Jan. 15, 2013




        This may seem like a reaction to the recent reports that our military services are currently seeing an inordinate number of suicides.  In fact, it is a concept that I have advocated for over 20 years. 


        Our deployed military members are seeing more and more family problems and emotional distress. Suicides are becoming more common and PTSD is a routine diagnosis.  These are real problems and are not to be taken lightly.  Having said that I question whether or not some of our policies, that were well intended, might not be actually causing, or at least abetting, the increased occurrence of these problems.


        In the late 70’s the various services decided that the traditional 13 month deployments were putting military members under too large a burden.  As a result deployments were reduced to 6 month increments. This was coupled with a new focus on using reserve units and National Guard units to fulfill our military commitments. I propose that those two actions are fundamentally unsound and are, in effect, causing many of the issues our services and individual troop families are facing.


        Prior to this policy the military kept a standing force sufficient to deploy and meet our many overseas needs.  These were full time military members who were committed to specific tours of duty and knew that they faced long deployments if the nation needed them overseas. Their families also knew these commitments and as a result the community was tightly knit and supportive. Deployments were 13 months and that was simply a fact of life.


        With the new policies of utilizing “citizen” soldiers we began a policy of taking individuals from their regular profession and ripping them from the civilian community were their family was located. Familial support was minimal as most civilians lacked a firm understanding of military life and problems.  The assigned troops were also mentally unprepared for the hardships and detachment from their community.  While outstanding in their ability to perform military assignments they often lacked the background, support, and camaraderie to mentally adjust to the unfamiliar difficulties.  Worse yet was the fact that many of them had to attempt to resolve the families problems from a long distance as the family had a shallow support system.


        Now, one such deployment was bearable but it didn’t happen that way.  Previously, most deployed troops (e.g. Viet Nam) were committed to 13 months and then, except in unusual situations would have two years to reinforce their family ties. Now, they face 6 month deployments and often are sent directly back into the fray after only 6 months at home. Problems that developed are barely addressed when they have to depart again. Worse, and much more serious, is the fact that the military member who returned from Viet Nam had two years to heal within the closed community of brothers in arms before being reassigned. Today, before the healing can take place they are often reassigned to reenter the combat zone. Emotional issues that would previously have been addressed and “talked out” with fellow veterans are now still in the internalized phase and fail to be addressed until additional issues are imposed on the individual.


        I think we need to reexamine the need for a standing military that is deployed for the longer period with sufficient time to heal and mend family divisions.  A military member that is deployed from a base where the family is living and support from an understanding community is present providing for a period of return sufficient enough to heal and prepare is much less likely to feel the same trauma and problem resolution is hopeless.