The pressure of a decade which has seen the continual deployment of the U.S. military into foreign war zones, predominantly but not exclusively including Iraq and Afghanistan—where the insurgents relentlessly prosecute daily levels of violence resulting in climbing casualty lists—is having a recognizable impact on the soldiers who are called to duty.
“After a decade of combat our soldiers are tired,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, the commander of U.S. Army Aviation, during his opening address at the Army Aviation Association of America’s (Quad-A) annual forum and exposition, this year staged back in Nashville, Tenn. He was quick to follow on with a qualification that took nothing away from the ongoing determination and commitment to the task at hand, saying that he was “not worried about today’s commitment.”
But the simple fact is that his Army Aviation soldiers are among the most deployed people in the Army, with a regular bog : dwell (boots on the ground : at home) ratio of 1:1 or 1:1.3 (deployed for a year, back for a year). The objective is 1:3 but that will depend on the fielding of another two Combat Aviation Brigades (12th and 13th), although the latter will not be available until 2015 at the earliest. Even now there are potential funding issues ahead, added to the fact of a politically stated drawdown commitment to begin extracting forces from Afghanistan by 2015 may be seen as the way to ease the pressure on Army Aviation (although arguably Iraq has proven that aviation is still in key demand with over 240 U.S. military helicopters still in-country).
So to this background it was unusual, although not unwelcome, to find Maj. Gen. Crutchfield calling his wife, Kim Crutchfield, onto the stage during his keynote presentation. Her brief but poignant discussion about the importance of spouse and family programs served to underline her husband’s concern about the need for family unity during these very trying times. The fighting soldier’s family back home has always endured in the background, with family life competing (and frequently coming second-best) to the demands made on every soldier. The length of deployments, the need to keep up currency of all aviation skills (not just those used in Afghanistan), the need to retrain before deployment—all drain time away from the soldier being at home. A degraded family life can quickly have a morale-sapping effect on every soldier, and when there is little the Army can quickly do to alter the bog : dwell ratio, other measures must be taken.
The good news is that these measures are being put in place to bring the training to the soldier, rather than traditionally the other way around. Operational flight trainers, such as the CH-47F unit from L-3 Link Simulation and Training (being demonstrated at Quad-A) are just one example of how training programs are being brought to the units so they can work 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., then go home.
There is a subtle, but noticeable change in sensitivity coming from the military leadership that was exemplified by Mrs. Crutchfield’s appearance alongside her husband. ‘Toughing it out’ and families dutifully knowing their place is now not enough. And it is evident that the current leadership understands this.