•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

U.S. military morale and capacity plummet

Published Mar 13, 2008 9:43 PM

Long, unjust wars, like the one the U.S. fought in Vietnam and the ones it is fighting now in Iraq and Afghanistan, inflict enormous damage. Not only are the occupied countries affected, however, but also the U.S. soldiers forced to fight against them. Several mutinies have been reported in Iraq, and personal GI testimony suggests there have been many more.

A U.S. Army report released on March 6 said 27.2 percent of noncommissioned officers—the sergeants responsible for leading troops in combat—have mental health problems during their third or fourth tours of duty. A similar percentage of all soldiers on repeat tours of duty show severe anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. The report found a sharp increase in marital problems among GIs, an increased suicide rate and greater depression among soldiers in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has reached epidemic proportions among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as active duty GIs. But the brass remain coldly indifferent to it. Army Spec. Bryan Currie says commanding officers “disregarded and ridiculed the medical finding” that he is unfit for active duty and that he should receive a medical or honorable discharge. They told him they wanted to send him overseas again, for a second combat tour.

Currie was injured by a roadside bomb during his 2006 deployment to Afghanistan. He spent a month in a hospital recovering from a broken jaw, burns, shrapnel wounds and injuries to his knee and back, but he managed to complete his tour. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal of Valor. The 21-year-old was also recently diagnosed with PTSD, but he was rebuffed in his attempts to seek help for his anxiety, depression, nightmares and insomnia.

With assistance from attorneys Tod Ensign and Louis Font of Citizen Soldier, Specialist Currie has asked Army Secretary Pete Geren to convene a court of inquiry—a rarely used administrative fact-finding process—to investigate top generals at Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; and Fort Hood, Texas. The court should “investigate the extent to which the [generals] have been derelict in failing to provide for the health and welfare of wounded soldiers,” Currie’s request says.

Generals won’t listen

The willful refusal of the generals to listen is paralleled by a dramatic increase in physical loss of hearing among GIs and veterans. The Associated Press on March 7 reported that new figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) show hearing damage is the number one disability from the Iraq war. Ambushes, bombs and firefights all cause violent changes in air pressure that can rupture the eardrum and break bones inside the ear. Some 60 percent of U.S. personnel exposed to blasts suffer from permanent hearing loss and 49 percent also suffer from tinnitus—ringing in the ears—according to military audiology reports.

For former Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, 27, of Austin, Texas, the noise of war is still with him more than four years after the simultaneous explosion of three roadside bombs near Baghdad. “It’s funny, you know. When it happened, I didn’t feel my leg gone. What I remember was my ears ringing,” said Kelly, whose leg was blown off below the knee in 2003. Today, his leg has been replaced with a prosthetic. His ears are still ringing.

“It is constantly there,” he said. “It constantly reminds me of getting hit. I don’t want to sit here and think about getting blown up all the time. But that’s what it does.” (AP, March 7)

The suicide rate among returning GIs is high, according to the VA, which also found that more than half of all veterans who committed suicide after returning from the recent wars were members of the Guard or Reserves. That actually reflects the proportion of GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan from those reserve units, the VA reports.

Can’t get recruits

The heavy use of the Guard and Reserve, of “stop loss” extensions of active duty, and of three and four combat tours all underscore the recruitment problem faced by today’s military commanders. As the Army’s official newspaper for the troops put it, “The military is spending a ton of money on recruiting enough troops to maintain the overall force. ... Yet it’s doing so in a field that is increasingly difficult to plow—fewer eligible recruits, fewer parents willing to back a military career and a falling propensity to serve.” (Army Times, March 10)

In other words, with more than two thirds of the population opposing the war, it has become harder and harder to convince troops to fight it or to motivate parents to encourage their children to join the military.

One major difference between the Vietnam era and the present has begun to be a significant factor. Unlike the Vietnam period, the U.S. is currently facing a gigantic economic crisis. Active duty GIs themselves, along with their families and parents, are suffering the ravages of mortgage foreclosures, loss of jobs and increasing worries about the future. These worries, combined with bitter disillusionment about politicians’ invented reasons for the war, have stimulated a new level of opposition within the ranks of the military.

The White House, in the face of the current recruitment problem, along with extending combat tours and using the Guard and Reserve, has chosen to use mercenaries instead of instituting a draft. They have a very real fear of a mass rebellion of youth across the country, as well as an even more intense rebellion within the ranks of the military. This is part of the legacy of the resistance and rebellion that swept the country and the military during the U.S. war against Vietnam.

Appeal for Redress

Another legacy of the Vietnam era is the growing resistance among active duty GIs. The Appeal for a Redress of Grievances, initiated a year and a half ago by Navy Communications Spec. Jonathan Hutto and Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, has now been signed by more than 2,100 active duty troops. The long-term goal, says Hutto, is “to build permanence with the formation of an Active Duty Network that can advocate on behalf of active duty members on a range of issues to all levels of government.”

That network is now forming and expanding very fast. The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has committed itself to encouraging resistance among active duty GIs. As IVAW has organized chapters at military bases across the country and around the world, it has in turn received strong and active support from Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace—whose membership of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans has mobilized enthusiastically in support. Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) has also joined in, providing a strong voice from the families of active duty GIs in support of their resistance.

IVAW has been especially notable in the clarity of its goal of organizing active duty GIs to finally put a stop to the illegal U.S. war in Iraq. It has also undertaken a serious drive to educate its current and future members, and to actively train them in the skills necessary to reach out effectively to the GIs. The refusal of U.S. GIs to participate in U.S. imperialist wars is a crucial factor that can make all the difference.