July 15th, 2010
07:44 PM ET

Security Brief: Army suicides soared in June

More U.S. soldiers killed themselves last month than in recent Army history, according to Army statistics released Thursday, confounding officials trying to reverse the grim trend.

The statistics show that 32 soldiers killed themselves in June, the highest number in a single month since the Vietnam era. Twenty-one of them were on active duty while 11 were in the National Guard or Army Reserve in an inactive status. Seven of those soldiers killed themselves while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Army numbers.

The spike comes after the monthly suicide numbers had dropped following a January high of 28, and Army officials admit they still haven't answered the question of why troops are committing suicide at a record rate. "There were no trends to any one unit, camp, post or station," said Col. Chris Philbrick, head of the Army's suicide prevention task force. "... I have no silver bullet to answer the question why." He said he could offer only what he has said before: "Continued stress on the force and the opportunities we have been facing in terms of the challenges in the Army continue to cause these events to take place."

Including the June numbers, a total of 145 soldiers have killed themselves this year, more than half of the total number for all of 2009, according to Army statistics. In 2009, a record-breaking year for suicides in the service, 245 soldiers killed themselves.

In another attempt to put a halt to the trend, the Army released a suicide prevention video, a follow-up to one released last year. The updated video is designed to "hit home" with soldiers and instill the importance of getting help, Philbrick said. The video, titled "Shoulder to Shoulder: I Will Never Quit," begins with a compelling story of a soldier whose wife said she was divorcing him. The soldier, Spec. Joseph Sanders, says his wife was his whole world. "I grabbed my rifle, put it under my chin and pulled the trigger," Sanders says. The gun did not fire, he says, and when he took the rifle apart he discovered that a key part was missing. His Army buddy then tells viewers he removed the part because Sanders was showing signs that he could kill himself.

Asked why the Army thinks this video will be more effective than the first one, Philbrick said the soldiers will relate to it better. The first video, made up of a mix of actors and real soldiers, "sucked" he said. It was rushed out and troops did not believe in it. He said some even openly laughed at it. "This video has all real soldiers with real stories," Philbrick said.

The video is part of a series of efforts to cut the suicide rate. Last year the Army required all soldiers around the world to stop working and spend a day watching the first video and receiving suicide prevention training. Philbrick said the alarming June numbers will not bring another Army-wide training day, called a stand-down. He said the new video will be incorporated immediately into the standard suicide prevention training for new troops and the yearly training all soldiers go through.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Bob Bornt, MFT

    This is wrong... and to reattempt to use video and lecture is wrong. Academics and command need to give it up and stop trying to analysis and figure this out from a 'thinking' position. I have worked with this issue personally and professionally and the approach is not only wrong but may be contributing... And I do have a chip on my shoulder because every time I have tried to approach those in charge of this issue I am patronized and turned away. It is wrong that this continues to happen!

    July 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      Forcing decent people to kill others and forcing them to risk being killed themselves for no clear reason (and none that has anything whatsoever to keeping the US safe) is soul-destroying and people lose hope for a purposeful life. The US should never have invaded these countries and is losing its soul. One by one, good people forced to live unethically are being destroyed as they give up hope and their values. The US has lost its moral compass and these people who have killed themselves have, too. The US should mind its own business, fix its own economic problems and get out of the Middle East. Here's a good tip: Make some electric cars and stop slaughtering innocent people to get their oil.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan in Afghanistan

      So Bob....what is your solution?

      July 16, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
    • greenteagod

      How are they being forced Grace? There hasn't been a draft for decades, this is a choice. If they didn't want to be part of it, well don't sign up. Your view on ethics is entirely skewed.

      July 16, 2010 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. wllmmddltn

    I'm reading this from a reserve base while serving 2 weeks Annual Training. I'm not suprised in the least this is happening, I am suprised that there was a lull. The brutality of service is so real, I've been a deployed or activated guardsman for at least 50% of the time since 2003. Nobody is going to hire someone who is gone a lot, been in a lot of fights and is looked at as damaged goods. Not in this economy. So it leaves more wars and more deployments and more brutality as the path of least resistance. We're starting to not like what we are seeing in the mirror or what's written in our future as we see it. We are a killer generation, the answer to the problems at home are easy to solved by those who kill to survive, it's just 1 more wasted life..

    July 16, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  3. Smith in Oregon

    With the US Army pouring massive amounts of anti-depressants down the throats of soldiers in a battle zone, it comes as no surprise those same individuals return home with severe PTSD. The drugs greatly increase the intensity of the memory's being stored and how long they'll remain a conscious memory. Constantly filling them with images of Afghanistan children and women they murdered, friends blown up by IED's and the constant stress of being shot at each night as they try to get some rest.

    July 16, 2010 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. Charles Jannuzi

    Military duty can be very unpleasant, to say the least. The US owes its military personnel much better mental health care. I would also bet that the grim economic news and the social and political malaise of recent times feeds into the despair some of these mostly young personnel feel.

    July 16, 2010 at 3:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bob Bornt, MFT

    Alan in Afghanistan & others.

    Love the question. Sets up the whole "If you're so smart then..." challenge. And I like challenges. However, I'm not saying I have the solution only experience that education and training of the issue for self/peer/family directed prevention and intervention goes a long way. AND most importantly I'm not talking of the impersonal powerpoint, academic videos and million pages of information currently deemed the solution. I'm suggesting engaging in a process of understanding the physiological process of stress and resiliency that become the psychological expression. Every soldier and Marine I have worked with – grunt to general, has shown the capacity and interest to learn the basic neurological function of the human machine in a way that offers self/peer/family intervention. But, because it is not the cognitive psychological approach I have found no academic traction – only that from those who have gone down range. The process is termed Behavioral Triage (BT) and I'd love to come to Afghanistan to engage a training for 6 months... Your call... I'm on FB and at gmail under the same name less the MFT qualifier.

    July 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lyndathulani

    Volunteer or Draft this war is wrong on so many levels, but the effect on these young people who are committing suicide in these war zones or after they return is sad and horrifying!

    July 19, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Christine Bolzan

    I hope you might all take a look at a new website and effort being championed by Ken and Cyndy Jones, parents of fallen hero, Captain Eric Jones, decorated Marine who was killed in a helicopter collision during a combat mission in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan last October. Ken and Cyndy have launched Heroes in Transition to aid returning veterans, and their own healing process.

    Please view their newly launched site: http://www.heroesintransition.org

    July 19, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |