Our soldiers are still redeploying at a frenetic pace that cannot keep up with reality—and the cracks are showing.
I’ll admit I was taken aback. This senior officer and mentor—with nearly 28 years of military service—wasn’t one for hyperbole. No, he believed what he was saying to me just then.
“We’re killing these kids, we’re breaking the army!” he exclaimed.
He went on to explain the competing requirements for standard, conventional army units—to say nothing of the overstretched Special Forces—in 2018: balancingRussia in Eastern Europe, deterrence rotations in South Korea, advise and assistmissions in Africa. Add to that deployments to the usual hotspots in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He was genuinely concerned about the physical and emotional toll on the active-duty force, pushed to its limits by 17 years of perpetual combat. After all, with high military suicide rates now labeled the “new normal,” and a recent succession of accidental training deaths, it seems reasonable to wonder whether we are, indeed, “killing [our] kids.”
The overall effects of this rapid operations tempo on morale and readiness are difficult to measure in a disciplined, professional, all-volunteer military such as the one the United States possesses. What we do know is that despite former president Obama’s ongoing promises that “the tide of war is receding” and that America could finally “start nation-building at home,” nothing of the sort occurred then, or is now, under President Trump. Though the U.S. military (thankfully) no longer maintains six-figure troop counts in either Iraq or Afghanistan, American soldiers are still there, as well as serving in 70 percent of the world’s countries in one capacity or another in what has become a “generational war.” America’s troops are still being killed, though in admittedly fewer numbers. Nevertheless, U.S. servicemen continued to die in combat in several countries in 2017, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Niger.
After major drawdowns in Iraq (2011) and Afghanistan (2014), many soldiers, myself included, looked forward to longer “dwell time” at home stations and, just maybe, something resembling peace and even normalcy. It was not to be. Aside from deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, conventional U.S. Army brigades currently support regular overseas rotations to Kuwait, South Korea, and Eastern Europe. To use just one example, the 1st Armored Division webpage currently boasts that the division has soldiers supporting 20 missions on five continents. Of my three former classmates and colleagues in the West Point History Department (2014-2016), two are currently deployed: one in Romania, another to the ubiquitous Mid-East region. That’s just about as busy as we all were back in the bad old days of 2006-2007.