Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Suicides among Army Recruiters

CNN reports on the grim story of a disproportionate number of Houston based army recruiters committing suicide. There have been four in the last three years.

"The United States Army Recruiting Command is deeply concerned by the instances of suicide within the Houston Recruiting Battalion," said a statement released by the Recruiting Command. "The board's objective will be to prevent future suicides, increase suicide awareness, analyze trends and highlight additional tools and resources to combat suicide within the Recruiting Command."

The Army's examination comes after a sergeant first class, a member of the Houston Recruiting Battalion and an Iraq combat veteran, killed himself at his home earlier this month.

It seems strange to me that recruiters would be particularly hit. Their work doesn't seem to be especially stressful. It begs a larger question: what is the suicide rate at large among service men and women and veterans of recent wars.

Due to the recurring deployments that have proven necessary to sustain operations in the Middle East, it is likely that a large majority of our recruiters are also veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The recruiter suicides come at a time when the total number of suicides in the Army's ranks has been growing, Army officials said. Through August there had been 93 active duty suicides in the Army.

Last year there were 115 active duty suicides, the highest for the Army since the Vietnam War, according to Army statistics.

Why do you think this would be happening? My first thought is that, not unlike Viet Nam, these engagements have become extremely unpopular. Perhaps that awareness has filtered through and has infected the troops themselves, like it did forty years ago. On the other hand, that may be too complicated a theory.

A simpler theory is this: the stresses associated with war are perhaps heightened by a number of factors. The continual fear of suicide bombers, although this did exist during Viet Nam, in recent years it's become a major concern. I guess we can thank the Israeli / Palestinian conflict for that. Another interesting thing I read is the number of battlefield casualties who live is at an all time high. This is due to improved medevac equipment and procedures. The result is a higher number of damaged individuals returning to society. I'll bet they make up a good percentage of the suicides.

What do you think? Part of my solution is to get out of Iraq, a war we never should have been involved in in the first place. I'd get our foreign combat activity down to a bare minimum. Isolationism might be preferable to the breath-taking costs of sustaining these wars.


  1. Mike,

    A couple of points to consider about military suicides.

    First, the population of the military is skewed compared to the civilian population so direct comparisons are often not easy.
    Given that 80% of the military is male, the suicide rates compared to the equivalent civilian male population are higher but not extremely so.

    Second, One of the reasons people are assigned as recruiters is being downchecked medically. Being downchecked means that person is not medically qualified to either perform there assigned job or be deployed.

    I agree that the number of vets surviving injuries might have something to do with it. There is a strong sense of camaraderie in the military; being unable to help your team leaves many GIs feeling inadequate and depressed.

    I wonder how many vets of the Civil War, WWI, WWI, Korea would have committed suicide had they access to our modern medical care and survival rates.

    Complicating this factor is that many recruiting stations aren't near military bases where they could get help.

    Also, as a military brat and vet, I can tell you there is even more stress on families when the GI returns from a deployment. The family must adopt to the changes, different styles, discipline, focus, etc that a returning parent or spouse brings. It is particularly rough on the GIs to feel resented upon his/her return for disrupting the established routine.

    Combine all of the stresses and the higher suicide rate makes sense. I don't know if it will every be something that can be completely overcame.

  2. Good points Bob. What about this? When young men had Parris Island training for Viet Nam, for example, they were "younger" in the sense that television and the internet allow kids to grow up faster nowadays. Do you think this is a factor?

  3. Mike,

    Let's think about it this way. Back in the middle ages most people lived in one room huts or houses. Sex was openly seen, murder was rampant, violence was part of their everyday lives. Hunting, slaugtering and cleaning animals was something everyone shared in doing. If it was in a feudal system, abuse of power by the ruling class; think of Japan. Samurai were able to execute on the spot anyone who allowed their shadow to fall on their samurai sword.

    Are our kids really growing up faster now? I doubt it. I have always believed that we are doing our "kids" a disservice by delaying them taking on responsibility.

    Are kids really any different today then Vietnam era, WWII, Civil War, Revolutionary War? Perhaps only developmentally delayed in some cases, we aren't letting them be accountable for their actions as much as we used to in the past.
    I think what we are seeing isn't kids growing up faster, but adults still acting as kids longer and longer.

    I don't know if any of this answered your question. If not, let me know and I'll try again

  4. Maybe it has to do with the demeaning of turning a soldier, or trying to, into a salesman?

    One of my good friends was one of Unc Sam's Misguided Children for a few tours of 'Nam and came back and was made a marksmanship instructor. He liked those jobs.

    His CO decided he wanted to make him a recruiter. He told his CO "With all due respect, Sir, If I'd wanted to be a salesman I'd be standing on a car lot or working at Montgomery Wards, not a War Veteran and Marksmanship instructor."

    They tried to push him into being a salesman and he retired early. Maybe some people don't have the balls to stand up to their COs like Jim did? They did their best to give him a dishonorable discharge for wanting to be a soldier instead of a salesman. Finally gave him a discharge of neither an honorable or dishonorable nature when it all settled out.

  5. Back in the middle ages [...] Sex was openly seen,

    on what continent?

    keep in mind, Europe during the high middle ages was a catholic theocracy. not known for their pro-fornication mindset, were medieval catholics.

    which is not to say there wasn't a whole lot of sex going on at the time, but that's a far cry from claiming it was tolerated to be seen in public or socially sanctioned.

  6. Nomen,

    Back in the middle ages most people lived in one room huts or houses. Sex was openly seen

    Sorry if my sentence structure or syntax was off, but I'll stand by my comments. I didn't claim it was in public, just that it was seen.