“Volunteer Soldiers Devastated by Iraq Weren’t Asking for It”

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Stacy Bannerman, whose husband is in the National Guard, examines the realities of service in the Guard, citing some striking figures. This is an article every counter-recruiter should read.

Less than one percent of Americans are in the Armed Forces. Over 1.3 million US troops have served in Iraq, including upwards of 450,000 National Guard and Reservists, surpassing by hundreds of thousands the number of Guard and Reservists that have fought in any other foreign war in this nation’s history. In the early years of the occupation, my husband was stationed at LSA Anaconda with the Army National Guard’s 81st brigade, so I speak from that experience, my conversations with hundreds of military families, soldiers, and Iraq War veterans, and a ridiculous amount of research.

[…]

What the television ad promised: “One weekend a month, two weeks a year. Earn money for college and protect your local community.” That’s what citizen soldiers signed up for. While they were certainly aware of the dual mission, they believed the recruiters who told them that they’d never get deployed; that the only way they’d see combat is “if World War III broke out.” Since 2001, “four out of five guardsmen have been sent overseas in the largest deployment of the National Guard since World War II.” (Stateline.org, January 12, 2007) Over 400 Army National Guard soldiers have died in Iraq, more than quadruple the amount that died in the entire Vietnam War.

For more than half a century, the National Guard’s policy regarding mobilization was that Guardsmen would be required to serve no more than one year cumulative on active duty (with no more than six months overseas) for each five years of regular drill. After September 11, 2001, the possible mobilization time was increased to 18 months (with no more than one year overseas). Then it was increased again, to 24 months. That policy was effectively abandoned by the Pentagon in January of 2007 because it’s the only way they can continue to redeploy Iraq War veterans/Reservists. The cumulative number of days Guard soldiers called to duty [rose] from 12.7 million in 2001 to 68.3 million in 2005, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The constant changes to policy, time and terms of deployment, extensions, stop-loss, etc, are, in fact, not what they signed up for when they took an oath to protect the Constitution from “threats both foreign and domestic.

[…]

The bulk of the troops on the ground in Iraq are Army, Army National Guard, and Reserves, and yet, they are grossly under funded, receiving approximately 17% of the DOD budget, with just 2-3% trickling to the Guard/Reserve. The severity of equipment shortages were brought to light by the Guard and Reservists in Iraq, and thousands of calls made to Congress by National Guardsmen and their families, pleading for body armor, fully up armored tanks and HMMV’s and other equipment. After four years, the problem has yet to be fully corrected.

Instead, they keep sending our soldiers, while failing miserably at keeping their promise to take care of them when they come home. After having served some of the longest tours in Iraq, while their families waited, worried, and often suffered financial shortfalls or problems with receiving pay and benefits, our citizen soldiers come home, and bring the war with them. I wrote about this in “Broken by this War,” and want to expand on the following:

The tab so far: more than 3,000 dead U.S. troops, tens of thousands of wounded, over half a million Iraqi casualties, roughly 250,000 American servicemen and women struggling with PTSD, and almost 60,000 military marriages that have been broken by this war. Including mine.

Broken, which includes domestic abuse, spousal murder, suicide, internet porn addiction, divorce, separation, and estrangement. What does it say when a nation that prides itself on supporting the troops, shared sacrifice, and a commitment to children and family values continues to pass policies that directly and indirectly undercut them all?

[…]

The Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center reveals that in the first years of the war, the annual divorce rate among active-duty Army officers and enlisted personnel nearly doubled, from 5,658 to 10,477. The increase is about 5,000 Army marriages per year, times four years, which totals 20,000 official divorces. That does not include active-duty Navy and Marines.

If the Army divorce rate is applied to Guard/Reserve, (the number is probably higher because of increased PTSD rates , less preparation/support/care before, during, and after deployment, financial burdens, etc.), given that the total force strength of citizen soldiers is almost one-third higher than active-duty Army, and almost 60% of Guard and Reservists are married (when averaged between branches) then, holding everything else equal, the annual increase in divorces among citizen soldiers would be roughly 8,000, times four years, equaling 32,000.

A study conducted in 1996 on the impact of long-term overseas deployments of Guard and Reserve troops found that “Reservists were more vulnerable than regular service soldiers…for psychiatric breakdown. [And] being a Reservist, having low enlisted rank, and belonging to a support unit increased the risk for psychiatric breakdown … Many such personnel entertained little expectation that they would ever be called to active duty.”

Just eleven months after returning from Iraq, 46% of one Washington State Reserve Combat Engineer Company reported mental health problems, more than double the rates for regular enlisted.

[…]

Over the past several years, returning soldiers have turned their fists and guns on their families, and a number of married veterans have committed suicide. Army Special Forces soldier Bill Howell, back three weeks from Iraq, beat his wife, and then committed suicide. A recently returned soldier at Fort Lewis, Washington, “turned himself in … saying he had committed a homicide,” according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The Pierce County sheriff’s department later found the soldier’s 28-year-old wife dead “apparently from homicidal violence.”

Sergeant Matthew Denni served in Iraq with the 671st Engineer Army Reserve Company. During his trial, it was determined that PTSD contributed to him murdering his wife and stuffing her corpse in a footlocker.

Murder, suicide, domestic violence, abuse, internet porn addictions are all casualties of war, collateral damage that destroys marriages and families, but they won’t be found on the DOD’s list of divorces. So when I said that “almost 60,000 military marriages that have been broken by this war. Including mine,” I was being kind with the numbers. Yet some of the responses I got were hateful, intentionally hurtful, small-hearted and mean-spirited comments about “bad, selfish wives” and “stupid, irresponsible soldiers,” demonizing those of us who have suffered and sacrificed so much. Enough.

Veterans and their families are already struggling, with too few resources and support, to try and heal. And yes, “they volunteered,” but not for this, America. Not for this.

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