The horrifying tragedy of the American soldier who is accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians raises serious questions about the U.S. Military’s awareness, monitoring and understanding of how troops are faring under the unimaginable stresses of combat.
Sgt. Robert Bales served three tours of duty in Iraq and suffered multiple wounds. He suffered a serious concussion during a vehicle crash during one tour, part of his foot was blown off during another attack.
On the day of the massacre he reportedly witnessed a fellow soldier’s leg get blown off. There are reports he was having marital and financial difficulties at home. He had enlisted after 9/11 and had been decorated numerous times.
On this, his fourth tour of duty, what kind of screening did he receive to make sure the stresses he had already lived through would not overwhelm him?
According to data from the U.S. Army Public Health Command, suicides among military personnel have risen 80 percent since the 2003 start of the Iraq conflict. In 2007 and 2008, 255 troops took their own lives.
Those of us who have not served and been in combat cannot possibly understand what our men and women in uniform have lived through. But this latest tragedy and the rising suicide figures suggest we are failing them when it comes to making sure that mentally our soldiers are fit to serve and eventually return to civilian life.