That's because in some cases the burdens of repeated deployments have been greater than those troops had endured in World War II, the study warns. The average infantryman in the South Pacific “saw about 40 days of combat in four years” in contrast to a “persistently high” level of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has offered “very few opportunities for individuals to rest, either physically or mentally.”
The Pentagon has grappled with just how many deployments is too many. A 2010 study known as the “Red Book” discovered in those who had completed multiple tours “a growing high-risk population of soldiers engaging in criminal and high-risk behavior with increasingly more severe outcomes including violent crime.”
Precursors of this behavior, the study noted, were “combat-related wounds, injuries and illnesses; repetitive and lengthy separations, and broader economic conditions.” Bales’s lawyer might point out that his client struggled with all three.
Many troops wrestle with the strains of repeated trips to war zones. Tech Sgt. Bob Roberts has completed 15 deployments in 17 years since joining the Air Force’s elite pararescuers, who were most recently serving as a quick-reaction force for the final troops pulling out of Iraq. During the past four years, Roberts estimates he has been away from home more than 300 days a year. A former professional snowboarder, Roberts says the key to doing the job he loves is learning how “to keep your personal freakout at bay” amid violent chaos that sometimes requires “picking up pieces of people.”
He is quick to acknowledge that war has taken its toll. Roberts is on his fourth marriage. “I’ve chosen this over relationships – over everything else,” he says. The majority of pararescuers he began serving with, he adds, have turned violence inward and are now either “in jail, have a bullet in their head, or are drug abusers.”