After Combat, Victims of an Inner War

The rising toll of suicides in the military has hit a National Guard unit particularly hard: four soldiers, out of roughly 175 members, have committed suicide.

Comments: 128

  1. A tragedy of the highest order.

    When are we going to quit allowing the government a free pass to propagate these never-ending, wholly ambiguous and debilitating military expeditions?

    Why are we blowing up and rebuilding infrastructure in Baghdad and Afghanistan when people are starving in Detroit, New Orleans and Birmingham?

    This shoot-first, think-later approach to foreign affairs is what's really suicidal.

  2. The sacrifices military members and their families make are enormous. My spouse is in the military, as are many I know. We deal with our spouses working exremely long, stressful hours, being away for months at a time, and experiencing horrific things few of us can truly understand. As families, we move every few years, and have to pull ourselves together to support our families in the midst of a huge, painful absence.

    From my experience, the military has very little sympathy or interest in any of its members living a "normal", psychologically-healthy life. I've seen my own spouse run into the ground by superiors and mocked by coworkers for being human. Trying to get a few days of vacation requires extreme maneuvers sometimes a year or more in advance.

    God help the men and women serving on the front lines, and god help their families. In the military, admitting you need help means showing weakness, and there most definitely is pressure against and obstacles in the way of getting help. These men and women come back irrevocably changed. Relationships crumble. And sometimes, they end up dead by their own hands.

    Things HAVE to change in the military. There has to be recognition that these men and women are not machines - they are humans, with lives, families, feelings. They matter to a whole host of people in ways independent of their jobs in the military. And their absence - temporary or permanent - causes pain that never goes away.

  3. Despair, borne of combat's fear and pressure, is what follows 'us' home - not the enemy. Past national leaders consistently pointed out the wrong bogeyman.

  4. I understand that suicide can be the result both of hopelessness in quality-of-life determinant factors like financial strain and spousal relations, and of deeply traumatic experience, and that these factors are interrelated--trauma in a war can cause deteroirating prospects for civilian life. However, are we chiefly finding that national guard suicide cases are chiefly or exclusively realized because of difficulties in America, or are a significant number of cases the result of wartime trauma without domestic causative factors?

  5. Hi Mr. Randall,

    Thank you for your good question. My sense is that there is a never a single cause of a suicide, military or civilian, and I believe that studies of civilian suicides support this. There are always multiple factors and, in civilian suicide, researchers find that a very high percentage of victims have had longstanding emotional troubles that went untreated or were not treated effectively. One researcher who has investigated some military suicides also told me that almost all the suicides he looked at involved relationship problems.

    I should point out that the vast majority of soldiers, although they may be changed by the experience of war, successfully make the transition to life at home. Many of the returning soldiers I have met seem incredibly resilient and equipped with an inner strength that allows them to move forward with their lives.

    I do think that isolation after coming home can be perhaps a greater stress for National Guard soldiers, who until recently demobilized, had a 90-day break when there was no formal contact with their unit, and then returned for weekend drills but often were not in constant contact with their fellow soldiers (I think the National Guard may have changed this policy now). Many National Guard soldiers who joined before the war started did not necessarily expect to be deployed. And, as I think another commenter pointed out, many were called up for active service from civilian jobs they had held for many years. This is doubly true for soldiers like Sgt. Blaylock, who was in the Individual Ready Reserves or I.R.R. (it used to be called the Inactive Ready Reserves). They are called up for deployment after a number of years of civilian life. And when they come back to the States, they are out of the Army and go home to their lives, dispersing all over the country.

  6. George W. Bush is responsible for the deaths of these young people. How could he and Cheney who had never faced combat expect them to survive in such horrendous situations, both mentally and physically? I hope that the leaders who sent these people into combat hear of every one of the deaths.

  7. It could have been anyone of us. Jackie and the others needed counseling and a safe place to live for awhile. They needed to understand their own vulnerability and be helped with the mental and social tools to navigate life after such an ordeal and with their specific vunerabilities to the blows they received. A safe place to recover with counseling should have been provided. Furthermore as was stated by some of Jackie's colleagues, he should not have been in combat in the first place. there is no excuse for that. One of the other commenter's said that the military *has to change*. Yes it does.

  8. The trauma these men and women experience is certainly a tragedy. The stress that these people endure is an illustration of the immorality of war. It the media we hear of the "warriors" and are see the deceptive recruiting adds of the armed forces. No one, however, discusses that by the moral tenets of our society murder is wrong. "Thou shall not kill." The ancient Greeks, too, recognized that war strained their soldiers, instituting a cermony to reintegrate the men into their societies.

    I believe that America has somehow crossed a line in recent years. Once, America valued it's citizen-soldiers, not only generals like Washington but also the yeoman farmer. Or the general enlisted of the Second World War. Now we have "warriors," who according to Bill Krisol, deserve better health-care that American citizens. (See The Daily Show, 27 July 2009)

    None of this is meant to belittle the men and women who do serve, only to call for a recognition that behind the ideology of"warriors" fighting in slick commericals are men and women who suffer the unbearable. It is also a call to reassess our priorities. As Mr. Kristol acknowledged, the US government is capable of running a first-class health-care system, the one provided to service men and women. We must recognize the need to rebalance our priorties to valueing such things as healthcare, education and other social services. These are the measure of a great nation.

  9. Wake up America. We went through this during and after Vietnam. Some are still dealing with the mental demons of that war.

  10. Once you demonize your enemy for the sake of winning the war, and no other good reason, all bets are off on consequences. When men and women are sent into battle there MUST be a compelling reason and a VERY clear goal. Neither one existed in the current wars, Iraq or Afghanistan. And without purpose, and with carnage all around, the human mind, and spirit, can not bear the weight of a hollow, dark, abyss devoid of any good. I wish those proponents of war would spend 1 hour in a wet, hot filthy fox hole with nothing but death and fear blanketing their existence; we would never have for-profit wars again.

  11. I should think that some of Sgt. Blaylock's despair came from the realization that he and his beloved brothers-in-arms were put in harm's way for an illegal war based on lies which came directly from the White House.

    A beautiful voice is silenced; an artist is dead.

  12. This article reduced me to tears.

  13. I don't understand why people don't understand this. The war is wrong. Killing is wrong. The injuries and the moral conflicts take their toll.

  14. Like others with PTSD, these people desperately need treatments that have been proven effective against PTSD. However, the US's witch hunt against medicines with psychoactive properties has kept three of the best-tested and most effective psychotherapeutic agents from being deployed. I am speaking of LSD, ecstasy and ibogaine.

  15. Much of problem can be traced back to absence of effective legal protections for deployed personnel in divorce and child custody issues. The Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act should be extended to cover divorce, child custody, child support and alimony matters.

  16. Just got watched the video. It's really sad, it makes you want to cry. How could someone with a personality disorder be allowed to go to combat, anywhere. What do his commanding officers have to say?
    The National Guard is not what it used to be- "no go, two weeks a year, weekend warriors. They are more active than the active army. This soldier deserved better at home.

  17. I wonder what the effect is of "the long war" on the returning soldiers. WWII and Vietnam ended and that closure must have been important in moving on.

  18. I saw this during the Vietnam war, here on the home front. The way America treated its returning combat troops was atrocious. Often blaming the soldier for a war created by, and for. politicians. Once home, the soldier—brainwashed over and over again that they are not civilians, that they are superior to civilians—were suddenly “civilians.” And most were still in combat mode. Sudden loud noises, snatches of music, cars back-firing, or skids dropping—would drive them diving for cover, screaming, "Incoming!!" Or sometimes, they would walk down the middle of the street, the baddest thing out there, daring anyone to question them. Provoking? People thought they were crazy, and in a lot of cases, drove them that way, or at least drove them to extreme behaviors. A great number turned to drugs. Zoned out, escaped reality.

    I witnessed it in myself, to a small degree, when I got out of the Army. The rigid control of the military life—that safety net of knowing what the rules are, of what was expected of me—was gone, and here I was a civilian again. With no job and no idea how to live my life. The situation nearly drove me to suicide. A favorite uncle saved me, talked to me, kept doing that, sitting on the bathroom floor with me, holding my head while I threw up.

    The military thinks their soldiers should be tough and tough-minded. No excuses. You suck it up, you keep going. Perhaps they have to think this way, or else the army would just fall apart. But most officers haven't ever really been in the same situation combat troops are. Even combat officers don't really experience the things their men do. They have the privileges associated with their rank, and rarely get down in the hole with their men, or go door to door looking for death. They're don’t lie in fox holes, wondering what the hell's going on, or when they're going to be hit, and by whom.

    Then, magically, somehow the soldier manages to survive and are shipped home. . .

    ...Often arriving at the doorstep of loved ones and friends, within days. But their minds are still in combat mode, still suspicious of everything, still ready to run, or fight, and even worse ready to kill.

