Thursday, December 04, 2008

Some troop deaths in Iraq non-combat related

By Erin McKeon
The Facts

Published December 4, 2008

With more than 800 deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom attributed to non-hostile accidents or suicide, military personnel said steps are being taken to reduce and eliminate non-combat injuries and deaths.

As of Nov. 29, two deaths of Brazoria County soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom were classified as non-hostile.

The Aug. 3 death of Army Spc. Kevin Dickson of Angleton was attributed to a non-combat incident, but autopsy results providing the exact cause have not been disclosed. Army First Lt. Robert Tipp Jr. of Lake Jackson died in an all-terrain vehicle accident on March 27, 2005, three days after arriving home from Iraq.

They are among 74 non-hostile deaths of Texas soldiers and 811 non-hostile deaths nationwide, according to Defense Department statistics.

Army Capt. Charles Calio at the Multi-National Forces Media Operations Center in Baghdad said non-hostile deaths could be anything from vehicle or weaponry accidents to drownings.

“There’s extensive training that the soldiers go through when they deploy on everything,” Calio said. “For example, an accidental discharge would be a non-combat death, but it’s weapons-related, as opposed to a vehicle rollover.”

Statistics connected to Operation Iraqi Freedom include casualties that occurred on or after March 19, 2003, in the Arabian Sea, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Red Sea, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, according to the Department of Defense Web site.

Of the 811 non-combat deaths, 439 have been Army members, 116 have been Army National Guard and 44 have been Army Reserve. Marines have accounted for 159 of the deaths, Navy for 33 and 20 have been Air Force personnel.

As of Nov. 29, there have been 4,198 military casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 12 from Brazoria County.

According to the Pentagon site, as of Nov. 1, 218 non-combat military deaths have occurred by vehicle accidents, 114 by aircraft crashes and 123 from gunshots.

Calio said military personnel are trained on how to maintain the vehicles and given instruction on the dangerous parts of each vehicle. They’re also told to drive slowly and take turns carefully, especially on loose gravel.

“Units have several safety programs — education and equipment — in place to reduce and prevent mishaps,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Pubic Affairs spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

Calio said all military vehicles are equipped with seat belts and places to secure guns, water and or other supplies to keep them from injuring someone in the event of a rollover.

In addition, suicides have accounted for 167 of military non-combat deaths, according to the site.

Calio said military procedures also are a major factor in decreasing non-combat injuries or deaths.

“A lot of it is the procedures that each unit has developed,” he said. “Depending on where they are, I mean, if I’m back in my hooch or on base, the procedures are going to be a little different than if I’m in the middle of Baghdad actively patrolling, so a lot of it is going to be situationally dependent.”

But that’s not all the military does to decrease such events, making it second-nature to secure equipment or maintain weapon safety also decreases injuries and death, he said.

“A lot of it is kind of like muscle memory, it’s got to be drilled into the soldiers, ‘muzzle awareness, muzzle awareness, muzzle awareness, don’t do it, don’t do it,’ so it’s second-nature,” Calio said.

“One of the things you can prevent is a non-battle death by making sure that a soldier is always doing the right thing.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Noncombat Death in Iraq -- And More Lies for a Mother and the Media

Yes, full investigations must be carried out, but usually the essence of the full truth could have been communicated early on. When delayed, it can seem like -- or actually is -- a "coverup" of an accident or shooting that should have been prevented.

By Greg Mitchell (November 18, 2008) --

Battle fatalities are way down in Iraq, thank goodness (though not in Afghanistan), but many U.S. troops are still passing away in "noncombat" ways, via accidents, friendly fire, suicides and so on. And in those cases, parents or spouses (and the press) are still often misled or lied to for days or weeks or months before the truth of how they died comes out -- in the local media.

Here is today's horror story, involving Sgt. Mason Lewis of Virginia. A year ago, the military told his mom he had died in a fall. By implication: his fault.

Yesterday a local TV outlet reported that the official probe has belatedly revealed: "Army investigators discovered a poorly maintained bucket loader with no brakes and sluggish hydraulics, operated by an inexperienced crew, led to Mason's death."

Flash back to one year ago tomorrow, on November 19, 2007, and a Washington Post article beginning: "Lisa Lewis had a bad feeling when her son Mason was getting ready to ship out to Iraq for his second tour last May. She prayed and she prayed, but she couldn't shake it. And then the news that she had been dreading finally came. Sgt. Mason L. Lewis was dead.

