May 23, 2010 in Nation/World

Research links military misbehavior, boredom

Tony Perry Los Angeles Times
McClatchy photo

A Marine in Afghanistan provides security for a meeting, the kind of routine task that researchers say can lead to feelings of boredom that cause problems later. McClatchy
(Full-size photo)

SAN DIEGO – It’s long been assumed – correctly – that a Marine who experiences the psychological trauma of combat in Iraq or Afghanistan has an increased chance of getting into trouble when he comes home.

But two researchers at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego have found another deployment experience that can be an even greater precursor of future bad behavior: boredom.

A survey of 1,543 Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Twentynine Palms, Calif., and the Marine base in Okinawa, Japan, found that the Marine most likely to disobey orders, get into physical confrontations, neglect his family or run afoul of the police is the one who reports that his war-zone deployment was marked by boredom.

Dr. Stephanie Booth-Kewley and Robyn Highfill-McRoy, of the research center’s behavioral sciences and epidemiology department, reported on their study to the Navy and Marine Corps Combat and Operational Stress Conference last week in San Diego.

Of the Marines surveyed, the researchers said, fully one-quarter had had repeated instances of misconduct/misbehavior in the months after returning from deployment; 17.1 percent screened positive for possible post-traumatic stress disorder.

For both PTSD and misbehavior, what the researchers called “deployment-related stressors” were a greater factor than combat.

Marines who said their deployment was marked by boredom, monotony, lack of privacy and lack of days off are three times more likely to engage in antisocial behavior than those with different experiences, the researchers found. Other stressors include family worries, money problems and run-ins with deployed leadership.

The study also concluded that divorced Marines, younger Marines and those with mild traumatic brain injury are also more likely to display such behavior when they return.

Military boredom has been studied since World War II by a variety of researchers. A common conclusion is that boredom leads to alienation and then resentment and anger.

The findings of the current study take on added significance given the “non-kinetic” nature of much of the Marines’ counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan.

Few troops will see active combat. But nearly all will be assigned tasks – standing post, providing security for convoys, repairing vehicles or other equipment, manning communication gear, handling administrative chores – that, while important, are not the kind of activities that attract young men and women to enlist in the Marine Corps.

The challenge, the researchers said, is for commanders to maintain the morale of their troops by emphasizing the importance of the mission.

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