Multiple tours in Iraq still cause of strain in soldiers
April 18, 2008
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Concerns about soldiers’ mental health emerged in the midst of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Bush’s decision to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq until Election Day.Petraeus proposed a 45-day evaluation period ending in July. Bush approved this, saying Petraeus can have “all the time he needs” before deciding to pull out any troops.
With the war entering into its sixth year, 513,000 soldiers have been on active duty. Almost half of them have been deployed more than once and 53,000 have deployed three or more times.
A report produced by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) in Jan. 2008, says that 30-40 percent of Iraq veterans will face serious psychological issues including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
“Multiple tours and inadequate time at home between deployments increase rates of combat stress by 50 percent,” according to IAVA.
The Washington Post reported in Dec. 2006 that the army’s first survey on mental health gave the same statistic.
Several Guilford students have family and friends who are serving in Iraq.
With the 10th Mountain Division for his second tour, sophomore Nicholas MacSeoin’s cousin has been in Iraq since Sept 2007 and his tour has been extended until Dec 2008.
“Before he was deployed the first time I asked if he was nervous and I got a macho, man-up mentality from him, but that wasn’t the case after the first tour,” said MacSeoin. “He was much more subdued about it.”
Soldiers have been dealing with multiple deployments as well as longer tours.
“At 12 months, we were still stressed and stretched thin,” said Spc. William Maule to The Washington Post, who also deployed with the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. “Fifteen months just made it worse. I don’t think returning to 12 months is going to fix the original problem.”
Twelve percent of soldiers deployed for less than six months screened positive for PTSD, whereas the number rose to 19 percent after more than six months. The Mental Health Advisory Team studied this for the first time in their fifth survey, looking at soldiers deployed between 2005 and 2007.
Tours starting after Aug. 1 will be capped at 12 months. However, more than half of active duty soldiers currently have 15-month deployments and this decision leaves them out.
Kelly Hale, junior psychology and health sciences double major, dealt with her brother and boyfriend in Iraq for 14 months with the Wolfpack, the second platoon in the 1st and 40th Calvary.
“These guys are used to not sleeping for days, intense weather, and carrying a lot of ammunition and their body armor,” Hale said. “You’re talking about extreme situations and your body is used to being beat up like that since training. Your body can handle that but your mind is not that strong.”
Neither her brother, Sgt. Matt Hale, nor boyfriend, Ssg. Bruce Cosgrove, have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Kelly Hale attributes this to their dedicated support from family and their faith.
“Letting out their emotions is what saves them from PTSD and psychological problems,” Hale said. “Because nobody else really understands what its like, some people keep their aggression inside, but Matt was able to write a lot about how he was feeling – philosophies, songs, and letters to God.”
Even without psychological issues, many soldiers find the process of coming back difficult.
“My brother drove a Humvee so he was used to that 14-month routine of recon work, searching roads for bombs, and going 100 mph in all different directions,” Hale said. “Coming back onto American soil, it was hard to readjust back to highway driving 70 miles an hour.”
“One of my friends turned very stone-faced after coming back after his first tour in Iraq,” said Meara Sullivan, junior psychology major. “He used to be very expressive of his emotions and feelings, but when he got back for the first time three years ago his speech pattern was different. His spoke in a ‘yes sir, no sir’ style.”
Coming back to a country divided on support for the war also poses an issue for soldiers.
“One reason why soldiers experience PTSD is because half the country thinks they are heroes and the other half doesn’t know how to receive them,” Hale said. They face a lot of judgment after coming back from a place where they put their lives on the line. To overcome PTSD they need social support not only from their families, but from their nation.