COMMENTARY | 2012 was an especially tough year for the U.S. military. In the fall we were hit with a slew of scandals involving military brass being accused of misspending government funds, sexual assaults of subordinates, and having extramarital affairs that potentially caused intelligence breaches. Now, it turns out that the military has another tragic distinction for 2012: According to Time , more U.S. military personnel committed suicide than were killed by enemy activity, with 349 troops committing suicide versus 311 killed by enemy activity in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The debate over what has led to the drastic increase in military suicides since 2001, when 160 service members killed themselves, has found obvious problems in the multiple deployments faced by today’s volunteer force. Servicemen find themselves returning to the front lines (if there are such things any more) multiple times during a term of service, and lengthy deployments to faraway locations stress marriages and relationships. Additionally, the weaker U.S. economy at home can stress out deployed servicemen whose spouses are facing layoffs and unemployment and whose families are struggling financially.
But a former top Army psychiatrist, Elspeth Ritchie, makes an interesting contribution regarding the increase in military suicides: “In recent years, I have seen a real fear on the part of soldiers that if they reveal that there is anything wrong, they will be the ones left behind. Left behind literally, as the rest of the unit deploys. And thus left behind on promotion, and on retention.”
That, she says, can push them over the edge.
Today’s all-volunteer military is more focused on turning enlisted personnel into careerists than the pre-1973 draft-era military, seeking to retain personnel and build a skilled, experienced fighting force. The problem, aside from the tremendous expense associated with recruiting and getting personnel to re-enlist, is that a career in the military may be so stressful in today’s multiple-deployment climate that it leads to broken relationships, broken families, broken lives, and even suicide.
We need to bring back a draft to reduce or eliminate multiple deployments, shorten deployments, and reduce the horrors of war inflicted on small segments of the population. A draftee who does one 6 to 8-month deployment to a war zone during a 2 to 3-year term of service is much less likely to commit suicide and tear apart a family than a careerist who is on his fourth 1-year deployment and has no plan to retire.