    Why don’t people in the military understand this? I think it’s because the majority of those who make the decisions--the policy makers--to send these troops directly home from combat are lifers; people whose entire careers circle around the military. They don’t, they can’t understand civilians and civilian life. Hence, they are not the people to make this decision.

    Perhaps, one solution might be to ship these soldiers to an intermediate post. Somewhere with light duties, where they continually hear from their superiors that they are no longer in the combat zone, no longer in danger, no longer need to worry. They’ll be civilians soon, they’re lives will be normal again. . .

    Eventually their families should be allowed to come and stay with them, they should be allowed to dress in civilian attire, and they should be continually brainwashed. Every day! You're all right. Everything's all right. . .

  19. This is another reason why the country needs more programs to ease the transtion into civilian life. The best stimulus plan that we can develop is to get these men and women into the classroom in order for them to feel their experience there has a legacy here. We need to bring back the G.I. Bill for all veterans that have served during conflict since 9/11. Absolutely absurd that a veteran has to come back and feel alienated and alone in his own country and without purpose. These soldiers are the best candidates for jobs and leadership posiitions of the 21st century and I am shocked that there has not been more initiative in that direction.

  20. OMG! Why? Have these people been investigated on the reasons why? How awful. They must have been very unstable to begin with and it got too much for them? I wish their loved ones well.

  21. The most incredible part of this is what seems like the military's blatant disregard for the pre-combat warning signs. He was previously released from service with a diagnosis of "personality disorder," had once been hospitalized for depression, and the guard was warned that he was too unstable to serve at home, let alone go to Iraq. And he was still sent.

    Why, if he was so clearly unstable, was he manning what was one of the most dangerous and traumatic positions as gunner at the front of envoy? Because he agreed to?

  22. Back in 2003 I had a conversation with a friend over the July 4th long weekend. We were talking about the inevitability of karmic consequences. Given what we already learned from Vietnam and the first Iraq war, we predicted that the wave of PTSD cases will affect many more veterans and their circle of relatives and friends. Unfortunately, everything we could imagine back then are happening.

    We also discussed what might help them alleviate some of the pain. Although they will live with the PTSD for a long long time since there is no medical cure afor PTSD t this time, there are two treatments that might provide a little respite: (1) Perform charity services to take their mind off bad memories of bad deeds. Tax payers should help them to find these lines of services/work. Bad karma can be diluted a bit by good deeds, though not erase them. (2) Meditation to calm and ease the mind; but it must be taught and monitored by well-trained instructors in carefully managed environment. Medication can only deal with symptoms but do nothing to the wounded psyches. A suicidal mind is at a very agitated state, and it could not find a way to rest.

    If what happen to the returning servicemen are lingering nightmares and suicidal impulses, one shudders at what happen to the innocent citizens who live in the war zones. Who is going to help them?

  23. What a great guy. His only crime was his sensitivity. I feel like I lost a friend.

  24. I have wondered for sometime whether the reporting of deaths as "from a non-combat incident" that appears so often really is reporting accidents, fraggings, fights, or suicides. I do not know how the Times gets more precise figures from the Pentagon about suicides; maybe not associated with specific names. It seems to me that those other "incidents" ought to be analyzed too.

  25. This is so sad. We are not taking adequate care of these people.

  26. How do these statistics compare with past wars, especially service in the "good war" (WWII) and Vietnam, which became as laden with ambiguity in morality and goals as Iraq has been?

    Has anyone explored whether the large number of exemptions for arrests, failing to earn a high school diploma, etc. have played a role in this dramatic increase? In other words, is it the exemptions and/or soldiers in the exemptions' units who are committing suicide?

    Is there a correlation between suicides and having comrades who commit murder, which previous research has revealed has also been a huge issue in recent years?

    Are soldiers in particularly units more vulnerable for any other reason?

    Obviously, the statistics shown in the chart here are all from the Bush era. Did Bush as commander in chief try to do to decrease suicide rate? What has President Obama done differently, if anything?

    This is obviously a tragedy. I suspect that the long-term solution is seeking diplomacy more often, with war as a last resort.

  27. What we were doing to our own all those terrible years in Vietnam. Mr. McNamara, may he rest in peace, never understood. As Col. Timothy Reese wrote, reported two days ago by Michael Gordon, we have done what we can, It is time to go home.

  28. Tragedy all around -- but does anyone really want to go to the actual core source of all of this sadness? We live in a country where one of the few and only ways to feel you are "part of something bigger" is to join the military. The military is a servant to the corporate interest of nationalism. Nationalism helps to divide people and keep their attention focused on false and manufactured issues. Read just a chapter out of Noam Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent." Or any other intelligent non-fiction exploration on the insanity of war. Broadcast that on to America now and these four men. Because you wear a uniform does not exempt you from having committed murder. You have simply done it with a uniform on. We say that murder is wrong. The uniform makes it right. That is the reasoning. And add to this the misuse and abuse of mood altering drugs. When the emotional fall out from the war -- which could be any number of complicated emotions that need to be worked through -- not medicated or pushed down with drugs -- becomes too great and these men are given drugs -- not therapy, not tools with which to deal with their feelings -- but drugs -- then what do you expect will happen when the drugs are either taken away or found to be useless? "I'm going to lay down my guns and drums, down by the riverside, Down by the riverside, Down by the riverside. I'm gonna lay down my guns and drums, down by the riverside - gonna study that war no more. I ain't gonna study war no more. I ain't gonna study war no more. I ain't gonna study that war no more." Of course -- everyone says -- What do you want? The terrorists to take over? No. I want the terrorists to lay down their guns too. And in the meantime, we need to wake up and come to understand that these men were overwhelmed by the reality of what they knew to be very, very wrong. Taking their own lives didn't change that but maybe we can.

  29. There are a number of factors that can make the transition home more difficult, one of which is being in the National Guard. Whatever you do, seek out help. There are other veterans out there offering a helping hand who believe that "leave no one behind" matters when we get home too.

    Two great resources for women veterans are SWAN, the Service Women's Action Network and Grace After Fire.

  30. It was painful to scan the details of this story. For me, it awakened a range of emotion: Bittersweet wistfulness upon seeing how Brandon Wallace looks so alive in that photo, making silly expressions with the rest of his troupe. The sadness of knowing that one soldier's medication was delayed again and again, only to arrive the day after he passed. Most of all, anger.
    Bush lied, and these brave men died. Bush, Cheney, & Co. need to be prosecuted for war crimes. Their unbounded greed, duplicity, and avarice have had a ripple effect on an untold number of lives, both here in the US and abroad.
    What a well-written story--some small means of honoring these soldiers' struggle. It is one of the best accounts of Iraq-related matters I read in awhile. Sometimes it's overwhelming to read of casualties, easy to turn away in our comfort. Such journalism reminds us all of the human costs of this unjust war.

  31. Regardless of what anybody may think of the war in Iraq, these soldiers placed their lives at risk in an effort to serve their country. While they may have had psychological issues before they went overseas, it appears beyond question that their experiences with the loss of friends in combat drove them to despair. Their deaths may not have come in combat, may have happened after they returned to civilian life, and may have come at their own hands, but there appears little doubt that they were at least indirectly combat-related. Their memories became a trap from which they could not escape. Their loss is no less real to their families than the loss of those who were killed directly in combat.

    We have asked a great deal of those in our all-volunteer armed forces and National Guard, and also of their families, more than we have any right to ask. Even for civilians who have no direct personal experience of combat, reflecting on these things can be painful. When there are no news reports of victories, we tend to change the channel and forget -- forget that we still have people at risk overseas, forget those who were killed in combat and are buried in our communities, forget that even among those who made it home there may still be people at risk.

    In serving our country, though, these soldiers served each of us, and they are worth remembering, no matter how difficult that may be. Their memory should not be relegated to the back of our mental closets, to be taken out and dusted off once in a while on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July or Veterans Day. It is part of our lives, part of who we are as Americans every day. Articles such as this one help bind these people into our collective memory. We should not forget them.

  32. My son has been deployed with National Guard units once to Iraq and once, several years later, to Afghanistan. Both times, horrendous things happened which have left lasting effects even though he can back appearing "uninjured." He's doing well now, but when I think of deaths, injuries, divorces, job losses, and (yes) suicides which have affected so many of his buddies, I shudder. Americans have no real concept of the grinding sacrifices these people are making, year in and year out.

    Jessica is absolutely right. The internal culture of both the Guard and the Regular Army encourage "embracing the suck" and not complaining, which I suppose is admirable to a point--a point reached and then surpassed at least half a decade ago.

    These rapid-cycling deployments into wars of questionable purpose are partly at fault; the dense, almost deliberate, incomprehension of both civilian and military authorities about the realities of multiple trips to the "sandbox" is also to blame. Maintaining an ongoing civilian life to come home to is much, much harder than most civilians would ever believe.

    It's true that these soldiers are "volunteers" but we have a civic and moral obligation not to waste their best talents and impulses. To take their lives as lightly as our leaders do is shameful.

