First, President Bush says he wants to increase the Army and Marines by 92,000. John McCain promised 100,000. Then Barack Obama gets on board with his proposal to add 65,000 soldiers to the Army, and 27,000 Marines. “Bolstering these forces is about more than meeting quotas. We must recruit the very best and invest in their capacity to succeed,” he said in his 2007 Foreign Affairs treatise.
But no one — including President-elect Obama — has ever ventured beyond the rhetoric to explain how they would make it happen — how anybody could make that happen given the Army has already gone through all sorts of denigrating contortions to make its quarterly goals. And it generally has, painstakenly, achieved those quotas over the last few years — but at what price? We know all about the lowered standards, deceptive come-ons and the big-ticket incentives to bring new people in and retain the rest. But now the rest of the country is finding out what military families have known all along: that recruiters are killing themselves — in some cases literally — to come through on bringing in one, two kids a month. Recent reports indicate that men and women who have survived the terrors of multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home to the private hell of the recruiting office.
The Army has appointed a brigadier general to investigate allegations that commanders of a Houston-based recruiting battalion tried to cover up a toxic leadership climate and low morale after a recent string of suicides, according to a letter obtained Thursday by the Chronicle. (snip)
(Texas Republican Representative John) Cornyn had asked (Army Secretary Pete) Geren to appoint an independent investigator after he heard from numerous recruiters, and their relatives, who said they had direct knowledge of serious problems in the Houston battalion. They accused the unit’s leadership of attempting to block investigating officers from meeting with material witnesses and “strongly suggesting” to subordinate officers that they should avoid portraying the chain of command in an unfavorable light, even if it meant lying in statements to authorities.
Cornyn said the constituents who contacted him also accused the battalion’s senior leadership of mass punishment, organized hazing and humiliating “counseling sessions,” in which recruiters who fail to fill their monthly quotas are insulted and threatened with being kicked out of the Army. (snip)
Three of the five suicides in the Houston battalion occurred within the past year and a half.
In March 2007, 25-year-old Sgt. Nils Aron Andersson shot himself to death in a Houston parking garage. Andersson, a two-tour Iraq veteran, was assigned to the Houston battalion’s Rosenberg station.
On Aug. 9, Staff Sgt. Larry G. Flores Jr., 26, hanged himself in his garage. Six weeks later, Sgt. 1st Class Patrick G. Henderson, 35, hanged himself in a shed behind his house. Both he and Flores belonged to the battalion’s Tyler Company. (snip)
Houston-based recruiters say they’re encouraged by the general’s investigation, but so far there’s little evidence that all the attention will improve their daily lives in a job considered one of the toughest in the Army, especially during wartime.
The report suggests these rural East Texas recruiters didn’t have easy access to mental health care — a deadly problem for many veterans living outside big population centers nationwide.
Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Dykes worked under Flores and was friends with Henderson. A few months after their suicides, he still rarely leaves the office before 8 p.m.
A veteran of Afghanistan, Dykes said he has more trouble dealing with the long hours and pressures of recruiting than he did with the dangers of combat.
“I have high hopes for change in the lifestyle out here, but progress thus far makes that possibility seem bleak at best,” Dykes said.
As Obama begins to seek out the counsel of would-be foreign interventionists waiting patiently in the Democratic rushes for a seat at the table, I will be among many waiting to see how his promises to “rebuild” the military will be fulfilled. And how it will be fulfilled.