Monday, December 27, 2010

Quo Vadis?

I am revising this post in light of the good work that bg and Aviator47 have done in annotating the subject addressed in the original.

The foundation was this post, in which the correspondant, an active duty soldier, complained of being told that his "Spiritual Fitness" was a problem. His - and my initial - interpretation was that this was the result of a conventional religious bias of the survey authors and reflected the influence of conventional religion in the Army. Given the well publicized religiousity of people like LTG Boykin and the USAFA evangelism crowd, this was very disturbing to me as an individual, a citizen, and a soldier.

Al and bg (see the comments section for their excellent criticism) make the point that this appears to be an effect, however, of a poorly designed survey and not a cause per se. bg examined the survey itself (which is unavailable to me) and pointed out the ambiguous questions and the linkage between things like the soldiers' feelings of inclusion in their unit and their sense of mission with their overall "spiritual" well-being. Al points out that the effect of survey questions can be extermely variable depending on the wording of the question and the surroundings of the surveyed. They both see no attempt to actively promote religion in the Army and I accept their interpretation.Based on their work I agree that this survey does, in fact, appear to be an attempt to determine the "legitimate concerns about the well being of the troops resulting from feelings of frustration, isolation, lack of identification with the "big picture" and so forth." as Al puts it, or, as bg explains, to "...change the organizational culture of the Army to one that encourages soldiers be introspective about their mental state and seek help when needed."

But that, in itself, raises some larger questions.

Al points out that "(s)urveys are typically conducted to measure issues of interest, for either descriptive or prescriptive reasons. More disturbing to me is the concern that the soldiers are possibly floundering from an emotional standpoint, and this is just a well intentioned (if dubiously valuable) attempt to promote self help." And certainly there is no lack of examples from human history of nations and ideologies attempting to erase moral and spiritual uncertainty towards their causes, from the god-kings of Egypt to the "Gott Mit Uns" on the belt buckles of German landser in WW2.The late enthusiasm for all things "warrior" as opposed to secular soldiering, the outspoken evangelism of many officers and defense department officials, the current climate of bristling passive-aggressive defensiveness from religious conservatives still worries me. But more to the issue of this survey is; are we unintentionally creating a more-difficult emotional and moral climate for our guys on the ground in central Asia?

The public face of these wars has been a "War on Terror", that we are fighting those who "hate our democracy" or "hate our values". And yet, what we're DOING is what imperial troops have done since Cicero's day; suppressing a rebellion against a local ruler we've erected to accomplish our foreign policy goals.

I suspect that a GI in Kandahar isn't seeing a whole lot of "democracy" and "freedom" coming from the local government we're supporting. No doubt they're marginally better than the Talibs...but, still. Imperial powers have traditionally had imperial reasons for their actions. We are trying hard to avoid those reasons, while taking most of those actions. And I can't imagine that this is going unnoticed among a portion of our troopers.

I wonder; is this attempt to rearrange the "Spiritual Fitness" of these guys an artifact of the disconnect between what they're doing and what they're being told they're doing? And is the solution to adjust the propaganda? Or the policies?


  1. Chief,

    I guess I've been out of the loop for a while, this material is dated 2009, but I've never heard of it.

    I think we are drawing some drastic conclusions here. Based on some quick research I did into the "fitness test" and reading this SGT's post, I haven't seen anything that directly relates Atheist to Unfit. It seems like a bit of a stretch to me. The definition of Spiritual Fitness in this program:

    "You build Spiritual Fitness by developing and strengthening a set of beliefs,principles or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional, and societal sources of strength"

    I suppose if consider yourself a "persecuted atheist", you might read some religion in this. That would be very easy to do, seeing how just about every picture/poster in the reading material showed soldiers praying. But to be fair, a large percentage, probably the majority of soldiers find spiritual strength in this manner, so it isn't surprising that pictures would use prayer for efficiency. I admit this could be done better.

    But no where in any of the literature, did it suggest that religion is the only way achieve "spiritual fitness." Certainly NOTHING indicated that not believing in God made a soldier unfit, that is quite a leap. What I read suggested that being a part of a team or just having a set of values is part of what creates the desired "spiritual fitness." I am sure somewhere someone suggests you can meet up with a Chaplain, but I didn't see that anywhere. Here is the workbook, and again, not a single mention of anything even slightly religious.

    And as an amateur Pysch, there are plenty of questions that have nothing to do with religion that can give indications as to whether or not someone has a set of values, which is all the Army is looking for here. Does this soldier believe in something bigger than himself that he can can fall back on when times get tough? And the goal here is to get soldiers to ask for help, so a professional (not the survey which is just a diagnostic tool) can determine if there is a real problem. And it worked, this SGT called the help line, and no one seemed to have any issues with him. Sorry, I think this is blown out of proportion and based on a lot of thin, faulty leaps of logic.