  33. Will we wait to leave Iraq until the military personnel stop killing themselves, and start killing their own officers? The younger generation should understand that "fragging" (blowing up with a fragmentation grenade) played a role in getting America out of Vietnam.

  34. Military life is tough. I spent 7 years in the service as an enlisted man. I never had to request leave a year in advance. Enlisted personnel get 30 days leave a year and I found the military very interested in my wellfare, both mental and physical. It is sad that these suicides occur and the military is tuned into the need for counseling and care, both the branches of the miltary and the VA. Because of the pressures of combat and other military environments, some individuals choose to leave and move to a normal civilian lifestyle after one enlistment, Military life, especially combat takes a very different approach to daily living. Combat is horrendous, dangerous and life threatening 24/7 in the combat zones. Some crack under the pressure but thankfully most handle it and go to full careers. It is the way it has been and the way it will always be. I was never mocked and driven into the ground by anybody in the service.

  35. We have a volunteer army. Suppose nobody volunteered for the patriotic task of killing strangers half a world away anonymously. Well, we will then have an army of conscripts, fewer wars and earlier conclusions to them.

    Our government spends a fortune to target young people of select ethnic and socioeconomic groups and to induce them to 'volunteer'. This largely quiet, high-pressure operation uses sophisticated merchandizing techniques against our hopelessly outmatched young people. This,too, is war. The domestic carnage this article recounts is the proof.

  36. I was one of the soliders that got called back up to go to war at the same time as Jackie. I met him when we were at Ft Benning. He was such a great guy and he had alot on his plate. We all did. Most of us not wanting to be there, having to leave our lives. I left my 2 year old son and another girl left her 3 month old baby. They really dont screen us that well. Even going in they just need the bodies to help fill there needs. I know when I left I was not physically or emontional ready to be deplpoyed. Now if we were active duty they would of kick me out for being overweight but I was just fine to be sent to war. Makes no sense. I know when I came back home from Afghan they asked us three questions at Atterbury by the consulors Do you feel like you want to kill yourself, do you have any concerns with returning home and did you see any one killed. Most of us are in such a hurry to see our familes that we say no just to get the process over with. The only thing on my mind when I came back to the US was seeing my child who I had missed so much of his life. Then after us IRR soldiers get released we are forgotton. Thats not right. I have had lost of issues since I have came home from my deployment and the VA takes to long to be able to go see. I just hate that the army doesnt do more for us. Then mabey we can help prevent these unnesscary deaths from happening

  37. This is a moving, and terrifying piece about the suicide of a disturbed young man, unfit for battle, and unable to cope with life afterward.

    The experiment with an all-volunteer military, in which the most vulnerable of our population ends up serving as our defenders, seems a failure. If the military is composed of those who cannot succeed in school, work or a satisfactory life elsewhere, the weakest among us, not the bravest, will end up as our gunners.

    What the story doesn't address, and what no one really knows, is whether interventions by the Veterans Administration, by soldier's friends, by their family, their lovers, or by other institutions in our culture, can bring the Blaylocks of America back from the brink. Maybe something can help; but, maybe not.

    Are our soldiers killing themselves because the war destroyed them? Or are they killing themselves because the war was their last hope for
    a successful life, and they have failed even in that final, high-risk gambit?

  38. Recipe for suicide:

    Alcohol or drug abuse
    PTSD (from seeing and/or doing the unthinkable!)
    Recent traumatic loss(es)
    Unstable family and/or support system
    Survivor's guilt
    Hopelessness that anything will ever change

    War--ANY war--is a set up for suicide!!! We have had, I am sure, many more suicides in wartime than we will ever know. With the popularity of the Internet, there has been more transparency, and we know so much more than we ever did in the past! This really is the difference!

  39. The isolation is real. My husband and I both served in the Army. Even after being back for several years, the lifestyle and concerns of civilians seem trivial. All the worrying about things that do not really matter, making the green light, getting in first in line, is unwarranted stress and promotes rudeness.

    Having life changing experiences of the type we all faced overseas can be too much to handle alone. Try try try to find someone to tell your stories to, and know that those who are already gone do not want you to join them yet. They'll wait till you get there.

  40. Hi Marie — Thank you for this perceptive and important comment. I don’t know if you have seen the movie, “The Hurt Locker,” but there is an amazing moment towards the end of the movie where it cuts quickly from Iraq to the cereal aisle in an American supermarket. The lead character is just standing there, staring at the rows and rows of cereal boxes. I thought it captured very well the disconnectedness of being there and then suddenly coming back here.

  41. This is a desperately sad story, made even worse by the clips in the accompanying video that show a talented songwriter with a great voice. The soldiers of this war are still in need of a voice, and Sgt. Blaylock could have been it. Maybe he still could be, if there are still copies of those songs around.

  42. I have a very short comment to make: this is the price of aggression. Wake up America!!!!!!!

  43. Well our esteemed Vice President, told us it would be "worth the effort".
    We will have to wait and see as we bury our children and husbands and fathers. But it's change we can live with.

  44. Could it be the curse of the people of the mudhouses? Perhaps, God's way of relaying a message?

    The solution that is being sought by the military is simple. Do not wage war against other human beings; do not bomb people of the mudhouses; do not maim, mutilate, and burn alive men, women and children. There have been several reported incidents, and countless unreported, that testify to war crimes and atrocities committed against innocent and fleeing indigenous people of the zones.

    As one story of this soldier tells all "Pray wont make what I have done wrong right."

  45. I hope and pray that additional resources will be speedily made available to help address the needs of veterans and their families as they attempt to establish a new normal and to adjust to life after serving our country.

  46. What’s the old adage, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail”?

    As the range of military operations continues to grow, the stresses endured by our service members – and their families – will increase at least proportionally, if not exponentially.

    Several months ago, when the alarming rise in military suicide rates started making news, I had the opportunity to speak to a military psychiatrist about the matter. Her response indicated that all the suicide prevention training in the world is of no avail without remediating the underlying causes.

    The military does an outstanding job of taking care of its people and the general public does a superb job of supporting its military. However, slower Op-tempos and shorter deployments will go a long way in reducing inordinate stresses on personnel. And, too, there is a dire need for more aggressive mental health screening during the recruiting process.

  47. I've met a lot of national guards and military reserves in Afghanistan. They were all nice guys but it was obvious that they didn't know who or what they were: military or civilians. Back in the US during the week they had simple civilian jobs but then during the weekend they could live out their fantasies of defending their country. But which was which. In Afghanistan indeed they loved to be Military 7/24 but that lasted only for a short period and then they woke up one morning and realized they were just playing a game. One of my TDY collegues at the US Embassy, Kabul, was in that position and refused to put on civilian clothes when visiting construction contractors in Kabul to discuss purely technical issues - the contractors would not allow him into the building in full uniform, helmet, and carrying a big gun for everybody to see because it would greatly increase the risk of a Taliban attack. We finally settled on allowing him to carry a small gun under his civilian shirt that nobody could see. So silly, so sad. He finally went back to the US but obviously still confused about who he was. Very dangerous. Indeed the potential suicide problem lies in the individual and not in the US Military as a whole.

  48. Erica, please look into the true number of military suicides. A close friend is an EMT at Fort Riley, and he said that there had been 12 suicides there during May and June alone. I have found no report of this anywhere. The suicide situation is obviously far more dire than the military is letting on. Please investigate!

  49. This story just broke my heart. But it is not an isolated case. Those wishing to read more about it can check out a series that the website Salon did back in Feb of this year.

    This story also infuriated me. The Army knows this is happening, but they are not doing enough to stop it. How could the Army ignore not just warnings from its own soldiers that their comrade is not fit to battle, but also ignore their own previous classification of the young man as having personality disorder? I don't think it's extreme to say that under those circumstances, this young man did not commit suicide-- this is, at best, criminally negligent homicide.

    The Army is in dire need of a serious culture shift with respect to the mental health of those men and women that people like me ask to go out and kill in my name. (That's what we do. We, as a country, ask hundreds of thousands of men and women to go out and kill in our name.) The Army needs to completely reorient the way it handles returning soldiers. How about, instead of expecting seriously troubled soldiers to have to "admit weakness" and seek out care from indifferent facilities (when we know the affected soldiers are in the worst position to see that they need the help in the first place) -- how about, instead of that, the military makes it *standard* that ALL returning troops get daily psychological care for at least a period of weeks. Then the decision of whether someone needs more focused mental health attention is left to objective professionals, rather than to the confused and injured psyche of the suffering soldier him- or herself. Mandating treatment for ALL returning soldiers would also help eliminate the stigma of appearing "weak" by seeking care. I know people would argue that that would be expensive and burdensome, but honestly, how can we, as a country, in good conscience, ask people to kill in our name, and yet leave them alone to suffer the consequences? It is immoral, unethical, and wrong.

