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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign

Chapter 13
Taking Care of Soldiers

Since the advent of the all-volunteer military in 1973, the US Army has continually, and with good reason, asserted that its Soldiers are its “greatest asset.” The American way of war has traditionally included overwhelming logistics support and a high level of care for a Soldier’s personal welfare, morale, and health to generate tremendous staying power and effectiveness in battle. Thus, American Soldiers have enjoyed a level of support that is the envy of every other nation in peace and in war. Additionally, the belief that while the Army may “enlist a Soldier, it retains a family” has driven the Army to extend that same level of support to Soldiers’ families. The American people have also shown a great interest in the conditions in which its Soldiers live and fight.

Medical care for troops deployed during operations is, of course, the most important aspect of taking care of Soldiers. In the last half of the 20th century, high-quality food service, vaccines, routine health care, and field-sanitation practices reduced disease related deaths to almost zero. In World War I, by contrast, more US Army Soldiers died of disease and other causes than by wounds they suffered in combat. The tactical superiority of Army Soldiers and units, combined with vastly improved personal protective equipment and advanced battlefield first aid, has driven casualty rates to historic lows. US Soldiers hit by enemy fire during the first 18 months of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) had greater than a 90-percent survival rate, and for those who reached advanced medical treatment, the survival rate was over 97 percent.1 Advances in trauma medicine during OIF have saved many lives that just 10 years ago would have been lost. Medical treatment is indeed one of the Army’s greatest accomplishments during this period of OIF.

Yet, medical care comprises only one part of a Soldier’s overall well-being. The mental health of Soldiers deployed in combat—long a poorly understood issue—has recently become equally as important as their physical health, and the Army has devoted much more effort to prevent and treat these problems. In theater, the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs, including the United Service Organizations (USO), helped lift Soldiers’ spirits and positively affected their well-being when off duty. Soldiers’ morale and mental health is also directly affected by the state of their families in the United States. Extensive family support programs, among them Family Readiness Groups (FRGs), worked alleviate domestic stressors. During OIF, the Army also focused newfound attention on helping Soldiers readjust to peacetime military life after a year-plus tour of duty in Iraq, cope with the challenge of multiple tours, and transition to civilian life at the end of their Army career.

The conduct of full spectrum operations after May 2003 created some unique challenges for those individuals and organizations charged with taking care of Soldiers. The constant threat from a shadowy insurgent fighting with unconventional and terrorist tactics, the lack of in-theater rear areas, and the difficulty in assessing progress in the overall campaign presented Soldiers in OIF with challenges that were different from those faced by troops in previous wars. This chapter will briefly address the wide range of programs and services dedicated to supporting Soldiers as they made the transition to the new campaign in Iraq.

Chapter 13. Taking Care of Soldiers

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