  2. For some further research, I took the test. Here is an excerpt from the first page of instructions:

    "You will be assessed on your emotional, spiritual, social, and family fitness. The spiritual dimension questions on the GAT pertain to the domain of the Human Spirit: they are not "religious" in nature. The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program defines spiritual fitness as strengthening a set of beliefs, principles, or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional, and societal sources of support. Also, spiritual fitness provides a person a sense of purpose, meaning, and the strength to persevere and prevail when faced with significant challenges and responsibilities. It promotes general well-being, enhances self-confidence, and increases personal effectiveness. "

    And I totally see the SGT's problem with the questions, the way the program defines "spiritually" is not how the average person would (most attach some form of religion to being spiritual. There are multiple questions where it specifically asks how spiritual you are. So you have to use the definition about, which most probably won't read (I wouldn't have if I wasn't treating this like a science project).

    So, as part of my science experiment, I answered the lowest value possible for all questions that state "spiritual" to see what my rating would be.

    My results: Green on everything except Spiritual, which was also a red, but higher than the SGT's. After the test, you can compare your results with the Average based on several different demographics, and my results of a low spiritual score is consistent with the majority of those who took the test. That probably indicates that the test isn't the best, but it doesn't really show that I am "unfit" in anyway, in fact, it shows that I am average in that category.

    The "feedback" for me, despite having a higher spiritual fitness score was verbatim to the SGT's, so it is just a form letter that appears to be designed to ask you to think more about the topic.

    There are some other questions that he may not have realized is testing "spiritual fitness", and I am curious about his answers. There is a series of questions that asks if he feels like he is "included" and part of a team. Answering the negative would likely hurt the spiritual score.

  3. I'm not sure how to square that with this.

  4. bg; I'm really baffled by this entire business. What's the point? It seems to play into the hands of the people like me who have heard a great deal about the supposed culture warriors on the active side; the evangelism at the USAFA and the "my god is a god and theirs is a fake" sort of thing.

    Andy: My experience is that most GIs are fairly indifferent to religion - that's why this whole "Spiritual Fitness" thing came as such a surprise. The trooper's experience in Afghanistan is much more in line with my service time.

  5. Chief-

    I see the "Spiritual Fitness" aspect as a touchy-feely attempt to address the emotional stress the troops face, and possibly a response to suicide, PTSD, etc.

    bg wrote: "my results of a low spiritual score is consistent with the majority of those who took the test. That probably indicates that the test isn't the best, but it doesn't really show that I am "unfit" in anyway, in fact, it shows that I am average in that category" Having studied under two of the more noted social science survey researchers of the time in grad school, you may very well have hit the nail on the head about "isn't the best". Are responses being controlled for age, experience, current circumstances? A kid on patrol in Buttsrewistan is not going to have the same intensity of feelings on these questions as he would after six months back home at Ft Schaftner, for example.

    A real problem with value laden questions such as the examples given, is that the respondent could very well be responding to the fact that the question is posed rather than the content/intent of the question itself. Do you give a socially acceptable answer, an honest answer or an answer that your reaction to a perceived intrusion?

    Thinking back to a couple of years of pretty rigorous training in survey research methodology, I would have great difficulty seeing my profs awarding praise, no less acceptance, to most of the five questions the blog shows as an example. Let's look at

    "The job I am doing in the military has lasting meaning."

    (may need bg to help me out with some info on any clarifying instructions given in the actual survey)

    Number One: "Definition of "job". Are we referring to (1) current assigned MTOE billet, such as motor mechanic (2) Unit mission (3) The US's supposed policy mission (4) Some mission the troop himself perceives he is conducting?

    Number Two: Are the troops responding in terms of their own idea of "lasting meaning" or some definition provided in the survey instructions?

    Now, if the questions are somewhat ambiguous, what would any specific answer mean? A kid could say the question does not describe him because he sees his "job" as a company PLL clerk (or the modern equivalent) being of only very local and immediate import.


  6. There could be some very "subject matter" qualified people trying to apply this tool. However, the literature on survey research is resplendent with ill structured survey questions, no less entire survey instruments. Along with "subject matter" expertise, you need "methodology" expertise.

    I'll save you from the length of the detailed story, but I had a prof who worked on the National Opinion Poll back in the 70's. He had developed a question about Year Round Daylight Savings Time and resulting energy savings which was included in the Poll. It was one of those questions which generated very little support or opposition. 80% had "NO Opinion". Then came the Arab Oil Embargo of 73-4. The upward swing of support for the question when the embargo began was the strongest swing in opinion change in the history of the Poll (Nearly 90% support in two consecutive Polls). He testified to the findings to Congress, and they enacted a 10 month DST program for 1974. The next National Opinion Poll after the new DST schedule was implemented showed an even greater swing of opinion in opposition!

    Why? Well, the question in the Poll made it clear that the US could save 1 to 2% on energy, but gave no indication of the change in lighting conditions in the winter months. Leaving for work or school in the dark was a big shock. People were responding solely to the energy savings aspect of the issue, without a single thought to the "lifestyle" impact. DST was reduced to 8 months in 1975 and back to the original 6 months in 1976. One poorly worded question (insufficient info) with amazing results! And this was by the nation's most professional pollsters.

    This whole "values" thing is a very slippery subject. I'm sure that there are legitimate concerns about the well being of the troops resulting from feelings of frustration, isolation, lack of identification with the "big picture" and so forth. I see no promotion of a religious agenda.

    Surveys are typically conducted to measure issues of interest, for either descriptive or prescriptive reasons. More disturbing to me is the concern that the soldiers are possibly floundering from an emotional standpoint, and this is just a well intentioned (if dubiously valuable) attempt to promote self help.

