U.S. Army Coming Unglued As a Result of Long Wars
September 19, 2010 • 3:23PM

Last July, the Army released a 350-page report, entitled the "Army Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Report" which was supposed to not only expose the extent of the suicide/mental health problem that the Army is facing as a result of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but was also intended to provide a roadmap to help the Army grapple with the disaster. While it may be useful in many respects, the report continued one blind spot that the Army has maintained: that is, the role the long wars themselves play in the manifest breakdown of the Army. The Army has consistently blamed such things as failed relationships and financial problems, drug abuse and so on, for soldier suicides, as well as for other breakdowns in discipline that have increasingly plagued the force since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to the report, soldiers committed 50,523 misdemeanors in fiscal year 2009, a near doubling since 2005, but over 15,000 of those 2009 cases went unpunished. The Army is loath to admit it, but brigade commanders would rather go to war with soldiers who are unfit for duty than to send a message up the chain of command that their unit is not ready to deploy because of personnel problems.

More evidence of the destructive effect of the wars on the Army surfaced in the press in the past couple of days. McClatchy's Washington Bureau profiles a 1,163-soldier battalion based at Fort Bliss, Texas which suffered far more damage from two deployments to Iraq than its single combat fatality would indicate. When a new commander took over the battalion after it returned from its second tour, he found that 69 soldiers had tested positive for methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana; that a pornographic video involving a female lieutenant in the battalion was circulating among soldiers, and that 7 soldiers had died from drug overdoses and traffic accidents after the unit's first deployment. "The inmates were running the prison," Lt. Col. Dave Wilson told McClatchy. In between the two deployments, new soldiers were rushed into the battalion to prepare the unit for its next deployment, resulting in a breakdown of leadership.

At the same time, a story has appeared in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which is actually published by the Pentagon, on a complete breakdown of discipline and leadership at Fort Lewis, Washington. Fort Lewis, the home of the Army's I Corps, has seen 14,000 soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan in the past five months, and in that time, investigations have been launched into allegations that the base's hospital has refused treatment of National Guard soldiers on the grounds that they were merely "weekend warriors" feigning injuries; a dozen soldiers are under investigation for committing war crimes in Afghanistan; and at least three soldiers suffered complete mental breakdowns in public that resulted in confrontations with police in which two of the soldiers were killed. In one of those cases, a soldier went AWOL but the Army never informed his family that he was AWOL, while he was at home with them. In another case, a soldier who had deployed with a Fort Lewis-based unit took three hostages at gunpoint at a hospital in Fort Stewart, Georgia, demanding mental health treatment, because he felt he hadn't received the care he needed after he returned from his deployment. One soldier blamed the Fort Lewis hospital for the breakdown in care. "No one thinks there's an issue until somebody does something really ridiculous," he said. The comments following the article include a couple confirming the Army's poor treatment of reservists and those with mental health issues. In one comment, a Washington National Guard soldier says he was denied an electrocardiogram at Fort Lewis for a heart issue that arose while he was on active duty, and was told, instead to got to a VA hospital or a civilian doctor.

Also this week, the Army released its suicide statistics for the month of August, showing that the Army had already beating its own record of 160 suicides for the full year of 2009. By the end of August, 2010, there had been 161 suicides, with another 38 potential suicides still under investigation.

The above-cited indicators, just a few of the tens of thousands of cases that have arisen over the past decade, demonstrate how the long wars, which Obama is continuing as a matter of policy, are destroying the Army and the country. NAWAPA will give these soldiers a new mission of rebuilding the country by assimilating them into an expanded Army Corps of Engineers.