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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Surge -- And Strain

An op-ed in today's Boston Globe:

General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says it would take two years just to recruit, train, and equip 10,000 new troops. Thus to accomplish a surge, the armed forces must look to existing units. Virtually all the nation's active-duty ground-force units, and many from the Guard and Reserve, have already spent a year or more in Iraq or Afghanistan. There are only two ways to get more brigades into Iraq: Extend the deployment of units that are already there, or accelerate the return of units that have been there recently. Temporarily increasing the force in Iraq by 20,000 is likely to require a combination of both. The Bush administration's surge could stress the Army and Marines to the breaking point.

For the individuals affected, extended tours and repeated deployments raise troubling mental-health concerns. Nearly 20 percent of Iraq veterans are already returning home with serious mental-health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries that may go undiagnosed.

An Army survey released last month suggests that such problems will increase as more soldiers are required to serve in Iraq longer than planned. Soldiers cited the length of deployment and family separation as the top non-combat sources of stress in their lives. Repeated deployments made things much worse; 18 percent of soldiers with at least one earlier deployment said they were under acute stress, compared with 12 percent of those who are on their first tour in Iraq.

The author of the piece is Cindy Williams, principal research scientist in the Security Studies Program at MIT and a co-editor of Service to Country: Personnel Policy and the Transformation of Western Militaries.

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