The year 2011 set a record for soldier suicides at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the News Tribune reported Friday, and "[t]he total could grow as the Army completes investigations ahead of its annual suicide report next month."[1]  -- "Twelve soldiers took their own lives in 2011, up from nine in 2010 and nine in 2009," despite increased efforts at what the military calls "resiliency training" for returning troops, Adam Ashton reported.  --  The story was reprinted in other McClatchy newspapers, and was also the bais for an AP piece.[2]  --  A few days earlier the Los Angeles Times ran a long, horrific piece about JBLM, calling it "a base on the brink."[3]  --  (There was nothing original about that: Newsweek had published a piece on Sept. 9 saying exactly the same thing.)  --  "'At 24 years of age, a soldier, on average, has moved from home, family, and friends and has resided in two other states; has traveled the world (deployed); been promoted four times; bought a car and wrecked it; married and had children; has had relationship and financial problems; seen death; is responsible for dozens of soldiers; maintains millions of dollars worth of equipment; and gets paid less than $40,000 a year,' Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said in a report last year," Kim Murphy said.  --  The L.A. Times spoke of a "crime wave" in the communities around the base, and reported that Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar said that "in the last two years, we have had 24 instances in which we contacted soldiers who were armed with weapons."  --  None of this prevented Missouri Sports Magazine for calling JBLM "one of the most successful joint bases" (though Stars and Stripes called it "the most troubled base in the military" in 2010) in an article about a visit to the base by -- shades of "Apocalypse Now" -- five St. Louis Rams cheerleaders, Jessica, Jennifer, Emily S., Shannon, and Jayne, and team mascot Rampage.  --  "I was also truly honored to meet the people who have sacrificed their lives to protect us," said Jessica, confusedly.[4]  --  The cheerleaders fired M-16 rifles and loaded and aimed a Howitzer gun, the sports magazine reported....

1.

Military news

JBLM SUICIDES HIT GRIM MILESTONE IN 2011 -- MOST EVER

By Adam Ashton

** Joint Base Lewis-McChord passed an unwelcome milestone in 2011, recording more soldier suicides than in any previous year. **

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
December 30, 2011

http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/12/30/1963025/jblm-suicides-hit-grim-milestone.html


[INSET: SUICIDES ON THE RISE.  More Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers killed themselves in 2011 than in any previous year.  Number of suicides per year:  2005-5, 2006-7, 2007-2, 2008-7, 2009-9, 2010-9, 2011-12.  NOTE:  2011 number is not final.  Sources: Army records.]

Joint Base Lewis-McChord passed an unwelcome milestone in 2011, recording more soldier suicides than in any previous year.

Twelve soldiers took their own lives in 2011, up from nine in 2010 and nine in 2009, Army I Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said.  The total could grow as the Army completes investigations ahead of its annual suicide report next month.

The toll at Lewis-McChord rose despite new efforts to counsel soldiers when they come home from war, including the creation of a suicide-prevention office.

Lewis-McChord leaders plan to apply what they learned from those programs to help soldiers cope with stress at home and in their work.

“We take suicide very seriously,” Dangerfield said.  “We’re going to continue to push the envelope to make sure soldiers get the resiliency training they need.”

Lewis-McChord’s surge in suicides followed its busiest year of combat deployments.  More than 18,000 soldiers from the base served in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009-10.

The base is also larger than ever, with some 34,000 soldiers stationed there, up from 19,000 before the war in Iraq started.

Leaders at the base established plans to help soldiers readjust to stateside life as major homecomings took place in the summer of 2010.  In early 2011, Madigan Army Medical Center reported a rising number of soldiers and military family members seeking behavioral health services, a trend officers interpreted as a sign that people were becoming more open about asking for help.

Five soldiers reportedly killed themselves in July alone, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called it “a stark reminder that despite the military’s recent strides, their work has just begun.”

The spike in suicides is consistent with an Armywide trend that has seen more soldiers taking their own lives since 2005.

The Army’s 2010 study on the causes of soldier suicide found complicated answers.  Some victims were troubled by combat; others seemed stressed by relationship and financial challenges.

