In the barracks, on the air fields and aboard the ships where the still-shrinking number of U.S. men and women in uniform toil daily, the dark side of defense savings is taking a toll not measured in dollars and cents.
“Officers and enlisted personnel are reaching burnout,” says a new report to Defense Secretary William Perry from an advisory group that interviewed more than 3,000 men and women this summer at U.S. bases in the Pacific region.
Not everyone is being overtaxed, of course, and for many the added strain is manageable. But in the five years of what the Pentagon calls “downsizing” the military’s work-load around the globe has actually increased.
In the Army and Air Force, for example, the percentage of people deployed away from their home station at any one time is twice what it was four years ago, according to Louis Finch, the deputy undersecretary of defense for readiness.
“Doing more with less is affecting morale,” the advisory group told Perry.
To blame: More frequent duty away from home, slower promotions, erosion of benefits, inadequate child care and housing that in one case was likened to a slum.
The consequences: “Enormous stress” on the families, weaker job performance, and an inclination for the more qualified people to quit. Alcohol abuse is a major problem in some areas, the advisory group reported. Sue Tempero, chairman of the advisory panel, said in an interview that alcohol is a “very serious” problem in the more stressful postings such as Korea.
The report said at “high stress” posts many are on antidepressant drugs.
Living and working conditions at some Pacific military posts, such as in South Korea, are in many ways tougher than at other overseas posts such as in Germany. That is in part because most in Korea are not accompanied by spouses.
One step already taken to ease the strain is to make more use of reserve forces. National Guard and reserve troops, for example, are participating in many of today’s overseas missions.