First, let me make the boiler plate statement that the following opinions are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect any institution of which I am a part. Great onto the Dumpster fire…
Let me make this abundantly clear out the gate, this article is for the men of the Armed forces and no one else, or at least those who are biologically born and identify as men…. Whatever. As we put on the uniform that gives us purpose and pays the bills, it helps to reflect on the boots we fill. Whether your archetypal boots you seek to fill landed on the shores of Omaha beach, raised a flag on Iwo Jima, or kicked in doors in Fallujah; there is an uncomfortable yet obvious reality, that we as a generation of warfighter likely aren’t half the men they were. I know that statement bruised some egos and guys are holding their “Death before Dishonor” tattoos with tears in their eyes but hear me out.
The general population we all came from
In a study conducted in 2007 by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that from 1987-2002 the general population experience a 1% per year decline in Total Testosterone that was age dependent. Now without getting too far into the weeds here let me just state that the age ranges studied in 1987 were age 45-71 with a median Total Testosterone of 501 ng/dl, with the lowest observed number being 391 ng/dl. So in 1987 they tested 1,383 old dudes and none of them had low T by 2021 standards. (https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/92/1/196/2598434)
I know what you are thinking, “Yea but those are old dudes, the modern warfighter is way younger REEEEEE” well I’m glad you mentioned age, in another study found in the Journal called “European Urology Focus” that tested males age ranged 15-39 in 1999-2000 had a mean average TT of 605 ng/dl, compared to the 451 ng/dl for the same age group of males in 2015-2016. Alright dingus, its 2021… do we think the Testosterone levels got higher or lower in the 5 years after the last group was tested? (That’s right, now go hug your friends on recruiting duty, they need it). To be fair, the study correlated a lot of this drop in T with elevation in BMI levels across the groups. (That means they were fatter). Here’s the link to the study, but know I needed to dust off my old college login to get access.
Anyway, back to you not being the Audie Murphy or John Basilone you thought you were. It’s pretty evident that this trend is not just indicative of the modern military man of today, but the broader society of which he comes from. It also paints a concerning and bleak picture of the military man of tomorrow if this trend continues any further. When you look at this chart, some people rightfully see a smaller, ever dwindling pool of men to draw from for SOF, and other people see a declining average quality Soldier, Sailor, Airmen and Marine. Both take aways are correct. (Did I tell you to hug a recruiter already?)
The lives we live
I do not have to spell out to you how the military lifestyle in general, and especially in combat arms, will wreck your body in a physical way, but you may not be quite aware of how its wrecking you in a hormonal way. Let me explain; poor sleep, processed foods, over dependence on stimulants, and relationship stresses will, I repeat WILL, tank your testosterone and probably your life in general.
Let us hit these one at a time.
Sleep: In a study by the university of Chicago medical center it was found that the effects of sleep loss on testosterone levels were apparent after just one week of short sleep. Five hours of sleep decreased their testosterone levels by 10% to 15%. (Now how about 4 years, still want to re-enlist?) Link here . To understand sleep way better and how to fix yourself check out this Killer Soflete Vid here
Processed foods: In a study conducted in Danish men that adhere to the Western pattern (generally unhealthy), characterized by greater intake of pizza, French fries, processed and red meats, snacks, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sweets (Minus the French fries, that is basically an MRE,). It was stated in this study that “Men with the highest adherence to the Western pattern had higher testosterone levels, assessed as total and free testosterone, compared with men with less adherence. At the same time, they also had the highest estradiol concentration but unchanged LH levels. Thus, it appears that adherence to the Western pattern may lead to an increased aromatization of testosterone to estradiol. We speculate that this change has resulted in increased negative feedback at the hypothalamic level.” *Sound of Silence tune* (Hello Gyno my old friend..) link here
Overuse of Stimulants: Ok this one is not as clear cut as the others, so a study in the international journal of sports nutrition and exercise metabolism concluded that “Caffeine has some potential to benefit training outcomes via the anabolic effects of the increase in testosterone concentration, but this benefit might be counteracted by the opposing catabolic effects of the increase in cortisol and resultant decline in the testosterone:cortisol ratio.” Link here
In order to understand how the above paragraph and the way the relationship stresses can hurt us hormonally we have to understand that cortisol is a stress hormone that we endure that directly competes with testosterone and long-term elevated levels of it are horrible for us as men but the ability to tolerate it and still perform is essential to our profession, especially for the door kickers among us. To reaffirm this, research from the University of Texas at Austin found that “chronically elevated cortisol levels can produce impotence and loss of libido by inhibiting testosterone production in men.” Link here
Alcohol: I’m not about to kill most of y’all’s sacred cow. Just take it from me its not good for your T, especially beer. Side note/hot take: IPAs don’t taste good, you just like them because they get you hammered faster. I said what I said.
