Last week, KPHO-TV in Phoenix aired a story about US military veterans who have been hired as assassins by Mexican drug cartels. It noted that at least four US veterans have been arrested in Mexico and charged with working as hit men for the cartels and others have been approached by the cartels. One of those who had been recruited served as a US Marine despite being an undocumented immigrant. Upon returning from war, he apparently suffered from PTSD leading him to be arrested for alcohol and drug abuse before being deported to Mexico.
It should come as no surprise that cartels would seek the services of US Marines and Special Forces veterans. They are, after all, among the very best soldiers in the world. They have been trained to kill with great efficiency. Many have used their military training to become “private contractors,” the modern-day euphemism for mercenary. Many suffer from PTSD and struggle to adapt to civilian life. Many are unable to find good paying jobs.
All of this points to the problem with downsizing and privatizing our military.
In past decades, our soldiers tended to serve one combat deployment of 1-2 years before being sent home. Often they were given rest and recreation time away from combat during their deployment. Even then, many struggled to re-acclimate to civilian life at the end of their deployment. (It’s estimated that as many Vietnam veterans committed suicide as those who died in battle.)
By contast, today’s soldiers have been asked to serve multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have been deployed as many as a dozen times. That not only lessens their chances of survival. It places them at far greater risk of PTSD. When they return home from the insanity of war, they often struggle to adapt to civilian life, which explains the atrocious backlog of cases through the Veteran’s Administration.
With each deployment, it must become increasingly difficult for soldiers to distinguish a “good” kill from a “bad” kill, especially when there are no obvious front lines making it difficult to tell the enemy from civilians. Given that, I can easily see the temptation for some soldiers to cash in on their skills, whether it’s as a “private contractor” for companies like Blackwater or as a hit man for a violent drug cartel.
How can we help them?
For one thing, instead of mindlessly repeating the words “thank you for your service,” we can avoid unnecessary wars like Iraq. If we absolutely must go to war, we can give our military clearly-defined goals. We can spend whatever money is necessary to help our soldiers deal with the trauma and after-effects of war. And we can retrain them to help them find jobs of comparable importance and responsibility that don’t involve weaponry.
Maybe then they would be less susceptible to selling their services to the highest bidder.