Sol­diers hate their jobs

Army data show 52% pes­simistic about the fu­ture

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Gregg Zoroya USA TO­DAY

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.

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