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Dec 23rd, 2008

Four Recruiter Suicides at One Unit Lead to Probe

Widow blames pressure to sign up soldiers, husband’s earlier tour

Image: Widow with photo of husband
Amanda Henderson holds a portrait of her late husband, Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Henderson, at her home in Henderson, Texas. (Photo credit: Herb Nygren, Jr. / AP)

Dec. 22, 2008

HENDERSON, Texas — Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Henderson, a strapping Iraq combat veteran, spent the last, miserable months of his life as an Army recruiter, cold-calling dozens of people a day from his strip-mall office and sitting in strangers’ living rooms, trying to sign up their sons and daughters for an unpopular war.

He put in 13-hour days, six days a week, often encountering abuse from young people or their parents. When he and other recruiters would gripe about the pressure to meet their quotas, their superiors would snarl that they ought to be grateful they were not in Iraq, according to his widow.

Less than a year into the job, Henderson — afflicted by flashbacks and sleeplessness after his tour of battle in Iraq — went into his backyard shed, slid the chain lock in place, and hanged himself with a dog chain.

He became, at age 35, the fourth member of the Army’s Houston Recruiting Battalion to commit suicide in the past three years — something Henderson’s widow and others blame on the psychological scars of combat, combined with the pressure-cooker job of trying to sell the war. …

Senator pushed for inquiry

The Army began an investigation after being prodded by Amanda Henderson and Texas Sen. John Cornyn. Cornyn, a Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he will press for Senate hearings.

“We need to get to the bottom of this as soon as we can,” he said.

The all-volunteer military is under heavy pressure to sign up recruits and retain soldiers while it wages two wars. …

In all, 15 of the Army’s 8,400 recruiters have committed suicide since 2003. During that period, more than 540 of the Army’s half-million active-duty soldiers killed themselves. …

The 266-member Houston battalion covers a huge swath of East Texas, from Houston to the Arkansas line. Henderson committed suicide Sept. 20. Another battalion member, Staff Sgt. Larry Flores Jr., hanged himself in August at age 26; Sgt. Nils “Aron” Andersson, 25, shot himself to death in March 2007; and in 2005, a captain at battalion headquarters took his life, though the military has not disclosed any details. All served combat tours before their recruiting assignments.

Charlotte Porter, Andersson’s mother, said her son — who served two tours in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne and earned a Bronze Star — couldn’t lie to recruits about the war and felt an enormous burden to ensure they could become the kind of soldiers he would want watching his back.

“He wasn’t a complainer. He just said it really sucked,” said his 51-year-old mother, who is from Eugene, Ore. “He felt like a failure.” …

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said recruiting these days “is arguably the toughest job in the military.”

“They’re under incredible stress. You can see it on their faces,” he said. …


Related reports on this site

Reported Fragging in Iraq (Sept. 27, 2010)

Heartbreak at Ft. Hood (Nov. 5, 2009)

GI Opens Fire on U.S. Troops in Iraq (May 12, 2009)

Army Ponders Suicide Prevention (Feb. 7, 2009)

Army: Stunning Spike in Suicides (Feb. 6, 2009)

Military Suicides Continue to Rise (Jan. 29, 2009)

Army Issues Statement on Suicides (Jan. 23, 2009)

Military Suicides Probed (Dec. 23, 2008)


St. Cloud Veterans Day Ceremony — “Amazing Grace”


Afghan Leader Doubts U.S. Military Strategy

Karzai expresses concern as U.S. prepares to send more troops

Image: Hamid Karzai
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, at a news conference earlier this month, said Monday, Dec. 22, 2008, that he doubts sending 30,000 more American forces into Afghan villages will tamp down the insurgency. (Photo credit: Musadeq Sadeq / AP)

Dec. 22, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai pressed America’s top military leader Monday on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and preparations to pour up to 30,000 more forces into the country, reflecting Karzai’s concerns over civilian casualties and operations in villages.

Karzai asked Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, what kinds of operations the newly deployed troops would carry out and told him that the Afghan government should be consulted about those missions.

The Afghan president, stinging from a series of civilian casualties in U.S. military operations in recent years, said he doubts that sending more American forces into Afghan villages will tamp down the insurgency, and he has questioned a U.S. plan to deploy 3,500 U.S. forces in two provinces on Kabul’s doorstep next month.

Wants more troops along border

Karzai told Mullen that U.S. troops must take more care during operations in Afghan villages and stop searching Afghan homes. He asked the chairman to investigate allegations that U.S. forces killed three civilians in a raid last week in Khost province, a reflection of increasing concern about civilian casualties. The U.S. says three militants were killed.

Karzai wants more forces deployed along the Afghan border to combat insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan, where suspected U.S. missile strikes Monday killed eight people in a region where al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed hiding. …

During the weekend, Mullen said the U.S. would send an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by summer — the largest number ever given by a top military leader — in an increase in force that reflects the deteriorating security situation around the country more than seven years after the U.S. invasion. …

Wary of more forces among Afghans

Mullen told reporters Saturday that NATO and the U.S. have “enough forces to be successful in combat, but we haven’t had enough forces to hold the territory that we clear.”

But Karzai has signaled he is wary of more U.S. forces operating among ordinary Afghans.

The U.S. next month will deploy around 3,500 forces into two provinces on Kabul’s doorstep — in Wardak and Logar, two areas that have seen a massive infiltration of militants in the last year. But Karzai says U.S. troops are not needed there.

“Sending more troops to the Afghan cities, to the Afghan villages, will not solve anything. Sending more troops to control the border, is sensible, makes sense,” Karzai told the Chicago Tribune last week. “That is where I need help. I don’t need help anywhere else.” …

The Taliban militia and other militants have gained steam in the last two years and now control wide swaths of territory in the country. A record number of U.S. troops have died in combat this year, and suicide and roadside bombs are deadlier than ever. …

Violence rising over past two years

Violence in Afghanistan has risen sharply the last two years. More than 6,100 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials. …

The U.S. has carried out more than 30 missile strikes since August in Pakistan’s lawless, semiautonomous tribal areas, targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

While the missiles have killed scores of militants, Pakistan has criticized them as an infringement of its sovereignty and says it undermines its own battle against extremism.

9 Responses to “Military Suicides Probed”
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