A look at the gradual decay of our armed forces

These reports are disturbing, but more so are the disturbing comments of the war’s advocates to the posts about these things.  Beyond denial, they attack those concerned about our troops.  They love the war, but not our troops.  Much like Senator McCain, who votes in favor of any war — but against veterans benefits (See About.com and this for details.).

  1. 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel — 50 meg PDF here
  2. Survey Summary
  3. Navy attempted suicide rate nearly 3%“, Navy Times, 24 December 2009

When reading reports like this, focus on the direction and rate of change.  America’s troops in many ways are the best of us, and it shows in the statistics about crime, alcoholism, drug use, and mental problems.  Many are better than the overall population, but show rapid deterioration.

For more information

Other posts in this series:

For a wealth of information about this topic see the FM Reference Page An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.

13 thoughts on “A look at the gradual decay of our armed forces

  1. Our troops are hardly the best of us. One of the major reasons for enlisting is economic opportunity. Or, for may recruits the military is essentially the employer of last resort. The statistics cited probably reflect a decrease in admission standards since the wars in iraq and afghanistan have made recruiting more difficult.
    * “More Americans Joining Military as Jobs Dwindle“, NY Times, 18 January 2009
    * “The Poverty Draft“, Jorge Mariscal, Sojourners magazine, June 2007 — “Do military recruiters disproportionately target communities of color and the poor?”
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    FM reply: The phrase “best of us” is typically used as a moral evaluation. It refers to recruits willingness to undertake hazardous durty for the benefit of the nation.

  2. Col Patrick Lang has recently been discussing the possibility of using JSOC against the Mexican drug cartels..

    Such a strike, should it be attempted, should be surgical precisely because any protracted involvement by JSOC would lead to its deterioration. In particular, during any long term involvement, the cartels would attempt to bribe, co-opt, and subvert JSOC. That is essentially what the did with the Mexican military when the Zetas were formed. And if you like the Zetas, then you are going to love the narco-JSOC’s.
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    FM reply: Thanks for this link. While I greatly respect Col Lang’s work, this seems an almost certain to fail tactic. The opposition in Mexico to US intervention would be awesome. The odds of success even in military terms would be microscopic, IMO. Many Americans see special ops teams as magic, despite their poor record of success in large-scale operations.

  3. FM reply: The phrase “best of us” is typically used as a moral evaluation. It refers to recruits willingness to undertake hazardous durty for the benefit of the nation.

    Given the use of the phrase “support the troops” as a political wedge issue, this contention will not survive scrutiny. Indeed, insofar as FM’s reply were correct, we would instead be hearing about the troops supporting us. So we must frankly question whether it is the nation is benefiting or rather some political agenda.

    We begin with the idea that the soldiers generally are much the same as run of humanity. This putting them on a pedestal smacks of propaganda and of cant.

  4. “The odds of success even in military terms would be microscopic, IMO. Many Americans see special ops teams as magic, despite their poor record of success in large-scale operations.”

    Interesting observations, Fabius. “Many Americans see special ops teams as magic…” This is undoubtedly partly as a result of Hollywood, especially in the last 15-20 years, when CGI has come to dominate cinema and cable TV productions. This is to state the obvious; less-apparent is that because of widespread historical and military illiteracy, audiences have come to believe that such takes represent reality. I teach martial arts, and thus have contact with young people of military age. One student was all gung-ho to join the USN and become a SEAL; talking about all the cool gear, the elite reputation of these warriors, the chance to “break things and kill people,” and so on. I have all the respect in the world for anyone who serves in uniform, I did not do so myself and wish I had. However, I also believe in making informed decisions, so I gave this particular young man a copy of “Blackhawk Down,” and also “Lone Survivor” to open his eyes to what being a combat soldier really is about. I wanted him to know, in essence, that the bullets are real. It isn’t like ’24’ or ‘Terminator.’

    Special operations personnal are undoubtedly elite warriors; their selection processes are so tough that they can and do kill soldiers vying to be in the SAS, SEALS, Rangers, Delta Force, Special Forces, etc. That doesn’t even get into the training and the hazards these unqiue people face. However, the flipside of the coin also applies – apparently super-human though these combatants may be, they still pull their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.
    We do a disservice by making special ops people into cartoon-like superhero figures, invulnerable and indestructible. These are real people; they suffer, they feel pain, they are very human – capable of making mistakes as well as accomplishing amazing feats of derring-do. As Duncan Kinder rightly points out, they are every bit as human as the rest of us. We should respect the soldier, but not elevate him onto a pedestal.

  5. “Many Americans see special ops teams as magic, despite their poor record of success in large-scale operations.”

    Fabius, doesn’t your remark deserve some elaboration? How do you define ‘poor record’ or ‘large-scale operations’? Do you mean such ill-fated missions as the abortive rescue attempt of the Iranian hostages under President Carter, or perhaps the Son Tay prison raid of the Vietnam era? What about the unpublicized successes which are still classified, and thus cannot be divulged? Undoubtledly there are classified failures as well, but this point seems to bear repeating.
    Intelligence agencies and special operators do not always get to announce, as it were, their triumphs to the world.

    There are historical examples of successful large-scale special operations, in WWII and other conflicts. The commando operation to blow the locks at St. Nazarre using the old HMS Campbelltown is an example. On the axis side, Otto Skorzeny and his elite glider-born team freed Benito Mussolini from his mountaintop prison. Of course, there are numerous examples of successful raids by the SOE (with the caveat that some raids were successful only after several previous efforts failed) – the SOE/Norwegian resistance effort to destroy the Norsk Hydro heavy water plant, the Cabanatuan POW raid in the Phillippines, etc.