  50. Why are people so suprised about the high rate of suicide in the military? When are we going to wake up? Denial is so rampant in this country, few will face the fact that our culture of war, aggression and greed leaves most of us (except those who benefit from it at the cost of everyone else) feeling hopeless, angry and even suicidal. Our superficiality, unrealistic expectations and denial (disguised as optimism) results in total shock and even suicide when the real world hits us. We should all visit some 3rd world countries to see how most of the world lives. Maybe then we would stop living in a bubble of our own making. I love America, we are a great country,with even greater potential. If only we could use our energy and resources to really help ourselves and others in different ways we would truly be great.

  51. It would be helpful to see figures (if any were kept) from WWI and II. US culture has become heavily "death-denying" since the 1950's. In everyday life death is avoided at huge cost and shunted away to hospitals and nursing homes. Even fictional violence on TV and in movies is deceptive: the actors re-appear intact in the next feature. Cartoon and video "deaths" certainly don't contribute to a realistic view.

    I wonder how many of these unfortunate young people, caught up in what they are told is a noble, patriotic or humanitarian cause, are traumatized (at least in part, and making allowances for whatever vulnerability they bring to the experience) by having to confront the reality and finality of death to a familiar and important person in their own life.

    Just one more reason to re-examine the deluded misadventure in Iraq, and to end it as soon as logistically possible.

  52. What can I do to help?

  53. There is only one way to fix this problem: no more war. People who think that the military can be "fixed" are misguided. This is the inevitable result of sending people off to war to kill other people. There is no way to reconcile killing and death. There is no way to "recognize that these men and women are not machines" because any such thinking would have to extend to the enemy, who are also men and women.

  54. When I returned from the Far East during the time of Vietnam War, I felt like a stranger in my own country and I did not have a stressful assignment while in the service. There was a big disconnect. My plan was to hitch hike across the country after taking a long hike. The hike was ok but I found hitch hiking was not what I expected. I found everyone preoccupied with trivial things, like music, the price of gas, TV shows or paying bills. No one wanted my stories of adventure. Of course, no one could relate, as much as I could not relate to them.

    When you join the service, you quickly leave your old life behind. You are judged by your current performance, the fact that you were captain of the high school football team is irrelevant. I made no attempt at mixing my life in the service with the life I left behind. I quickly learned to leave my military life behind when I returned. With one exception. I got together with a base friend when he was discharged and we went on a canoe trip. Overseas, we went hiking and sightseeing when off duty. During the canoe trip we seldom spoke of the service but talked about things in the present and there was plenty.

    He was a corpsman that saw a lot of action in Vietnam and was often contacted at night to knock down some highly stressed Marine that was sent from Vietnam to our base to chill out for six months before discharge. These guys were crazy and violently dangerous. This is how the military treated PTSD back then. If your symptoms were subtle, you were given the heave-ho back to being a civilian.

    The Iraq engagement seems uncommonly stressful and it is probably more stressful living two lives, a mixture of home and combat at the same time. Driving a truck is probably one of the most stressful jobs, yet who in America could relate to it. I'm thinking that you should go in the military and get out. Keep military and civilian lives separate for most. Multiple deployments while living in two worlds that do not overlap is probably the most stressful of all. When you make the transition, you are expected to jump in with both feet and produce. Perhaps there needs to be a transition period where you are in neither world.

  55. Story about National Guard is not true. To my knowledge George W. is still alive, and very well.

  56. The fragility of the warrior ~ unable to reconcile memories, feelings, the fears and anger of being left behind, alive . . . more losses, than we can ever imagine. Here is our next generation of homeless wanderers twenty years hence if they receive no mental health intervention.

    Will our society ever learn? So Sad . . .

  57. Why can't the VA help these kids when they come home not 6monthsdown the road.It's because if they admit that the returning person has a problem they'll have to give them disbility,so they say we'll look into it.Looking into it can take years and the VA hopes that you will just go away.I have seen this happen to people I have known and if it's a real problem it doesn't go away.

  58. President Obama, read the comment of "Jessica" (#2) and then DO something for these tormented human beings! We have what they need ~ give them help!

  59. This is an issue which the military must address as part of its regular administration. The fact is that, from personal experience, PTSD and related disorders, linger. The military, almost due to its culture, is in denial about the strain war places on individuals. Of course societal and other factors play a role. And of course alcolhol dependency is almost always implicated. But our military and the government devote far too few resources to our soldiers and veterans after conflict and it is contributing to shattered lives and ruined families.

  60. I write this with tears flowing. David in Austin Tx said it best.
    A tragedy of the highest order, indeed.

    If our "leaders" want never ending wars, they MUST have the guts to implement the draft. Our brave young men and women sign a contract with the government and when their contract is over they are held with "end loss" so they cannot leave. They have become endentured servants of the deferment kings in congress.

    It is a crime of the highest order.

    Of course there will be no draft, it would be political suicide for them. Of course that suicide is the only one they care about.

  61. Another powerful element of trauma, unexplored by the writer here, arises from alienation from the larger community. How much of this alienation is fueled by political hostility directed at soldiers and generalized ambivalence and denial regarding the fact that we are at war? We should have learned more about the impact of such attitudes from the aftermath of Vietnam.

  62. I think you’ve raised an important issue. My sense is that it is different in different parts of the country. For example, some of the National Guard soldiers in the 1451st that I spoke to in North Carolina told me that they feel extremely welcomed and supported by the community there. But in some other places, there may be less support. I don’t know about hostility — I think that most Americans, after Vietnam, distinguish between a war and the troops that are sent to fight it. But there is some of what I’ve heard called “Iraq fatigue” — not wanting to think about the war or hear much about it or have to deal with it in a real way. And I can imagine that some veterans run into that.

  63. 'Powerful, disturbing, tragic --- war time life isn't fiction, it's fact. To every man or woman in a combat situation, all the manifestations of their experiences are bits of death hiding within them. For some those memories subside but never go away, of others the memories (and guilt) work like leaven to create a monster that they can't contend with.

  64. This angers and saddens me. When will the Bush AND the Obama Administrations accept the fact that these men and women are likely to be ill-equipped, unprepared and generally unfit for combat duty in a war that never should have happened? We lost in Vietnam, just like the
    French before us, because we didn't understand the people we were fighting. We will lose in Iraq, because US policy makers can't fathom the political and cultural realities of the Middle East - that has been at war with and among itself for more than a millenium. And we will lose in Afghanistan, like the Soviets before us, for the same reasons we lost Vietnam.

    Wars aren't even good for the economy (profiteers like Halliburton notwithstanding). They serve no useful purpose other than to spill precious blood and spread sorrow. How do we stop this madness?

  65. This story illustrates one key problem with our current all-volunteer army. Military recruiters and staffers have an agenda that often is completely at odds with the best interests of the men and women whom they recruit. Given this soldier's previous record, and the informed opinion of those in the unit who knew him, Blaylock should never have been deployed to Iraq.

    Beyond that, the United States Military needs to exponentially increase its mental health screening and treatment facilities. If this nation can't afford to do at least this much, then we can no afford to fight optional wars.

  66. The horrible disconnections that war creates are unbearable. Troops are isolated from the support of their families and welded together under intense pressure into tight-knit tools of war who depend specifically and intimately on each other for survival. Soldiers' words become useless to them...the meaning of everything changes and they cannot be understood by those they love. Pain of separation, loss of loves at home, horrifying deaths of comrades, misdirected guilt, and petrifying fear are constant burdens to them. These costs are borne one-sidedly by those few of our sons and daughters who are good enough to serve. These once golden, big-hearted children are not sacrificial lambs. Since we at home who send them to war must endure the loss of some of them, and witness daily the damage done to those who return, caring for our veterans is the only right thing to do. Those who say "The war is over. Veterans need to find a place on their own to fit in with the rest of us" are dooming themselves. The same me-first selfishness that allows greedy, bigoted people to send others to war in their place will keep them filled with fear and deny them happiness.

  67. All these fine young people being killed, maimed, mentally disabled and lives of family members turned upside down and inside out. And all the while back home bankers raking in hundreds of billions of dollars with out a thought about those in the military being sacrificed on the alter of greed and selfishness.

    Don't tell me we do not have a sick country on out hands.

  68. I have been under the impression that the "GI Bill"(or facsimile) has been renewed for the military of today. That lets them go back to school, get their lives back in order, and think of the future. Depression should also be recognized by the family of these soldiers and get them help thru psychiatrists, counseling, or whatever is needed. My husband was a WWII vet & under GI Bill became a teacher.

  69. Ok, this really bothers me. As an American who has opposed this war from the get go, I see other Americans making a CHOICE to be apart of these wars. These soldiers were not drafted into the war and there has been plenty of information given, even back in 2001 that the American government's motives for going to war should have been questioned and challenged.

    Considering that "Jackie" is a sensitive and intelligent person and has had a history of mental illness, he also chose to commit suicide by joining the military in the first place. He is a smart enough person to know he needed help before he joined so why didn't he help himself? Why did he did he CHOOSE to join the military????

