The Price of Unending War

 As retired Sergeant Major Samuel Rhodes spoke to the Rotary Club of Columbus about the U.S. Army’s suicide problem, I could not but help reflect on all of the costs of  being at war continually. 

Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes (retired)Sgt. Rhodes, who served for 30 months in Iraq and contemplated suicide himself, now works at Changing the Military Culture of Silence, the title of his book, in order to help soldiers cope with PTS, post traumatic stress. He says one in five combat veterans is diagnosed with PTS.  Many of them will contemplate suicide and the suicide rate keeps rising.  In the past the Army, he said, tried to sweep the problem under the rug, but that has changed.  The military’s top brass have praised him for his efforts in focusing on the military’s dealing with mental health issues. 

One of the reasons for the increase in suicides is extended deployments of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Nine years of wars, wars that most Americans basically ignore because they are being fought by less than one percent of the population, have put a tremendous strain on the Army. Instead of increasing the size of the Army, soldiers are given extended deployments keeping them away from their families for long periods of time. For one thing, this has put a strain on marriages.  Sgt. Rhodes said when he returned home with PTS after his last 18 months in Iraq, his marriage of 26 years ended, and he contemplated suicide himself.  Instead, though, according to an article in the National Journal, he is remarried, happily he says, and he and his first wife remain good friends, and he is dedicating his life to doing what he can to help soldiers with PTS and their families. 

It is good to know that the military is now openly facing and trying to do something about this problem, but, in my view,  all of its efforts at providing therapy will not get to its root, the practice of staying continually at war. The military can’t solve that one. Only the politicians can do something about that. 

Most Americans may be going about their daily lives giving little thought to the sacrifice that a very small percentage of the population is making, but whether they’re paying attention or not, these wars are still affecting them on a grand scale.  The price is very steep. 

More on this in future posts.

(The photograph was supplied by my friend and fellow Rotarian Jim Cawthorne of Camera1.)

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