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History > 2009 > USA > War > Pentagon (I)

 

 

 

Vivienne Flesher

Troubled Minds and Purple Hearts

NYT

26 January 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/opinion/26boudreau.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pentagon Plans New Arm

to Wage Wars in Cyberspace

 

May 29, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER
and THOM SHANKER

 

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon plans to create a new military command for cyberspace, administration officials said Thursday, stepping up preparations by the armed forces to conduct both offensive and defensive computer warfare.

The military command would complement a civilian effort to be announced by President Obama on Friday that would overhaul the way the United States safeguards its computer networks.

Mr. Obama, officials said, will announce the creation of a White House office — reporting to both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council — that will coordinate a multibillion-dollar effort to restrict access to government computers and protect systems that run the stock exchanges, clear global banking transactions and manage the air traffic control system.

White House officials say Mr. Obama has not yet been formally presented with the Pentagon plan. They said he would not discuss it Friday when he announced the creation of a White House office responsible for coordinating private-sector and government defenses against the thousands of cyberattacks mounted against the United States — largely by hackers but sometimes by foreign governments — every day.

But he is expected to sign a classified order in coming weeks that will create the military cybercommand, officials said. It is a recognition that the United States already has a growing number of computer weapons in its arsenal and must prepare strategies for their use — as a deterrent or alongside conventional weapons — in a wide variety of possible future conflicts.

The White House office will be run by a “cyberczar,” but because the position will not have direct access to the president, some experts said it was not high-level enough to end a series of bureaucratic wars that have broken out as billions of dollars have suddenly been allocated to protect against the computer threats.

The main dispute has been over whether the Pentagon or the National Security Agency should take the lead in preparing for and fighting cyberbattles. Under one proposal still being debated, parts of the N.S.A. would be integrated into the military command so they could operate jointly.

Officials said that in addition to the unclassified strategy paper to be released by Mr. Obama on Friday, a classified set of presidential directives is expected to lay out the military’s new responsibilities and how it coordinates its mission with that of the N.S.A., where most of the expertise on digital warfare resides today.

The decision to create a cybercommand is a major step beyond the actions taken by the Bush administration, which authorized several computer-based attacks but never resolved the question of how the government would prepare for a new era of warfare fought over digital networks.

It is still unclear whether the military’s new command or the N.S.A. — or both — will actually conduct this new kind of offensive cyberoperations.

The White House has never said whether Mr. Obama embraces the idea that the United States should use cyberweapons, and the public announcement on Friday is expected to focus solely on defensive steps and the government’s acknowledgment that it needs to be better organized to face the threat from foes attacking military, government and commercial online systems.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has pushed for the Pentagon to become better organized to address the security threat.

Initially at least, the new command would focus on organizing the various components and capabilities now scattered across the four armed services.

Officials declined to describe potential offensive operations, but said they now viewed cyberspace as comparable to more traditional battlefields.

“We are not comfortable discussing the question of offensive cyberoperations, but we consider cyberspace a war-fighting domain,“ said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. “We need to be able to operate within that domain just like on any battlefield, which includes protecting our freedom of movement and preserving our capability to perform in that environment.”

Although Pentagon civilian officials and military officers said the new command was expected to initially be a subordinate headquarters under the military’s Strategic Command, which controls nuclear operations as well as cyberdefenses, it could eventually become an independent command.

“No decision has been made,” said Lt. Col. Eric Butterbaugh, a Pentagon spokesman. “Just as the White House has completed its 60-day review of cyberspace policy, likewise, we are looking at how the department can best organize itself to fill our role in implementing the administration’s cyberpolicy.”

The creation of the cyberczar’s office inside the White House appears to be part of a significant expansion of the role of the national security apparatus there. A separate group overseeing domestic security, created by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks, now resides within the National Security Council. A senior White House official responsible for countering the proliferation of nuclear and unconventional weapons has been given broader authority. Now, cybersecurity will also rank as one of the key threats that Mr. Obama is seeking to coordinate from the White House.