“Lewis, 26, of Gloucester, Va., died Friday in Baghdad as a result of a noncombat training mission, the Defense Department said yesterday. His mother said she was told that Lewis and nine other U.S. soldiers had been moved to a remote location to train Iraqi soldiers. ‘He was up on a roof; I don't know how high,’ she said. ‘All I know was that he fell.’"

The next day, her local paper, the Daily Press, reported: “On Friday, his mother said the Army told her, Mason was on the roof of a building preparing to train the Iraqi troops when he lost his footing and fell to the ground.”

Soon, other press reports were relating that red-haired Mason was fun-loving guy, much beloved by friends and families – and kids in Iraq, who knew him by the nickname “Crazy Monkey” for his habit of tossing them toys when he could. This inspired friends to start a project in his honor that would ship toys from the U.S. to Iraq. "He loved the kids. He was all about the kids and he wanted to have kids one day," said Christa Arnest, Mason's close friend.

Months passed. His mom felt it odd that his cause of death would be slipping off a building -- not like him at all.

Cut to yesterday and a report by WAVY-TV and its Web site, which serves the Tidewater region of Virginia. It opened with Lisa Lewis recalling the weeks after she learned of the original explanation for her son’s death: “Mason was trying to get on top of a one-story building to simulate a sniper when he fell. ‘I know someone can have an accident, but Mason was so sure-footed and so careful,’ Lisa Lewis said.

“His mother spent hour after hour agonizing his last few minutes. Two weeks later, the image changed. ‘I had come to grips with it. This is what happened and I needed to stop seeing it in my mind and just try to accept it.’

"But now 'they came with the real story and here we go all over again.'"

An investigation after Mason's death revealed what really happened, "starting with two Iraqi brothers who were helping Lewis. ‘Both eventually confessed freely to the fact that SPC Lewis was accidentally crushed by a bucket loader,’ read Lisa Lewis from the report.

“Army investigators discovered a poorly maintained bucket loader with no brakes and sluggish hydraulics, operated by an inexperienced crew, led to Mason's death

“In a home that has become a picture book of Mason's life, his mother wants the end of his story set straight for his sake.”

Set straight now -- but as I have attempted to chronicle for over five years, very often loved ones, and the press, are lied to about the circumstances of a noncombat death. Yes, full investigations must be carried out, but usually the essence of the full truth could have been communicated early on. When delayed, it can seem like -- or actually is -- a "coverup" of an accident or shooting that should have been prevented.

For a YouTube tribute to Mason Lewis go to our blog at:The E&P Pub

Greg Mitchell ( is editor. His most recent book, on Iraq and the media, is titled, "So Wrong for So Long."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Military Families: Military Suicides Are Casualties of War

Nationwide - November 13 -

Members of Military Families Speak Out are condemning comments by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs suggesting that the dramatic increase in the suicide rate among young veterans is not connected to the war in Iraq. The suicide rate among male veterans under the age of 29 is now twice that of the general population.

In an interview aired Monday November 10th on PBS's NewsHour, Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake said that Veterans' suicides are the result of:

"the same kinds of issues that have to do with suicide in the general population. It is issues of failed relationships, senses of hopelessness, transitions in life, that are at the root cause . . . we're not making a direct correlation with combat."

Specialist Scott Eiswert committed suicide in May after being told by a friend that his unit of the Tennessee National Guard would be returning to Iraq. His widow, Tracy Eiswert, a member of Military Families Speak Out, expressed outrage at Secretary Peake's comments:

"I am not a statistic. We are a military family. We are real people with real experiences as a result of my husband's PTSD and his suicide. He wasn't that way before he went to Iraq, he came back changed."

After returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, Spc. Eiswert had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by civilian doctors, but the Veterans Administration denied that his condition was the result of his experiences in Iraq. The Veterans Administration reversed that ruling in August. Tracy Eiswert said:

"It took him having to put a gun in his mouth for the military to admit that the changes in my husband were a result of the war. If they had admitted that earlier he might still be alive."

Kevin and Joyce Lucey are members of Military Families Speak Out and the parents of Corporal Jeffrey Lucey, a Marine Corps Reservist who suffered severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his service in Iraq in 2003. Shortly after being turned away from a Veterans Administration hospital, Corporal Lucey killed himself on June 22, 2004. Kevin Lucey said:

"Secretary Peake's words are the kind of self serving comments that this nation does not need to hear from the Veterans Administration and its leadership. This is why many regard this VA administration to be steeped in disgrace and dishonor when it comes to our loved ones. They feel that they need to explain away, rationalize, justify or minimize - instead of committing their resources, time and efforts to create the best healthcare system on God's earth."

