Older troops more susceptible to combat fatigue?

In a Strategy Page post:

In Iraq, the army is also discovering the Israelis first noted in 1982, that older reservists have less capacity for combat stress than do younger men. Being older may make you wiser, but it also leaves you more beat up by the usual stresses of life. Older reservists, activated and sent to a combat zone, come back more the worse for it than do younger soldiers.

I would have guessed that older troops would fare better than younger ones. As this specifies “reservists”, and the source material is not linked, it’s hard to know what to make of it. Could it be that older reservists fare worse, being pulled out of a “normal” civilian life and sent to a combat zone, but that older active duty troops respond better because their “normal” life includes full-time soldiering?


  1. I think it comes down to it being a young man’s game. Even though I was on active duty at the time, my deployment to the Gulf and subsequent operations during that period in 90-91 kicked my ass. I lost close to 45 pounds, and the sleep deprivation takes its toll. And I was ‘only’ 29 years old at the time. You have to factor in a lot of things. Lack of sleep, poor nutrition and the other stressors that are common in those situations. Experience counts, and being older also has some additional benefits, but I think overall being younger, physically and mentally, is going to lessen the load.

  2. Speaking from personal experience, they definitely don’t want an old dude like me. I start out hurting and it only gets worse from there. Then factor in all the complaining, a capacity that definitely increases with age, and our guys wouldn’t know whether to kill the enemy, me, or themselves.

  3. How old is ‘older’? I was a hard charging grunt in my early to mid-twenties. Now I’m in my mid-sixties I take Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and blood thiners just to keep the old ticker from going straight-line. My hearing is shot, my eyes are shot and every joint in my body aches 24/7. Maybe they could use me as a sandbag?

  4. I never liked the term ‘combat fatigue.’ Older soldiers are certainly more susceptible to physical fatigue. The stuff that tired me out as a young Marine would kill me know. Older soldiers also probably have more family and financial worries during a deployment. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for maturity, wisdom, and experience. When the shit hits the fan, it’s us oldtimers who lead the crazy young bucks through it.

  5. Bram: Though I’m just a civie, I’ve always been more than a bit skeptical of the term ‘combat fatigue’ and similar terms, too. It seems to be too much of a catch-all for a million-and-one things that wear on a guy in combat zone. And many of those things aren’t directly related to combat. Just the uneven and uneasy sleep patterns would be enough to put a lot of folks into ‘combat fatigue’ territory (mentally, physically, and emotionally) even if they sleep in their own beds in their own homes every night. So suddenly those same sleep issues in a combat zone are ‘combat fatigue’? Heck, there are studies that show how terrible the sleep patterns dictated by high school are for teenagers. I’d bet that many of the symptoms these teenagers are suffering from are very similar to ‘combat fatigue’-type issues. Maybe, in the majority of cases, it’s just ‘fatigue’. I know that it’s important to classify these things, and I know that the term ‘combat fatigue’ has fallen into general disuse by professionals, but it seems that a lot of times guys with all sorts of issues are all lumped together with guys who have been through very traumatic or extremely extreme experiences, and that doesn’t seem right.