The strategy review Mr. Obama will discuss on Friday was completed weeks ago, but delayed because of continuing arguments over the authority of the White House office, and the budgets for the entire effort.

It was kept separate from the military debate over whether the Pentagon or the N.S.A. is best equipped to engage in offensive operations. Part of that debate hinges on the question of how much control should be given to American spy agencies, since they are prohibited from acting on American soil.

“It’s the domestic spying problem writ large,” one senior intelligence official said recently. “These attacks start in other countries, but they know no borders. So how do you fight them if you can’t act both inside and outside the United States?”

 

John Markoff contributed reporting from San Francisco.

    Pentagon Plans New Arm to Wage Wars in Cyberspace, NYT, 29.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/us/politics/29cyber.html

 

 

 

 

 

$296 Billion in Overruns

in U.S. Weapons Programs

 

March 31, 2009
Thez New York Times
By CHRISTOPHER DREW

 

Nearly 70 percent of the Pentagon’s 96 largest weapons programs were over budget last year, for a combined total of $296 billion more than the original estimates, a Congressional auditing agency reported Monday.

The findings, compiled by the Government Accountability Office, seemed likely to add to the pressure on officials to make sizable cuts in the most troubled programs as they work out the details of a proposed $664 billion defense budget for fiscal 2010.

President Obama has said that the “days of giving defense contractors a blank check are over.” Pentagon officials have said they will finish putting together a list of proposed cuts in April.

In a letter to Congress, Gene L. Dodaro, the acting comptroller general for the G.A.O., an auditing agency, said that while there had been modest improvements in the last year, the Pentagon’s management of the contracts remained poor, and cost overruns were “still staggering.”

The accountability office reported that the programs were behind schedule by an average of 22 months, up from 21 months last year and 18 months in 2003.

The office had previously said that the cost of a similar portfolio of programs had risen by $295 billion through 2007, or $301 billion when adjusted for inflation.

In the report released on Monday, the G.A.O. said the Pentagon often had to reduce the number of planes and ships it could buy.

The report said, for instance, that the cost of 10 of the largest weapons systems was running 32 percent higher than projected, and the quantities that could be purchased had been cut.

Some programs, like the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet and the Army’s Future Combat System, are among the systems that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he is scrutinizing.

According to the G.A.O., the F-22, which was designed in the 1980s, was originally expected to cost $88 billion in 2009 dollars for 648 planes. The program is now expected to cost $73.7 billion for the 184 planes.

Some military analysts say they believe that Mr. Gates will recommend canceling the plane, or buying fewer planes than the Air Force wants.

But the G.A.O. also said the Pentagon had done a better job of managing some newer programs.

In a response to the office, John J. Young Jr., the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, said department officials had “instituted several major changes that are beginning to show results.”

Mr. Young also noted that in some cases, the cost growth was not a result of overruns but of program expansions. And in others, delays were ordered by top Pentagon officials or Congress as part of budgeting trade-offs.

    $296 Billion in Overruns in U.S. Weapons Programs, NYT, 31.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/business/31defense.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Editorial

Watershed Moment on Nuclear Arms

 

March 25, 2009
The New York Times
 

During the 2008 campaign, President Obama promised to deal with one of the world’s great scourges — thousands of nuclear weapons still in the American and Russian arsenals. He said he would resume arms-control negotiations — the sort that former President George W. Bush disdained — and seek deep cuts in pursuit of an eventual nuclear-free world. There is no time to waste.

In less than nine months, the 1991 Start I treaty expires. It contains the basic rules of verification that give both Moscow and Washington the confidence that they know the size and location of the other’s nuclear forces.

The Bush administration made little effort to work out a replacement deal. So we are encouraged that American and Russian officials seem to want a new agreement. Given the many strains in the relationship, it will take a strong commitment from both sides, and persistent diplomacy, to get one in time.

