The high motivation levels of the Army personnel despite harsh and challenging service conditions came shining through at a recent seminar by a leading think tank. However, the deliberations and recommendations regarding the prevailing stress levels need serious consideration. The observation that ‘more than half of the Army seems to be under severe stress… due to operational and non-operational reasons’ calls for a carefully-thought-out policy intervention and remedial measures. A shift in strategy is all the more necessary because the various stress management steps implemented during the past 15 years have apparently not been able to achieve the desired results.
The cause-and-effect list includes the prolonged exposure to counter-terrorism environment, non-combat-related reasons, inadequacies in the quality of leadership, overburdened commitments, inadequate resources and frequent dislocation. A more supportive and responsive organisational and administrative climate has been advocated. Stress prevention and management, it has been pointed out, have to be treated as a leadership role. An insightful suggestion is making government agencies and the society at large more sensitive to the peculiar service conditions and the ethos of the soldiers.
The issues that need to be addressed on priority, according to experts, are those related to the quality of command and man-management that affect the morale, motivation, honour and dignity of Army personnel. Aspirational concerns, better support facilities for self and family, delay or denial of leave, unreasonable restrictions, lack of recreational facilities, conflict with seniors as well as subordinates, health problems, delay in crediting of financial claims and poor quality of rations — the catalogue may be long, but solutions have to be found and changes implemented. As aptly articulated, prolonged exposure to excessive stress has serious adverse effects on the health and efficiency of soldiers and combat units. Be it the Army or other armed forces, of paramount importance is improving and maximising institutional arrangements to deal with personnel under stress; from counselling to motivating to showing empathy.