    This is a tradgedy and not only for Jackie and the thousands of soldiers who have had to fight in this war but also for their loved ones who had to suffer with them. Everyone loses with this war. Americans need to stop falling victims to this system and making stupid, hurtful choices. If you are going to choose be apart of this destructive machine then these are the consequences and WE ALL SUFFER.

  70. A senseless depraved warmongering that has destabilized not just the middle east, but thousands of American families whose soldiers are literally wartorn from limb to limb from sea to shining sea. PEACE NOW

  71. This is all so sad. Here I sit in Florida, qualified and credentialed Creative Arts Therapist on unemployment and unable to work as a therapist in Florida. I am licensed in the state of New York, have taught others how to be therapists and there is no reciprocity in Florida.

    What a waste when men who have served their country and I am sure well, deserve better. I should be able to help here but am being prevented from doing so by outdated laws and strictures.

  72. As a veteran myself, this trend is heartbreaking. We need to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan now. Why is it necessary to have troops in 100 countries in the world?

  73. Perhaps, if enough of us could truly listen to Sgt. Jacob Blaylock's sorrowful angels, we might begin to think differently about a lot of things. My deepest sympathies to his friends, his family, his fellow soldiers and his thoughtful partner. I can't stop crying.

  74. First of all, "Suicide Resources", which lists the available mental health resources for returning service members. What copy editor let that slide?
    All service members are entitled to six free sessions with a qualified therapist. A qualified therapist should have the number for the service member to get approved. After the six sessions, the therapist makes a recommendation if more sessions are needed.
    My son, a Marine reservist, returned from his duty in Anbar Province, ostensibly in a good mental state. However, that was somewhat illusory.
    He went to a therapist. Granted I think mental health is the same as any other "health." 103 degree fever and depression both call for expertise beyond my realm.
    Our culture, including the military, is not concerned with mental health as it flies in the face of our belief that the individual has control of his/her actions.

    I cannot blame the military as the lone cause as the military is a reflection of our society in many ways. Our legislators balk at mental health as part of health care.
    Twenty five year old men and women tend to self medicate with alcohol and drugs - street and meds.

    Sad as this sounds, depression in our returning service members is a sign they are human: what they have seen can only make one wonder about humanity. Seeing a suicide bomber walk by you, detonating a couple of hundred feet from you, and seeing the carnage that ensues is a horror. Then you have survivor guilt...

  75. It amazes me how the country allows itself to participate in these terrible wars, turn young people into killers, and then there is this shock when the soldiers come home totally screwed up. "Oh my, how did this happen? Ah well these poor damaged souls are heroes, let's throw them out in the street and treat them like garbage."

    Wake up United States! These are the spoils of war! Going off to a foreign land and killing people is not heroic! Ending up so traumatized you cannot function is not heroic! It's tragic! It's all tragic, wasteful, and the worst of it is that americans are somehow deluded into thinking there is nobility in this, while the wealthy owners of oil companies and weapons manufacturing companies get richer and richer.

    The media promotes the nationalistic agenda, fools you into believing that the soldiers are "fighting for your freedom" when in reality they are "fighting for someone else's profits" while losing their humanity.

    Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is not new. We have known about it in one form or another for quite some time. It is an accepted thing, among those who choose to send people to war, that most soldiers who make it back will not be whole, will never be whole again, and for the sake of their profits they are willing, happy even, to sacrifice YOUR sons and daughters, husbands and wives. All for money.

    How can you accept this?

  76. Is there any equivalent of Al-Anon for friends and relatives of these deeply traumatized soldiers? One would expect that friends and relatives would quickly learn that, in many situations, trying to “help” a troubled vet either adds to the vet’s problems or creates additional ones. Like Alanon members, they would learn to focus on themselves and learn how to deal with their own problems that arise as a result of soldier’s difficulties. Also, as they do this, they might learn to leave the vet's recovery to the vet himself,and to his doctors, other medical staff, and other members of the soldiers support group.

  77. there are some Veterans groups that may be willing to help by supplying information support. One of these, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) comes to mind. I urge anyone returning from the combat zone to seek out this are another veterans support group. These are men and women that you can talk to about your experiences and they can relate. They are also experienced first hand with the treatment vacilities of the VA.

  78. An amazingly sad and tragic story. Unfortunately, only one of many. More akin to mental illness than PTSD in this case.

  79. A moving and tragic story. I thank the NYT for sharing it with the rest of us...First, to the families of those who lost fathers, sons, brother, I extend my deepest sympathies, and wish you strength in recovering from such an immeasurable loss. To the surviving soldiers in the company, I hope and pray for your recovery, for your ability to re-integrate with society, and your ability to proceed in the pursuit of your hopes and dreams. Your sacrifice is not lost to us. Mr. Blaylock was such a talented singer and songwriter, I was moved by just the snippets we heard during the story. I wish there were some way for his music to be shared with the people here at home, so we might better understand his plight, and the plights of the thousands of others. It was clear from the story that Sgt. Blaylock used music as a form of 'release'. As a way to vent some of the intense emotional feelings he experienced. God rest his weary soul. God help the other men and women who need it. God help us all avoid any more war.

  80. My grandsons are in the Marine Corps and the Navy. My nephew just got back from Iraq. I read this tragic article right after reading an article on MSN about Walmart's cumulative effect on communities.

    "Loving your neighbor as yourself" seems to be just as irreconcilable with worshiping wealth as it was 2000 years ago.

    Has anyone calculated the profits that some people have made from the sacrifice of others' sanity and lives?

  81. I saw the video for this article and I was stunned by the story.

    The video clips made by Jacob Blaylock himself revealed the incredible pain and hurt he felt after his friends were killed by road-side bombs in Iraq.

    His own personal story explained everything yet left some many questions unanswered. How could this have happened? Why did good men and women have to die in a horrible and cruel war? Could I have done something different to prevent this?

    For many who suffer PTSD these questions keep returning again and again, whether awake or in dreams. The events of war remind us of the ultimate cruelty of life, that some human beings can and will betray our trust and our best intentions, if and when they get the chance, even when the ultimate price of that betrayal may be someone's death.

    And for some of us the pain and hurt of that betrayal is inconsolable, and sometimes it becomes unbearable, as in the cases of those who decided to end their lives after returning from the war in Iraq.

  82. Really? Readers are shocked ("and awed") at the fact that soldiers have been ripped from tranquil, stable lives of the National Guard weekend warriors into 5th and 6th tours of duty and we expect them to return healthy?
    Some of these guardsmen are in thir 50's! Unemployment and a down economy face them when they return. Congress and the Pentagon brass are still squabbling over what benefits these GIs can get IF they return home.
    These soldiers/sailors return home changed to an America that has changed. The spouses have moved on to their own identity after some of their military spouses have been gone for years. Our longest war EVER!
    Why is anyone shocked?
    Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, and others must be brought to trial for their crimes against humanity. And for every suicide and death think of the destruction of lives of the people of Iraq who NEVER wanted a full scale world war in their homeland.
    Thank you Congress et al. All the military dollars in the world will not bring back these once happy men whether they committed suicide or not.

  83. None of the pain and suffering and sadness written about in this piece would have happened if President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had not lied this nation into an unnecessary war, a war of choice. These two possible war criminals (yes, it must be said) never went to war. As is widely known, Bush avoided Vietnam by receiving special consideration to enable him entrance into the National Guard in Texas. Cheney took 4 or 5 deferments to enable him to avoid serving in the war in Vietnam. The United States of America saw 58,000 plus members of its brave military killed in Vietnam. Cheney is quoted as saying that he "had other things to do." The men of the 1451st who killed themselves had other things to do, too. The best thing this country can do for members of its military is to go to war only as a last resort. No more wars entered into by uncaring, unschooled, egotistic leaders, out of touch with the realities of war and loss.

  84. Mothers and fathers: Your child is an adult, but you still wield tremendous influence on his life and decisions. Try whatever you can to get him NOT to enlist.

    Don't encourage him. Don't tell him that the military will offer good discipline and guidance. Don't let it be an option as a way to pay for college. Help him apply for and get financial aid. Help him write a resume and get a job. Let him and his girlfriend live with you. Let him be gay or disavow your church or never visit his grandparents. All of it pales in comparison to the alternative: a tombstone instead of a son.

    This was and is a voluntary military. NO ONE HAS TO OR HAD TO GO TO WAR.
    Just say no, no war, to IEDs, to injuries, to lost limbs, to PTSD, to death, to suicide, to a lifetime made more impossible by exposure to war.

    In Korea and Vietnam, we were given this lesson, but we did not learn from it. Stop the cycle. Stop volunteering. Stop going to war.

  85. This nation dumped this war on the shoulders of the few. It did so as a nation so divided the Supreme Court had to weigh in on who was president. When those few shoulders proved too few, they were sent again, bribes dressed as bonuses were added and the standards for enlisting were lowered. The rest of us have gone on to with flu, the economy, jobs, which movie to see, which game to buy, and to be the audience for television fed information and debates. What we have not done is feel a visceral connection to the military and their families. We have not joined up in patriotic response nor have we hit the streets in protest. Without the draft or universal service, we have abdicated the messiness of democractic responsibility to join up or protest.

