German Army Drinks and Smokes Too Much, Ombudsman Says | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.03.2008
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German Army Drinks and Smokes Too Much, Ombudsman Says

Germany's military ombudsman says the country's soldiers are overweight. They're out of shape. They drink and smoke too much. Their general fitness level is unacceptable.

German army recruits on the ground with guns

They're not all in bad shape

Reinhold Robbe's 2008 report, which he presented to his employer, the German parliament, on Tuesday, March 4, said that more than 40 percent of the country's soldiers were overweight and over 70 percent were regular smokers. Sports often played a minor role in the army, and the soldiers' physical abilities were alarming, the ombudsman said. The German army was suffering from the effects of a passive lifestyle.

Robbe wouldn't go so far as to say that the troops were too unfit to fight. He did, however, point out that: "every athletic soldier who can react quickly has an advantage on the field."

As the Bundeswehr's agony aunt, Robbe should know. His job is to provide civilian oversight of the armed forces and ensure that the country's soldiers are being treated appropriately. The ombudsman receives up to 6,000 complaints from soldiers each year, which make up part of the report he submits annually to parliament. He also regularly visits the troops.

Soldiers pass sandbags down a line to fortify a dam

Sports could play a greater role in a soldier's career

Robbe said on Tuesday that soldiers' poor state of health was not all their fault. Instead, he said, the Bundeswehr needed to take a different approach to fitness and health. The introduction of rations designated as "optimized provisions" had led to less bread and fruit being available to soldiers. It hadn't been an improvement but a cost-cutting measure.

He also lamented the amount of bureaucracy soldiers have to deal with on a daily basis and the Bundeswehr's continuing lack of funds.

Keeping them honest

Based on a Swedish model, the ombudsman's office was created at the same time as the Bundeswehr itself, in 1955. In the wake of the German army's entanglement in the crimes of the Nazis, the idea was to prevent abuse of power by having a politician, rather than a soldier, act as a liaison between parliament and the armed forces.

Parliament chooses the ombudsman, usually from its own ranks, for the five-year post. The office holder is required to lay down his or her parliamentary mandate and work exclusively as the ombudsman.

The current officeholder, Reinhold Robbe, was a conscientious objector as a young man in the 1970s. The Social Democrat is a defense policy specialist and a fervent believer in the need for mandatory military conscription.

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