Army Suffering Drug Abuse and Crime

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A growing number of soldiers coming back from combat are turning to high-risk behavior, including drug abuse, drunken driving, motorcycle street-racing, petty crime, domestic violence, and suicide once they return home reports an internal study.

Because of this, more soldiers are dying by drug overdose, accident, murder and suicide than in combat. "Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy,'' concludes the extraordinary internal Army investigation commissioned by Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff.

The study discovered that leaders have lost visibility and accountability over their soldiers, in many cases unaware that soldiers under their command had abused drugs, committed crimes or even previously tried to commit suicide.

Those same themes are reflected dramatically in the case of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade of Fort Lewis, Washington, who are charged with the wanton murder of Afghan civilians in Kandahar last spring.

More and more questions are being asked as to how their commanders could have missed such warning signs as drug abuse. It has been reported that some of the soldiers were allegedly smoking hashish in their rooms.

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It appears the pressure is getting worse and over the next 12 months the Army plans to pull about 66,000 soldiers away from their homes and families and send them into combat in Afghanistan, many for the second or third time.

"The reality is that in the active-duty force, we have very few units in the 'available' pool who aren't heading somewhere,'' said Brig. Gen. Peter C. Bayer, director of strategy, plans and policy for the Army operations staff. "It should come as no secret,'' he added, "that when you run at the pace we're on, it comes at a cost.''

Today, over 100,000 soldiers are on prescribed anti-anxiety medication, and 40,000 are thought by the Army to be using drugs illicitly. With the pressing need for manpower, the Army has retained more than 25,000 soldiers who would otherwise have been discharged for misbehavior, including 1,000 soldiers with two or more felony convictions. Today's Army can't be choosey.

Besides suicides, the Army recorded 107 fatal accidents among its active-duty soldiers, and 50 murders, an ugly toll of 345 active-duty, non-combat deaths, about 100 more than were killed in combat in 2009.

Much of the stress soldiers endure could be alleviated by time away from combat. But soldiers of all ranks, the Army investigation found, don't have enough time at home between deployments to recover. "Each time I come back it takes longer to return to what my family and friends regard as normal,'' said Bayer, who completed three combat tours in Iraq and now works at the Pentagon. "I'd come home wound tight, and it's a cumulative effect.''

"This is uncharted territory,'' said Robert Scales, a retired major general. "We have no experiential data to tell us why anything causes emotional collapse after such enormous strain ... In some units, it's not about how many trips to the 'sand box' soldiers have made but the emotional wearing that comes from uncertainty and an overbearing sense of foreboding that all too often accompanies units as they deploy multiple times." He states, "Frankly, I am amazed that the Army and Marine Corps have held together for so long.''

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