When President Obama meets Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, in London on April 1, the two should commit to begin talks immediately and give their negotiators a deadline for finishing up before Dec. 5. For that to happen, the Senate must quickly confirm Mr. Obama’s negotiator, Rose Gottemoeller, so she can start work.

Mr. Bush and then-President Vladimir Putin signed only one arms-control agreement in eight years. It allowed both sides to keep between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed warheads. Further cuts — 1,000 each makes sense for the next phase — would send a clear message to Iran, North Korea and other wannabes that the world’s two main nuclear powers are placing less value on nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev should also pledge that these negotiations are just a down payment on a more ambitious effort to reduce their arsenals and rid the world of nuclear weapons. The next round should aim to bring Britain, France and China into the discussions. In time, they will have to cajole and wrestle India, Pakistan and Israel to the table as well.

There is a lot President Obama can do right now to create momentum for serious change. We hope his expected speech on nuclear weapons next month is bold.

He can start by unilaterally taking all of this country’s nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert. He should also commit to eliminating the 200 to 300 short-range nuclear weapons this country still has deployed in Europe. That would make it much easier to challenge Russia to reduce its stockpile of at least 3,000 short-range weapons. These arms are unregulated by any treaty and are far too vulnerable to theft.

Mr. Obama must also declare his commitment to include all nuclear weapons in negotiated reductions — including thousands of warheads that are now held in reserve and excluded from cuts. And he must make good on promises to press the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (opponents are already quietly organizing) and the international community to adopt a pact ending production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

Mr. Obama must reaffirm his campaign pledge to transform American nuclear policy that is still mired in cold war thinking. His administration’s nuclear review is due by year’s end. It must make clear that this country has nuclear weapons solely to deter a nuclear attack — and that this administration’s goal is to keep as few as possible as safely as possible. The review must also state clearly that the country has no need for a new nuclear weapon and will not build any.

Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia and the United States together still have more than 20,000 nuclear weapons. It is time to focus on the 21st-century threats: states like Iran building nuclear weapons and terrorists plotting to acquire their own. Until this country convincingly redraws its own nuclear strategy and reduces its arsenal, it will not have the credibility and political weight to confront those threats.

    Watershed Moment on Nuclear Arms, NYT, 25.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/opinion/25wed1.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Officials:

Pentagon OKs

Media Photos of War Dead

 

February 26, 2009
Filed at 12:57 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- News organizations will be allowed to photograph the homecomings of America's war dead under a new Pentagon policy, defense and congressional officials said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to allow photos of flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base, Del., if the families of the fallen troops agree, the officials told The Associated Press.

Gates planned to announce his decision later Thursday, they said. The current ban was put in place in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.

At least two Democratic senators have called on President Barack Obama to let news photographers attend ceremonies at the air base and other military facilities when military remains are returned to the United States. The Dover base is where casualties are brought before they are transferred on to the hometowns of their families.

Gates told reporters earlier this month that he was reviewing the policy and that if the needs of the families could be met, and the privacy concerns could be addressed, he favored honoring fallen troops as much as possible.

Gates said he initially asked for the ban to be reviewed a year ago, and was advised then that family members might feel uncomfortable with opening the ceremonies to media for privacy reasons or that the relatives might feel pressure to attend the services despite financial stresses.

Shortly after Obama took office, Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey also asked the White House to roll back the 1991 ban.

Over the years, some exceptions to the policy were made, allowing the media to photograph coffins in some cases, until the administration of President George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A leading military families group has said that the policy, enforced without exception during George W. Bush's presidency, should be changed so that survivors of the dead can decide whether photographers can record their return.

As of Wednesday, at least 4,251 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

As of Tuesday, at least 584 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. The department last updated its figures Friday at 10 a.m. EST.

    Officials: Pentagon OKs Media Photos of War Dead, NYT, 26.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/26/us/AP-Pentagon-War-Dead.html

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

The Hearts and Minds of Soldiers
 

January 28, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

Re “Troubled Minds and Purple Hearts,” by Tyler E. Boudreau (Op-Ed, Jan. 26):

A medal for post-traumatic stress disorder would help those veterans who have the condition, although few would wear it with pride.

