May 19, 2011

Troops More Prone To Injury Due To Poorer Diets And Health

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey told a Senate panel on Wednesday that army recruits have had poorer diets and are less fit than past generations, making them more prone to injury from heavier loads lugged in combat.

"It's really the generation of Americans that have this problem," he said.  "But it's exacerbated by the load we ask them to bear."

Reuters reports that he singled out poor eating habits plus carbonated drinks as a contributing factor to "musculoskeletal" injuries, which have been a leading cause of U.S. medical evacuations from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dempsey was responding to concerns from U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran who won the Medal of Honor.

Inouye, who is 86-years-old, said individual U.S. troops' combat gear was pushing toward 125 pounds, compared with the no-frills he carried as an infantryman.

"I feel for them because I believe my combat kit never exceeded 20 pounds (9 kg), including my rifle, boots and helmet, grenades and all the ammo I carried," the Hawaii Democrat said at a hearing on the Army's fiscal 2012 budget request at the Appropriations Defense subcommittee he chairs.

"I hope we can lighten the load and lighten the injuries," added Inouye.

Dempsey said troops' heavy combat load was a "consistent issue on our minds" as the Army tried to lighten everything from boots to helmets to rifle opticals.

He said it is also studying squad-level changes that could shift more of the batteries being lugged to automotive "mules" and robotic devices.

But part of the problem "is that young men and women coming in the army today are not as fit or as skeletally sound as you were," said Dempsey.

"Even in basic training, before we load the soldier with the gear that eventually they will have to learn to bear, we have these same kind of musculoskeletal injuries," he said.

Inouye said musculoskeletal injuries have risen ten-fold in the last four years and the cost of related disability benefits was topping $500 million a year.


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