  7. Andy and Al,

    You are spot on, the questions aren't really defined well. Just like any other self reporting survey, there is considerable concern for all kinds of biases. But that stuff doesn't concern me, I have no doubt that the psychologists who wrote this survey knew this wasn't going to be a real measure of anything meaningful. But, it does two things.

    1. Makes soldiers think about their own mental state. This point can not be underestimated, there is significant value in introspection.
    2. Identify soldiers who may be at risk, and get them to contact professionals who can truly determine if real help is needed.

    It is funny that this post should come up this week, I've been having a lot of conversations with my little brother who is a Corporal in Korea right now. He is a 2 tour Iraq vet, and over the past couple of months has had some problems with his mental state. Depression, anger, fear of larges groups of people, etc. My brother, a product of the last 5 years of the Army, his first thought was "I need to talk to someone about this", and went to a mental health team and has been having regular sessions with a Pysch.

    Tell me, in years past, how likely was an NCO to tell his Chain of Command that he needed to see the Psych? I know for a fact, for those with a security clearance, that used to automatically mean a freeze on their clearance. Not any more. The culture has changed, and although I find this survey a little silly and not really valid, it does serve a purpose of altering an organizational culture.

    Now this goes back to the point of post. Is the Army culture reorganization going in a good or bad direction. IMO, in a good direction, it supports and encourages soldiers to deal with their problems, especially PTSD, instead of forcing them to keep to themselves. It does have unintended side effects, such as disenchanted atheists who feel that there is a chaplain conspiracy to convert them, but I find that to be a stretch.

  8. Chief,

    Sorry, I didn't direct my answer towards you.

    What's the point? To change the organizational culture of the Army to one that encourages soldiers be introspective about their mental state and seek help when needed. This survey accomplishes those two tasks, IMO. Not the most elegant tool, but it is just that. A tool.

  9. FDChief wrote: I wonder; is this attempt to rearrange the "Spiritual Fitness" of these guys an artifact of the disconnect between what they're doing and what they're being told they're doing? And is the solution to adjust the propaganda? Or the policies?

    I keep trying to put myself in these guys mental shoes. But that is difficult, as I entered the Corps in 1960, and the world was different. Not who the "enemy" might be, but our military used conscription and one way or the other the draft influenced our decisions about whether to enlist, join the reserves or simply take our chances. Even when the country went off on stupid expeditions, one did not necessarily have to question what they were doing in the uniform that was worn by those obeying lawful, albeit stupid orders.

    These kids today have no "excuse" for being involved in senseless killing and destruction. They could be staying home like the vast majority of war "supporters" feathering their nests and buying cheap bumper stickers. Is there any question that some troops may be suffering cognitive dissonance, alienation or values questions?

  10. Al, bg: You'll note the revisions. Good criticisms, guys, and I appreciate the comments. But as you note (and as Al has already addressed in his comment) it raises questions about what's going on that has brought this "spiritual fitness" issue to a head?

    (And I'd still argue that calling this "Spiritual" fitness is a very large mistake. "Emotional Condition" seems a better description, as it elides the volitile use of "spiritual", which has been appropriated by the evangelical crowd.)

  11. Chief,

    I want to start with a clarification I should have stated earlier. I think this entire survey can have been a more useful tool by simply replacing the word "Spiritual" with something else. They attempted to better define the word, as I stated in a previous post, but the word is too loaded with religious overtones.

    "But more to the issue of this survey is; are we unintentionally creating a more-difficult emotional and moral climate for our guys on the ground in central Asia?"

    IMO, no. Quite the opposite. The conditions make it more difficult emotionally and morally, not the survey, and not US Foreign Policy. I can't speak from experience in Vietnam/WWII etc, so I can't tell you how often the average, non-combat arms soldier was exposed to trauma. I can tell you in Afg and Iraq, the majority of those deployed are/were exposed to stressful situations every day for a year plus. You can't get into a vehicle and not have a reasonable expectation that this could be the last convoy you ever take (and that was a daily event for most). The threat of indirect fire exploding your chow hall is a daily reality. While casualties are much lower than other wars, I will bet that the exposure to the force as a whole is higher (in other words, there is no MOS more likely than another to be blown up or shot at).

    The survey is an attempt to improve the culture to one of openness and dealing with problems, not hiding them. I read this today, a movie that is being inducted into the Library of Congress, This should serve as an example of how far we've come:

    "Documentaries picked this year include John Huston's "Let There Be Light" (1946), which the Pentagon banned from public distribution for 35 years because of its frank depiction of psychological trauma among combat veterans."

  12. Chief,

    FDChief wrote: I wonder; is this attempt to rearrange the "Spiritual Fitness" of these guys an artifact of the disconnect between what they're doing and what they're being told they're doing? And is the solution to adjust the propaganda? Or the policies?

    I think you are taking this to a much deeper level of thinking than you will find with the average troops on the ground, or the average staffer in the Pentagon.