    The military says a volunteer force is a more qualified soldier and it doesn't want the draft or anything like it. The Vietnam era doesn't want the draft. The WWII and Korean War eras "did" their service. Those who have stayed home say, "Hey, they volunteered. They knew what they were getting into." Did they? Do you? It is another world, another reality, and only the current vets know and that is after the fact. Most of us are not really connected to them. Shame on us.

  86. This video moved me to realize even more the meaningless insanity of this "war on terror" begun by Bush and Cheney. How many thousands of other personal stories of horror from this lost war go untold. The VA Healthcare system simply gave him a prescription band-aid for a gaping and bleeding wound in a sensitive and vulnerable soul. If we had a draft like Vietnam the war would be over because the masses of people would not allow their children being sucked into the meat grinder of the military-industrial complex of Haliburton and other companies.

  87. I served with Sgt. Wilson during his first tour. He was a good soldier and a person that everybody liked. I was sad to read about him this morning. I will say a pray for his family and the many soldiers that come home with the burdens of war.

  88. We have learned nothing from Vietnam. We are wasting the lives and minds of our troops and ruining their families. Eight years is enough! Out of there now!

  89. That is a very well edited video on a powerful and very sad story. It was reported beautifully, and the results are very moving. Congrats.

  90. Thank you for this deeply honest piece. It gives me strength, the poetic beauty of this artist. It's so sad that someone so sensitive could get themselves caught up in such a senseless waste of life as the Iraq War. His webpage: makes it clear that getting drafted after 4 years off-duty was what destroyed his marriage, and yet The Times article says only he was 'troubled' and had come off a failed marriage. Right under your nose NYT, please stay connected and focus on the facts laid out right in front of you. Fitz

  91. It's hard to believe that the military, including psychologists, medical doctors and chaplains, did not anticipate military suicide emerging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet they did virtually nothing to prevent it. Recall that the Vietnam War, too, had a high suicide rate among American soldiers.

    The only way to prevent another tragedy, here, are to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to devote the energy that goes into making war into making peace.

  92. Killing who they had to kill to stay alive and complete the mission, being drenched in the blood of their dead brother or sister's exploded limbs and torsos, and being bombarded with IEDs and mortars 24/7, it is a true wonder that combat soldiers are able to adjust to life after war at all.

    We owe them all a debt we can't possibly pay. Forty years of combat-induced PTSD and we still can't get it right. Maybe there is no real treatment for war. Except no more war.

  93. Ron Paul is the only one to get it right. Stay out of unnecessary wars. Period.

  94. I am in the medical profression and hold a BSN in Nursing. The military and it's contractors limit those of us without all these "higher degrees" from working with soldiers with mental illness. Although I work in psychiatric nursing I get turned down for jobs. I know about suicide. I took an overdose and the repercussions resulted in permanent injuries to the neuro and spinal systems. If you haven't ever suffered from PTSD, depression, anxiety...not to mention trying to take your own life how can you possibly understand where these people are coming from no matter how degrees you hold. I know first hand how little many of these "professionals" understand the ideology of suicide. They may have the "book" knowledge but lack understanding of what can drive a person to want to take their own lives and I am not talking about the person who takes 10 Tylenols and turns themselves into a treatment center. I am talking about the ones who have an arsenal of pills, guns, alcohol...until America comes to the realization that education in a classroom is pretty much meaningless until you share commonalities with the patient not much is going to change.

  95. I wish all returning soldiers and their families would get in touch with and use the free confidential non- government affiliated "Soldiers Project" free therapy/group /family counseling. that has been made available by concerned Psychologists and Phd.'s. I have been a part of a group since my soldier's deployment and even though he is back, we still meet occasionally. Issues keep coming up- and we will deal with them and the trauma of this war for the rest of our lives.
    If we didn't have our group of wives, girlfriends and moms to share our suffering and joy with we would never have been able to deal with our company's injuries, deaths and yes, a soldier's suicide after he came back home 'safe'. Our leader, a compassionate and experienced Phd., has given us a great gift- the opportunity to be 'containers' for each others grief and fears,as well as hopes and dreams. Even some of the children- as young as 2 years- get therapy/ counseling in an age-appropriate manner. We can count on each other, because we have 'been there', much in the same way our soldiers have been there.( More than ever, this is a war that affects families too.) Anyone can look into this free and important service. Here is the website:
    ps: The ladies go, but we still have a hard time getting the men and the soldiers to go. Families, do it for yourselves.

  96. Such a tragedy! Why are we even right now still sending our young men and women into the war theater?

    When human lives are at stake, war, pre-emptive or not, should be the very last resort.

    War never ever determines who is right; it only determines who is left to face the consequences on both or all sides.

  97. Brilliant piece.

  98. As a Past Eastern District Commander for AmVets in the state of Virginia I would suggest all returning vets become a part of a service organization. Service Officers can help vets from falling through the cracks, and having people who have experienced the same types of combat in the field and challenges these young guys have gone through is a blessing.

    I'm not going to comment on the article, but I've expressed my thoughts on these matters for years, often with Colonel David Hackworth (rest in peace bud) and through my blogs. I said from the opening days of battle in the rush to Bagdhad that there would be a tremendous amount of PTSD and this is one disorder that never goes away.

    But there are people our there collected in service organizations who are capable of giving the moral support and even legal, medical and monetary help. When the VA falls down on the job there are Service Officers to make them step up and do the job. When benefits are being cut, such as those cut during the Bush years even as he was asking the active duty military to do more and was warehousing those injured before dumping them on the VA, well, these Service Officers no how to get action because they do it for a living. They FIGHT everyday for our vets. While the service organizations themselves are a volunteer organization, the Service Officer is a paid individual whose job is to help recover benefits, get proper medical treatment and even stand with those they serve if it comes down to a vet getting their day in court.

    And a last word here. AmVets' Constitution allows Active Duty military as well as Coast Guard to join and AmVets will fight just as hard for any active duty soldier as it will for a vet.

    Roger W. Norman
    Past Eastern District Commander '86-'87
    AmVets State of Virginia

  99. This man's story is tragic, compounded by the fact that he's one of many thru time who have traveled this path. My father was also one. Served in the Navy in Korean War. Battled his emotional fragility compounded by the stress of being in a cramped submarine for weeks at a time. His mates wrote to my mother about changes in his behavior. He died by his own hand in '70 after years of his own emotional pain and terrible disruption to our family life. I believe my dad had (1) an inherited potential towards mental illness, and (2) the stress of service activated that potential. I think these two conditions are present in someone who takes their own life, whether they have served in the armed forces in combat or whether they have not. I am a "casualty of war," in a way, myself, as are my brother, sister and mother, who lived with my dad's instability, multiple hospitalizations over the years in psych wards, suicide attempts, and his drinking to numb the pain. It's forty years later, and I am just recently able to think about his life rather than his death. I agree with the criticisms here of many wars in which the US has engaged; I feel that only rarely is a war necessary, when it's to protect ourselves, directly--the same rules as "self-defense" when an individual kills another individual outside the military. It's not helpful, though, to focus here on the rightness or wrongness of war: It is helpful to realize that anyone who has an imbalance in their brain that manifests itself in behavior should not be allowed to "drink/smoke away their pain." I believe an early and direct intervention with the self-medication aspect would get people into inpatient treatment for that and be followed by long-term outpatient treatment for the specific mental illness. If you take anything away from this, learn that when serious behavioral problems happen in YOUR circle of family or friends, one of the first signs is self-medication with alcohol, drugs, etc. IN-TER-VENE. Get a psychologist involved immediately upon seeing the pattern and do a professional IN-TER-VEN-TION. Early. If it doesn't work the first time, do it again. Do it until the person gives in. They are weak, and they will give in. They do want to live. They want to live without the pain. That's what I know.

  100. The rate of suicide among soldiers is less than the same-age general population.

  101. These are bad wars that stretch out too long, all to defend the rights to oil, global warming, and a man-created energy crisis. How depressing. And we are not welcome in these countries-hated, in fact, by the majority of the citizens. What soldier would not get depressed? And to think about coming home and looking for a job? Forget about it. Soldiers feel trapped, and shortchanged, and they are. The pays sucks, the work conditions are awful, and death lurks around every corner. Perhaps things would not seem so bad it all Americans had to serve. Instead, the rich protect their children with laws; only the poor serve. The sons and the daughters of the rich go off to college; the sons of the poor go off to the meat grinder, to support the oil revenues that send the rich kids to college. See-it all makes sense, really. It’s a kind of perfect circle of greed, inequality, trickiness, desperation, and death.

