In any organization trust is a critical component of effective leadership, and the larger the organization the harder it is to build trust over time, but also the more necessary. The military enjoys a high level of trust with the American people, but unfortunately recent events have shown that servicemembers are losing trust in their chain of command and the consequences are often fatal. 163 servicemembers committed suicide between July and September 2021 continuing the tragic escalation of suicides in the military in the post 9/11 era where suicide accounted for a casualty rate four times greater than actual combat losses.
There is no doubt the military has a unique culture, but the people in the military still form a reflection of much of society and one can’t look at suicide rates in the military in a manner divorced of trends in American society at large. I served for 28 years in the military, a mix of active duty and some national guard time, and on retirement worked for two years in military funeral support for the state of Montana. I also serve as a veteran peer to peer director for Together for the Good where we provide resources to veterans dealing with drug addiction, PTSD, and suicidal tendencies. Those experiences have made it clear that each situation is different and tragic, and that attempting to put them together and find a singular cause with one solution is impossible.
However, though a singular cause cannot be identified, there are some disturbing trends in comments made by servicemembers across all branches of the military, regardless of whether they are active duty, national guard, or reserves. Those trends are summarized in five key areas of concern, four are self-induced by leadership which means they could be fixed, one reflects society but is exacerbated by lack of leadership. The five are as follows:
- Lack of focus on real threats and the mission.
- A growing and overwhelming “woke” culture seeking to divide not unite.
- The targeting of Soldiers simply for loving their country.
- “Vaccine” mandates and forced critical life decisions.
- Lack of effective mental health support.
The majority of servicemembers join the military with the expectation of focusing on a mission that protects the people of this nation from adversaries, be they foreign or domestic. When there is no focus on the mission it’s clear at all levels, and that leads to a failure in trust as senior officers in the military talk about the desire to be ready while servicemembers see different results and a different focus. This leads to the second trend, one where the real focus today leads to a “woke” military divided along the lines of race and class rather than unifying them in common cause. The third is the increased desire of those currently in leadership to identify so called “extremists” in the ranks of the military. The unchecked pursuit of patriotic Americans in the military by their own senior leadership is having severe consequences on military readiness. It’s also accelerating the erosion of trust in the Department of Defense as their words don’t align with their actions.
The current mandates are also a big concern as many servicemembers are forced to decide whether to risk their life and health or to risk their career on a “vaccine” that is still not fully tested or proven, with numerous known side effects. Far too many have sacrificed careers, promotions, retirements and earned benefits due to unnecessary mandates. Many of those same longer serving members also witnessed arguably the greatest defeat in US history when we surrendered Afghanistan, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for those that sacrificed so much since October 2001. Finally, as a veteran with PTSD from significant combat events, the lack of institutional mental health support was made evident during the retirement process. It’s a combination of lack of qualified professionals who understand the uniqueness of veterans issues, but also the bureaucratic process in place to gain access to necessary counseling. Many pursue their own care, or volunteer organization support as a result. As one would expect some are better than others.
When discussing suicides in the military, it’s dangerous to seek singular solutions when each case is different. There is also no way to completely eliminate suicides in the military just like you can’t eliminate them in society at large. But good leadership can develop a culture of trust where words equal actions, and servicemembers can focus on their mission rather than be constantly pursued by their chain of command to complete unnecessary tasks. The military’s current leadership can easily rectify many challenges by addressing the five key trends identified here. It’s obvious there’s a problem when more servicemembers die of suicide during one quarter of a year than have died of COVID-19 in the entire course of the “pandemic.”
Col. Gaub spent 28 years in military service, with 7 years in command, and three years training military forces for combat. He completed four deployments to Afghanistan, as well as South Korea and North Africa. He finished his career commanding Aviation Task Forces in Latvia, Poland, Germany, Romania, Turkey, and other NATO countries. He is known as an international military planner and strategist, executive leadership coach, and NATO partnership specialist. Darin now serves as the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Restore Liberty, a nationwide grassroots political advocacy and leader development organization.