Robert Weller of AP wrote an article on military responses to PTSD prevention.  Specificially, a Department of Defense task force recommended that  that active-duty personnel receive one month of in-theatre R & R for every three months on the line.  Instead of following this recommendation, they will get two-to-three days for every eight in a combat zone.  They cite personnel deficits in a time of crisis, and they are right on both counts–the deficits and the crisis.  All the more reason to take care of who they have. 

The “weekend approach” works out to about the same number of days, but it’s not the same thing.  We can think about this in terms of our own, far-from-the-front lives.

Personal business:
Most people that work in non-combat settings barely get their errands done with a weekend off.  For our troops in combat theatres, you can take away the part about having to shop for groceries, but then you have to add in the problems of doing business entirely over the Internet or by long distance telephone.   You also have to add in the problems of keeping your personal relationships by Internet, long distance telephone, and letter.

Varied existence/varied ambitions:
Those of us with jobs get to leave them and go home and sit with our own people and our own stuff.  We change our venue and we change our clothes; we can take a walk, play with our children, go meet people with different outlooks and different values.  We have a choice to stay home, take small forays, or a weekend long trip to another place.  Any of these choices we make on our free time allow us to have a more varied existence, multiple perspectives–and recharged energy.   Time off in a battle theatre does not change one’s venue, or, for that matter, the variety of people with whom one can interact.  When we blow off steam, we often pick people that don’t have the same pressures on them to complain to: in a battle zone, everyone has the same pressures. 

Loss of sleep
Accounts of battle I have read concerning World War I, World War II, Vietnam, the 1991 Gulf War, and the current conflicts, no active-duty personnel has uninterrupted sleep.  This is one of the biggest reasons I see for having the full month off.  Getting only two, four, an occasional six hours of sleep wears on a person’s strength, emotional stability, and anxiety levels.  Inability to sleep is psychologically and biochemically damaging.  Adrenaline runs out just as patience does.  When this becomes chronic, a person is ill-equipped to deal with daily matters in a calm way–that’s here, state-side–and so much worse, in combat theatre.   And I imagine the term “theatre” is in itself a clue: like dramatic theatre, an exhausted soldier or Marine ends up donning a mask and playing the part s/he has both sworn to play and that the situation demands, without relief.  A longer furlough out of harm’s way would go a long way to reestablishing sleep patterns, or at least, a long enough time to get somewhat caught up on sleep: more naps more often.  And a corresponding restoration to his or her personality.

What about the constraints?
We are frequently balked by experts just when we shouldn’t be.  Next to the claims of military leaders who cite necessities and shortfalls, the above sounds perhaps soft in heart and soft on data, and certainly not a comprehensive list of problems for those in combat.  Yet in our daily lives we constantly confront the lack of Managerial Will to make a change in work procedures, work settings.  In such cases, we complain, or from the other side of the counter, we demand service.  That’s my point: we already know enough, if we stop to think, just what kinds of things are required when we read about a policy for R & R, or for counseling in military zones or afterwards in the U.S. at the VA or elsewhere. 

Every time we feel stressed at our jobs, or furious with some idiot on the road, or angry with our neighbor who parties all night when we have to go to work the next day, or find ourselves hoping for Friday:  that’s the appropriate feeling for us to have–we should have it.  It’s also the appropriate feeling that helps us understand why our service men and women need a heck of a lot more than what they’re getting.   And that would be: time off to break the lack of sleep problems; to start some new project unrelated to one’s job, in sports, study, a hobby; to conduct some sustained personal business, or relationship repair; and maybe even to get some breadth of time to mentally process the three months before. 

Even as onlookers, we know enough to look at these policies and evaluate them.  And we can and should expect our military leaders to take care of the people they command.  Period.  And if we choose to do so, we can insist upon it. 

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