    IRT to the troops of the AVF. We've had good discussions on previous threads as to whether or not it is really, truly "voluntary". Once you enlist, the benefits of sticking around, as compared to going back to a crappy economy, are just too good, etc. Won't rehash. But I will say that most average troops that I've met are true believers in the cause for a couple of reasons, and therefore really don't need any additional "propaganda" to reinforce their beliefs:

    1. As Al points out, they volunteered for this shit. They must have had some preconceived beliefs that it is a good foreign policy, otherwise they would not have signed up. Many of them truly believe that by fighting them here, we won't fight them at home. Many of them are just true believers, they love Glen Beck and bleed Red, White and Blue. They are simply part of that percentage of America who believe in the GWOT. When you think about it, since the Army is less than 0.1% of the population, if only 30% of the US are true believers, you still have a pretty decent sized recruiting pool.

    2. Some just don't care, but love the adventure. Jumping out of planes, kicking in doors, being the baddest mother fucker on the block appeals to many adrenaline junkies who join. They don't care about foreign policy, they just love the job. The foreign policy gives them an excuse and they embrace it.

    3. As many veterans and missionaries know, it is different when you go downrange. All foreign policy aside, when you go down range and live amongst the people, you often can't help but to become emotionally attached to them and their cause. I have met so many great Iraqis, Afghanis, Somalis and other nationalities who are awesome people. Politics aside, after meeting them and working with them daily, I sincerely wanted to help them. I don't need some dick from the Pentagon to condition me to want to do my mission, the people you meet give you your mission (hence one of the reasons the COINistas push so hard to get soldiers to live and work with the locals, the emotional attachment becomes a motivator for success).

    No Chief, I don't think the average troop feels a disconnect. In fact, I argue that the closer the troop is to the fight, the less disconnect they feel. The most cynical critics in the Military that I've met are the staff officers who never left the FOB and just did PowerPoint. And they are also the ones lease likely to deal with mental trauma as a result of their experiences.

  13. " often can't help but to become emotionally attached to them and their cause."

    But that's kind of my point.

    First, their "cause" - that is, their hopes for, at the very least, some sort of improvement in their daily lives, seems often at variance with the Groundhog Day stuff the guys seem to end up seeing. You come in, chase out the muj, set up something of a functioning local government and/or economy...and then you rotate out or rotate home. When you come back, six months later, half the time things look like they did before you started (or you end up somewhere else starting over...).

    I don't think the average Joe and Molly sees any sort of disconnect (other than just getting tired of spending every other year playing whack-a-muj). I think that the ones that DO think about it get kind of played out, wondering why the hell what they're seeing doesn't match the crap coming out of the Echelons Above Reality. I know we got a hell of a lot of cynical amusement about seeing what was really going on in Central America in the Eighties as opposed to the press releases that came out of the Reagan White House about the heroic contras and our Fight for Freedom (and lets not even go into the War on Drugs...).

    And second, if you're going to be a good imperial soldier you need to see the locals as your tools, not your friends. Because they're NOT your friends - their long-term interests and yours are NOT the same - and seeing them that way is like getting a rancher to see the steers as his pals rather than his product; it seems a really good way to end up with a pretty messed-up rancher, or infantryman.

    So while I understand that "the people you meet" make you want to make things better for them on the small unit and individual scale, on the geopolitical scale those things don't really mean dick. If making things better for the average Abdul and Aina in Kabul suddenly becomes too costly for the U.S. we're going to drop them like a live grenade. the guys who got investing in the RVN found that out the hard way, and ISTM that we're setting ourselves up for a similar disconnect right now in central Asia.

  14. "They are simply part of that percentage of America who believe in the GWOT. When you think about it, since the Army is less than 0.1% of the population, if only 30% of the US are true believers, you still have a pretty decent sized recruiting pool."

    So if this is true - and as I point out above, that the reality is that the G/PWOT is really about global power politics and not about the Red, White, and Blue and all those things that Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter tell us they are...and that in the end we get tired or bored of spending blood and treasure in central Asia and just hand the keys ovr to the locals and grab a hat...

    ISTM that we're just repeating what we did to the guys we told were fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way (not to mention the domino effect) in southeast Asia. That had nearly destroyed the Army when I joined thirty years ago. That's why I wonder if we're not setting ourselves up for something similar with this disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. When Joe looks back and sees the same-same impoverished chaos in AfPak/Iraq five years from now, how's he gonna feel about the government and the People who spent three or six years of his life there whilst they went shopping?

  15. In all professional/academic honesty, all I offered above was obviously speculative, as I would need to know a hell of a lot more to speak with any surety.

    HOWEVER, I will say, without a doubt, that the use of the term "Spiritual" is just wrong on so many levels. Number one, the term is open to all sorts of interpretation. Number two, the common understanding of the term definitely has religious overtones. Number three, is there any correlation between the generally accepted term "spiritual" and the ability to endure the rigors of military service?

    Thus, the use of the term, to me, smacks more of amateurism than religiosity.

  16. Al: Upon further reflection, that was my impression as well. I think it was the "spiritual" tag that got the young sergeant so spun up in the first place; I know it got me going. You would think that, given the recent bad press that people like Boykin have gotten for the services, the folks who worked this survey up would have given this a little more thought. But after reading what you and bg wrote I tend to agree that it's clumsy rather than some sort of attempt at proselytizing.

  17. Chief,

    You are right. Not good imperial soldiers. And that is a good thing.

