Increased US involvement in the Afghanistan war has led to not only higher casualties, but to a sinking morale among soldiers and Marines, along with “significantly higher” psychological problems, a newly- released Army report reveals.
The Joint Mental Heal Advisory Team 7 (J-MHAT 7) report (pdf) is based on a an anonymous survey of randomly selected soldiers and Marines during July and August 2010 and compares those results to previously conducted surveys. The new statistics provide a dark image of the American occupation in Afghanistan.
“There are few stresses on the human psyche as extreme as the exposure to combat and seeing what war can do,” said Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, Army surgeon general, at a Pentagon news conference, the AP reports.
According to the report individual morale among soldiers in Afghanistan is on a five-year downward trend, dropping from 65.7 percent in 2005 to 46.5 percent in the 2010 survey.
Although dropping between 2005 and 2009 (55 percent to 39 percent), unit morale (medium, high, very high) in 2010 was 41.3 percent.
Psychological problems among soldiers, as with Marines, are “significantly higher” than in previous years, the report shows. Almost 20 percent of soldiers surveyed reported a psychological problem, including acute stress, depression and anxiety.
The report notes Marine unit morale is also continuing a five-year declining trend, with 2010 values “significantly lower than previous years’ ratings of unit morale.” Likewise, individual morale among Marines is also extending its five-year downward pattern.
Psychological problems among Marines, including acute stress, depression and anxiety, show “significantly higher” numbers than in previous years. Almost 20 percent of the 335 Marines surveyed cited a psychological problem.
The report notes
Psychologically, it is hard to imagine that these levels of combat are not taking a toll on Marines.
A likely connection to the decreased morale and increased mental issues was the surging number of casualties and injuries. Between 70 and 80 percent of troops surveyed cited witnessing a unit member being killed. Around half of soldiers and 56 percent of Marines claimed to have killed an enemy fighter. About two-thirds of all troops surveyed for the report said a roadside bomb had detonated within 55 yards of them.
Col. Paul Bliese, leader of the battlefield survey said: “We would have expected to see a much larger increase in the mental health symptoms and a much larger decrease in morale ... based on these incredibly high rates of exposure” to combat operations, according to AP.
Deployment concerns were another area showing the stark reality of war. A third of Marines surveyed cited difficulties communicating back home as an issue, up from 14.6 percent in 2007. Not getting enough sleep and continuous operations also saw dramatic increased numbers.
A positive trend in the report showed Marine resilience on the rise. Perceived unit readiness in 2010 was almost 88 percent, up from 72.8 percent in Iraq during 2007. However, unit cohesion continued its slide, dropping from 46.8 percent in 2007 to 41.7 percent last year.
Among the report’s recommendations and considerations is a better coordination of resources, including medical and operation command being better informed on mental health resources. Prioritizing behavioral health personnel travel so they have improved access to in-theater flights is another recommendation.
An effective sleep discipline should be emphasized by small unit leaders (SULs), according to the study. These SULs are responsible for sleep management, including sleep discipline and reducing factors leading to poor sleeping conditions.
The survey involved 911 soldiers from 40 Army maneuver unit platoons, 335 troops from 13 Marine platoons and 85 respondents from personnel in the behavioral health field.