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Report Labels Bundeswehr Overstretched, Insecure

Jan. 29, 2013 - 12:33PM   |  
By ALBRECHT MÜLLER   |   Comments
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BONN — Disappointment over the results of recent military transformation efforts have left German soldiers insecure about their future and dissatisfied with leadership, according to an annual report by Helmut Königshaus, parliamentary commissioner for the Armed Forces.

“Expectations that the Bundeswehr would become more powerful and efficient as a result of the transformation were not confirmed in the reporting year, on the contrary,” said Königshaus, who presented his paper Jan. 29 in Berlin. “The daily duty and mission load, especially in the Army, the Navy and the Medical Corps, has limits,” he said, and these limits have been partly exceeded.

Leadership failings also were cited, and he pointed to petitions from soldiers complaining about double standards related to disciplinary issues depending on the military rank.

The report acknowledged some improvements in equipment, especially for troops on mission. In Afghanistan in 2012, for instance, the report said, no German soldier was killed.

But other equipment-related areas faced heavy criticism.

“There are still substantial gaps with the equipment, in particular with the heavy equipment, despite all improvements which have to be acknowledged.”

Night vision capability, air mobility and means to dispose of IEDs also are lacking, the report said.

Königshaus summed it up in a critical judgment about the strategy of the Bundeswehr leadership:

“The overall impression is that the employer plans with a structure and equipment that he cannot afford under the given conditions.”

During his press conference, he criticized those who supported cutting the defense budget more than other budgets as part of an overall effort to reduce spending.

One major reason given for personnel dissatisfaction is the closing of bases and insecurity about their future.

“If after three years of reform neither the next post is certain nor adequate career opportunities are in prospect ... one does not need to be surprised about the bad mood,” said Col. Ulrich Kirsch, head of the soldiers lobby group, German Bundeswehr Association.

The rates for separation and divorce among Bundeswehr personnel far exceeds the national average, Königshaus said. About 70 percent of the German soldiers are weekend commuters, he said, a number that has increased with the closing of bases in the wake of the current Bundeswehr restructuring. In addition, there is the pressure of weeks-long assignments and months-long foreign missions.

“The Bundeswehr still does not address this aspect with the necessary attention,” said Königshaus, regarding the need to plan for more near-home stationing. He also criticized shortcomings in parental leave and child care. These challenges between family and job are seen as one of the reasons for a personnel shortage in certain areas.

The high frequency of deployments also was criticized. The goal of a four-month tour on mission with at least 20 months at home has met with limited success.

The commissioner applauded the improvement of the treatment of the wounded, but also complained that the treatment of traumatized soldiers remained a weak spot of the Bundeswehr. There are still not enough psychologists and psychotherapists to treat the increasing number of traumatized soldiers, he said. In 2012, this reached a new peak with 1,143 persons needing treatment.

During his press conference, Königshaus said the Bundeswehr still does not fully understand that with the end of conscription, it must present itself as an attractive employer.

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