So, to recap: You probably came in with lower T, and now the lifestyle you are probably living is making it go even lower. Let us hope you don’t suffer from totally unrelated depression, ED, weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, mood changes, loss of libido, trouble sleeping, infertility, loss of motivation or self-confidence… because you know…. that is totally not related to your T levels at all. VA Preemptively denies your claim
Why this matters for the next war
We’ve already established how the society we come from is getting fatter and has declining levels of T, (lets also throw in “Less athletically capable” for good measure) and how the very nature of the military lifestyle is also hamstringing us in a big way from just being at baseline much less optimal, but what does it mean for us in the next conflict? Well, it depends on what that conflict looks like.
If it’s what we’ve been doing, then a lot of the Special Operators are going to bear the brunt of that op tempo; as is they’ve got a dwindling pool of people to draw from and a lot of them are suffering from Operator’s syndrome/Toxic exposures. (Here is another Soflete Vid that opened by eyes to this: here) They’ve got a lot on their plate and the average longevity of those warfighters is probably a bit better than their conventional counterparts but they still suffer from the same problems ,if not to a higher degree.
If it is a near peer adversary like the DoD believes it is, then who is going to be most effected by these factors? In my humble and probably uninformed opinion, it is the NCO and SNCO corps. The guys that have put in the solid 6-16 years of grinding that likely are the people most burnt out hormonally by this lifestyle, and who are also the leaders that make up the backbone of our forces in any conflict. (aka small unit level leadership). The junior enlisted men in the armed forces are young and can physically and hormonally endure more, since the corrosive nature of stress, poor quality of life, and crap nutrition has not had the time to break them down as much. Do not mistake me, I understand the institution comes before us and “You volunteered for this” logic, but I would not be harping on this individual centric point if it weren’t for the recent Jocko Podcast that featured a document my own beloved Marine Corps put out called “The Squad leader makes a difference”, the opening foreword states:
“The Squad leader makes a difference”, the opening foreword states “In combat, the actions of individual leaders affect the outcome of the entire battle. Squad leaders make decisions and take actions which can affect the operational and strategic levels of war. Well-trained squad leaders play an important role as combat decisionmakers on the battlefield. Leaders who show initiative, judgment, and courage will achieve decisive results not only at the squad level, but in the broader context of the battle. Without competent squad leaders, capable of carrying out a commander’s intent, even the best plans are doomed to failure.”
We fight as an institution with combined arms, but nothing happens without the individual. If our institutions know the power and importance of the squad leader then we have to admit the individual’s health and wellbeing matters and effects the outcomes of battles. Being in poor physical and mental shape is not tolerated, so why do we tolerate poor hormonal shape? Hormones literally drives more of our behavior than anything else. So, let me make my stance as crystal clear as humanly possible on where I believe the military as an institution is dropping the ball in a HUGE way.
I believe that we should be able to tolerate the extreme levels of stress, but that isn’t where we should live and having that culturally enforced on a unit level just ensures that we arrive tired, broken and burnt out to the next conflict, with little to no hope of the man coming to relieve us being prepared to handle the task given the declining nature/quality of men in our society (if in fact a recruiter can find a man of our equivalent to replace us). I am aware that the nature of our work requires sacrifice for the good of the country and institution but having an imbalance that neglects the individual too much only ensures that retention will suffer, and that the men who stay will not be as ready as they could be to answer the call because they have already sacrificed their health before the fight has begun.
The rinse, wash, repeat practice of just replacing us with new recruits for the sake of institutional planning does not end with our force being progressively better in the respect of testosterone, and leaves our institutions devoid of men who were there when our institutions had to relearn the hard lessons of combat in blood. The institutional and operational knowledge that every senior man takes with him when he leaves that is not passed on will have to be relearned at a more costly price to both the taxpayer and the warfighter.
As men we evolved with testosterone. In our bodies it effected our anatomy to make our waist narrow and shoulders wide so we could generate enough power to pummel each other to death in acts of aggression or defense. It made us stronger so we could more readily deal with the dangers of the world, and it gave us enough vigor to go reproduce and form strong pair bonded nuclear families. In our minds, testosterone improved our ability to learn, improved our memory, brought forward our motivation/ambition, and helped frame our minds to be ready to compete on all fronts. Link here.
No matter what race, creed, color, religion you hail from as men, your ancestors throughout history needed this hormone to summon up the level of vigor to build a society, strength to maintain it, and violence to either protect it or destroy its adversaries. As cliché as it is to say, as the Warrior class of our society, we can not afford to neglect this declining aspect of ourselves as men, if we wish to do the same for our society.
Our question should not be “How can we lose the next conflict with all our technology and spending?”, our question should be “How can we hope to win our next conflict without strong men?”. Our enemies know this, why don’t we?