When listening to political debates, presidential addresses or country music concerts, the phrase “support our troops” is almost certain to be spoken.
There is no greater responsibility than the one placed upon the U.S. military. We have branded our armed forces as the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. Sorry, Romans, but we have better technology.
The phrase “support our troops” is a universal rallying call, which places people on the right end of the political spectrum. It allows people to say they disagree with being in Iraq, but despite their objection still “support our troops.” The problem is, our words are not matching our actions.
Newsday of New York reported on Aug. 17, “in a half-million-person army, last year’s suicide toll translates to a rate of 17.3 per 100,000, the highest since the army started counting in 1980.”
The suicide rate amongst our country’s most elite is at a 30-year peak. Even in the last two years, the number of confirmed suicides increased from 87 in 2005 to 99 in 2006.
Before any rash judgments are made about their reasons, it is important to set up the situation in which many of these suicides are occurring.
In the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers are facing the worst conditions since the beginning of the war.
They face extended tours of duty from 12 to 15 months, repeated tours of duty because of low recruitment numbers, an enemy whose sole purpose is not to win but die for their cause, and constant 120-degree heat.
These are not normal fighting conditions and probably not what they signed up for.
According to the Washington Post on Aug. 17, the main reason many of these soldiers are committing suicide stems from failed marriages and relationships.
The Post goes on to report extended tours in violent warfare, additional tours and general lack of soldier counseling as the main catalysts behind the failed relationships.
Put simply, soldiers are simply unaware of the extent to which the war is affecting them.
We can all agree the strain soldiers experience is the ultimate test of how much the human body and mind can take. Soldiers put their lives on the line, and many have regrettably lost their lives in combat.
Their tremendous sacrifice will never be forgotten because of the bravery they displayed. But losing soldiers who could have been helped is an entirely different story. The Independent, a London-based newspaper, reported on Aug. 17 that the army’s resources are being spread too thin.
As the largest branch of the military, the army is complaining because of the extended deployments for combat troops.
The army also has been scrutinized for not providing enough help to soldiers, both in combat and when they return home.
The Washington Post also made another observation about the suicides-62 percent of the 99 people that committed suicide last year had served, or were serving, in areas of heavy violence.
The army is trying to combat this stress by increasing the number of military psychiatrists by 25 percent this year and training troops to recognize signs of extreme mental stress in themselves.
With this information, they can seek help if certain symptoms manifest themselves.
Once again, the military isn’t getting what it needs to treat the strains caused by the current warfare. It doesn’t have enough resources to deal with this extremely difficult hand.
Whether a person disagrees or agrees with the current war should not be the first issue in resolving this problem. The first response should be, “How do we help those with no choice but to stay and fight? How do we take care of the bravest and finest this country has to offer?”
The Post said this year alone the army has confirmed 44 suicides, with 27 committed in combat zones.
There are small ways we can help. Many of us have friends or family members stationed oversees or in training.
Write them a letter, send an e-mail and somehow offer support and remind them they have people who care about them.
If you don’t know someone serving, get online and find a way to start sending letters directly to troops.
It might be time to find a new way to “support our troops,” and we better do it now.
Kevin Phillips is a senior in legal communications. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.