Joyce Lucey also had strong words for Secretary Peake:

"This is dishonorable, disgraceful and shameful behavior from someone who is charged with giving the best of care to our warriors. With this type of message and thinking, Is it any wonder that many of our troops and veterans don't seek help from those who are so callous and uncaring?"

Specialist Joe Hafley, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out who has had to fight to get treatment for his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, agreed. Hafley served in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserves from 2004-2005, and his brother, a Major with the U.S. Army Reserves is scheduled to deploy to Iraq early next year.

When Hafley returned from Iraq, the Veterans Administration diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and severe depression -- but ruled that none of those conditions were the result of his service in Iraq. He said:

"My treatment at the VA was belittling and frustrating. To have them diagnose me with PTSD and not attribute it to my service in Iraq is a slap in the face. To have them tell me the problems could be the result of failed relationships rather than the result of my experiences in combat makes me feel that as a veteran I have no place at the VA.

"The thing that is most baffling to me is this 800 pound gorilla in the room not being addressed. Why are we feeling hopeless? Why do we have failed relationships? The common denominator is we all served in Iraq. Maybe my feeling of hopelessness is that I served my country with honor and I am still trying to figure out for what reason? For what just cause?

"Secretary Peake, it doesn't matter how many additional mental health workers you hire if you as the person at the top still feel we are just losers that failed to adjust or that we entered our military service unfit. No amount of false support will help us."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

U.S. army commits $50 million research into soldier suicides

Big News

Sunday 2nd November, 2008

The U.S. Army and the National Institute of Mental Health have begun a five-year, $50 million research program into the factors behind soldier suicides and how to prevent them.

Army Secretary Pete Geren told reporters at the Pentagon the investigation would build on work that is already under way to conduct the most far-reaching and comprehensive research project ever undertaken on suicide and its prevention.

"It's a five-year study to examine the mental and behavioral health of soldiers, with particular focus on the multiple determinants of suicidal behavior and resiliency across all phases of Army service," Geren said. "Family members and family relationships, including parents and siblings, will also be included in the study where it's appropriate."

The study will also include the National Guard and Army Reserve.This effort will be followed by an Army Science Board study with the goal of identifying correlated risk factors and recommending mitigation strategies and practices to prevent suicide.

At the same time, the secretary said, the Army would not wait for the end of the study to implement mitigation strategies, but would put those strategies into practice as they make themselves clear.

According Dr. Thomas R. Insel, NIMH director, the study will give NIMH a bigger picture on the suicide risk factors of the nation's population, critical information that he said affects the entire United States because the Army is a "microcosm of the nation."

"There are more than 30,000 suicides in the U.S. each year, actually 32,000 in 2006, the most recent year for which we have numbers," he said. "That's almost twice the number of homicides in the country. Suicide is really a significant public health problem. If we can reduce the rate in the Army, it will ultimately reduce the rate in the nation. Those are really the goals for this collaborative effort."

Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said that "suicide rates aren't exactly plummeting."

"Half the suicides we can't figure out what happened, so that's why we need the NIMH’s help," he said.

Geren said that of the 115 suicides the Army confirmed in 2007, thirty six of the soldiers were deployed at time of death, 50 had been deployed prior to their deaths, and twenty nine had never been deployed. The secretary said he expects suicide rates for 2008 will be up compared with 2007 rates.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Closer Look at Military Suicides

Contributed by Jane Self - Posted: October 30, 2008 4:39:38 PM

An article in today's New York Times that was on its Web site yesterday says that the U.S. Army and the National Institute of Mental Health are collaborating in a five-year project to identify the causes and risk factors of suicide.

According to the article, suicides in the Army have been climbing since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2007, 115 soldiers killed themselves, a rate of 18.1 per 100,000 people, or 1 percent lower than the civilian rate. Of the 115, 36 soldiers killed themselves while deployed overseas, 50 had deployed at some point before the act and returned, and 29 had never deployed. Only a fraction had a prior diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The pace of suicides by soldiers in 2008 could eclipse last year's. As of August, the number stood at 62 confirmed cases in the Army. An additional 31 deaths appear to be suicides and are under investigation.

