DURHAM, N.C. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that most Americans have grown too detached from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and see military service as "something for other people to do."
In a speech Wednesday at Duke University, Gates said this disconnect has imposed a heavy burden on a small segment of society and wildly driven up the costs of maintaining an all-volunteer force.
Because fewer Americans see military service as their duty, troops today face repeated combat tours and long separations from family.
The 2.4 million people serving in the armed forces today represent less than 1 percent of the country's total population.
"Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the war remains an abstraction — a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally," Gates said.
Even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for most Americans "service in the military — no matter how laudable — has become something for other people to do," he added.
4 suicides in a week reported at Fort Hood
Four veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan died this week from what appeared to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds at Fort Hood in central Texas, raising the toll of soldiers who died at their own hands to a record level, the New York Times reported.
So far this year, Army officials have confirmed that 14 soldiers at Fort Hood have committed suicide. Six others are believed to have taken their own lives but a final determination has yet to be made. The highest number of suicides at Fort Hood occurred in 2008, when 14 soldiers killed themselves, said Christopher Haug, a military spokesman.
Last November, an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, was charged with killing 13 people with a pistol in a rampage at a building on the post.