Friday, November 13, 2009

Reports Find Improvements, Challenges to Morale

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, psychological problems is at its lowest since 2004, while morale among military units in Afghanistan has fallen significantly over the past two years, according to Army reports released today. The two reports broadly find improved mental health conditions in Iraq, while morale and other indicative statistics concerning soldiers in Afghanistan were flat or showed signs of decline since similar data was compiled in 2007.

A top Army priority for improving conditions for the 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan is to raise the number of mental health providers from the current 43 to roughly 103, Army officials said today in a roundtable discussion at the Pentagon. About 230 mental health practitioners serve the 120,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.

About 12 percent of the roughly 2,500 U.S. soldiers surveyed in Iraq reported having mental health problems such as acute stress, depression and anxiety – which Army health officials say is significantly lower than every year of the six-year conflict except 2004. The study finds soldier suicides in Iraq did not increase for the first time since 2004, but suggests the war has had a negative impact on military families.

"These trends showed some positive changes, such as a greater percentage of soldiers reporting high or very high morale," said Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command. "But they also showed the degree to which the conflict has taken its toll on families, with more soldiers reporting potential plans to separate or divorce, and fewer reporting good marriages."

The data for the Iraq study, compiled by the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team, is based on surveys completed between December 2008 and March 2009. The team's report on Afghanistan is based on surveys filled out between April and June 2009 by about 1,550 deployed soldiers.

In both theaters of operation, soldiers continued to face stress resulting from multiple deployments, but report feeling more prepared for the stress.

"Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to face stress from multiple deployments into combat, but report being more prepared for the stresses of deployment," Schoomaker said.

In Afghanistan, soldiers reported higher combat exposure and lower unit morale compared to previous years. About 14 percent of combat soldiers surveyed met the criteria for behavioral health problems, a rate similar to that found in a 2007 report.

Additional findings in the Iraq report include:

-- Combat exposure levels were lower than every year except 2004.

-- Positive leadership was a key factor in resilient platoons.

-- Reports of marital problems have increased each year, with more than 16 percent reporting plans to separate or divorce.

-- Soldiers in "maneuver," or combat, units reported more barriers to care and higher stigma associated with seeking mental health care compared to the last assessment, while those in support or sustainment units reported lower barriers to care and lower stigma attached to seeking care.

Other findings of the Afghanistan survey included:

-- Junior enlisted soldiers reported significantly more marital problems than noncommissioned officers, stating an intention to seek divorce or suspecting their spouses of infidelity back home.

-- Exposure to combat, long recognized as a strong factor in mental health problems, was significantly higher this year than rates in 2005 and similar to rates in 2007 for the combat units.

-- Combat units reported significantly lower unit morale in the last six months of their tours of duty.

-- Troops in their third or fourth deployment reported significantly more acute stress and other psychological problems, and married soldiers among them reported significantly more marital problems compared to soldiers on their first or second deployment.

Guard Chief Calls Collaboration Vital

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 13, 2009 - Conflict might have been the 20th century norm, but collaboration is the nature of 21st century relationships between the National Guard and other components of the armed forces, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here this week. "There have always been challenges between the active component forces and the National Guard simply from where we come from culturally," Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley told the National Homeland Defense Foundation Symposium on Nov. 9. "But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina ... have brought us to a point where conflict no longer has a place."

Collaboration is vital in place of that conflict, the general said. "The governors need a strong, viable, relevant National Guard to protect their citizens at home, and the Army and the Air Force need a strong National Guard that can help alleviate the tempo on the active duty force," he said.

Leaders and policymakers will always debate the roles of the Guard and other components, McKinley said, but in a crisis, citizens care only about results.

"While those of us in D.C. and state capitals debate who's in charge, the men and women of the military – active, Guard and Reserve – focus on getting the job done and supporting the local officials who need help," McKinley said. "The 'Who's in Charge?' game seldom occurs on the ground, where the work is really getting done. We see this over and over again with no-notice incidents and cold-start events – Guard, civilian, local, state and federal responders all work closely together to get the job done."

Nevertheless – with the Quadrennial Defense Review and a presidential budget review in preparation for 2011 as background – there is a necessary debate about the Guard's exact role, McKinley said.

"This debate is passionate, and it's contentious, and there's good points to be made on both sides," he told the group.

The debate centers on two primary schools of thought, McKinley explained. "There's a primarily federal response to a disaster, ... and then there's the state or the regional approach, which, for 372 years, the National Guard has done well," he said. "It's a community-based force. It's dispersed. It's in the nation. It's out there every day and can be called upon when needed, and it's scalable to the disaster."

In about 95 percent of probable domestic disaster scenarios, the traditional National Guard response in support of civilian authorities works best, McKinley said. "Community-based forces have a familiarity with the local culture," he added. "They understand the importance of locally elected officials."

Besides, as a city public safety leader recently told McKinley during a domestic response exercise, "All events begin locally and they end locally."

What happens in between is what government must continue to focus on, the general said.

In a small number of scenarios, however, such as the use of a weapon of mass destruction in an American city, local assets may be rapidly overwhelmed, requiring an aggressive federal response, and a whole-of-government solution, McKinley said.

The general acknowledged that the debate about the balance between federal and state leadership that started with the writing of the Constitution is likely to continue indefinitely. But both sides of the debate recognize that collaboration is important, he added.

"We in the National Guard know that there must be unity of command," he said, "and the active component force knows that there must be unity of effort."

Regardless of exactly how specific policy debates are resolved, he said, the National Guard will form the core of any domestic response, and active-duty forces will be available to fill in the gaps and augment when needed.

"In the end," he said, "it's all about preserving the security and safety of our American way of life."

