[March 29, 2014] Leadership sometimes means standing up for controversial and unpopular positions in your organization. The effect of combat on troops is one where I personally deviate from chosen line. In this case, I have made the argument that the impact of combat has positive as well as negative effects; a position that gets me into some interesting discussions.
Contrary to massive media attention and “expert” opinion, I argue that combat stress for the majority of troops is an overall positive thing. Generally, it makes them stronger and healthier, not weaker and traumatized. True, military senior leaders have pressed hard for care of those who are injured, and rightly so.
However, ignoring the physical and psychological benefits of combat is the current blindness of our political leaders and a select group of “anti military” ideologues. War is bad (no argument here), ipso facto, it must be harmful in all aspects. This is not true. Yet, there needs to be some senior leadership that puts this in perspective. The medical community has long recognized the positive psychological benefits of combat stress on our troops1.
Humans get stronger with stress; there are some commonsense exceptions – a gunshot to the head is more likely fatal. In today’s warfare, exemplified by tackling an insurgency is less filled with prolonged, highly violent episodes, and more like short burst of activity followed by patrolling, physical exercise, and heightened mental activity.
The so-called expert predictions of a “worn out military force” have not materialized. Any decline in military readiness is today attributable to budgeting cuts and not to a decade of combat. Political leaders and some military professionals will tell you otherwise. There is no arguing that the unfortunate troops harmed in battle are few compared to those who are better people.
Many new combat veterans tell me how they are better husbands, wives, students, workers because they now know what is truly important … those small things that bothered them in the past, are gone.
Despite our culture of “victimization” and a highly publicized media encouraging us to be weakened by our war experiences, it has not occurred. Additionally, it has not occurred despite a concerted effort by our political and military leadership.
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 Below is a short list of references regarding the positive effects on combat stressors:
National Institutes of Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8827649
PTSD Trauma Treatment.org: http://www.ptsdtraumatreatment.org/trauma-effects/post-trauma-growth-transformation/