    And again, you are spot on. The more trips soldiers take to Iraq/Afg, the more they question the whole thing, the more disillusioned they become. So what do they do? I think many do what I have done, and that is to view it more mechanically, where it is "just a job" and start counting down towards ETS or retirement. That is where I am at, just cutting the grass day in and day out.

    "That had nearly destroyed the Army when I joined thirty years ago."

    IMO we are talking apples and oranges. You guys know the reasons why the Army was in such bad shape in the late 70s much better than I, but I bet most of those reasons aren't around today.

    IRT to soldiers seeing the disconnect between reality and rhetoric, how will they react when 5 years from now Iraq is still a shit hole and Afg has little Taliban camps running amuck? I suggest they will look at it as I stated above. Mechanically. Yes, this does counter my earlier point about emotional attachment, but as you pointed out, that emotional attachment tends to break down over time.

    But I would be curious to learn of any other indicators for why you believe the Army could destroy itself in 5 years the way it did in the late 70s. I think the biggest difference is the AVF, improved leadership training at all levels and the lack of any significant drug usage. I know it is a tangent, but I find it very interesting. I've argued since first joining you guys that I believe the Army after next will be a much better Army than the one I joined in the 90s. I still believe that to be true. I KNOW today's Army is better than the one I was commissioned in. I fully expect that trend to continue, even after some very lean years in the very near future (budget cuts, reduction in force, etc).

  18. "You guys know the reasons why the Army was in such bad shape in the late 70s much better than I, but I bet most of those reasons aren't around today...the biggest difference is the AVF, improved leadership training at all levels and the lack of any significant drug usage"

    bg, the Army self-destructed in the late Sixties and early Seventies largely because the senior NCOs - guys who had done the hard soldiering, many of them, in Korea and WW2 - got sick of Groundhog Day. They knew the Truth, and they saw that what the U.S. public was getting was spin and bullshit, from the government on one end and from the Jane Fonda/SDS on the other (which is not to equate the two; the U.S. government's responsibility is to provide truthful information to allow the People an informed choice). The data has been collated pretty thoroughly; by the time most guys got to their third tour, it was over.

    I will agree that the VolAr has made some changes in how we deal with combat stress, and without the draftees the ability of the guys to endure multiple rotations seems endless right now. But I'm not so sure about your prediction.

    Guerrilla wars and counterinsurgencies are hell on armies. The French folded after Indochina and Algeria - and damn nearly mutinied against the Fourth Republic in the process. We collapsed after Vietnam (the drug use was a symptom, not a cause, BTW). The Soviets imploded after Afghanistan. The British suffered real problems after their colonial war losses, tho nowhere near as bad as the rest. The Portugese Army exploded after their colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique.

    I think there is a day of reckoning down the road. I think that there is going to be some real problems when the guys who have lost a hell of a lot of their youth in these fucked-up parts of the world realize that it was for nothing more than a handful of ashes.

    I hope I'm wrong. But from what I've seen up 'til now, I'm not counting on it...

  19. "Not good imperial soldiers. And that is a good thing."

    That depends. If you're fighting an imperial war, you need to be a good imperial soldier. IF you're not, you're either going to lose, or you're going to damage yourself badly in the process.

    I would agree wholeheartedly if our country would agree not to commit large maneuver units to these damn things. Learn from the Old Masters; the imperial troops are supposed to be there just to conquer. Once you've got the place, you're supposed to train up the RCMP and leave the day-to-day atrocities to the natives and the small imperial constabulary.

    We've got the whole thing bass-ackwards.

  20. To all,
    The key question is-WHY IS PTSD SO PREVELENT IN THE TROOPS TODAY? The rate is higher than in RVN and it's not even PTSD which implies Post Trauma- todays troops are experiencing TRAUMA without the post thing.PTSD means that it creeps up on you, but that ain't what we're seeing today.
    WHY????WHY??? This is the question? I've got a few ideas. No one really gives a hoot about IRQ OR AFGH- do any troops love them? I doubt it all to hell. The stress is that the troops see what it's doing to themselves and their friends/fellow soldiers, AND NOBODY REALLY GIVES A FLIP.
    Let's start at square 1- the Army is a corporation that willingly accepts the fact that you may get wasted fulfilling the organizations goals. That's a hard concept to grasp, and once internalized it can't be a basis of mental health. Just think about it.!
    Next is the existential anxiety of knowing that a bucket of friendly blood is as worthless as a bucket of warm spit, once it's been shed. It's a trip that isn't going to do anyone anything of value or purpose.
    These guys haven't a chance at all. At least my generation had a anti war movement that was sympathetic and vets could blow smoke and get laid, if they turned coat. This no longer exists, neither the pro's or con's offer any real respite for battered souls.
    But maybe a survey will do the trick, after you sprinkle some jesus water on it.
    Fuck me, i pity these guys for a whole bunch of reasons, and on many levels.
    Again, as always, i hope i'm ot.

  21. bg,

    "you often can't help but to become emotionally attached to them and their cause"

    --Please realize bg, as an SF officer you have a different relationship to the indig, and I understand what you're saying. For you the attachment is real.

    However, for the average line unit, they do not have the relationship and have a more adversarial relationship with the Afghan people in toto, based upon hatred.

