Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Saving our American Soldiers

Whenever unit leaders handle combat post-traumatic stress disorder correctly—by ensuring that whoever needs treatment gets it—it rarely makes the news. And that’s unfortunate, because there are plenty of squad leaders, platoon leaders, and battalion commanders who make having mentally straight unit a priority. On the other hand, whenever leaders completely bolo the task of making sure their soldiers are receiving the care they, it always makes the news in a really ugly way. Take Mark Benjamin’s piece in Salon this week:

The day before Halloween 2008, Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman swallowed handfuls of prescription pain pills and psychotropic drugs. Then he picked up a can of black paint and smeared onto the wall of his room in the Fort Carson barracks what he thought would be his last words to the world. "I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED!" Lieberman painted on the wall in big, black letters. "IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!" Soldiers called Lieberman's unit, the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, the Death Dealers. Adam suffered serious mental health problems after a year of combat in Iraq. The Army, however, blamed his problems on a personality disorder, anxiety disorder or alcohol abuse -- anything but the war. Instead of receiving treatment from the Army for his war-related problems, Adam faced something more akin to harassment. He was punished and demoted for his bad behavior, but not treated effectively for its cause. The Army's fervent tough-guy atmosphere discouraged Adam from seeking help. Eventually he saw no other way out. Now, in what was to be his last message, he pointed the finger at the Army for his death. 

Talk about a disgrace. Not Lieberman, but how our own military let one of our own soldiers down. If this story occurred as it's been reported, then those two officers would be of more service to their country in a job other than the profession of arms. But then, that's the problem. Even though high-ranking generals have begun to speak out about PTSD and its treatment, the culture of the Army is changing far too slowly. And every leader that inhibits that progress toward understanding and dealing with combat trauma is, in effect, making the Army weaker. In fact, such soldiers aren't leaders at all. In Lieberman's case, the chain of command's actions will have a chilling effect. No one in that unit will ever be willing to step forward and seek treatment for what is a normal combat injury. And it is a combat injury. That's one of the first things that soldiers have to understand. A soldier refusing to acknowledge his or her own PTSD would be like one taking an AK round to the chest and deciding to "suck it up."

Soldiers have to realize that the exposure to combat and violence in and of itself doesn't cause PTSD. What causes it is moderate to intense stress levels induced over long periods of time. It's the stress hormones that eat through your brain like battery acid. And that's why the finance soldier on the FOB can get PTSD just like the infantryman kicking in doors. If the finance soldier sits around all day for a year terrified that a mortar could take him out, that stress will cause the condition. While big Army has done an adequate job in explaining that PTSD is normal, the culture in general has been slow to accept the fact that, after enough time in a combat zone, everybody will start showing signs of mental wear and tear. And it seems to me that much of this denial results from the fact that many soldiers are afraid that PTSD isn't a treatable injury--which it clearly is. With many soldiers having now served four, five, and six combat tours, this is a tidal wave in the making. And it's only going to be stemmed when leaders at all levels come to grips with the fact that PTSD is a natural part of combat and that mentally fit troops are a force multiplier. Only when soldiers are no longer cast aside as Pvt. Adam Lieberman was will we truly be on a path toward fighting two insurgencies at maximum effectiveness.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz announced a change to the air and space expeditionary force rotational baseline from 120 to 179 days for most active component Airmen. 

According to Air Force officials, 71 percent of Airmen are already deploying outside the 120-day baseline. The revised construct will therefore increase predictability for affected Airmen and their families while providing better support to combatant commanders by increasing continuity at deployed locations.

Previously Air Force officials used five tempo bands for the active component: "A" through "E." With the change, Air Force officials will move Tempo Band "A" unit type codes, or UTCs, and associated personnel to Tempo Band "B." Incorporating a 1-to-4 deploy-to-dwell time, the change results in six months of deployed time for Airmen and 24 months at home. The difference between the remaining tempo bands is the deploy-to-dwell time, ranging from 1-to-4 to 1-to-1. 

Combat Air Force units transition to the new baseline beginning this month. They previously were in an "enabler" category at a 1-to-3 deploy-to-dwell time. Those units will move to Tempo Band "C," remaining at a 1-to-3 deploy-to-dwell time, but will see an increase from 12 to 18 months at home station between deployments. 

Expeditionary combat support Airmen will begin their transition to the new baseline began in December 2010 with full implementation expected by October 2012.

"Ultimately, this is good for the Air Force mission, our Airmen and their families," said Col. James Horton, director of AEF and personnel operations at the Air Force Personnel Center. "While the deployment time is longer, it also means the downtime is longer. Will downtime fix PTSD or just prolong the illness? A mask if you will.

"This change is meant to reflect a more realistic and consistent deployment outlook," he said. "By better managing our wartime operations tempo means we can provide our Airmen and their families the greatest level of stability and predictability." 

According to the announcement, the change will be in effect until the conclusion of Operation Enduring Freedom.

But the question remains is if it will be effective for our soldiers.


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I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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