers as being the disposable "younger sons" of the ruling classes. There were exceptions bu that was the rule. West Point's existence as a bastion of excellence fostered that idea of officers. In the aftermath of VN, soldiers of bothe kinds were despised and rejected. Now they are lionized at a time when they have come (in both varieties) to be typically middle class. IMO the stress of continual stress of distant war is too much for such an Army raised in this way. They cannot "bridge" the expectations placed upon them. pl

 Larry Kart

Colonel: The degree of wisdom/common sense in your initial post -- especially when stated, as you have, with inescapable economy and directness -- is ... well, inescapable. One would like to know what the response of those who are now in command, and those who have been so in the years since 2001, would have to say to about what you've said. In particular, the CG of the 1st Armored Divsion's use of the phrase "the easy way out" makes my blood boil.



For a combat veteran, death is an easy way out. pl



You know much more than I what the Army is like in the past and now. I don’t remember any suicides in my three years of wearing green. In Vietnam I only knew shake and bakes and the three or four cherries who arrived every month or so and were transformed into thousand yard stares. At Fort Lewis the enlisted Lifers were just like the male federal employees I worked with for 37 years. In the old army there were no women.

From watching Frontline and Restrepo I got the impression the grunts are still young and single. Not as representative of America as draftees but rough rural kids on the edge who chose the Army and War.

Similar to the Gulf War, 45% of the Veterans of the current wars are applying for disability payments from the VA.


 Larry Kart

Well, yes, there's CD in effect.


They're also "burning off" their young officers--like a farmer eating his seed corn--at a good clip. Why suffer the family stress of endless repeated deployments when civilian employment beckons? The Germans rightly feared a two-front war--they just weren't very good at avoiding them.


Hold on, look at the stats. Majority come from service members with one or no (repeat no) deployments, hardly the 'overworked' and strained force you were led to believe. Also, the overrepresentation of males definitively bumps up the stats (20.2 per 100K), which if adjusted for gender would be lower than the civilian rate of suicide (19.5 per 100K)

That being said, there are some points to be made about adjustment and the like. But don't get swayed by creative versions of 'the facts'.



I am quite familiar with the statistics. Have you ever been in the Army? One tour doesn't do it for you? pl



As one of the commissioned lifers I have little regard for your youthful memory of men who ruled your life. The Restrepo soldiers don't look rural at all to me, more like urban punks who needed to be sorted out. pl


What is the effect on the unit effectiveness of a suicide? Wouldn't it be better to remove a psychological casualty rather than wait for a suicide - especially if your unit is deployed?

steve g

To Col Lang's point of an army
of married middle class people.
During the VN era, USMC anyway,
married people were few among the
junior enlistd. My experiences with
them were mostly negative in that they
perceived themselves not of the
collective but outside it. Stateside,
they could live off base and had more
monetary allowances. As a group they
complained far beyond the typical service
members laments. In RVN one unit I was in
had two that bordered on depression and
near suicide. "I miss my wife" a continual
refrain. Avoiding those two was a mission in
of itself. Fast forward today with the high
rate of marriage and family that has been
encouraged for last twenty years or so. With
all the modern tech such as skype and cell
usage soldiers are in constant comm with their
families. The Guard and Reserves make up a large
contingent of those deployed. Those "Citizen"
soldiers were never intended for this purpose.
Having one foot in a combat zone and the other
at home might IMO be the major factor in this
sad and disturbing reality.


steve g

Thanks for the supporting impressions on married combat soldiers. In my youth it used to be said, half jokingly, that a real soldier burned his mail from home BEFORE he read it. You get the idea I am sure. It was said of offciers in the old days that lieutenants should not marry, that captains may marry and that majors must marry. One of our correspondents here who deals with army suicide data daily writes to tell me that a significant number of suicides occur in the reserve components. That would support your thoughts. pl


I wonder what the relationship is (statistical relationship)between soldiers on 'mood meds' (my sloppy term) and suicide?

If what I hear is correct, another big if, that is a trifecta, of sorts. Suicide epidemic. Rape epidemic. Meds epidemic. If those street myths turn out to have statistical legs, and it will take a while to create a meaningful data base, then something is rotten to core, in the military.

Al Spafford

The issue of relatively few supportive services to Nat Guard/Reserve troops who return to home communities has been a big issue in the NW, especially in the State of Washington. Whereas, regular army troops returning continue on to stateside bases where there is more support and command contact.


I will concur that married soldiers were always dragging around a cross overseas. "A wife is a young soldier's hell and an old soldier's reward", I've heard it said.

Jonst, "rape epidemic"? Sorry, but I find a lot of those stories to have no legs to them once you dig below the surface. When I was in Mosul a bunch of females had taken naked pictures of themselves with their weapons, each other, etc and then mailed them to their boyfriends. They had inadvertently saved them to the computers. Someone figured out the pattern and went around the FOB, saving pictures before burning them and making a "Girls of Mosul" CD. An SF NCO was detailed to escort these female soldiers around camp because higher command was dreading one of these girls who had stuck the barrel of their M16 in their axe wound getting raped by some jackass who thought it was open season.

On one hand, you have the repeated deployments taking their toll, and then IRR call ups after the fact once you think you've escaped. This is a country that makes a big deal about waving the flag, but refused to do anything that was actually substantial (see Walter Reed, et al). I was in the Army when they were recruiting the 'dregs' the Colonel talks about. I was fortunate that I could go hands on (remember Murk?) when I had to get the point across. Who knows now in today's kindler, gentler Army? Perhaps I would be accused of 'gay bashing'?


What happens when you adjust for age as well?


I'm not sure if this analogy is accurate, but I'll put it out there. I work in IT, and from time to time I'll see an employment listing that asks for a combination of skills and talents that makes me say to myself that there are no people with that combination of skills and talents, or at least very, very few people. It also seems that any person hired would not last very long because of all the contradictory demands put on them and the stress of being responsible for far more than an average job entails.

I wonder if a similar thing is happening with our military, they seem to be required to fulfill military, police and diplomatic roles and be able to switch between them at a moments notice. I'm not saying that there are no people anywhere that can fulfill all those requirements, but it may be a stretch even for the above average person. Add to that the fact that one can not simply quit and the stress may contribute to the kinds of problems that we're seeing.



RE: "the average soldier feel less valued, less important and, moreover, less necessary."

Yeah, I remember how the English writer, Sir John Keegan OBE FRSL, once wrote in his "Book of War" among his opening passages 'bout how Clausewitz's soldier seems an emotion-less, soul-less lowest common denominator lacking in flesh-&-blood: in short, an automaton.

It's terrible when the rank-&-file are viewed that way.

The great Prußen only meant it as a relative means of illustrating his ideas on the Nature of War per se.

Or are the military leaders of today's America really that heart-less (i.e. soul-less)?

A repeat of seeing soldiers like how Der Alte Fritz did?

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