    Further be advised that emotions don't win wars. You can feel as warm and fuzzy as you wish about the Afghan people, but that doesn't add up to a hill of beans. Chief is right when he says we'll drop them like a hot potato when the time comes.

    It doesn't matter how much affection I still maintain for my VN friends, we still sold them down the river. Emotion is not a military concept and it does not win wars. Do you think the Russian Army of '45 was emotionally healthy?

    Earthlings -- so emotional (Spock). Who cares if your Army is emotionally sound if you don't win the war?

  22. I served from 1960 through 1995, first in the Corps (6 years) then the Army. I have posted frequently on the difference I saw in motivations to join between my "draft influenced" generation and the AVF generation.

    Keep in mind that the transition to the AVF was a prime mover behind the collapse of the 1970's Army. We were struggling for ways to recruit and retain troops into an unpopular Army. A much larger Army than today. The VOLAR initiatives did some dumb stuff. My view at the time was that no one really wanted to be in a Judy Benjamin "condos on the beach with red shoes" Army. If the institution does not exhibit self respect, how can the troops. Drugs were, as posted above, a symptom of the malaise, not the cause.

    Fast forward to today, where we have a much more disciplined force. The threat to its survival, IMHO, is the mindless abuse it is suffering. Subjecting the force to repetitive tours in questionable causes, can readily result in too many troops who want and/or enjoy death and destruction, seeing that as an end in itself. There is nothing wrong with s soldier asking himself, "What am I doing here". The danger lies in some of the answers and actions he or she is willing to accept. There is a world of moral difference between "It's a shitty job, but somebody has to do it", and "I want to be here to do shitty things". It's very nuanced, and I hope I communicated that one with some clarity.

  23. ranger: Who cares if your Army is emotionally sound if you don't win the war?

    I will assume that you are just being your normal crotchety self when you make this statement. I'm in no way a "touchy-feely" person when it comes to the troops. However, emotional (or better stated psychological) dysfunction does not result in a sound military, Rambo and other movie scripts or not. Perhaps using "emotional" is as imprecise as "spiritual"?

    Along with maintaining a psychologically healthy force (a key to an effective and law abiding force), we owe the people who serve the minimum psychological abuse the profession can provide. Our chosen profession is not for the faint of heart, but that does not mean we should treat the troops as cold blooded thugs.

  24. Aviator,
    My cmt is valid.
    How can an institution that kills people that have not aggressed against them hope to even understand the concept of spiritual health?
    Give me a break! As Chief always says- it's the devils work we do- we ain't Boy Scouts.
    The Rusn army of 45 didn't even think of such frivolity- they just won their war. istm that wrapping around the axle is what we do best.
    I'm against the wars, but i'm against bullshit like this concept even more. Words never add up to success.
    How can anybody call what is happening LAWABIDING? Thats what causes spiritual stress and leads to broken minds.? You can't lie to yourself without stress being the outcome. The stress is not caused only by fear of death.
    I will kill but i won't recognize it as spiritual or moral.
    We sure hide behind words.
    I am not crotchedy- i'm a sweet mother......

  25. jim-

    I think we are talking past each other. Note that I spoke of cognitive dissonance (You can't lie to yourself without stress being the outcome) My hope would be that we do not every achieve a military that can be readily engaged in operations beyond the pale. You are not wrong in suggesting that we are approaching that.

  26. It sounds to me like this is probably a piece of bureaucratic CYA. Based on BG's description, it sounds very similar to a survey I had to take last year for a 2005 deployment. The one I took (trying to remember the details) had a "spiritual" aspect, but it was more focused on determining if you might be a candidate for PTSD or were at risk for violence or suicide. There were a whole raft of similar and often incoherent initiatives that were meant to address the psychological health of returning troops. The lack of rigor doesn't really surprise me given my experience with similar initiatives.

  27. Chief, I hope you are wrong too, but your historical precedence for post-insurgency armies is very troubling and worth serious consideration. The good news is that the 70s is still fresh in the minds of many senior leaders, and I hope we are still implementing lessons learned at the organizational levels. I hope.


    ""However, for the average line unit, they do not have the relationship and have a more adversarial relationship with the Afghan people in toto, based upon hatred."

    Just not true today, the army has really changed. This was a true statement for the first few years of Iraq, however, in today's Army, the conventional Brigades have been trained to do the old SF job of FID. I am not a fan, but that is what has happened. Gen P made it so, and USASFC pretty much let it happen because there just wasn't enough ODA/ODBs to meet the demand of retraining the entire Iraqi Army and police forces (not to mention Afg).

    And while I agree "emotions don't win wars", remember the context of my comment. We were discussing whether or not DoD needed to submit troops to propaganda and conditioning in order to keep them motivated, or to ignore the disconnect between rhetoric and reality on the ground. I was pointing out that the motivation for the soldiers, at least the one closest to the indig, is already there is more powerful than motivation some mandatory survey can provide.

  28. jim,

    IRT as to why PTSD is so prevalent, and why we are seem to be not having the "Post" portion, I submit to you that is because we are looking for the early symptoms immediately upon redeployment, often during the deployment. It doesn't just creep up on you, because it is being looked for. But, as with all things, if you look for it, you will find it (whether it is there or not), so I am willing to be there are a few false positives out there.

