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Friday, February 24, 2006

War Stress: Not Only for Those in Combat

USA Today reports on the strange uptick in workplace injuries at Robins AFB in Georgia. The base is responsible for repairing military aircraft. As the war raged onward, and the Defense Department demanded a leaner, meaner and more efficient military, the strain of meeting these demands resulted in a witches' brew of problems.

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The situation at Robins, where thousands of workers repair military aircraft, is a case study on how the war overseas has affected those serving on the home front. Here, a different kind of strain and battle fatigue has surfaced, often in startling ways.

The wounded came not from engaging the enemy, but from scores of workplace injuries that increased as the war intensified. The low morale was measured in rises in drunken driving and domestic abuse, discrimination complaints and lost productivity. Most dramatic were the suicides — double the national rate in 2004 — and murders on the base, the first in Robins' 65-year history. "We do have the rigors of a wartime mission," explains Lt. Col. Dan Mokris, the base safety officer. "We just have to do it right here." ...

After U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the demands of war exacerbated the challenges of trying to modernize and streamline the military, Collings says. As a consequence, he says, the needs of those at Robins were neglected, and the troubles at the base began to swell.

"Whether you're talking about the soldier in the field who's getting ready to take the next bunker, the fighter pilot, the maintainer who is turning wrenches on the flight line, the engineer doing software development here or Ronnie who works in the paint shop," Collings says, "if you don't have their heart and their belief that you are leading them in the right direction, it's a non-starter."

The events at the Robins AFB form a cautionary tale. More...

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