Editorial: Army optimism program requires adjustments


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Recent reports from USA Today have revealed a startlingly negative trend in the attitude and general optimism of service members in the Army despite a six-year $287 million investment in an “optimism program.” The measurements are found through the completion of a survey given to 770,000 service members as part of a program referred to as the CSF2 (Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness).

According to the U.S. Army, the CSF2 “is designed to build resilience and enhance performance of the Army Family — Soldiers, their families and army civilians. CSF2 does this by providing hands-on training and self-development tools so that members of the Army Family are better able to cope with adversity, perform better in stressful situations and thrive in life.”

The test was first introduced in 2009 in response to increasing rates of suicide and mental illness in the military. The suicide rates were a significant cause for concern because they outpaced the suicide rates of regular civilians of the same socioeconomic demographics. Military suicides were down in 2013 — the most recent year for which the statistic is available — which would typically point to the success of the program. However, according to USA Today, more than half of the soldiers surveyed agreed with statements like “I rarely count on good things happening to me” and only 28 percent “felt good about what they do.”

We should by all means invest in the well-being of men and women who have dedicated themselves to protecting our freedoms, but the outcomes of these examinations would reveal that perhaps trying a different means of keeping service members happy and healthy is justified. This program costs about $50 million every year and has, according to the standards set by the CSF2, not yielded the desired or even relatively positive results.

Improvements in the areas of well-being and happiness in the military could be as simple as making enlistment policies more strict. For example, according to a study that was jointly funded by the Army and the National Institute of Health, “nearly half of soldiers who reported suicide attempts indicated their first attempt was prior to enlistment; and soldiers reported higher rates of certain mental disorders than civilians, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intermittent explosive disorder (recurrent episodes of extreme anger or violence) and substance use disorder.” There should be considerable thought toward restricting people who have proven to deal with stress in less than productive ways — suicide, rage and substance abuse — from serving.

It certainly would not be beyond the realm of possibility that allowing fewer individuals who have such issues prior to their actual enlistment would result in the leveling of statistics pointing to unsatisfied, or at least mentally unfit, service members.