    My flight surgeon recently wrote a paper on PTSD, very interesting stuff. the basic theory is this: Your nervous system has a steady state. When it becomes elevated for a period of time, the system gets used to working at that elevated level. Once it gets there, it gets "stuck" and has to be reset. Here is an excerpt from the research:

    "Lipov suggests that stress (in this case, from a traumatic event and its aftermath) stimulates nerve growth factor that acts on the stellate ganglion to promote sprouting and new neuronal growth. Sprouting leads to increased production of norepinephrine, which leads to increased anxiety and continuation of PTSD. He cites research indicating neural pathways connecting the stellate ganglion to the hypothalamus, the central nucleus of the amygdala, and, ultimately, to other areas of the brain.

    Injecting an anesthetic into the stellate ganglion decreases nerve growth factor levels, reducing sprouting and thus norepinephrine. This neuroremodeling may occur in as little as 24 hours, and effects have lasted through at least one year of follow-up, he said. “It reboots the nervous system,” said Lipov."

    Really interesting stuff, the Surgeon and Psych who worked on this paper are both in my Unit, and we've discussed this procedure at length. So why is PTSD more prevalent today than in RVN? Perhaps because of the constant exposure to high stress events. While in Iraq/Afg, there is no city to fall back to for R&R (although a few get to go to Qatar for a week, but not exactly Bangkok). You can't escape the environment the entire time you are there, IDF and IEDs hit every day in some places, there are no front lines or rear areas. For some, it can be a very tough year long event of high stress. Not sure how that compares to RVN.

  29. bg: In WW2 the Army's experience estimated the average effective combat time for an infantryman was approximately 100 days; of that time approximately the middle 30-50 days he was actually "effective", that is, capable of performing at or near the optimum. Prior to that he was too cherry; after that the symptoms of "combat fatigue" began to set in. Guys got too frightened to fight, or, worse, just stopped caring and got sloppy.

    AMEDD documents that about 25% of WW2 casualties was caused by "combat fatigue." For those in lengthy, intense fighting, the ratio was 50%. In the Pacific, where combat fatigue was most prevalent, 40% of 1943 evacuations were "mental." 1,393,000 soldiers were treated for battle fatigue during WW2. Of all ground combat troops, 37% were discharged for psychiatric reasons.

    The little wars in central Asia are relatively sunny compared to that.

    I think part of the difference is that a hell of a lot fewer people are getting killed.

    In WW2 if you were in a line unit in badass enemy country your chances of surviving to have PTSD were not so hot. Typically, infantry companies had a 100% turnover in riflemen within 90 days of combat; 200% in less than 150 days.

    And "escape the environment"? A typical grunt in WW2 didn't have a FOB. He had a hole in the ground. When it rained he got soaked, when it snowed he froze. He got trench foot, dysentery, thypus, lice...when was the last GI in Mosul reporting to sick call with trench foot?

    So, frankly, this "OMFG, the stress is SO awful" seems to me to have more to do with the Long Peace and GI memory hole than it does with how sucky the pace of combat in occupied Iraq and A-stan is. Combat sucks. But I suspect that the suckiness of this particular combat has as much to do with the worthlessness of the mission - imperial policing is a particularly thankless job - as it does with the stress of the fighting. The U.S. Army has faced longer, harder fighting before, and GIs have suffered more and worse.

  30. Chief,

    Great stats, thanks! No doubt that times have been tougher for soldiers, I would NEVER argue that today's soldiers have it harder than WWII or even Vietnam in regards to comfort, communications or in sheer terror. But the question was specific to why we are seeing higher PTSD from the current conflicts vs RVN (assuming that we are). My theories:

    1. More and better diagnosis (possibly to the point of over diagnosis, it is starting to remind me of ADHD, which every kid seems to have these days, yet no one had it when I was in elementary school)

    2. Higher percentage of troops (especially non-combat MOSs who tend not to be able to handle the stress as well) put in stressful situations for extended periods of time (months to years).

    3. And you added a great point, avery high survival rate. That is a huge problem the VA will have to deal with, when the survival rate of soldiers who are wounded is well above 95%. Soldiers are surviving injuries that would have killed them just a decade ago.

    4. And perhaps a 4th theory, based on your comments. I wonder if it is different, perhaps some cognitive dissonance, when you are hanging out in your comfortable trailer one day playing Xbox, chatting with the family on Google video chat, and the next day on a patrol. I wonder if there is a problem going back and forth, as compared not being able to escape the environment as you live in your foxhole or on the road every day.

    5. And of course, the cognitive dissonance, as you suggested from the very beginning, of sacrificing for nothing. That has to be a factor.

  31. I would have reacted in exactly the same way the Chief did to this survey. Anybody with any experience of the old Army would, too. Guys like me see "spiritual," we run, because spiritual = religion. And I'll also venture my opinion that, no matter how much it may be denied, religion is always lurking when it comes to the Army. The Army loves organized religion. Always has, always will. The Army also loves to indoctrinate troops. And those chaplains just have to be doing something, right? Never believe the Army.