Until recently, PTSD was a stigmatized status equated with cowardice or lack of resilience or, even worse, with malingering to escape service or to receive unmerited compensation.

Now there is growing recognition of the medical reality of PTSD, including brain scans showing altered function. The syndrome affects high numbers of combatants. It is unreasonable to judge these men and women by the relatively few malingerers and exaggerators.

At last, the true suffering from PTSD is acknowledged. This recognition helps veterans, family members, doctors and therapists attend to the injury and its consequences.

The Purple Heart should remain an emblem for service on the battlefield resulting in obvious injury. But veterans deserve a separate symbol for hidden wounds that are honorably earned and equally disabling. Frank M. Ochberg

Okemos, Mich., Jan. 26, 2009

The writer, a psychiatrist, is the editor of “Post-traumatic Therapy and Victims of Violence” and former associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health.



To the Editor:

“Troubled Minds and Purple Hearts” is definitely a step in the right direction in one sense. Movingly and persuasively written by Tyler E. Boudreau, a former marine, it advocates for an alternative medal to the Purple Heart for those have suffered the hidden wounds of war trauma.

But from a psychological standpoint, Mr. Boudreau then takes a half step backward when he suggests giving what he calls a “Black Heart.” When he says “the hearts of these soldiers are black,” he is suggesting something negative, dark and associated with death. That may only add to the stigma of mental illness that has led to this conundrum.

Why not refer to the “minds” noted in the title of his article? How about a “Mind Medal” in honor of the damage that can’t be physically seen, to be given out in May, our Mental Health Month? There indeed can be light at the end of this dark tunnel.

H. Steven Moffic

Milwaukee, Jan. 27, 2009

The writer, a psychiatrist, is a professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin.



To the Editor:

Tyler E. Boudreau’s article is so cogent: “That far too many of those returning from combat experience deep and long-lasting devastation is irrefutable.”

I would remind readers of the cost of post-traumatic stress to our society, of which suicide is the most tragic and devastating, but also including divorce, physical and emotional abuse, substance abuse and addictions — a terrible toll to us all. Susan Woodall

Managing Director

Connecticut Mental Health

Center Foundation

New Haven, Jan. 27, 2009



To the Editor:

Re “Troubled Minds and Purple Hearts” and “Counting the Walking Wounded,” by Lawrence M. Wein (Op-Ed, Jan. 26):

Let us not forget another group of victims deeply affected by the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress — the children and spouses of the returning soldiers. Not only should every soldier be screened for PTSD, but the families (particularly children) should also be educated about and treated for its effect on them. Carolina Nadel

Arlington, Va., Jan. 26, 2009

The writer is a medical doctor and a children’s book writer-illustrator who is working on a picture book to help children cope with parents returning from war with PTSD.




To the Editor:

Lawrence M. Wein’s Op-Ed article was well written regarding our war veterans’ health needs and statistical data. The central question that was not directly addressed is, Where is the money to finance the program in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s?

As a creator of the 2008 State of California Bill SB 1401 (screening and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress) of our Iraq- Afghanistan war veterans, I strongly recommend that the medical institutions in the 50 states start the health care process.

Then, those vets who have the medical illness would be directly referred to V.A. hospitals for treatment.

The key to financing this needed health care is to connect the dots and overcome the academic bureaucracy.

Jerome V. Blum

Los Altos Hills, Calif., Jan. 26, 2009

The writer is a medical doctor.

    The Hearts and Minds of Soldiers, NYT, 28.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/opinion/l28heart.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Contributor

Troubled Minds and Purple Hearts

 

January 26, 2009
Northampton, Mass.
By TYLER E. BOUDREAU

 

THE Pentagon’s recent decision not to award the Purple Heart to veterans and soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress has caused great controversy. Historically, the medal has gone only to those who have been physically wounded on the battlefield as a result of enemy action. But with approximately one-third of veterans dealing with symptoms of combat stress or major depression, many Americans are disappointed with the Pentagon’s decision; many more are downright appalled. As a former Marine infantry officer and Iraq war veteran, I would urge the Pentagon to consider a different solution altogether.

