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Bundeswehr

Ombudsman says soldiers over-stretched, demoralized

The German parliament’s commissioner for the armed forces has said morale among the country’s men and women in uniform is rock bottom. Hellmut Königshaus said the sentiment pervaded all ranks in the Bundeswehr.

Königshaus told a reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that two separate surveys had found that many soldiers had reached their maximum capacity in terms of their workloads and that in some cases they had even gone beyond. 

"There is no sign of an improvement in the mood of the troops," Königshaus said.

The Free Democrat politician noted that soldiers having to commute between the family home and where they are stationed was a particular source of stress. A major contributing factor, he said, were missions abroad lasting for several months at a time.

Armed forces' mood poor

"This leads to rates of separation and divorce that are way above the norm," Königshaus said. "The Bundeswehr is still not giving this issue the necessary attention."

Another major factor hurting morale among the forces was the uncertainty about their professional futures brought on to a large extent by plans to shut down military bases and other installations.

Königshaus also pointed to what he said were "serious deficiencies" in leadership in the Bundeswehr. When it came to matters of breach of duty, he said, there were isolated cases in which two sets of rules appeared to be used, giving the impression that the little fish would be hanged while the big fish would get off scot-free.

Hellmut Königshaus (Photo: Oliver Lang/dapd)

Königshaus: 'juggling marriage and the military tough'

The parliamentary commissioner's report for 2012 also included incidents related to right-wing extremism within the armed forces. The reported number of cases increased to 67 last year from 63 in 2011. Most of these involved what he described as “propaganda offenses,” such as listening to music with extreme-right or racist lyrics or giving the Nazi salute, which is banned in Germany.

Sexual harassment gets more attention

On a positive note, Königshaus said that in 2012 the Bundeswehr focused more of it attention on combating sexual violence or harassment in the forces. He said there were 50 reported incidents, but that allegations of actual rape were rare. Most of the case involved allegations of improper touching or verbal sexual harassment.

Last year saw four cases in which service personnel were accused of possessing or spreading child pornography.

Königshaus also noted an improvement in the equipment issued to Bundeswehr soldiers in active duty. This he said, had contributed to the fact that no German soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan since mid-2011. He also said there had been improvement in the medical care given to wounded servicemen.

At the same time though, he noted that the Bundeswehr still had a long way to go in how it treats soldiers suffering from mental or psychological problems. He said there was a clear lack of psychologists and psychotherapists in a year when the number of seriously traumatized soldiers reached a peack of 1,143.

pfd/ipj (dpa, dapd)

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