I read with interest the Aug. 18 commentary by Thomas Spoehr of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation about the “crisis” in military recruitment. A retired Army general, he suggested a national strategy is needed to address military recruiting goals. Spoehr cited several reasons why young people were reluctant to enlist nowadays, and one of them was injury.

On the National Mall in Washington on March 27, 2014, Army veteran David Dickerson of Oklahoma City, Okla., joins other veterans in placing flags representing veteran and active-duty service members who died by suicide. Suicide in the military averages between 17 and 22 deaths a day. Charles Dharapak/Associated Press, File

What type of injury he meant is unclear, but if he meant the Pentagon’s negligence in protecting active-duty personnel and their families from exposure to cancer-causing PFAS, radiation from depleted uranium shells, toxic burn pits, military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, suicide and moral injury, he is correct. When a young recruit raises their right hand to protect and defend the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic, the above hazards to their health are enemies they can’t see, usually aren’t aware of and are, perhaps, just as much a threat to them as an enemy bomber or a tank.

Suicide in the military is at epidemic levels, averaging between 17 and 22 deaths per day. The Army had the highest rate of suicide in 2020, with 36 deaths per 100,000 soldiers. The Marine Corps had the second highest suicide rate, at 34 deaths per 100,000 Marines. According to the Military Times, those rates are more than 50% higher than for the Navy and Air Force. Even so, tragedy strikes all the branches with a frightening frequency. In April of last year, the USS George Washington experienced a rash of suicides where three sailors assigned to the ship died by suicide in one week. Perhaps even more shockingly, at least seven sailors from the George Washington died between April 2021 and April 2022, with at least four of those deaths ruled a suicide.

The Air Force has experienced an alarming increase in suicides by those working in the secretive drone program, where killing those even suspected of terrorism has become all too commonplace. These “Over the Horizon” operations many times result in the killing of innocent people in countries we are not even at war with. Drone pilots and technicians who are part of these deadly and indiscriminate operations suffer from PTSD at an alarming rate, and often, in their guilt and grief, they resort to suicide.

Take, for example, the tragic story of 33-year-old Air Force Capt. Kevin A. Larson, who took his own life Jan. 19, 2020. One of America’s best and brightest, this former Eagle Scout and University of Washington walk-on football player was accepted into the ROTC program, where he was commissioned in December 2011 as a second lieutenant. After completing flight training, he earned a Top Gun Award and was stationed at the “Home of the Hunters” at Creech Air Force Base, outside Las Vegas. Larson was assigned as a drone pilot, call sign “Flash,” and was soon recognized as one of the best drone pilots in the USAF and promoted to captain.

However, the 12-hour shifts at the 867th Attack Squadron – which works closely with the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command, The New York Times reports – began to take their toll. His superiors, as is often the case in the military, neglected to recognize the mental health issues Larson developed from the constant stress of piloting drone attacks. Larson began to self-medicate, and when the Air Force learned he was using psychedelic mushrooms and ecstasy, it began court-martial proceedings. Larson then fled into the mountains of northern California. As his hunters now closed in on him, and feeling there was no way out, he sent a final message to his family, then turned his weapon on himself.

I would suggest that the Pentagon’s recruiting goals are unrealistic not only because of all the hazards faced by military personnel, but also because U.S. forces are overextended. With over 800 bases around the world, our ever-expanding empire cannot satisfy the need to conquer the world with “full spectrum domination.” This is despite an Army Junior ROTC program that has 550,000 students enrolled in 1,700 schools. With a bloated military budget of $826.45 billion for FY 2024, it’s past time to cut back on this military madness and redirect taxpayer dollars toward desperately needed domestic programs.

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