That same mix of anxieties continues to appear in the internal investigations the Army conducts after each suicide, according to reports obtained by the *News Tribune*.

The most public suicide involving a Lewis-McChord soldier this year took place in April, when medic Sgt. David Stewart killed himself and his wife on Interstate 5 south of Tumwater.  Their son was later found dead in their Spanaway home.

Outside the base, anti-war advocates and veterans have been calling for changes in how the Army addresses suicides.  They’ve been urging more frequent personal contacts and better training so unit leaders can pay attention to troubled soldiers.

Former Staff Sgt. Andrew Byrnes served with a Lewis-McChord soldier who killed himself in October.  Byrnes believes the effort would have been better spent fighting the stigma of seeking behavioral health services and giving soldiers individual attention.“

The lack of support in the ranks is what really makes guys feel secluded,” said Byrnes, 26.  “They’re cut off.”

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. blog.thenewstribune.com/military


2.

SOLDIER SUICIDES RISE IN 2011 AT LEWIS-McCHORD


** Joint Base Lewis-McChord saw more suicides in 2011 than any previous year. Twelve suicides were recorded at the base this past year. That's up from nine in 2010 and nine in 2009, The News Tribune in Tacoma reported. **

Associated Press
December 30, 2011

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2017130147_suicides10m.html


JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD -- Joint Base Lewis-McChord saw more suicides in 2011 than any previous year.

Twelve suicides were recorded at the base this past year.  That's up from nine in 2010 and nine in 2009, the News Tribune in Tacoma reported.

Army I Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield says the total could grow as the Army completes investigations ahead of its annual suicide report next month.

"We take suicide very seriously," Dangerfield said.  "We're going to continue to push the envelope to make sure soldiers get the resiliency training they need."

The toll at Lewis-McChord rose despite new efforts to counsel soldiers when they come home from war, including the creation of a suicide-prevention office.

Leaders at the base established plans to help soldiers readjust to stateside life as major homecomings took place in the summer of 2010.

In early 2011, Madigan Army Medical Center reported a rising number of soldiers and military family members seeking behavioral-health services, a trend officers interpreted as a sign that people were becoming more open to asking for help.

Lewis-McChord's surge in suicides followed its busiest year of combat deployments.  More than 18,000 soldiers from the base served in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009-10.

The base is also larger than ever, with some 34,000 soldiers stationed there, up from 19,000 before the war in Iraq started.

The numbers here shadow an Armywide trend that has seen more soldiers taking their own lives since 2005.

The most public suicide involving a Lewis-McChord soldier this year took place in April, when medic Sgt. David Stewart killed himself and his wife on Interstate 5 south of Tumwater.  Their son was later found dead in their Spanaway home.

3.

U.S.

A 'BASE ON THE BRINK,' AS IS THE COMMUNITY
By Kim Murphy

Los Angeles Times

December 26, 2011

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/26/nation/la-na-military-stress-20111226


JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WASH. -- Mary Coghill Kirkland said she asked her son, 21-year-old Army Spc. Derrick Kirkland, what was wrong as soon as he came back from his first deployment to Iraq in 2008.

He had a ready answer:  "Mom, I'm a murderer."

He told her how his team had kicked in the door of an Iraqi house and quickly shot a man inside.  With the man lying wounded on the floor, "my son got ordered by his sergeant to stand on his chest to make him bleed out faster," Kirkland said.  "He said, 'We've got to move, and he's got to die before we move.'"

Not long after, Derrick told her, he had fallen asleep on guard duty, awakening as a car was driving through his checkpoint.  He yelled for it to stop, but the family in the car spoke no English.  "So my son shot up the car," she said.

Summing up her son's mental state after that deployment, Kirkland said:  "What's a nice word for saying that he was completely [messed] up?"