First, let me say that both sides of the Purple Heart debate have expressed some reasonable concerns. Those who believe that the Purple Heart should be reserved strictly for the physically wounded hold a more traditional sense of the battlefield in which wounds are bloody and undeniable. The gashes of war carry an irrevocable purity that tends to make the issue concrete and uncomplicated.

And yet there have been complications. During the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry’s Purple Hearts, awarded for his service in Vietnam, were labeled by his opponents “purple owies” because the wounds he suffered were not considered dire enough. It was a petty episode, to be sure, but it demonstrated the disparate views of this medal. In the interests of guarding the nobility of the Purple Heart, many service members, including me, have suggested that not every last physical wound merits a decoration.

When I was in Iraq, the most common wound behind the many Purple Hearts we awarded was the “perforated eardrum,” an eardrum punctured by the concussion of a nearby explosion. In the vast majority of cases, no blood was ever shed. Seldom did these marines ever miss a day of full duty. And yet they were all awarded the coveted medal.

Admittedly, I was dubious about the “recognition” of these and other lesser wounds; I felt that in a way they subverted the obvious intent of the Purple Heart — honoring soldiers who have been seriously hurt. But where to draw the line? Perhaps it should be awarded only to those who required admittance into a combat support hospital. “The Purple Heart deserves at least one night out of action,” I argued at the time. But my own commander stood fast by the rules, affirming: “A combat wound is a combat wound, no matter how small. So they get the medal.”

A year later, back at Camp Lejeune, N.C., I was making calls to the families of wounded marines — a difficult duty even when the wounds were minor. But I noticed during that time that I never once made a call to a family about a marine’s psychological wounds. I never got a casualty report for post-traumatic stress, despite the rising number of veteran suicides. Never once.

Why, I asked myself, if a combat wound is a combat wound no matter how small, shouldn’t those people suffering from the “invisible wounds” of post-traumatic stress also receive the Purple Heart? Difficulty of diagnosis is one of the central justifications the Pentagon has given, citing the concern that fakers will tarnish the medal’s image. Spilt blood cannot be faked.

But this seems an unconvincing argument not to honor those who actually do suffer from post-traumatic stress. For example, the possibility of fakers has not prevented the Department of Veterans Affairs from awarding disability payments to service members who have received a diagnosis. Why should the military itself be different?

The distinction, I suspect, lies in the deep-seated attitude toward psychological wounds. It is still difficult for many members of the military to truly believe that post-traumatic stress is, in fact, an injury and not the result of a weak or dysfunctional brain. The same culture that demands tough-mindedness also encourages skepticism toward the suggestion that the violence of war can hurt the healthiest of minds.

Still, almost all service members agree that veterans suffering from confirmed cases of post-traumatic stress should be cared for. The reality of psychological wounds is becoming harder and harder to deny. That post-traumatic stress can lead to suicide is no longer in question. That far too many of those returning from combat experience deep and long-lasting devastation is irrefutable.

So why not recognize the struggles of these many individuals with a medal? Why, for instance, if a veteran has been given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress and awarded benefits, should he not also be awarded a Purple Heart? Sadly, as long as our military culture bears at least a quiet contempt for the psychological wounds of war, it is unlikely those veterans will ever see a Purple Heart. That is too bad, I think, because they do deserve all the honor the physically wounded receive.

But there may be another solution — perhaps a new decoration, a new medal, could be established specifically for those suffering from post-traumatic stress. It would be awarded to those whose minds and souls have been sundered by war.

I urge General Eric Shinseki, the new head of Veterans Affairs and former Army Chief of Staff, to work hand in hand with the Defense Department to bring about some form of official recognition for these wounded veterans. The current stigma of post-traumatic stress would likely prevent many soldiers from wearing the medal initially, but its mere existence would help crystallize in the American — and the American military — consciousness one of the more obscure human costs of war.

