No, really. It is. Seriously.
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Today's testimony before the House was not quite as riveting as yesterday's Senate session for Petraeus, but I did catch this little tidbit that had me wondering. Rep. Buck McKeon asks Gen. Petraeus to speak to troop morale and this is what he had to say:
Congressman, first of all, let me just say that …I don’t want to start off by generalizing about morale…I want to start off by explaining morale is an individual event. And morale depends from soldier to soldier, and for me as well, on the kind of day that you’re having out there in the theatre. And it’s a roller coaster existence. Now, having said that, as there is actually something called “The Mental Health Assessment” which is done every year, the last one in the late fall, I believe it was. And after several years of a generalization of morale as going down, morale actually went up.
Really? Up??? Five years in, a backdoor draft of stoploss and 3, 4, and 5 tours of duty and the troops are feeling better now? Well, that didn't compute for me, so I had to go find this "Mental Health Assessment" (.pdf) and sure enough, on page 24, there's the statistics Petraeus quoted:
Soldiers ratings of unit morale were significantly higher in 2007 than in 2006 after controlling for sample differences of (1) gender, (2) rank, and (3) months in theater. Figure 2 shows the raw percentages (top graph) and adjusted percents (bottom graph). Notice in the bottom graph that the adjusted percent of Soldiers who rate unit morale high or very high in 2007 is close to double the estimate from 2006.
Ah, there's the rub. If you factor out the women, the NCOs and those who have done multiple tours of duty over several years, things are looking great! By the way, I admit I was never a math major, but that last sentence about the morale being close to double this year...well, that's true if 7.4% was half of 13.1%. Either way, that's only 1 out of every 7 troop members who consider their morale high. Is that something to celebrate?
Or maybe Petraeus wanted to get out in front of this NY Times article:
Army leaders are expressing increased alarm about the mental health of soldiers who would be sent back to the front again and again under plans that call for troop numbers to be sustained at high levels in Iraq for this year and beyond.
Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiers' mental health.[..]
Among the 513,000 active-duty soldiers who have served in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, more than 197,000 have deployed more than once, and more than 53,000 have deployed three or more times, according to a separate set of statistics provided this week by Army personnel officers. The percentage of troops sent back to Iraq for repeat deployments would have to increase in the months ahead.
The Army study of mental health showed that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers - a critically important group - on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders. That figure is far higher than the roughly 12 percent who exhibit those symptoms after one tour and the 18.5 percent who develop the disorders after a second deployment, according to the study, which was conducted by the Army surgeon general's Mental Health Advisory Team.
And that doesn't even begin to talk about happens when they finally do return home. That's why it's so important for us to support Sen. Jim Webb's Dwell Time Amendment. Hear that, McCain? You want them to stay until the job is done, you have to take care of them to do so.