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The growing suicide rate in our military

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I recently read an article that states suicide by our men and women in uniform is reaching alarming levels and one has to wonder why and more importantly how can these service members be reached before they make that fateful decision.

When I was in the Army, the standard combat tour was one year.  Alcohol, and for those so inclined, drugs, were widely available to help dull the coping mechanisms.  We never really heard of anyone taking themselves out. And, having said that, soldiers committing suicide is an alien concept to me.  However, we did hear of guys shooting themselves in the foot, leg, etc. so as to be rotated back to the US and eventually discharged for medical reasons.  Alcoholism and drug addiction were wide spread too.

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Today a combat tour is 15 months and one can be rotated back into combat after a period as short as 180 days "" I met a soldier the other day who had just received orders to start his third tour in Iraq.  He was a front line troop and he was again going to see combat.  He was old long before his time and the look in his eyes was like peering into a hollow space. 

I started an informal discovery about suicide in the military and the only records I could actually find were that of the Einsatzgruppen during World War Two.  These were the men of the SS who were the mobile killing squads sent into the field to execute in mass the Jews.  Suicide and alcoholism were both prevalent and these were driven and motivated men who had a tangible goal assigned to them. 

Perhaps we might want to ask ourselves if we are expecting too much from our service members--too much combat, too much killing, and fighting without clear obtainable objectives.  Shades of Viet Nam all over again.

Since the selective service was mothballed and we rely on a volunteer military our troop levels are not being refreshed as they were in Viet Nam.  Enlistment standards have been drastically reduced and the use of waivers for a myriad of transgressions has become the norm rather than the exception.  The decline in the number of people in uniform has, in all probability, led to the growing use of private Armies such as Blackwater and other such.  There is no explainable reason for the drastic rise in the use of private armies. 

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Perhaps rather than searching for an answer as to the growing suicides in the military it might be more prudent to ask what are we really using our military for and why.  No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq but the suggestion that there were such weapons served as our justification for going into Iraq.

And, we continue on in Iraq caught between what might appear as a civil war.  The Shiites and Sunnis are fighting each other and we are stepping into the middle of it all calling it insurgency.  Shades of Viet Nam all over again.  If it is a religious civil war then the  citizens of Iraq must decide their own fate without our intervention.  We should withdraw our troops from the brunt of it.

Afghanistan is not about Bin laden anymore, it is about a fundamentalist Islamic fight with growing collateral damage. 

With the mounting American suicides, and the typical combat deaths, we must ask whether there are  higher American casualties that are not being reported.  The US military likes to keep the bad news out of sight. 

Is the prevention of suicide in the military a simple solution--yes, if we care about our sons and daughters.  If enriching private armies and contractors is our goal, then we need not ask what can be done except that of putting a band-aid on a deep sucking chest wound where our hearts were.

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I have a degree in theology and a Masters in Holocaust History.

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