I suggest we call this medal the Black Heart. Certainly the hearts of these soldiers are black, with the terrible things they saw and did on the battlefield. Certainly the country should see these Black Hearts pinned on their chests.



Tyler E. Boudreau, a former Marine captain, is the author of “Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine.”

    Troubled Minds and Purple Hearts, NYT, 26.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/opinion/26boudreau.html

 

 

 

 

 

More Joining American Military

as Jobs Dwindle

 

January 19, 2009
The New York Times
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ

 

As the number of jobs across the nation dwindles, more Americans are joining the military, lured by a steady paycheck, benefits and training.

The last fiscal year was a banner one for the military, with all active-duty and reserve forces meeting or exceeding their recruitment goals for the first time since 2004, the year that violence in Iraq intensified drastically, Pentagon officials said.

And the trend seems to be accelerating. The Army exceeded its targets each month for October, November and December — the first quarter of the new fiscal year — bringing in 21,443 new soldiers on active duty and in the reserves. December figures were released last week.

Recruiters also report that more people are inquiring about joining the military, a trend that could further bolster the ranks. Of the four armed services, the Army has faced the toughest recruiting challenge in recent years because of high casualty rates in Iraq and long deployments overseas. Recruitment is also strong for the Army National Guard, according to Pentagon figures. The Guard tends to draw older people.

“When the economy slackens and unemployment rises and jobs become more scarce in civilian society, recruiting is less challenging,” said Curtis Gilroy, the director of accession policy for the Department of Defense.

Still, the economy alone does not account for the military’s success in attracting more recruits. The recent decline in violence in Iraq has “also had a positive effect,” Dr. Gilroy said.

Another lure is the new G. I. Bill, which will significantly expand education benefits. Beginning this August, service members who spend at least three years on active duty can attend any public college at government expense or apply the payment toward tuition at a private university. No data exist yet, but there has traditionally been a strong link between increased education benefits and new enlistments.

The Army and Marine Corps have also added more recruiters to offices around the country in the past few years, increased bonuses and capitalized on an expensive marketing campaign.

The Army has managed to meet its goals each year since 2006, but not without difficulty.

As casualties in Iraq mounted, the Army began luring new soldiers by increasing signing bonuses for recruits and accepting a greater number of people who had medical and criminal histories, who scored low on entrance exams and who failed to graduate from high school.

The recession has provided a jolt for the Army, which hopes to decrease its roster of less qualified applicants in the coming year. It also has helped ease the job of recruiters who face one of the most stressful assignments in the military. Recruiters must typically talk to 150 people before finding one person who meets military qualifications and is interested in enlisting. Dr. Gilroy said the term “all-volunteer force” should really be “an all-recruited force.”

Now, at least, the pool has widened. Recruiting offices are reporting a jump in the number of young men and women inquiring about joining the service in the past three months.

As a rule, when unemployment rates climb so do military enlistments. In November, the Army recruited 5,605 active-duty soldiers, 6 percent more than its target, and the Army Reserve signed up 3,270 soldiers, 16 percent more than its goal. December, when the jobless rate reached 7.2 percent, saw similar increases in recruitments.

“They are saying, ‘There are no jobs, no one is hiring,’ or if someone is hiring they are not getting enough hours to support their families or themselves,” said Sgt. First Class Phillip Lee, 41, the senior recruiter in the Army office in Bridgeport, Conn.

The Bridgeport recruitment center is not exactly a hotbed for enlistments. But Sergeant Lee said it had signed up more than a dozen people since October, which is above average.

He said he had been struck by the number of unemployed construction workers and older potential recruits — people in their 30s and beyond — who had contacted him to explore the possibility. The Army age limit is 42, which was raised from 35 in 2006 to draw more applicants.