Kirkland relates the remaining years of her son's life as if reading a script:  He was depressed by his wife's request for a divorce.  On a second deployment in Iraq, he was caught putting a gun in his mouth and evacuated on suicide watch to Germany.  There, he tried to overdose on pills.  He was flown back to his home base here in Washington State.  After a brief psychiatric evaluation, he was left alone in his room.  He hanged himself with a cord in his closet.

Apparently worried that no one would notice, Spc. Kirkland left a note on the door of the locker in his room.  "In the closet, dead," it said.

Wars have always sent many of their practitioners home with lingering emotional scars, but the growing toll of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts is catching up not only with the U.S. military, but with communities like this.

"It's very much a local issue," said Democratic state Rep. Tina Orwall, who led a hearing in December on how state and local officials can help returning soldiers land on their feet.

Around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a major staging base for the wars, the working-class suburbs are almost indistinguishable from the base itself.  Towns like Lakewood, DuPont, Spanaway, and Parkland are home not only to military families, but to thousands of veterans who over the years have stayed on after their enlistments.

Among them are many with mental health issues.

More than 13% of the Army, which has borne the brunt of the fighting, now meets the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Senior officers point out that today's soldiers are under unique stresses.

"At 24 years of age, a soldier, on average, has moved from home, family, and friends and has resided in two other states; has traveled the world (deployed); been promoted four times; bought a car and wrecked it; married and had children; has had relationship and financial problems; seen death; is responsible for dozens of soldiers; maintains millions of dollars worth of equipment; and gets paid less than $40,000 a year," Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said in a report last year.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, described by the independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes last year as "the most troubled base in the military," all of these factors have crystallized into what some see as a community-wide crisis.   A local veterans group calls it a "base on the brink."

In a recent series of community meetings, the group warned that the trauma of multiple deployments had begun to show up in troubling numbers outside the base.  The recent reports of suicides -- seven confirmed and five under investigation, with a total of 62 since 2002 -- parallel those of murders, fights, robberies, domestic violence, drunk driving, and drug overdoses.

The local crime wave became apparent as early as 2004, when three elite Army Rangers were among a group of five men who stormed into a Bank of America in Tacoma armed with AK-47s, took over the branch and walked out with $54,011.

Over the last two years, an Iraq veteran pleaded guilty to assault after being accused of waterboarding his 7-year-old foster son in the bathtub.  Another was accused of pouring lighter fluid over his wife and setting her on fire; one was charged with torturing his 4-year-old daughter for refusing to say her ABCs.  A Stryker Brigade soldier was convicted of the kidnap, torture, and rape or attempted rape of two women, one of whom he shocked with cables attached to a car battery; and an Iraq war sergeant was convicted of strangling his wife and hiding her body in a storage bin.

In April, 38-year-old combat medic David Stewart, who had been under treatment for depression, paranoia and sleeplessness, led police on a high-speed chase down Interstate 5 before crashing into a barrier.  As officers watched, he shot himself in the head.  His wife, a nurse, was found in the car with him, also shot to death.  Police later found the body of their 5-year-old son in the family home.

"My daughter played with the little boy, and even now when they're playing outside, the kids are screaming, 'Jordan lived in there.  Jordan died in there.'  So it affects everybody, even the kids," said Jackie Baleto, who lives nearby.

"I can tell you that in the last two years, we have had 24 instances in which we contacted soldiers who were armed with weapons," said Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar.  "We've had intimidation, stalking with a weapon, aggravated assault, domestic violence, drive-bys."

The military is redoubling efforts to provide suicide hotlines and counseling.

The flagship effort is the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, designed to make troops healthy and resilient before they go to war.

"We teach them about patience, about maturity, about how it's O.K. to have issues, because everybody has issues," said Col. Michael Brobeck, who commands the 555th Engineer Brigade at Lewis-McChord, about a fourth of whom are currently in Afghanistan.

The local Madigan Army Medical Center this year opened a $52-million "warrior transition" barracks for 408 wounded or stressed soldiers and their families.  The center has seen a big increase in behavioral health visits -- more than 118,000 this year.  Brobeck thinks all this is helping.

