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    Gates acknowledges stress on families

    By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
    Posted : Friday Oct 24, 2008 16:32:55 EDT

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday acknowledged the stress that the extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are placing on military families, saying the Pentagon is concerned and monitoring “very closely” the domestic violence that can result.
    “We’re obviously very concerned about stress on the force, and particularly those [troops] that have deployed multiple times,” Gates told reporters following a day of briefings during his first-ever visit to Fort Bragg, N.C. “We obviously want to stop all kinds of violence among our soldiers and their families.”
    Three Fort Bragg female soldiers and one Marine have been killed off post in the past year. While no definite link has been established between those deaths and combat stress, many experts and analysts point to numerous incidents nationwide in concluding that the wars’ long deployments and shorter recuperation times are increasing levels of alcohol and drug abuse, and the domestic violence that can result.
    Gates said he receives a monthly report from the Army, the most heavily deployed force, on levels of domestic violence, alcohol-related incidents and divorce rates.
    “We and the Army are monitoring it very carefully,” he said. “We have a lot of programs in place to try and deal with this.”
    Those programs, he said, seek ways to better identify and treat post-traumatic stress disorder, which “often can lead to some of these problems.”
    Gates said the Pentagon is committed to better understanding PTSD as well as traumatic brain injury — both hallmark injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan due to insurgent attacks with roadside bombs. A total of $900 million has been budgeted in the new fiscal year to combat and treat PTSD and TBI, with $300 million of that devoted to research, he said.
    In addition, Gates said, the Army has launched a major training effort to help people identify PTSD symptoms, “and to persuade soldiers, I would say, of every rank, from general down to the newest private, to recognize those symptoms and seek help.”
    Officials also continue efforts within the services to remove the “stigma of seeking help,” Gates said. “And I think we’ve made some progress in that.”
    But, he added, “We have a strong culture, and it’s going to take some time.”
    Gates said he is well aware of the stress faced by families and troops, who have not had to deal with deployments this frequent and extended since World War II.
    The Pentagon’s solution, he said, is to continue building the end strength of the Army by adding 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by adding 27,000 Marines, while the continued drawdown in Iraq will enable officials to increase “dwell time” at home.
    Officials want to increase dwell time from one year to two and eventually three for active-duity forces, and give the National Guard and reserves five years back home for every year deployed, Gates said.
    “That ultimately is the answer for our families,” Gates said. “But it’s going to take us a little time to get there.”
    The Marine Corps expansion will be nearly complete next year, and the Army is a “couple of years” ahead of schedule, he said.
    Earlier in the day, Gates received classified briefings on Army special operations forces and met with troops from the 82nd Airborne Division who are about to deploy to Afghanistan.
    He also presided over a naturalization ceremony at adjacent Pope Air Force Base for 40 foreign-born U.S. service members from 26 nations.

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

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