“Some are past the age limit, and they come in and say, ‘Will the military take me now?’ ” Sergeant Lee said. “They are having trouble finding well-paying jobs.”

Of the high school graduates, a few told him recently that they had to scratch college plans because they could not get students loans or financial aid. The new G. I. bill is an especially attractive incentive for that group.

The Army Reserve and the National Guard have also received a boost from people eager to supplement their falling incomes.

Sean D. O’Neil, a 22-year-old who stood shivering outside an Army recruitment office in St. Louis, said he was forgoing plans to become a guitar maker for now, realizing that instruments are seen as a luxury during a recession. Mr. O’Neil, a Texas native, ventured to St. Louis for an apprenticeship but found himself $30,000 in debt. Joining the Army, his Plan B, was a purely financial decision. With President-elect Barack Obama in office, he expects the troop levels in Iraq to be lowered.

Going to war, although likely, feels safer to him. “I’m doing this for eight years,” he said. “Hopefully, when I get out, I’ll have all my fingers and toes and arms, and the economy will have turned around, and I’ll have a little egg to start up my own guitar line.”

Ryen Trexler, 21, saw the recession barreling toward him as he was fixing truck tires for Allegheny Trucks in Altoona, Pa. By last summer, his workload had dropped from fixing 10 to 15 tires a day to mending two to four, or sometimes none. As the new guy on the job, he knew he would be the first to go.

He quit and signed up for the Jobs Corps Center in Pittsburgh, a federal labor program that would pay for two years of training, figuring he would learn to be a heavy equipment operator. When a local Army recruiter walked into the center, his pitch hit a nerve. Mr. Trexler figured he could earn more money and learn leadership skills in the Army. Just as important, he could ride out the recession for four years and walk out ready to work in civilian construction.

Although the other branches of the military have not struggled as much as the Army to recruit, they, too, are attracting people who would not ordinarily consider enlisting.

Just a few months ago, Guy Derenoncourt was working as an equity trader at a boutique investment firm in New York. Then the equity market fell apart and he quit.

Last week, he enlisted for a four-year stint in the Navy, a military branch he chose because it would keep him out of Afghanistan and offer him a variety of aviation-related jobs.

“I really had no intention to join if it weren’t for the financial turmoil, because I was doing quite well,” Mr. Derenoncourt, 25, said, adding that a sense of patriotism made it an easier choice.

The Army has struggled to attract the same caliber of enlistee that it did before the war. In 2003, 94 percent of new active-duty recruits had high school degrees. Last year, the number increased slightly from 2007, but it was still 82 percent. The percentage of new recruits who score poorly on the military entrance exam also remains comparatively high. The same is true for enlistees who need permission to enter the military for medical or “moral” reasons, typically misdemeanor juvenile convictions. Last year, 21.5 percent of the 80,000 new recruits in the Army required a so-called medical or moral waiver, 2 percent higher than in 2006. Fewer recruits needed waivers for felony convictions, though, compared with 2007.



Malcolm Gay and Sean Hamill contributed reporting.

    More Joining American Military as Jobs Dwindle, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/us/19recruits.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Purple Heart Is Ruled Out

for Traumatic Stress

 

January 8, 2009
The New York Times
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
and ERIK ECKHOLM

 

The Pentagon has decided that it will not award the Purple Heart, the hallowed medal given to those wounded or killed by enemy action, to war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because it is not a physical wound.

The decision, made public on Tuesday, for now ends the hope of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have the condition and believed that the Purple Hearts could honor their sacrifice and help remove some of the stigma associated with the condition.

The disorder, which may go unrecognized for months or years, can include recurring nightmares, uncontrolled rage and, sometimes, severe depression and suicide. Soldiers grappling with PTSD are often unable to hold down jobs.

In May, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said awarding Purple Hearts to such service members was “clearly something that needs to be looked at,” after he toured a mental health center at Fort Bliss, Tex.

But a Pentagon advisory group decided against the award because, it said, the condition had not been intentionally caused by enemy action, like a bomb or bullet, and because it remained difficult to diagnose and quantify.

