This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
The Army has a battle on the horizon – but it’s on the home front, not in a war zone.
As U.S. forces leave Iraq and eventually also draw down in Afghanistan, the Army will have to confront a problem it’s put off for years: recruiting standards. Army leadership should already be planning their strategy.
In order to get enough recruits for fighting on two fronts, the Army chose to relax its standards – taking many enlistees who in years past wouldn’t have been accepted, ones with histories of drug use and other problems. In fact, an Army report released in July concludes that almost 20 percent of the soldiers who entered the Army since 2004 would not have been eligible for entry before. That’s nearly one in five.
Put people who already have problems into stressful situations – like extended, repeated deployments to a war zone – and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see higher suicide rates, drug use and serious lapses in discipline.
Army officials admit that they haven’t been able to take as much time as they’d like in dealing with soldiers’ emotional and behavioral problems and providing educational and leadership training because their main focus has been on getting them ready for combat.
That’s how it’s always been in time of war, but the Army needs to take steps to ensure that it gets back on track – and quickly. It must be done in a balanced way: by addressing troops’ drug use and psychological and behavioral problems – which may have been caused or exacerbated by tough deployments – but also by recognizing that separation from the Army may be the best answer in some cases.
Thousands of soldiers are coming home – at least 18,000 of them to the South Sound area. It’s in the Army’s best interest, as well as the civilian community’s, for the military to take an aggressively pro-active stance on behavior problems.
One positive step local Army officials are taking is having a military police officer work out of the Lakewood police headquarters on Friday and Saturday nights. As the returnee population starts maxing out, the Army should consider expanding that program, especially if nearby communities start experiencing more problems due to the influx.
The Army once had a slogan: “Be all that you can be.” As its war mission winds down, it must focus more holistically on soldiers, and help them become, indeed, all that they can be.