Sunday, February 08, 2009

Suicide in the Army

The Army Times and National Public Radio recently reported on the growing suicide rate in the Army. The number of suicides has increased every year, growing from 87 in 2005 to 143 in 2008. The Army is aggressively trying to address the issue, but has been unable to find a specific cause of this increase.

The question arises as to whether the increase in suicides is directly related to the increase in combat deployments and "stress on the force" that comes from fighting two wars with a much smaller Army than existed in the Cold War era. While 35% of the suicides from this period were soldiers who had not deployed, 78% of those who committed suicide while deployed were on their first tour.

The immediate response by the Army is to require 2 - 4 hours of training on suicide prevention and identification across the force. This training will be conducted between February 15 and March 15.

In the summer of 2003, while I was in Iraq, the number of suicides increased dramatically for units deployed in that country. I vividly remember the suicide of a civil affairs captain that occurred at Camp Babylon while I was there. The man had a wife and children. The Army leadership responded in the same manner by requiring suicide prevention and identification classes for all of us.

I do not know enough about suicides or their causes to be able to say that the strain on the Army from multiple long deployments in a combat zone would be a source of increased suicides. Ultimately, the Army is made up of people, and the many complexities of the motivations and situations of the soldiers in the force should preclude any sweeping generalizations. The trend, however, is disturbing.


  1. Last year there was an unprecedented spate of teen suicides in the town of Bridgend, Wales. I guess it's one of those things that can seem like an epidemic among certain groups or places. It's the trends that should be studied.

  2. "The Army is aggressively trying to address the issue, but has been unable to find a specific cause of this increase."

    You've got to be kidding. The Army is not going to ever find "a specific cause" that has anything to do with combat. Their stance is as it always is - Duck and Cover.

    How many of the individuals higher up in the military ever admit anything. Their conditioning is to always tow the military line that controls their responses.

    Objective thought is deadly on the battlefield, but necessary to survive. Battle hardened / broken soldiers don't have much of a chance without intensive long-term help. Many never receive that help.

    So, while the military buries it's head, more and more soldiers are lost. It's all about hiding. The officers who refuse to put the truth out there are cowards who truly betray their soldiers.

    Every citizen of the United States who knows anyone who returns from combat can clearly list the changes in that person along the lines of "Before Combat" and "After Combat". Those comments are considered anecdotal, and are dismissed by all military talking heads.

    I was terrified my sister would attempt suicide after her return from Iraq. Her response to me was that I should not worry. She was not suicidal. She wanted someone else to shoot her in the head. She wanted to die, but not in Iraq, and not by her own hand. That was her best effort intended to help me feel better. She was a mess.

    Now she gets regular help through the VA for her physical and mental issues. She is not dwelling on thoughts of death as she did before. Without that help, she would not be alive today, she would be like the Captain you mention in passing. Someone you knew of who happened to commit suicide. Just another statistic for the Army to ignore.