Study’s findings on longer deployments raise questions about Pentagon’s decision to extend tours
By Julian E. Barnes, Times Staff Writer
2:54 PM PDT, May 4, 2007
WASHINGTON — Longer deployments of soldiers and Marines in Iraq erode the morale and mental health of service members, an Army survey released today has found. The conclusion raises new questions about the Pentagon’s recent decision to extend Army tours to 15 months.
The report found that soldiers, who have tours that are twice as long as Marines, have lower morale, more marital problems and higher rates of mental health problems. The report also found that soldiers who had been sent to Iraq more than once were more likely to screen positive for acute stress and mental health problems.
About 10% of soldiers and Marines reported mistreating civilians or damaging property. And a majority of soldiers and Marines said they would not report a fellow service member for mistreating an Iraqi.
The study found that soldiers who had high levels of anger, experienced high levels of combat or screened positive for a mental health symptom were nearly twice as likely to mistreat non-combatants as those who reported low levels of anger, said Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the acting Army surgeon general.
Experts said those findings raised warning signs about the possibility of more incidents like the massacre of civilians at Haditha or the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib as tours grow longer to accommodate the current buildup in forces.
“What it says to me is, we should get out of Iraq before a real disaster happens for us,” said Cindy Williams, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on military personnel policies. “Iraq is already in chaos, but for us to stay there and continue to wreck our Army over this is a big mistake.”
At a news conference to discuss the report, Pollock acknowledged that longer tours would be an added stress. But she said that in the wake of the report, the military was doing more to train its leaders to help support troops and lessen the stress. She suggested, however, that the real solution to the problem was a larger Army.
“The Army is spread very thin, and we need it to be a larger force for the number of missions that we were being asked to address for our nation,” she said.
The new report also contained some troubling data about suicides. The average suicide rate in the army is 11.6 per year for every 100,000 soldiers. The rate in Iraq however is 16.1. And military officials said the report found that the suicide prevention efforts being carried out in Iraq was not designed for a war zone.
The full report can be found at http://www.medicine.army.mil/news/mhat/mhat_iv/mhat-iv.cfm