Over the last two years, he said, the number of his soldiers exhibiting an extremely high risk of mental health problems has declined.  "Out of 4,000 [troops] when I started doing it about two years ago, we were in the 70s.  Now I'm down in the 50s or low 60s," he said.

Yet in the tough warrior culture of Lewis-McChord, some say soldiers who go to counseling or say they aren't emotionally prepared to go back to war can be humiliated or ignored.

Kirkland, when he returned to Lewis-McChord after his first two suicide attempts, was set upon by the unit's acting first sergeant, said Kevin Baker, who served with Kirkland in Iraq and was in the office that day.

"As soon as he walked in the door, [one of the sergeants] called him a coward" and worse, recalled Baker, who recently left the Army.

Ashley Joppa-Hagemann of Yelm, Wash., a mother of two young children, said her husband, 25-year-old Staff Sgt. Jared Hagemann, begged Army commanders this year not to have to return for what she said would be a ninth deployment overseas.  She said she went herself to the base commander, all to no avail.

"He was always drinking, and he became very violent and aggressive.  There was just hatred in his eyes," she said.

Joppa-Hagemann went to court on June 27 to get a restraining order to keep her husband away from her and the children, telling the court that her husband had threatened to kill himself "and take as many folks down with him as possible."

4.

RAMS CHEERLEADERS SPEND SOME HOLIDAY TIME WITH JBLM


Missouri Sports Magazine

December 30, 2011

http://missourisportsmag.com/?p=45189

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD -- Recently, five St. Louis Rams cheerleaders and team mascot Rampage traveled to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBML) in Washington to bring some holiday joy to the men and women serving our country and working together to keep JBML as one of the most successful joint bases.   Jessica, Jennifer, Emily S., Shannon, and Jayne adventured to the base for a weekend full of events and once in a lifetime experiences.

The first stop of their visit was the fire station on base.  The ladies saw the new ladder truck that the JBLM Fire Station put into service that very day.  They received an inside look at the procedures and protocols for the fire fighters.  Not only were they given a tour of the station, there were also able to ride in the truck, as well as the ladder bucket, up to its full 100-foot height.

For Jessica, this was one of the highlights of the trip.  “As an emergency room nurse, I was honored to visit the fire station on the base and get an up close and personnel look at what pre-hospital care is all about,” she said.

Next, the group went to the McChord Main Store to sign autographs and take photos with fans.  Rampage also provided lots of entertainment to the younger Rams fans on base.  Rampage was the first NFL mascot to come to the Main Store to visit with soldiers and their families.

“I was also truly honored to meet the people who have sacrificed their lives to protect us, our soldiers,” said Jessica about spending time in the Main Store.   “Those men and women are truly inspirational, and I am honored to have met them.”

During the meet and greet, two of the biggest Rams fans on base came out dressed from head to toe in Rams gear.  They were rewarded with tickets to the Monday Night Football game inSeattle, as well as pregame field passes.

“One of my favorite moments of our trip was giving two soldiers tickets to the Rams vs. Seahawks game during one of our appearances,”Shannon said.  “They were so excited to spend some time off base and cheer on the Rams at the Monday Night Football game!”

The next day, the ladies were able to experience shooting training on a gun simulator the way soldiers qualify with the M16.  They got some pointers from the professionals before trying it out themselves.  “We were able to get a sneak peak of the day in the life of a training soldier, and I can say that it was an eye opener for me,” said Jessica.  “While visiting the gun simulation, I actually surprised myself and found that I can actually shoot an M-16.  I hit not one, but several targets!  I had a great experience.”

After shooting practice, they visited the unit that maintains and repairs the Howitzer gun.  They were treated to a demonstration on how to load and aim the cannon-like gun and were then given the chance to try it out themselves.

After the weekend, each member of the Rams organization walked away with a memorable experience.  “It is always such an honor to meet the men and women who serve in our military and personally thank them for everything they do, especially during the holidays,” said Shannon.  “Visiting Joint Base Lewis-McChord allowed us to meet several military personnel.  We were not only able to show our appreciation for them, but we had the chance to really get to know everyone we talked to.”

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