The Denver Post has already started studying suicides in the military, publishing an extensive three-part series at the end of August this year. Reporters David Olinger and Erin Emery worked on this series for several months before publication.

One of the many examples provided in the series was an Alabama soldier who had been listed as killed in a "non-combat incident." In fact, it was not until after our Fallen Warrior story about this soldier that the specific information about his death was revealed.

Here is what was printed in the Denver Post series about the Cullman soldier:

Last August, Paul Norris became the 20th Fort Hood soldier to commit suicide in Iraq, according to records provided by the Army.

Norris, a 30-year-old veteran of combat tours in Bosnia and Iraq, shot himself. But first he shot and killed Kamisha Block, a 20-year-old woman who had spurned him.

Military officials announced both deaths as "noncombat" incidents under investigation.

Kamisha's parents, Jerry and Jane Block, say Norris had stalked and assaulted their daughter before he killed her, and she had reported the assaults to the Army.

"He just kept doing it. He was 'in love' with her. She was trying to get away from him," Jerry Block said.

"He verbally and physically assaulted her. It was reported to the higher command," Jane Block said. "He was e-mailing her and e-mailing her and e-mailing her. She wouldn't answer his e-mails. He went into her room, killed her, and then he killed himself."

She said Army officials have never explained why officers who knew of Norris' assaults and harassment failed to protect her daughter. The Army did give them a hefty investigative report that included sworn statements from other soldiers "that he was out of control," she said.

"The last time he assaulted her, he drove around looking for her. That was probably a week or two before he killed her," she said. "I asked, 'After the second assault, what did y'all do then?' The only thing they told me was a lot of mistakes were made."

This was clearly a horrible tragedy and should never have happened. Having spoke with both mothers of Norris and Block, my heart goes out to everyone. Sounds like the warning signs were clear and ignored. This guy needed help and the military needed to keep him away from Block.

Neither happened. Norris also had lost his two sisters in a terrible car crash a few years earlier and was on his second deployment to Iraq after a year in Afghanistan.

I welcome the search for more information about how to see these tragedies coming and providing whatever service is necessary to circumvent them when possible, particularly when other innocent victims bear the consequences. That's just atrocious.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Pentagon Finds Company Violated Its Contract on Electrical Work in Iraq

October 25, 2008


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has rebuked its largest contractor in Iraq after a series of inspections uncovered shoddy electrical work and other problems on American military bases there, according to several Defense Department officials.

The Defense Contract Management Agency, the Pentagon agency in charge of supervising contractors in Iraq, determined in August that KBR, the Houston-based company that provides virtually all basic services for the American military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has been guilty of “serious contractual noncompliance” in Iraq, the officials said.

The Pentagon’s finding could lead to cuts or delays in payments to KBR, and ultimately to a decision by the Army to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and fees due the company, officials said, but they added that no decisions on financial penalties had been made.

Defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, declined to elaborate on the reasons for the new findings, except to say that they related to electrical problems and other issues.

KBR, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, has had a virtual monopoly on military services contracts in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, garnering more than $24 billion from its business in the war zone.

Questions about the quality of KBR’s electrical work on American bases in Iraq have plagued the company throughout 2008, leading to investigations and hearings by Congress as well as an inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general.

Internal Pentagon documents obtained by The New York Times suggest that the electrical problems may be more widespread than had been believed. A chart compiled by Army officials and not previously made public shows that more American personnel have been electrocuted in Iraq than the Bush administration has acknowledged.

At least 18 people have died from electrocution since the March 2003 invasion, including 10 from the Army, 5 from the Marine Corps, 1 from the Navy and 2 military contractors. The most recent electrocution occurred on Feb. 24. A chart listing each electrocution provides details but does not identify the victims by name.

This is the second time that the Pentagon has raised its figures on electrocutions in Iraq. Last spring, the Defense Department said that 12 American personnel members had been electrocuted in the country, and then later told Congress that the accurate figure was 13.

KBR is scrambling to respond with a plan to correct the problems cited by the Defense contracting experts, Pentagon officials said. Pentagon officials held a private meeting with KBR officials in Washington last week to review the company’s response, several of the officials said.

Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for KBR, declined to comment on the Pentagon’s finding.

