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Ever-changing army fights the longest-ever war

Senior military officials talk about how US troops are fundamentally different than 10 years ago.

When it comes to wounded personnel, the enemy’s signature weapons in both Iraq and Afghan has been the roadside bomb, resulting in the signature injury — brain damage. There have been 100,000 mild brain injuries, and this does not include the large number of post traumatic stress disorders, which can amount to 12 percent of forces engaged.

Surveys have shown that stress disorder rises with multiple tours of duty, so an effort is being made to limit the time in the field and increase the time at home. It takes at a minimum half a year to recover from deployment. The ideal would be nine months in the field and three years at home. Six months in the field would be too short to be effective, 12 too long.

The ideal is not yet achievable, and experienced veterans are needed to bolster new recruits.

Suicides are dramatically down this year, and the services are trying to combat the idea that stress disorders are a stigma and a matter of shame for soldiers. Nothing helps more than for soldiers to be able to discuss openly their feelings with other soldiers.

Last spring Afghan security forces were at the same level as Iraq in 2005. Therefore it will take at least three to five years before they are up and running.

Most vexing are: 1, the governance of Afghanistan, and 2, Pakistan and the ability of the enemy to move freely across the border.

The importance of local culture is now well understood in the U.S. military. It is taught right down to the corporal level. Alas, Americans schools do not train students to understand foreign cultures, and, although Dari and Pashtu, the languages of Afghanistan, are exotic, foreign language skills are now as important for the military as for State Department diplomats.

The senior military officers recognized that there was a perfect storm of capitalization, and that savings and budget cuts are inevitable. But aging equipment needs to be replaced, even in a perfect storm of capitalization.

As for the case of fired general, Stanley McChrystal, he allowed certain circumstances to put him in a different place than his civilian leaders, which simply cannot be allowed in the American tradition of command accountability. But, the officers said, he had served magnificently.