After a decade of war, the U.S. Army is unbroken

The survey makes explicit what has been implied in defense policy conversations for the past several years: The all-volunteer force, which was never intended to fight a decade of continuous conflict, has nonetheless succeeded beyond all expectations in Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of maintaining its health and professionalism. High-profile stories such as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ massacre of civilians in Afghanistan have convinced many Americans and others that a decade of war has broken the Army and Marine Corps. But military officers are quick to point out that Bales is the exception, not the rule, in an Army in which 51,270 other soldiers have seen four or more combat deployments, and in which an additional 81,000 soldiers on active duty have seen at least three.

Six out of seven soldiers and Army civilians, the study reveals, trust their senior leaders to make the right decisions for the Army, and 90 percent of those surveyed remain willing to put the Army’s needs above their own. Whereas the soldiers who fought in Vietnam considered themselves amateurs and conscripts, 98 percent of the soldiers in the Army today consider themselves professional fighting men and women. As such, those who serve in the U.S. Army today are in no danger of losing their pride, heart or soul. And based on personal observations from the field, I can report the U.S. Army is today more combat effective than it was when I myself first led a light infantry platoon in Afghanistan in 2002…

But the American people should be asking other questions about the costs of having asked so few to bear such a heavy burden for so long. For example, will the way in which the Army has weathered a decade of war make U.S. policymakers more likely to deploy ground forces to combat elsewhere? Do the American people have a moral responsibility to share the costs of wars in which a relatively tiny percentage of the public has served?