“Historically, the Purple Heart has never been awarded for mental disorders or psychological conditions resulting from witnessing or experiencing traumatic combat events,” said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Current medical knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as would be required for this award at this time.”

One in five service members, or at least 300,000, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, according to a Rand Corporation study in 2008.

For some soldiers suffering from the disorder, the historical distinction between blood and no blood in an injury fails to recognize the depths of their mental scars. A modern war — one fought without safe havens and with the benefit of improved armor — calls for a new definition of injuries, some veterans say.

Kevin Owsley, 47, who served in the Ohio National Guard in 2004 as a gunner on a Humvee and who is being treated for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, said he disagreed with the Pentagon’s ruling.

Unable to hold a job, Mr. Owsley supports his family on disability payments. This week he told his Veterans Affairs doctor he was fighting back suicidal impulses, something he has struggled with since his return. “You relive it every night and every day,” he said. “You dream about it. You can see it, taste it, see people getting killed constantly over and over.”

“It is a soldier’s injury,” he said, angrily, in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

But many soldiers do not feel that way. In online debates and interviews they expressed concern that the Purple Heart would be awarded to soldiers who faked symptoms to avoid combat or receive a higher disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I’m glad they finally got something right,” said Jeremy Rausch, an Army staff sergeant who saw some of the Iraq War’s fiercest fighting in Adhamiya in 2006 and 2007. “PTSD can be serious, but there is absolutely no way to prove that someone truly is suffering from it or faking it.”

The Purple Heart in its modern form was established by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1932. Some 1.7 million service members have received the medal, and, as of last August, 2,743 service members who served in Afghanistan and 33,923 who fought in Iraq had received the award.

The medal entitles veterans to enhanced benefits, including exemptions from co-payments for veterans hospital and outpatient care and gives them higher priority in scheduling appointments.

The Pentagon left open the possibility that it could revisit the issue.

But a Pentagon-supported service group, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, has strongly opposed expanding the definition to include psychological symptoms, saying it would “debase” the honor.

“Would you award it to anyone who suffered the effects of chemicals or for other diseases and illnesses?” John E. Bircher III, director of public relations for the group, said Wednesday. “How far do you want to take it?”

Post-traumatic stress disorder was first identified during the Vietnam War and has gradually been accepted as a serious psychological problem for some who experience violence and fear.

Dr. Barbara V. Romberg, a psychologist in Bethesda, Md., and founder of Give an Hour, which offers mental health services to troops and their families, said that she and many other psychologists believed the discussion of Purple Hearts had brought more attention to post-traumatic stress disorder and the seriousness of psychological wounds suffered on the battlefield.

“We’re working to normalize post-traumatic stress as an understandable human consequence of war that can result in very serious damage to some people’s lives, and they deserve honoring for that,” she said.

“But I don’t want to be so quick to condemn the decision,” she added.

Many have post-traumatic stress, but only some develop a serious lasting disorder; in both cases, she said, “people deserve to be honored in some way for the injury they received in combat.”

After years of criticism for ignoring the problem, the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have bolstered their capacity to diagnose and treat PTSD, and those with serious cases may receive substantial disability benefits. Some of those suffering from severe traumatic brain injuries qualify for a Purple Heart because they required medical treatment.

But in its decision not to extend Purple Hearts to PTSD sufferers, first reported Tuesday by Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon said part of the problem stemmed from the difficulty in objectively diagnosing the disorder.

That decision was made in November. It was not clear why the Pentagon did not announce the decision then.

There have been recent changes in awarding Purple Hearts. The criteria was expanded in 2008 to include all prisoners of war who died in captivity, including those who were tortured. “There were wounds there,” Mr. Bircher said.

“You have to had shed blood by an instrument of war at the hands of the enemy of the United States,” he said. “Shedding blood is the objective.”

    Purple Heart Is Ruled Out for Traumatic Stress, NYT, 8.1.2009,http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/us/08purple.html