Fighting the Longer War

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Fighting the Longer War


FOUR OR FIVE ONE-YEAR DEPLOYMENTS TO war zones have become the new normal for members of the U.S. Army. And their families have had to adjust to parents or spouses who are absent or are psychologically or physically transformed by the experience of combat. What should the Army do? In late April, the Woodrow Wilson Center's United States Studies program hosted a one-day conference devoted to such questions: "They Also Serve: Military Families and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Thanks to advances in medicine and emergency transport, Army fatalities have been fewer in Iraq and Afghanistan than in past wars of comparable duration, said Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Still, the difficulties facing the more than 20,000 soldiers who have been wounded in the two wars can be tremendous, and many veterans face brutal psychological struggles even if they return home physically intact. The chances of a noncommissioned officer experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder increase with ever?" deployment, with 12 percent exhibiting signs of PTSD after one tour, and 27 percent after three.

Family members naturally become the primary caretakers of soldiers who are healing from the wounds of war. Yet they may have trouble balancing the needs of the wounded with work, child-care commitments, and their own psychological turmoil. Audience member Kristy Kaufmann, a blonde, ponytailed Army wife of nine years, pointed out that while the Army can teach its recruits coping mechanisms, it has no comparable way to systematically reach their spouses and families. "One of my biggest concerns is that the military has relied on family members to take care of other family members, which will work--for one or two years of the war," she said. Now, "we're tired."

Jennifer Mittelstadt, a historian at Pennsylvania State University who studied military welfare as a 2008-09 Woodrow Wilson Center fellow, confirmed Kaufmann's impression, arguing that the catch phrase "The Army takes care of its own" is historically inaccurate when applied to military families. …

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