In the past, some Army contracting experts have complained that their superiors in the Pentagon have been reluctant to confront KBR over its fees and the quality of its work. For example, the Army’s top official in charge of the KBR contract at the beginning of the war has said that he was removed from his job in 2004 after challenging KBR’s billing records for its work in Iraq.

The issue of shoddy electrical work on American military bases in Iraq first emerged in the wake of the death in January of Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, a Green Beret from Pennsylvania who was electrocuted while taking a shower in his barracks in Baghdad.

Sergeant Maseth’s family went public with their questions about the circumstances surrounding his death and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against KBR, accusing the company of failing to adequately maintain the building’s electrical system.

The Maseth case led to investigations of electrical work on American bases by Congress and the Pentagon’s inspector general, and ultimately prompted an order for comprehensive safety inspections of the electrical work at all American military facilities in Iraq.

Officials said that the Army recently reopened its investigation into Sergeant Maseth’s death, after obtaining new testimony and evidence in the case, including the discovery that another soldier had suffered electrical shocks while assigned to the same room as Sergeant Maseth.

KBR has “fully cooperated with Army C.I.D. on this matter, and we will continue to do so,” Ms. Browne, the spokeswoman, said, referring to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. “KBR maintains that its activities in Iraq were not responsible for Staff Sergeant Maseth’s death.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mom of Ga. Sailor Killed in Non-Combat Incident Seeks Answers

Created: Wednesday, 22 Oct 2008, 5:26 PM EDT

The mother of a sailor from Georgia who was shot and killed at the U.S. Naval Base in Bahrain broke her silence Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 a year after her daughter's death.

Edited By: Leigha Baugham

LITHONIA, Ga. (MyFOX ATLANTA) – The mother of a sailor from Georgia who was shot and killed at the U.S. Naval Base in Bahrain broke her silence Wednesday, a year after her daughter's death. Anita Gresham said Wednesday that she finally got around to unpacking her daughter's belongings, a year after her death.

Nineteen-year-old Genesia Gresham was one of two sailors who were shot to death during a non-combat incident in the military barracks in October of 2007. Gresham was killed along with 20-year-old Anamarie Camacho of Panama City, Florida. Both women held the Master-At-Arms rating and were assigned to U.S. Naval support activity in Bahrain.

Navy officials said the suspect in the shooting, Clarence Jackson, remains in active duty as is stationed in Illinois.

Anita Gresham said her daughter had filed a restraining order against Jackson four months before she was killed. The sailor's mother said her daughter was scheduled to return to the U.S. just one day after her death.

Navy officials said they were sorry for Mrs. Gresham's loss. The incident remains under investigation.

This story content provided by FOX 5 Atlanta WAGA
Videos and original story

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Michigan soldier found dead in Texas

(1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs Office)October 17, 2008

By Tammy Stables Battaglia
Free Press Staff Writer

Police in Texas are investigating the stabbing death of a 24-year-old soldier found dead in his apartment after his Fort Hood comrades reported he didn’t show up for duty.

Police from the Killeen, Texas, Police Department discovered the body of Staff Sgt. Ryan Michael Sullivan, 24, of Grand Rapids on Tuesday, according to an announcement released by the Army.
Killeen Police Captain J.W. Dunn said no weapon was found.

“We’re still trying to piece everything together,” Dunn said today, adding that police have interviewed people at the Fort Hood military base where Sullivan was stationed, along with others that knew him. “We’re still talking to a bunch of people.”

The Army said Sullivan was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, where he served as a squad leader.

He joined the military in August 2002. While stationed in Iraq for 15 months for Operation Iraqi Freedom starting in 2006, he earned Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army said.

He is survived by his mother and father.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Army to Probe Five Slayings Linked to Colorado Brigade

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer P. Solomon Banda, Associated Press Writer – 5 mins ago

DENVER – Fort Carson soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq are suspects in at least five slayings, and officials want to know why.

Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Graham announced Friday a task force will examine any commonalities in the five killings, all allegedly committed by soldiers from the post's 4th Brigade Combat Team in the past 14 months. A sixth BCT soldier faces an attempted murder charge.

"We have many great young Americans in our Army who have volunteered to serve during a time of war, almost all of whom are great citizens," Graham said in a statement. "However, we too are very concerned about these horrible acts."

Fort Carson also plans to re-screen about 1,200 soldiers from the brigade for potential physical or mental health problems.

