Tuesday, June 20, 2000



Bernard Rostker

"Leaders and Operational Stress" Conference

June 20 - 21, 2000


Good Morning. It's my pleasure to welcome you to the Leaders and Operational Stress Conference. This is a truly unique conference that brings together a mix of professionals of active, reserve and veteran line officers, American and allied officers, health care providers, chaplains, academicians, and other key professionals. Each are here to learn from the other how best to protect the health and wellbeing of U.S. and allied fighting forces.

Each of you knows, probably better than most, that, that today's armed forces face a full spectrum of 21st century global obligations. Non-traditional conflicts, frequent deployments, rapid advances in technology - these are all factors imposing significant strain on our servicemembers.

I think we can all agree that the warfighter faces many hardships and dangers in combat. I also think we can agree that there's a wide range of stressors accompanying all deployments. It's in this era of increased mission requirements and diminished manpower-doing more with less-that our servicemembers must deal with stresses created by a high optempo, back-to-back deployments, as well as the very real possibility of facing combat each time they deploy.

While most of our troops perform admirably under extreme stress, we must recognize that stress can also impair the normal functioning of individuals and their ability to fulfill the mission. As leaders, we must learn to better focus our processes and procedures for dealing with the organizational, physical, interpersonal, and environmental pressures that act as stressors on our forces.

An important lesson we learned from the Gulf War is that the Defense Department doesn't deal well with non-traditional issues such as deployment stress. Our investigations following the war found that, although comparatively few Gulf War servicemembers participated in actual combat during the conflict, many of the military members deployed to the Persian Gulf theater, both combatants and non-combatants, were exposed to a wide range of stressful circumstances.

The unexpected and rapid nature of the deployment created personal and family hardships, especially for Reservists. Other stressors included fear of missile attack, prolonged anticipation of chemical and biological weapon attack, the impact of false alarms, and witnessing death and other consequences of war.

While we're not able to make a definite connection between the stressors experienced by the Gulf War veterans and the health problems they reported after the war, we also cannot dismiss the role that stress played. We've done a better job monitoring the impact of stress on the health of troops who deployed to Bosnia. Our statistics from this conflict indicate that 15 percent of medical evacuations are mental health related.

Over the next two days we'll explore the stressful situations experienced by people deployed in support combat as well as peace-keeping operations -- the impact this has on our servicemembers' health, and how it affects operationalaffects operational effectiveness.

Stress is a part of day-to-day life. We all encounter it and most of us deal with it in a healthy way. However, today's military members frequently encounter stressors that may actually exceed their ability to deal with it in a healthy manner.

During the last ten years our forces have helped prevent the spread of the Balkan conflict and responded to crises in Rwanda, Uganda, Haiti, and East Timor. They returned to Kuwait to deter an Iraqi force ready to invade, and continue to fly missions over Iraq in Operation Southern Watch. Our forces have helped Americans in storm-ravaged areas and brought relief to people in Somalia. Military deployments have increased 60 percent even as the number of active duty personnel and the military's budget have each decreased by 34 percent.

From their first day in military service we train our servicemembers to be warfighters. Then we call on them to be peacekeepers in missions like Bosnia, where they face hostility and life-threatening circumstances nearly every day. These are dangerous missions where the role of policeman and humanitarian can change to combat in an instant on any given day.

Deployment to a strange land with foreign cultures, contact with people who reject our assistance, and exposure to intense racial and ethnic hatred, and seemingly random acts of violence are all factors that play a part in increasing stress that, ultimately, degrades the health and performance of the soldier.

However, before our military members deploy to these potentially hostile areas, we put them through a tremendous amount of preparationof preparation and training. The push to use advanced technology and ensure information superiority simply adds to the stressors our troops face. New technologies increase the complexity of operations and require new and different skills. Our warfighters are required to master the latest technologies of precision weapons, information management and automated communications while responding to rapidly changing missions. This presents additional challenges to our servicemembers.

The human element has also changed drastically in today's military. Who are these men and women in our military family, serving in more than 140 countries, and deploying to distant regions of the world-often carrying many personal burdens?

Today about 55 percent of our active duty members are married, and of that number, 46 percent have children. Nearly 40 percent of the nearly 1.3 million children of military parents are under age six. It's a fact that our servicemembers marry and have children younger than their civilian counterparts.

About six percent of active duty members are single parents; about eight percent provide some level of support for elderly parents. And women now comprise 14 percent of the force, serving in what had once been non-traditional jobs in our armed forces.

Obviously, today's military is very different than the forces that fought in Vietnam, Korea, and the World Wars. It includes dual military couples, single parents and a force with a growing number of elderly dependents. Deployments generate anxiety and concern about how the family will manage when the servicemember is gone.

Operational stress is real, and its impact on mission effectiveness is unmistakable. We know for example, that for certain individuals,; stress has a direct relationship with physical illnesses and disease. There is also evidence that, left unchecked, stress plays a major role in changes in behavior such as increased substance abuse-usually alcoholism. Stress can also lead to marital problems and -in extreme cases-suicide.

Clearly, stress-related issues are readiness and force health protection issues that require training and education directed at conserving the strength of our deployed troops. Force readiness relies on military leaders taking active steps to reduce the influence of stress on the overall health and fitness of the force before it becomes a medical issue. We must help our men and women cope better with deployment uncertainties, to better maintain their health and the health of their families during stress-laden operations.

Ultimately, it is the commander who must provide the leadership and guidance that will increase a servicemember's ability to cope. We're calling on commanders to remain aware that incompatible demands and unpredictable situations can and will have an effect on their people. Likewise, strong leadership and effective management are crucial factors for identifying problems and taking corrective actions to protect the health of our forces.

However, the commander doesn't do this alone-he or she has many resources available to assist in the prevention and management of stress-related problems. Commanders must seek out the resources and training to manage stress in their units.

During the next two days, we'll examinewe'll examine the experiences,, knowledge, and training of the commanders,, medical care providers, and spiritual advisors to address appropriate operational stress policies. We'll look to the lessons we learned from the past and apply them to the future.


Collectively, you are the ideal audience to lay the foundation for future Pentagon policy in the prevention and management of operational stress. You represent the many disciplines that must join together to ensure progress. I hope that by participating in the panel discussions you will better understand your individual roles in identifying key stressors and how you can assist the development of a coherent strategy to prevent and manage operational stress casualties in future military operations. Over the next several days I want each of you to:

I want to leave you with one more lesson from the Gulf War, perhaps the most important one. During our investigation, we found that, in all too many incidents, communication was flawed and we didn't adequately communicate well with people.

Lack of communication about what happened on the battlefield led many veterans to believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents. Later, when some troops began to experience illnesses they associated with their Gulf War service, they asked questions that were not addressed. Consequently, they questioned the Department's credibility.

I would offer that, had there been more real-time, up, down and lateral communication about the events as they were happening, with people allowed to ask questions, we wouldn't have had the manifestation of uncertainty and distrust directed toward the Defense Department from servicemembers and the public that we experienced after the war. We can and must do better.

We recognize the world continues to change rapidly-and the changes we face today bring many challenges for our servicemembers. However, we are committed to providing our men and women-the finest fighting force in the world, with the tools-physical, mental and spiritual-to meet the demands before them.

Thank you.

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