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Section 2: Background

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Section Contents

  1. Characteristics of Deployed Forces
  2. Experiences of Deployed Forces

Iraq has become an incubator for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the American service members. The combat zone in Iraq has no frontline, no safe zone, and the embattled soldier has little with which to differentiate friend from foe, no warning of when or where the next improvised explosive device will be detonated. It is hardly surprising that we are seeing high rates of depression, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders in service members who have been deployed to Iraq.

Greenburg and Roy, 2007

1.   Characteristics of Deployed Forces

The United States has had between 122,000 and 171,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan at any one time since major combat operations ended in May 2003 (O’Hanlon and Campbell 2008). Almost 1.6 million American service members have deployed to OIF and OEF, and almost 565,000 have deployed more than once (Veterans for Common Sense 2008).

  • 28 percent are guard and reserve (Waterhouse and O’Bryant 2008);
  • The average age of an active duty member deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan is 27, and the average age of deployed National Guard or Reserve troops is 33;
  • 60 percent of those deployed are married and over half have children;
  • 88 percent are male, and 12 percent are female;
  • The troops are from diverse racial backgrounds (22 percent African-American, 11 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian, 3 percent other) (Maxfield 2006);
  • Half of the 1.6 million service members who have deployed are still in the military (Veterans for Common Sense, 2008); and
  • Three-quarters of the forces deployed to Iraq are Army, 15 percent are Marine Corps, and 10 percent are Navy and Air Force (O’Bryant and Waterhouse 2006).

2.   Experiences of Deployed Forces

Everyone's experience of deployment is a little different, so it's unfair to cast all experiences in the same mold. People see stories of Infantry guys watching their squadmates die and murdering Iraqi civilians, and assume that I personally have seen levels of Hell of which I have had no taste. Conversely, people read the blogs of career soldiers and Pogues, and perhaps get an image of this place that is a little sunnier than expected. People want to lump our stories into the either/or. All or none. And that's not really fair.

SPC Freeman stationed in Iraq. From his blog “The Calm Before the Sand.”

From March 2003 to November 2008, 4,203 American service members were killed in Iraq. Most of the fatalities have been Army soldiers. Forty percent were caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and 30 percent were the result of other hostile fire. Three percent were from car bombs. During intense fighting between May and July 2007, there were 162 insurgent attacks per day with over 75 in Baghdad and Al-Anbar Province alone (O’Hanlon and Campbell 2008)

Many service members are operating under constant threat of death or injury and seeing the violent death of their comrades and others. Enemies and civilians are often indistinguishable, and service members are asked to play dual roles of warrior and ambassador.

Many have been on multiple deployments with relatively little downtime between deployments. Some operations are 24-hours per day with soldiers sleeping an average of only five and half hours per day (US Army Surgeon General 2008). Based on an annual survey conducted by the Army, Soldiers have recently reported a decline in a range of combat exposures. Despite this reduction, the soldiers surveyed continue to encounter intense combat experiences while deployed to Iraq most soldiers have received incoming artillery, rocket or mortar fire. (US Army Surgeon General 2008).