ARMY MORALE LOW DESPITE 6-YEAR, $287M OPTIMISM PROGRAM [Excerpts]
More than half of some 770,000 soldiers are pessimistic about their future in the military and nearly as many are unhappy in their jobs, despite a six-year, $287 million campaign to make troops more optimistic and resilient, findings obtained by USA TODAY show.
Twelve months of data through early 2015 show that 403,564 soldiers, or 52%, scored badly in the area of optimism, agreeing with statements such as "I rarely count on good things happening to me." Forty-eight percent have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs.
The results stem from resiliency assessments that soldiers are required to take every year. In 2014, for the first time, the Army pulled data from those assessments to help commanders gauge the psychological and physical health of their troops.
The effort produced startlingly negative results. In addition to low optimism and job satisfaction, more than half reported poor nutrition and sleep, and only 14% said they are eating right and getting enough rest.
The Army began a program of positive psychology in 2009 in the midst of two wars and as suicide and mental illness were on the rise. To measure resiliency the Army created a confidential, online questionnaire that all soldiers, including the National Guard and Reserve, must fill out once a year. Last year, Army scientists applied formulas to gauge service-wide morale based on the assessments. The results demonstrate that positive psychology "has not had much impact in terms of overall health," says David Rudd, president of the University of Memphis who served on a scientific panel critical of the resiliency program.
The Army offered contradictory responses to the findings. Sharyn Saunders, chief of the Army Resiliency Directorate that produced the data, initially disavowed the results. "I've sat and looked at your numbers for quite some time and our team can't figure out how your numbers came about," she said in an interview in March.
However, when [she was provided] the supporting Army documents this week, her office acknowledged the data but said the formulas used to produce them were obsolete. "We stand by our previous responses," it said in a statement.
Subsequent to [the] inquiry, the Army calculated new findings but lowered the threshold for a score to be a positive result. As a consequence, for example, only 9% of 704,000 score poorly in optimism. The Army said the effort to use the questionnaire results to gauge morale Army-wide is experimental. "We continue to refine our methodologies and threshold values to get the most accurate results possible," it said in the statement.
The Army's effort to use positive psychology to make soldiers more resilient has been controversial since its inception in 2009. A blue-ribbon panel of scientists from the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded last year that there is little or no evidence the program prevents mental illness. It argued there was no effort to test its efficacy before the Army embraced it . The panel cited research arguing that, in fact, the program could be harmful if it leaves soldiers with a false sense of resiliency.