    It might make an interesting article on your part to do a comparison and analysis of sucessful versus failed spec ops raids…
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    FM reply: I have never believed the “secret triumps” story. It has been repeatedly and extensively disproved with respect to the CIA. As for large scale ops, the examples you give support my point. These were single shot ops, small in both geographic scale and duration — tightly focused and clear objectives.

  6. Special Forces .. all modelled on the SAS (though the US ones seem to be Christian warriers and body builders .. the UK ones are nearly all small and light). Have done some good work .. also have been the UK’s assasians and actors in power plays.

    Bit like the US, the UK (and Australia) have an idealised visions of them.

    I remember a friend of my father, ex Sergent in the SAS. Fought in many, behind the scenes, UK wars. Did many ugly things. Bomb here, bomb there to get each side fighting against each other … rather than against the British … (hmm Basra, the SAS guys with the bootloads of explosives, SOP). Lovely guy, gave me my first camera (very good one) … and damaged, so damaged. Spent a while in (as they were in those days) psychiatric hospitals. My father once stopped him killing someone. I still wonder if he managed to somehow have a normal life as we were his family for a time, his ‘safe place’.

    Normal and competent people and well trained but not a magic act. And, I should say ‘as usual’, we abuse and overuse them.

    And if you are reading this Eddie, email FM and he will it pass onto me and I’ll contact you, I still owe you a camera mate. My dad’s dead but you are still part of the family.

  7. I don’t think it will surprise anyone posting here that X# of years from now and after GWOT is “over” (for the majority of troops) the VA will have its budget slashed and tens of thousands of homeless GWOT vets will be living under overpasses.
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    FM reply: Did that happen after Korea or Vietnam?

  8. I will, like Fabius, thank the person who passed along the Lang piece about using JSOC on the Mexican drug lords. I oppose the idea. I think people have gotten the idea that special ops ar a cost free, error free method of using military power, and this may come from the gorification of special ops in Hollywood and in books. Saying “special ops” has become a way of answering a question about how you’re going to accomplish a military goal without having to actually provide a detailed, well thought out answer.

    Regarding the original topic of the post, although the military has gotten better at delaying/preventing/treating PTSD, I assume that PTSD and related problems will eventually affect so many experienced NCOs as to give us, at some point, a hollow force.

    Who was it who said that it’s war that ruins armies? I can’t remember.
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    FM reply: I don’t believe that occurence of PTSD will reach levels that “hollow out” our forces. Increased difficulty recruiting and falling re-enlistment rates would do it, as we saw after Vietnam. I don’t believe we have seen either yet to a problematic degree. For more about this see An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.
    * Section one: Articles about the Army’s fitness, and the mental and physical fitness of its people
    * Section three: Articles about the Army’s ability to attract and retain good people

  9. “We begin with the idea that the soldiers generally are much the same as run of humanity. This putting them on a pedestal smacks of propaganda and of cant.”

    “Lovely guy, … and damaged, so damaged. Spent a while in (as they were in those days) psychiatric hospitals. ”

    Duncan wins the thread.

    Old Skeptic is the 2nd place silver medal. I agree. I have met many combat veterans. They are not bad boys. But dear saints alive, many of them need to be kept on happy pills for the rest of their lives. Nowadays, between the PTSD and the TBI (brain-damage) the USA is destroying its future labor force.
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    FM reply: Total nonsense. Just like the post-Vietnam era myth of the drugged-out deranged vet (in fact a tiny minority of vets). I suggest you read the actual studies in the An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports (section one), rather than relying on your preconceptions and biases.

  10. “economic draft” comes to mind. while many of our best and brightest are employed in the armed services, the nature of the bell curve implies they make up a tiny fraction of the whole and my anec-data agree.

    that said, the university peers I respect the most (for work ethic and raw SMRT scores) are about 70% ex-mil. it’s that class-mobility-machine in action baby, problem is it just gets more and more difficult to keep running. needs a lube job or something – perhaps a full service inspection.

  11. oh and fabs, this ahistorical science type doesn’t actually know the answer to your (possibly rhetorical) question: did the VA get hollowed out after Korea or Vietnam?

  12. FM reply: “Did that happen after Korea or Vietnam?

    After Korea we had an economic boom. That rising tide lifted all boats.

    After Vietnam it depended on the area of the country. In my part of the Midwest, a significant percentage of our homeless population was veterans. Likewise, the VA budget has been year to year and hospitals/facilities were always on the chopping block depending on who had the juice in a Congressional district. Of course, that has changed over the last few years to continue taking care of our veterans as troops were still sent forward –that’s great for morale when it’s needed.

    My opinion is despite the so-called green shoots of economic recovery, that there will be no economic miracle in the next decade which will provide tax revenue for services. If there is a reduced war in the future, the veterans and monetary assistance to them will take a back seat just like it did during the tough times the Bonus Marchers lived in.
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    FM reply: The post-Korea years were no economic boom, with severe recessions in 1953 and 1957. And a mild recession in 1960-61. Also, from memory I don’t recall cuts in Veteren’s care after Vietnam. Although their funding probably was not adequately increased to meet the demand.

  13. JSOC has been used against the drug cartels both in Mexico and South America for quite a number of years now. The CIA’s long-running drug trafficking black ops necessitated the use of “wet work” against rival drug runners. See here for more info.

    Every once in while the CIA drug running black ops leak out in the open. The American press studiously ignores these inadvertent breaks in tradecraft.

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