This weekend’s horrific massacre by a deranged American soldier in Afghanistan proves beyond doubt that we have strained our soldiers to the breaking point. We have abused them. We have taken their noblest intention to honorably serve our country and created an army of soldiers who are committing suicide, suffering severe psychological trauma, separating from their families, and committing crimes against others. We need to help these brave men and women as best as we can, immediately and without reserve, with an open pocket for the economic cost of the medical care they deserve. But we will continue to see their deterioration unless we change our military policy as well. Going forward, all military personnel should be required to serve for one deployment, and one deployment only.
As we now discover, the still unnamed shooter in Afghanistan was on his fourth deployment to combat, having served in Iraq three times. We also hear that he suffered a significant brain injury during one of those deployments, but was nevertheless cleared for combat duty again. Obviously, there was a miscalculation about this particular soldier. But in today’s military, there is a stigma associated with admitting psychological trauma. People are passed over for promotion, their careers permanently affected, their families not properly compensated for the resulting loss in income.
If we change the policy to one deployment only, we accomplish two important things. First, we greatly reduce the chance on an individual basis that someone will suffer severe psychological trauma, because the studies show that the more people are exposed to combat, the higher the likelihood of permanent mental damage. Second, we remove the career pressure for people to return to combat in order to be promoted within the military. By doing that, we allow our soldiers the time they need to heal from the psychic wounds suffered during their deployment, so they can recover and move on to other jobs within the service.
I am the mother of an 18 year old and a 24 year old. The last thing I wish to see is for this country to institute another draft. Nonetheless, I believe our current situation is unfair, disproportionately burdening a tiny percent of the population with the actual costs of warfare. While the rest of us have the luxury to open our big mouths about whether and when to wage war on other countries, only the people who serve and their families really understand the physical, emotional and psychological damage that always ensues.
If One Deployment Only results in fewer wars because we have fewer soldiers available to fight them, so much the better. If One Deployment Only results in increased pay and incentives for people to volunteer for the military, that seems like a fair bargain to me as well. Even if One Deployment Only results in a draft, at least all of us would have some skin in the game, likely resulting in fewer conflicts in which we place our sons and daughters directly in the aim of a bullet.
We have stowed our political ambitions on the backs of this small, brave military for far too long, conveniently ignoring the damage we have done. Let the Afghanistan Massacre serve as our wake-up call. We need to help our own people. One Deployment Only.