  102. As a psychiatrist, I am shocked by the statistics quoted- 4/175 guardsmen killed themselves.It is impossible to prevent suicide nor can we predict who will eventually kill themselves. What we can predict is the risk of suicide- high, intermediate or low. Experienced professionals should evaluate risk after looking at something like 20 different risk factors. Some of these can be changed such as removing guns from the individuals home. others cannot be changed- for eg., the suicide rate is higher in young people - teens or 20s. It would be most unlikey to find that a person is an imminent suicide risk- meaning that they will kill themselves in a matter of minutes ,hours or a day. Unfortunately, once a person has decided to end it, they have a sense of peace because their inner turmoil has finally stopped. They probably have a specific plan - for example jumping in front of a train going 60 mph as one of my patients did. Sometimes, they know for certain that they are going to kill themselves but pure chance determines the method. For example, a former patient of mine, was allowed to go out on a pass from the psychiatric unit at Columbia-Presbyterian- unfortunately, there was a traffic jam and when his car came to a full stop, he got out of the vehicle and jumped off the George Washington Bridge . What can we do to change the above horrific statistics? I believe that an in depth psychiatric evaluation of people who want to enter the military. The young man who is the subject of this article is a good example. If the recruit has a history of psychiatric treatment or looks to have psych problems without previous treatment. I would ask how the particular diagnosis is likey to interfere with his functioning in the military. A diagnosis of a personality disorder save for a Borderline Personality Disorder is not as likely to result in suicide as, for example, depression or hearing voices telling the person to kill himself as in schizophrenia. Regardless, I would be pretty confident that a personality disorder is going to make it very difficult for the recruit to get along with other guys in his unit- which will have not only a negative impact on him but also the soldiers who come in contact with him. Even if there were no signs of suicide in this guy, it was probably unwise to let him serve in the military. Another factor to keep in mind is that people with psyh problems, once detected, are going to need ongoing treatment which is going to be difficult to provide unless the soldier is in one place for most of his tour and there is a mental health professional available. Crisis intervention- "patch him up" approachs would not be adequate for a guy like this- he would need to be seen every week- is this realistic? Mental health professionals often have different approachs to treatment- the treater may not have the interest or the skills to provide what this man needs. If he was at home, he could shop around until he found the kind of treater that he needed. In essence, I am saying that I would be recluctant to allow anyone with a psych history or psych problems into the service. I am sure that many intelligent people will say I'm naive. I don't think so- under such circumstances, I would suggest that the recruit have a 2nd opinion evaluation perhaps with a mental health profess. who has more experience. In psychiatry, I have found that psychiatrists who have done mostly hospital work with emphasis on giving meds, tend not to be particulary skillful in dealing with personality disordered people. I see diagnoses such as "atypical Bipolar II rather than borderline personality or narcissistic personaliy disorder.
    To be sure, there are soldiers who were fine prior to going into the service who come out sick with diagnoses such as post traumatic stress disorder. Again, these young men and women deserve the most thoughtful and complete psychiatric examination that we can provide. Again considering what this article is about, the following comments will sound callous and not politically correct. For every bona fide traumatized soldier, there are probably more who are playing up their psych damages because there is tremendous secondary gain accruing to the soldier- getting out of the military or future bad assignments, veterans benefits etc. Also, even, mental health professionals sometimes even forget that PTSD is not seen in every one who has been in the military even those who have been in gruesome combat. The highest frequency is found in female and also male victims of rape and is about 50%. In other words, there is a lots of malingering in these soldiers as a group-

    In summary, my opinion is that a thorough psych eval be done on anyone who shows signs and symptoms suggestive of a psychiatric problem. If the person has anything but the most benign of problems, don't take them. The same thorough exam is essential with suspect guys and gals upon discharge. The gentleman above was suspect.

  103. As the mother of a soldier who was "Stop-Lossed" and is currently deployed for the second time, this article fills me with dread. How do family members keep this from happening to their loved one? For National Guard and Reserve soldiers and single soldiers in the regular Army, there seem to be very few resources. My son's unit is already planning multiple classes on ways to ease the transition from deployment for the spouses who live on or near post, but nothing is offered for those who live far away from post. The Army owes it to every deployed soldier to give that soldier and their families the tools to deal with the horror of combat.

  104. Perhaps what this shows above all else is that after 5000 years of men waging war (and let's face it, its men), evolution has finally spliced into our male psyche that war is not good for the soul.

  105. An Iraqi colleague just commented to me: "Sad story in the NYT but the pain of those National guardsmen and their families is just drop in the ocean compared to the loass and grief and pain inflicted on every single Iraqi family."

  106. Everyone who has commented thus far has a valid point, in one regard or another. The causes leading to war are complex. In my view, war is not justified, yet we are a military society. I myself was a military air traffic controller for ten years, and left the service with a diagnosis of depression and PTSD. It is not well publicized yet, but research in recent years has documented that EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) can and does treat the symptoms of PTSD. We must find a way to increase public awareness of this treatment for men and women returning from conflict. I myself have undergone EMDR therapy and know it to be quite effective for long and short term resolution of trauma. The research on EMDR for PTSD in individuals returning from Iraq, survivors of terrorist attacks, etc. bears this out.

  107. My one hope for tomorrow is that this tragedy will finally convince us that war is evil and counterproductive and must be stopped. The fact that we still allow it -- no, depend on it for power and money -- is a disgrace and a sign of our cruelty, ignorance, and lack of will to prevent it. Unless we stop wars, we are a doomed species.

  108. Listen, the US has had men fighting wars of various kinds since 1776, wars far more destructive and far more intense than the asymmetrical combat we are now seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in most of the modern wars, most of those fighting were people who did not volunteer and were drafted (not self-proclaimed warriors).

    While it is tragic that a small number of these soldiers have taken their own lives, I think this whole suicide thing is being blown out of proportion and into hysterics, sort of like the swine flu and Michael Jackson's recent passing. Let's all take a deep breath and try to understand what is going on.

    From my recollections of what I have read and/or seen, WWII, Korea and Viet Nam were far worse situations that what our troops are facing today. Perhaps the easy living and the Hollywood and video glorification of combat have created an unrealistic gap between the realities of combat and the what these young volunteers expected this type of warfare to be like.

    I recall the expression, "War is hell." But perhaps our society, to encourage young men and some young women to put their lives on the line, we've got "War as a big sell."

    Perhaps what is needed to reduce the gap between expectations and reality, and therefore depression, PTSD and suicide, the military needs to do a better and more honest job of informing the potential candidates and applicants of all the pro's and con's, the gains and risks, of entering the combat profession at this time. Some religions do this when people come forward to convert from another religion. People who are better informed and who then make the decision to join are less likely to be shocked by what they find.

    Secondly, the military needs to do better screening. Better psychological profiling and perhaps tougher basic training, more along the lines of what we saw in GI Jane and An Officer and a Gentleman, to wash out those with unknown or undiscovered weaknesses for the stresses of combat. Better to spend a bit more for recruiting than to send in people with a higher probability of having psychiatric and psychological problems once in country.

    Personally, I would not be putting so many US troops in harm's way in these foreign cesspools. We can keep the terror vermin under control with air power and drones, as through training local people to clean up their own mess. Unlike Americans, the people we are fighting for intentionally blow up worshipers at Mosques, mourners at funerals, children on school buses, people waiting on lines for jobs. Why not pull back and let these Sunnis and Shiites continue their age old Jihad until they reach the point of exhaustion as those in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan and Syria (pretty much) have done.

    The loves of our brave young men and women are too value to waste on people not only do not value life, but are proud of taking it, proud of demeaning, brutalizing and even killing women,their own wives and daughters (so-called "honor killings"). In America, we treat our pets and farm animals better, much better.

  109. Beautiful story, thank you for the human face of war and health care, including mental health care.

  110. Moving. Sad. Preventable.

  111. I didn't raise my son to be a soldier but he's a force of nature. He quit college and joined the army and served 15 months in Iraq. But that adorable boy who loved girls, football, videogames, music, girls, oh and beer, came back to me a man. His enlistment has taken several years off my life, I'm sure. But I have come to some conclusions about all this stuff about war and peace and children and right and wrong.

    First, we as a people, we don't deserve peace. We're war mongerers. We should just admit it. You can't lie, steal, cheat, beat your wives, neglect your kids, cheat on your taxes, road rage, hate your president, cheat on your spouses, always put yourself first, chase greed, and call yourself a person of peace. Most people don't want peace, they just to get theirs, and don't want to be bothered helping their fellow man. So we're always going to have an army to fight for us because war is our way of dealing.

    second, as a mother of a soldier, i do truly regret letting my son play video games where he did nothing but kill of imaginary enemy, shadow soldiers on the other side. Or monsters or whatever the particular game is. They learn to kill but they don't have any concept of how traumatic death is. So most kids don't even think death is real until they see the carnage. I also let him play paintball. Not a good idea either. So I blame myself for that.

    third, my dad was a hardened WW II vet and he lost so many friends. About ten years ago I helped our town put in a Veteran's Memorial Rose Garden. And my dad sponsored quite a few of those roses, each one dedicated to his friends, who he's never forgotten, not their names, not their personalities, not even their goodness. he still has survivor's guilt and still wonders why he lived and they didn't. I truly believe he survived so that they would never be forgotten and that's as good a reason as any to keep on living.

