Gregg Zoraya reports for USA Today, April 16, 2015, that data obtained by USA Today show that, despite a 6-year $287 million campaign to boost morale, U.S. Army soldiers are unhappy in their jobs and pessimistic about their future in the military.
The data come from resiliency assessments that soldiers are required to take every year. The Army began a program of positive psychology in 2009 in the midst of two wars and as suicide and mental illness were on the rise. To measure resiliency the Army created a confidential, online questionnaire that all soldiers, including the National Guard and Reserve, must fill out once a year. In 2014, for the first time, the Army pulled data from those assessments to help commanders gauge the psychological and physical health of their troops.
Twelve months of internal data through early 2015 obtained by USA Today show startlingly negative findings, including:
- More than half of some 770,000 soldiers (52% or 403,564 soldiers) are pessimistic about their future in the military, agreeing with statements such as “I rarely count on good things happening to me.”
- 48% or about 370,000 soldiers are unhappy in their jobs, have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs, and would have chosen another if they had it to do over again. Only 28% felt good about what they do.
- More than half reported poor nutrition and sleep. Only 14% said they are eating right and getting enough rest.
- Two-thirds were borderline or worse for an area called “catastrophic thinking,” where poor scores mean the soldier has trouble adapting to change or dwells on the worst possible things happening.
- Nearly 40% or about 300,000 soldiers didn’t trust their immediate supervisor or fellow soldiers in their unit or didn’t feel respected or valued. Only 32% felt good about about bosses and peers.
- In physical fitness, less than 40% were in good shape, 28% were borderline, and 33% did poorly.
In contrast to their pessimism and dissatisfaction about the Army, 53% or more than 400,000 soldiers said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their marriage, personal relationship or family. About 240,000 expressed dissatisfaction.
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. Fourteen years of war and recent decisions to downsize or cut funding for the military have left morale low, they said.
A recent survey by the Military Times and a Navy Retention Study also show troops increasingly unhappy. (See “Survey finds U.S. military plagued with low morale,” Dec. 16, 2014.)
The Army offered contradictory responses to the findings obtained by USA Today:
- Sharyn Saunders, chief of the Army Resiliency Directorate that produced the data, initially disavowed the results. “I’ve sat and looked at your numbers for quite some time and our team can’t figure out how your numbers came about,” she said in an interview in March. But when USA Today provided her the supporting Army documents this week, her office acknowledged the data but said the formulas used to produce them were obsolete. “We stand by our previous responses,” it said in a statement.
- Then the Army calculated new findings but lowered the threshold for a score to be a positive result, insisting that “We continue to refine our methologies and threshold values to get the most accurate results possible.” As a consequence, for example, only 9% of 704,000 now score poorly in optimism.
In other words, the Obama administration doesn’t like their own data on how U.S. soldiers are faring, so the solution is to change the measuring tool so as to
produce concoct “better” results.
The Army’s positive psychology program, known officially as Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, to make soldiers more resilient has been controversial since its inception in 2009. A blue-ribbon panel of scientists from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine concluded last year that there is little or no evidence the program prevents mental illness, and that there had been no effort to test its efficacy before the Army embraced it. The panel cited research arguing that, in fact, the program could be harmful if it leaves soldiers with a false sense of resiliency.
The Army disputed the findings, pushing ahead with its positive psychology program that now costs more than $50 million a year.
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H/t CODA’s M.S.