(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

Federal Officials Pledge Support for Hiring Veterans

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 12, 2009 - Senior federal officials today pledged their support of President Barack Obama's directive to increase the hiring of military veterans. Obama signed the executive order Nov. 9 that calls on each federal agency to establish a veterans' employment program office designed to help former servicemembers get through the maze of paperwork as they apply for federal positions. It also mandates that agencies train personnel specialists on veteran employment policies.

The order also directs federal agencies to work with the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to develop and apply technologies designed to help disabled veterans.

Earlier today, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis appeared at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event where she told civilian employers they should consider military veterans as employees of choice.

Solis said establishing a veterans' program office within most federal agencies is part of a program designed to transform the federal government into the model employer of America's veterans.

Later today, several senior government officials met with reporters during a press conference held at the Labor Department.

America owes a great debt to its military veterans, Veterans Affairs Deputy Sec. W. Scott Gould said at the press conference.

"We can reach out to them with something as simple, as pragmatic, as practical as a job; a good job in government," Gould said.

And, veterans' hard-won experience, he said, constitutes "an asset we can now bring into government."

It is imperative, Gould said, that government agencies assist veterans to become aware of government jobs, help veterans translate their military skills into civilian parlance, and to help them adjust to their new civilian environment.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry told reporters that the president directed him "to do right by our veterans."

America's veterans "are valued, they are experienced, and they are trained," Berry said. Consequently, he said, it would be foolish not to provide veterans with more opportunities to continue to serve in the federal workforce after military service.

"And so, we want to make sure that they know they are welcome and we will have a job for them," Berry said. "We will find one that matches their skills, their passions and their interests and their abilities."

After finding the right job, he said, each veteran will be mentored to help them adapt and transition into the civilian work culture so that they can succeed.

The government-wide Council on Veterans' Employment, chaired by Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, will play a key role in the veterans hiring program, Berry said.

Solis' and Shinseki's influence, vision and leadership will make the program a success, Berry said. This week, he said, OPM will release a list of the numbers of veterans working at federal agencies.

"And our goal is to have every one of those numbers increase, so that those percentages go up," Berry said.

The United States "arguably has the best-trained, best-equipped and best-led military force the world has ever seen," said Gail McGinn, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The president's veterans employment initiative "will showcase the leadership and technical skills our military members have to offer," McGinn said, and "will bring back that wonderful talent into our civilian workforce."

The Defense Department already is the largest federal employer of military veterans, McGinn noted. Today, about 342,000 defense civilians are veterans, she said, making up about 45 percent of the department's civilian workforce.

"I work side by side with veterans every day," McGinn said. The skills veterans learned in the service, she said, "serve them very, very well working within the Department of Defense."

The department has two Web sites that provide employment information for veterans, as well as a toll-free phone number where they can talk to career advisors, she said.

The department, McGinn said, also provides transition programs for separating military members that feature resume writing, skills assessments, interview-process training, and jobs-search techniques.

"We also provide special help to our wounded, ill and injured servicemembers whose careers have been cut short due to the injuries received in Iraq or Afghanistan," she said, through the "Hiring Heroes" career fairs. Thirty one of these career fairs, she said, have been run across the United States since 2005.

The largest of the fairs, conducted in June at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, attracted more than 570 job seekers, McGinn said.

The career fairs, she said, provide servicemembers, many of whom still are recovering from wounds, the opportunity to visit with potential employers, get on-the-spot interviews, and often, job offers.

"At DoD, we are extremely proud of our servicemembers and fully aware of the value that they bring to the federal government," McGinn said.

The interagency process launched by Obama's executive order "will clear a pathway for more federal jobs for our servicemembers," McGinn said, and "will allow them to look throughout the federal government to find the right fit and the best federal job for them."

The Department of Homeland Security's mission of securing the homeland requires dedicated people "willing to do whatever it really takes to get the job done," said Jeff Neal, DHS's chief human capital officer.

Military veterans, Neal said, have "all the types of qualifications that we are looking for in DHS, and they have proven time and time again, when their country has called on them, they are ready to respond."

Neal said his agency plans to employ 50,000 military veterans by 2012.

"We want to show the veterans of America that DHS is one of the places where you are welcome, where you are valued, where you can build a second career and continue your service to America," he said.

Did Diversity Enable Terror?

General George Casey, Jr., the Army Chief of Staff, on CNN commenting on the possibility of “backlash” against Muslim servicembers said, “It would be a shame, as great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.” While diversity shouldn’t be a casualty, there should be a deep conversation within our military leadership on what diversity is and is not.

Diversity does make organizations stronger. There is significant organizational theory which demonstrates that bringing new and/or different viewpoints into an organization and synthesizing those viewpoints creates a stronger organization. It’s very much like writing a solid academic paper - thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Simply put, by reconciling different cultures, viewpoints and opinions with the mainstream organizational norms and values, the organization is stronger.

However, every viewpoint simply can’t be reconciled. Having people of the mainstream Muslim faith in our military does make the organization stronger. Their points of view are slightly different than their Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters. It is the ability to reconcile these differences that make the Military stronger. As more and more information pours out it is clear that Major Hasan wasn’t just a devout Muslim; he was a Jihadist.

Major Hasan’s apparent Jihadist views are inconsistent with our Democracy and our Military. They can not be reconciled. One of the questions for our Military leaders may be how people in Major Hasan’s chain of command misused the concept of diversity and allowed Hasan to remain in our Army.

Yes, this is America and anyone can say just about anything they want. American’s can hold any viewpoint. But that doesn’t mean we have to let people in our house, our workplaces, or, our Military.

About the Author
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.) is Chair of the Criminal Justice Program at the Union Institute and University and the author of books such as Police Technology and Leadership: Texas Hold ‘em Style