    Finally, I do not feel the Army has forsaken our sons and daughters. But I do wonder if the Guard gets the short end of the stick on post deployment support services and funds. And I do wonder why they pulled Jacob back into service, considering how darn hard it is to get a honorable discharge for personality disorder. But my heart cries for his family and friends, and to them I send them my deepest sympathy and respect.

  112. We have made this a war fought by the few. For more than 43 of my 66 years of life, we have been at war. In recent years, without conscription, we have placed the burden of war on the shoulders of the few, at immense cost to those few.

  113. Finally. Ms Goode's intelligent portrayal of suicide as an extremely complex event, which includes pre-service contributing factors, would conclude the Armed Forces should gear recruiting programs towards "Prevention".

    While military service provides an outstanding platform for a young person in the development of a strong sense of personal identity, there is much to be said regarding the leadership of any organization, Congress included, that cannot foresee the consequences of prolonged combat operations.

    As intelligent as we would lead ourselves to believe, that we cannot determine the epidemiological and epigeinetic nexus, Ms Goode succinctly provides, is truly an American tragedy.

    For those, who detest the use of force, when diplomacy and economic sanctions fail, please remember Plato's quote: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

    George W. Murray LtCol USMC(ret)

  114. Heartbreaking.

    When we invaded Iraq I like many others was swept up in a sense that it was the right thing. As time has gone on this war has proved as pointless and destructive as any America has waged.

    Bring our troops home.

  115. #99, Dr. Sostowski, you make a lot of good points regarding identification of pre-existing fault lines in military enlistment candidates which dovetails with my points published prior to yours (regarding better screening).

    One thing though that you did not mention, did you consider that a self-selection process by those with pre-existing suicidal fantasies might consciously or unconsciously choose to enlist in a very high risk enterprise, like fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements, as a kind of suicide by cop. Think about some of the people who were attracted to the French Foreign Legion or people who volunteer for "suicide missions." Many of these folks are down and out, feel they have little to lose or live for and may see combat as a glorious way out of existence.

  116. Care for any soldier is being very clear of what the purpose of them being away from home for years on end. If the objective is clear and attainable, the battle is half won. Stress will always build up when the victory on the horizon is not in sight. The American people (and President) do not seem to be very involved with any aspect of these war's outside of the monetary cost and loss of a life within the family cell.

  117. This is amazing journalism. Thank you so much.

  118. "You made them strong. We'll make them Army strong." Sounds good in the commercial, but what happens in real life is not the same. I am sure a lot of civilians such as myself learn a lot from these articles. That won't help returning veterans, though. Those needing to learn from it are those who would permit someone with emotional problems to be called back into service, as would those who had labeled Sgt. Blaylock a low risk for suicide.

  119. PTSS isn't just for the returning warriors. It infects their families, friends and all who love and care about them. Adding to the burden of trying to return to "normal" life is the lack of real guidance offered, or alternatives to military service. Unfortunately, there aren't enough resources to go around for everyone. It must feel to the returnees like "war" continues in one way or another.

  120. My father was a veteran of WWII and suffered from depression. I'll never forget visiting him in the VA Hospital as a child - peeling paint, busted screens, roaming babbling patients. He got shock treatment there and that was the beginning of the end. He was scheduled to go back, but killed himself to avoid it.

    The more things change the more they stay the same. The VA hospitals continue to be horror shows. The stigma of suicide is still prevalent and perverse. Something would be wrong with these soldiers if they weren't distressed from all they'd experienced. These dear souls who took their own lives are a call to action. And merely "moving on" and not holding accountable those who launched this debacle in Iraq is an insult to their memory. Our young men and women's lives aren't cannon fodder in the quest for Halliburton's profits. It's shameful that the Bush/Cheney crowd is getting away with their numerous atrocities. I expected better from Obama.

    What can we do as private citizens and as a nation to help our veterans?

  121. The whole thing should never have happened, the war should not happen...however, since it is, I cannot understand why someone at the VA or elsewhere didn't give the whole platoon time and space to come together and talk about what happened. Clearly, these men needed to do so. In civilian life we recognize the importance of grieving rituals and bonding--to not give attention to these in a war, of all places, is gross negligence.

  122. The comments are all over the map. There are a lot of bad people in the world who want to do us great harm. Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson, I assume, were war mongers who sent our troops out unecessarily to be slaughtered! It would be wonderfull if we all couldn't get along and solve our problems by sitting down and negotiating. That has not been the real world in the past and it will never be. Can we afford to bring everybody home and not play this"game". Take off those rose colored glasses and live in the real world. Of course we need to continue to help those who come back from war zones traumatized and depressed. Those situations are tragic and that will never change. B ut, we must realize the true nature of the world situation and protect this country. I have heard enough of the blame game on the Bush administration. I suppose that Roosevelt should have said regardless of Pearl Harbor (Few were killed at Pearl Harbor than were killed on 9/11!) we should stayed home, negotiated and set up up home defenses. Roosevelt looked at the total world situation with the Japanese, Germans and the Italians (Axis of Evil # 1) and determined we must act quickly, which he did. Point is, we will have war, not because we want it or enjoy it. It is terrible and brave people will have to continue to protect us. This blame game has got to stop.

  123. Comment No 10: Given how well Ms Goode has highlighted the complexity of suicide, please keep your comic-book, automaton-esque comments to yourself. You do a great disservice to the men and women of the Armed Forces, as well as the civilian component, serving our Nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    It is disconcerting to read tree-hugging comments with all the blame being poured on the previous Administration. No 10, have you been to Iraq; have you served in uniform? Have you ever lived under a dictatorship or society, where Every person you know has lost an immediate family member to the dictatorship or a war? I think not.

    BTW, in case you haven't been keeping with more current events, it's President Obama and the Democratic-majority in Congress that are keeping things rolling in Afghanistan. Perhaps you would prefer to take on Al Q and the Taliban at home? One would ask, how's the heroin supply in your neighborhood? Do you have enough oil and electricity to heat your home; gas for your car?

    If you want to attack anything, consider the current Administration's economic policies, which may very well lead to the next set of conflicts.

    George W. Murray LtCol USMC(ret)

  124. 1. My deepest sympathies to all who have suffered because of this war.

    2. It seems to me that the suicide rate has to be a vast underestimation, for both soldiers *and* "civilans." Do I believe that "only" 20 civilians out of 100,000 committed suicide? No, I do not. My guess is that it is more like 1,000 out of 100,000, perhaps much more. Until we can really quantify these things accurately, we will remain in the dark, without a solution.

  125. While I am appalled that a single person takes his or her own life, I am also struck by the much greater awareness of the mental effects of war. My Grandfather fought through four years of trench warfare in the British Army during the First World War (he had lied about his age so that he was 16 when he enlisted as a volunteer in 1914). During that war, what we now call PTSD was called cowardice or, at best, shell-shock and many were executed for it on both sides and in all armies. During WWII it was not a lot better, and only started to be recognized in Vietnam. We have to do much better in diagnosis and treatment. Best of all, perhaps is to avoid sending these young people off to war.

    Of course "collateral damage" was also more accepted. Around 30,000 French civilians died during the D-Day landing and subsequent battles.

  126. Never have so few sacrificed so much so the many could go shopping…

  127. The word tragedy runs through all the comments to this story. It’s accurate. But it fails to portray the enormity of the loss to families, communities and a nation.

    I asked a friend who is a psychologist at a VA hospital why some men and women are more susceptible to psychological trauma—and prone to suicide—than others. He said, “It starts with their background. Many of these patients begin their lives with a disadvantage…often from dysfunctional families and lack of a support system.”

    Compound this predisposition with multiple-deployments, and self-treatment through alcohol and drug abuse…and you have a recipe for disaster.

    Sgt. Blaylock—the other victims of his National Guard unit—may not match this profile. But certainly the signs were there.

    War is never a good thing. But our young men and women who commit their lives to serve our nation, deserve everything our government, communities, and neighbors can do to save them upon their return home.

    Culture shock and its counterpart—reverse culture shock—are well documented. Disorientation when placed in an unfamiliar environment and again when returning home. Add the daily threat of death, and you multiply these symptoms enormously.

    Sgt. Blaylock and his comrades saved our lives; the double tragedy is that we could not do enough to save theirs.

  128. This article made me tear up and angry. We Americans have been so sheltered from the tragedies of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. It made me feel ashamed that I did not protest louder and longer and do more. As I sit here safe and alive at my computer I wonder how many soldiers are facing fear and possible death in Iraq or Afghanistan this very moment. I wonder how many more will return home to their own personal chaos. How quickly we forgot our national shame for sending 50,000 soldiers to their deaths in Vietnam. We reacted badly and inappropriately to the 9-11 tragedy and were caught up in the bravura of the Bush call to war. So now Bush sits calmly and comfortably in his Dallas mansion and I at my computer. Shame on all of us.