    PTSD is a very thorny topic. Anybody who says he understands it doesn't know what he's talking about. I often kind of wonder if the seeds for PTSD aren't sown early in an individual's life. Could be genetic, could be environmental. The more we learn about genetics, the more we learn that our bloodlines may have more to do with our overall health and longevity than any positive or negative things we may do. Many mental disorders are heritable; why not a tendency towards PTSD?

    Environmental? Well, sometimes when I look at the casualty listings and the naming of next-of-kin, I note how many mothers have a different last name than do the fallen soldiers. We know we've had an epidemic of broken families, and we also know that it's often resulted in poverty, poor health, poor performance in school, etc., etc. We know many kids from broken homes grow up in unstable environments; we also know that many kids in intact families do so as well. Our entire society is less stable than it once was. Can early life experience perhaps serve as a predictor of future PTSD? I wouldn't rule it out. I'd like to see aspirants for military service go through some serious screening to determine if perhaps the type of individual who volunteers for military service in this day and age might also be more prone to develop certain disorders.

    As for the rest of it, it's my sense that you can debate VOLAR and draft until the cows come home and perhaps even conclude that today's military may be the most wizard, wonderful outfit that ever strode the face of the earth. But what good is that if you've got a service that's lost its soul?

  32. Do not forget, the men who fought WWI and WWII where much tougher (physically) than the city slickers of today. A lot of them were farm boys and even the city kids did a lot more physical work in those days. Today, machines do all the heavy lifting.

  33. I would expand on the PTSD in various wars subject by addressing the different psycho-social makeup of the ground forces in WWII, Korea, RVN and today. The draft provided a much more representative sample of the population of males. It wasn't until around mid to late 1943 that entrance requirements for conscription were lowered for the draft. E.g.- Eddie Slovik was initially 4-F (unfit) due to his record as a habitual criminal petty offender, but was reclassified to 1-A in late 43 as the available manpower pool became stretched. Stress is not perceived nor received the same by individuals of different backgrounds.

    I would offer that in the case of RVN, a much higher proportion of the troops were single, and separation from the responsibilities of family is a stressor. I would also offer that the access to comms back to momma probably elevates stress. Delivers real time issues to Johnny on an all too regular basis. Can be worries, problems or just helplessness. I am sure today's GI is electronically dealing with problems back home more regularly (or constantly) than in the days of just letters. And there are proportionally more with the responsibility of families. I would bet that the inclusion of a problem in a letter that would be 10 days when read, and 20 days before an answer could be received is far less likely than with instant messages or e-mail.

    And, of course, in previous wars, no president ever said over a period of years that it might go on indefinitely. We weren't looking at "The Long War" in any way shape or form.

  34. Ael,
    Historically soldiers from cities had acquired immunitities not shared by tough country boys.
    Vaccinations have made that obe.
    The theory of ptsd is that those that are prestressed are more likely to get ptsd.
    My take is that our training prestressed us- ie ranger/sere /sf .The Army admits that old ranger school was designed to break us BEFORE we had a chance to break in combat. Ironically the Army has never shared any data that could be used for longitudinal studies. That's caring-Army style.!
    I wonder if any of our respondents have ever been in a DVA psych ward, or even visited someone in such a place?
    The Harvard research indicates that the brain actually atrophies in long term cases. I've read about all the glorious research, but as i always say-SHOW ME ONE PERSON EVER CURED OF PTSD BY THE DVA.Just one and i'll kiss your ass in public square.
    Combat acquired PTSD does not fade with time.Talk to ww2 guys if you don't believe my contention. Women rape victims have ptsd and this type can be lessened by various means because it's distinct and somewhat workable.I contend that people in COMBAT UNITS GET RAPED EVERY DAY.
    Army programs are catch 22 and designed to keep an asset operational. This is not mental health, it's riding a wind broken horse.

  35. Good comments!


    My Dad was one of those WWII people. Late in the war his plane got shot down, the rest of his crew died, and he evaded Japanese for a few days until he found some Americans. He was sent back to the states and spent almost a year in a Florida mental hospital. For the next two decades he'd sometimes go crazy - in one incident he was naked on the front lawn waving a gun around. Thankfully, the cops at the time (early 1960's) talked him down and didn't shoot him. He's 86 now and doing quite well for his age.

    BG, Publius,

    I experience that cognitive dissonance in my current job in the Guard working with UAV's. I'm based here in the states, but am participating in missions overseas. I remember one particular day where we supported some troops in contact in which several Americans died and we killed about a dozen insurgents. I came off shift after 12 hours of dealing with that intense situation, then went home only to have my wife complain that I'd forgotten to pick up milk on the way. My head was still in Afghanistan and I said who cares about milk, I just saw Americans die and helped kill the men who killed them. It was much more challenging than I thought to mentally switch from family life to military operations on a daily basis. It's one of the reasons I'm a traditional and only doing it part time, though I may get mobilized next year. Given the choice, I'd much rather deploy to Afghanistan for six months than spend 1-3 years doing that job. Some people get used to it, others can't and most, like me, can deal with it but it takes a lot of effort to make the daily mental switch without turning into a complete asshole. It's weird because it's completely mental - I'm never in any danger, I don't have all the normal "spin up" training prior to a real deployment, etc.

    Parts of this war are certainly new and different - that's about all I can say.