COMBAT STRESS REACTIONS
In combat, soldiers experience overwhelming stress reactions which may result
from physical exhaustion, constant alertness, the trauma of seeing fellow soldiers
wounded or killed, the fear of being killed or maimed, and the fear of killing other
persons. Generally, combat stress reactions are temporary and do not require a soldier
to be removed from combat conditions. If, however, a soldier cannot function effectively
in his job and his safety, as well as the safety of others, is compromised, he must be
a. Nature of Combat. Combat is intentionally the most stressful activity in
which human beings engage. The enemy is deliberately trying to break our will and our
mental ability to fight back. We are deliberately trying to break the enemy's will and
must, at times, intentionally accept intense stress to catch the enemy by surprise or hit
him when he least expects. In combat, we must be prepared to outlast the enemy in a
test of mental endurance.
b. Ancient Battlefields. Actually, the battlefields of antiquity were far more
"lethal" than those of recent history. It was not uncommon for the ancient Persians,
Greeks, and Romans to see 40,000 to 80,000 soldiers hacked to death within a square
mile during an afternoon. Activity on the battlefield was fierce. Soldiers fought
shoulder-to-shoulder with their comrades, fought to the sound of drums and trumpets,
fought beneath waving flags and standards. These fighters were pitting their strength,
courage, and endurance against those of their enemies. When one side "lost heart,"
became demoralized, and turned and ran, they were massacred.
c. Change of Tactics. Gunpowder, which did not depend on courage, strength,
or endurance, changed the nature of battle. When finally packaged in long-range rifles
and exploding shells, gunpowder made it too dangerous to stand shoulder-to-shoulder
with comrades. Tactics changed, and fighters on the battlefield became very scattered.
Soldiers today rarely see more than a glimpse of the enemy or his machines. Today's
soldier sees only a few members of his own small team.
d. Change in Nature of Battlefield Death. The change in the nature of battle
changed the nature of battlefield death. Today death can strike without warning, not
just for an afternoon but at any instant over days, weeks, or months. Actually, fewer
soldiers are killed in battle out of the total numbers involved because soldiers are more
spread out. The nature of stress has intensified, however, because of the impersonal,
prolonged, random nature of the threat.