24 July 2011

Psychology of the Soldier

The psychology of the soldier is one that can be difficult for civilians to come to terms with. No, this has nothing at all to do with photography, cameras, models, or anything remotely related. You can stop reading now if you wish, but I came across an interesting article the other day and have gone back to read it several times.

Model, Joanie

"82nd Airborne Paratroopers Unhappy With Iraq, Afghanistan Troop Withdrawals",
by David Wood for the Huffington Post on 11July2011

Model, Joanie
So what's the gist of the article? Simply put, many of the soldiers don't want to leave for one reason or another.  "Instead of an exciting and challenging combat tour, they'll be relegated to the dread "garrison life" here at Fort Bragg.", reports the article. That may sound like war-mongering to many of the citizens of the United States, however I might ask that you hold that judgement for a little bit and take a second (or longer) to see where these "Joes" (...as in G.I.'s, hence G. I. Joe...) are coming from. 

The 82nd from Fort Bragg, North Carolina is one of the most famous and storied units to honor, serve, and defend your way of life here in the United States of America. Along with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, they comprise the two Army Divisions most known to the populace if you were to ask them to name ANY military unit. (Yeah, Seal Team Six gets some notoriety too). I served 2 tours of duty with the 101st...first with the 502nd Infantry Brigade, and then again after a stint in Korea with HHC Division G-3 as an Air Operations NCO...loved that job! I received my honorable discharge in 1998, after 10 years of service. I was done. My body had taken enough abuse and I wanted to still enjoy some physical abilities as a young civilian. I can tell you quite literally that from head to toe, I still contend with injuries sustained over my tours of duty. 

"I'm afraid I'm not going to get the chance to go again," said Spec. Brenton Parish, a 21-year-old paratrooper from Fond du Lac, Wis. "I like doing my job, and I can only do that when I'm deployed," he told The Huffington Post.

Model, Joanie
So why would a man or woman want to maintain operations in a hostile environment? Let me put it to you this way: Your Armed Forces Command units take pride in turning that snot-nosed brat you worried would never amount to anything, into a highly trained, high speed, low drag, bad-ass, machine that can maintain his or her military discipline and professional bearing in the most inhospitable, uninhabitable work environments  like nobody you'll ever encounter at the office. Imagine if you were expected to get out those expense reports or make your quota, while doing so in the desert heat with sand grains in every crevice imaginable, wearing long sleeves and weighted gear. An error on your part might cost a life. Your former snot-nosed brat is now responsible for million-dollar equipment and is depended on to do his job and keep the well-oiled machine from seizing up. Only a few years ago, they could hardly get along with others that well. They couldn't figure out how geometry would ever serve them in life. Now they are part of  an intricate team on a mission to hell and back, calculating back-azimuths and learning to triangulate their 8-digit grid coordinate on a map. No matter if they are on the front lines or in the mail room, they understand that they may never draw breath on American soil again, yet they do their jobs and watch out for the soldier, marine, seaman, or airman who stands in the gap next to them.  

Capt. Tom Cieslak, a staff officer with the 1st Brigade: "If we're going back to garrison life, to pressed and starched uniforms and all that? After my seven years of war, I don't think I could do that."
Model, Joanie
As a civilian, you really cannot fathom what it is that you ask your servicemen and women to do. With that said, it will probably be difficult to understand the mentality that they have to assume in order to complete a mission, do their jobs dependably, admirably, and above and beyond the standard. You are in effect, asking a man or woman to become a machine and you loose them upon the world to protect you and your way of life. To ask them to come home and shut it off is to ask water to not be wet. The expectation for these service people to adjust seamlessly to the life that is your reality is not realistic. This is what they do. This is what they had to become in order to go forth and protect you. You can honor their return by being understanding to the military mind and aiding in the transition rather than ridiculing and judging like what happened when our veterans came back from Vietnam.

In a major study released last year, the Army reported that a small but growing number of soldiers who perform credibly in combat turn to high-risk behavior at home, including drug abuse, drunk driving, motorcycle street-racing, petty crime and domestic violence.

This is the part I fear most. After spending years at a time, "keyed-up", these guy come back to garrison life know they need to "gear down" but can't. Alcohol and drug abuse is common. Something to take the edge off becomes a new priority and this is where you see men getting into trouble with the law, having a disastrous family life, and go further sink into depression. I first became conscious of such matters when I began hearing about Bragg soldiers killing their families (and its still going on). And then it started happening at my Division at Campbell. It was almost like an extreme case of some type of disease or disorder where a plague hits your community. Everybody gets sick and some are killed. You never know who is most susceptible, but no one is untouched. God help our veterans.


Karl said...

I have not served, so my comments come from ignorance in that area. I do have a psych degree, which makes me look at cause, effect, conditioning, history, and case details. With all that stuff said, I have a question that could be observation as well.

With very few exceptions, most of the US wars were fought mostly by conscripted soldiers, not professional soldiers. They were drafted, trained, and assigned, but had not volunteered for the duty.

Since Vietnam, our military has been represented by volunteers who wanted the job, train for it during peace, are ready at a moment's notice, and are true professionals in their craft. Regardless whether the person flies a plane, works on a boat or ship, or marches on the ground, he or she is a professional.

My question is, and shows my naivete, have the challenges to reintegration been true for all returning service men and women, regardless of recruitment status (drafted vs. voluntary)? I wonder how being true professionals in the art and science of career of war makes them different.

I will tell you this though. I would far rather have a doctor who volunteered and wanted to be a doctor take care of me than one who was forced into the profession. The same is true for those who protect us.

Photo Anthems.com said...

Good question. I'm not a psyche major, but I can report observation and interviews. Reintegration is going to be the same regardless of the initial willingness to serve, in my opinion. Once you're in, you in. You don't return as the same person that went in, regardless of recruitment status. It doesn't even make a difference whether its during war or times of peace. Military training is proficient because it can simulate war-like conditions and place both your mind and your body in very close to the stresses you'd endure in war. That's how we get so good at what we do. We still use live ammo, explosives, and can be dangerously close to the action while sleep deprived and totally exhausted. You'd honestly be surprised at the limits you THINK your body can handle. The training is made to be instinctive and reactionary. I still hardly ever walk around a corner without my abs tightening up or raising a hand head level such as in a blocking maneuver. I still wear my dog-tags almost every where I go. Check out any pic of me in a open shirt and you'll see the tale-tell silver beaded dog-tag chain around my neck.

It certainly will not be true in all cases, but a drafted medical professional will still see an injured soldier as someone needing their help. Most docs become docs because they have an innate desire to help and heal. If anything, it would be the fatigue and poor work environment that might cause substandard work, such as trying to work near the battlefield, doing triage, and trying to see with lights powered by generators. Once they are in the operating room, I'd think the only thing that matters is the life on the table. Staring into the eyes of a soldier near death asking to be saved throws out all animosity towards a draft status. No matter how you got there, the only thing that matters is the fact that you ARE there and now you have to serve those who stand in the gap. A doc who looks a a dying joe and refuses to operate in protest of the fact that they were pulled from a prosperous medical practice in Hollywood needs to be shot. Better yet, they should be used to help locate roadside IEDs. The same goes for a tech guy who helps established and maintains the commo equipment. He's not going to jeopardize our troops ability to communicate in the field because of a draft status.

So regardless of draft status, I really don't think reintegration is affected by how you went in. Reintegration is more of a factor of the individual and his or her experiences while serving. And draft status is not relevant for most military professions regarding quality of work, especially in those highly specialized positions. There might be resentment upon return, but not over an operating table.