Soldiers hate their jobs
Army data show 52% pessimistic about the future
More than half of about 770,000 soldiers are pessimistic about their future in the military and nearly as many are unhappy in their jobs, despite a six-year, $287 million campaign to make troops more resilient, findings obtained by USA TODAY show.
Twelve months of data through early 2015 show that 403,564 soldiers, or 52%, scored badly on optimism, agreeing with statements such as “I rarely count on good things happening to me.” Fortyeight percent have little job satisfaction or commitment.
The results stem from resiliency assessments soldiers must take every year. In 2014, for the first time, the Army pulled data from those assessments to help commanders gauge their troops’ psychological and physical health.
The effort produced startlingly negative results. In addition to low optimism and job satisfaction, more than half reported poor nutrition and sleep. The Army began a positive outlook effort in 2009 as suicide and mental illness were on the rise. It created a confidential, online questionnaire for all soldiers.
Last year, Army scientists applied formulas to gauge servicewide morale based on the assessments. The results show positive psychology “has not had much impact,” said David Rudd, president of the University of Memphis who served on a panel critical of the program. Sharyn Saunders, of the Army Resiliency Directorate that produced the data, initially disavowed the results. When USA TODAY provided documents, her office acknowledged the data but said formulas that produced them were obsolete.
After USA TODAY’s inquiry, the Army calculated new findings with lowered thresholds for positive findings. As a result, only 9% score low in optimism.
The Army’s six-year, nearly $300 million effort to use positive psychology to make soldiers more resilient after 14 years of war has been controversial since its inception in 2009.
A panel of scientists from the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded last year that there is little or no evidence the program prevents mental illness.
The panel said there was no effort to test it before the Army embraced it, and it cited research arguing that the program could be harmful if it leaves soldiers with a false sense of resiliency.
The Army disputed the findings, pushing ahead with its program, which now costs more than $50 million a year. At least 2.45 million soldiers have taken a selfassessment test that is a crucial part of the resiliency program, and 28,000 GIs have been in- structed on how to teach other soldiers the curriculum.
“The Army funds this program because the Army values the lives of soldiers and wants to instill skills and competencies that will enhance their connections, relationships and ability to mitigate stressors and exercise help seeking behaviors through their life,” the Army said in a statement.
Yet internal data obtained by USA TODAY show most soldiers trending in the wrong direction. Two-thirds were borderline or worse in “catastrophic thinking,” where poor scores mean a soldier has trouble adapting to change or dwells on the worst possible things happening. Other results:
Forty- eight percent, about 370,000 soldiers, showed a lack of commitment to their job. Only 28% felt good about what they do.
About 300,000 soldiers, or nearly 40%, didn’t trust their immediate supervisor or fellow soldiers in their unit or didn’t feel respected or valued. Thirty-two percent felt good about bosses and peers.
In one positive trend, more than 400,000 soldiers, 53%, were satisfied with their marriage, personal relationship or family. About 240,000 were dissatisfied.
Retired vice admiral Norb Ryan, head of the Military Officers Association of America, and Joyce Raezer, executive of the National Military Family Association, said the results are not surprising: war and decisions to downsize have left morale low. A recent survey by the Military
Times and a Navy Retention Study also show troops increasingly unhappy.
Sharyn Saunders, chief of the Army Resiliency Directorate that produced the data, defended the program – Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness – as an effort that resonates with soldiers. “When we talk to soldiers, soldiers tell us about the life changes they’ve had,” she said. The Army said using the questionnaire results to gauge morale Army-wide is experimental.
Two-thirds were borderline or worse in “catastrophic thinking,” where poor scores mean a soldier has trouble adapting to change or dwells on the worst possible things happening.