Earlier Friday, Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar asked Army Secretary Pete Geren to investigate the slayings. Officials learned of the latest on Monday, when Spc. Robert Hull Marko, 21, led investigators to the body of 19-year-old Judilianna "Judi" Lawrence, whom he met on the social networking Web site MySpace, according to an arrest affidavit released Tuesday.

The affidavit said Marko told investigators he had violent sex with Lawrence before slitting her throat and leaving her to die in the foothills west of Colorado Springs. His next court appearance is Monday.

The issue of homicides by combat-stressed veterans gained national prominence in January, after The New York Times reported that at least 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans had committed a killing in the United States or been charged in one.

Karen Linne, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson, said commanders two months ago ordered squad leaders and team leaders to reevaluate soldiers to see if they need additional help following concerns raised after another soldier from the unit was linked to a double slaying.

Pfc. Jomar Dionisio Falu-Vives, 24, and Spc. Rodolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, face attempted murder charges in the May 26 wounding of Capt. Zachary Zsody, who was shot twice while standing at an intersection. An arrest affidavit released in August said an AK-47 used in the Zsody case was found in Falu-Vives' apartment and it was also used in the June 6 deaths of two people gunned down on the street while putting up signs for a garage sale.

Killed were Cesar Ramirez Ibanez, 21, and Amairany Cervantes, 28. Prosecutors filed murder charges against Falu-Vives on Sept. 15.

Three other members of the unit were accused in the slayings of two soldiers. Bruce Bastien Jr. was sentenced last month to 60 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to accessory to murder in the December shooting death of Kevin Shields, and conspiracy to commit murder in the August 2007 death of Robert James.

Bastien, and co-defendant Kenneth Eastridge, both agreed to testify against fellow Iraq war veteran Louis Bressler, the alleged triggerman.

Eastridge pleaded guilty July 11 to accessory to murder in Shields' death and will be sentenced Nov. 3. Bressler is scheduled to go on trial in the Shield slaying Nov. 3, while his trial in the James homicide is scheduled for Dec. 1.

"Those who committed these violent crimes should be brought to justice," said Salazar. "But these tragedies also raise a number of questions from the backgrounds and service records of these soldiers, to whether they received waivers to enter the service, to the adequacy of mental health screening and treatment within the Army."

Falu-Vives and Torres-Gandarilla, accused together in one case and Bastien, Bressler and Eastridge, accused in the two slayings, served in Iraq last year with the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Brigade Combat Team. There weren't any immediate indications that both sets of men knew each other.

Marko was a mortarman with Charlie Company, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, of the 4th BCT and served from February 2007 until February of this year.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Friday, October 17, 2008

'In a Way, It’s Surprising That There Aren’t More Bodies Piling up at Military Bases All Over This Nation'

Published on Thursday, October 16, 2008 by

Military Town Newspaper Challenges US Military on Murder of Military Women

by Ann Wright

The October 14, 2008 editorial "Our View: Military domestic violence needs more aggressive prevention." ( focused on the murder of four military women in North Carolina in the Fayetteville, NC Observer and contained a startling comment: "In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation." The Observer is the newspaper that serves Fort Bragg, one of the military's largest bases.

The editorial was in response to the vigil held on October 8 at the gates of Fort Bragg to commemorate the murder of four US military women in North Carolina in the past nine months and to call for action to prevent more murders by members of the US military.

In a nine month period from December 2007 to September, 2008, four U.S. military women were killed by military men near the Army's Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, two military mega-bases in North Carolina.

Three of the women were in the Army. The latest murder victim was 29-year-old US Army Sergeant Christina Smith who was killed September 30, 2008. Her husband, Fort Bragg Sgt. Richard Smith, 26, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy. Also arrested was 18-year-old Mathew Kvapil, a private first class at Fort Bragg.

Spc. Megan Touma was seven months pregnant when her body was found inside a Fayetteville hotel room June 21, 2008. A married male soldier whom she knew in Germany has been arrested.

The estranged Marine husband of Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse at Fort Bragg, has been arrested in her death and the burning of her body.

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean's home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities.

He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach's mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter.

In 2002, four military spouses were murdered at Fort Bragg by their Special Forces husbands after they returned from Afghanistan.

The Observer editorial was remarkable in its clarity on the causes and connections of domestic and state-sponsored violence:

"It's an old argument. We train men, and now women, to wage war, then we are baffled when they do that to each other. It is driven in times of war by a national culture that can extol violence, conflating it with patriotism. And don't overlook the general population raised on a steady diet of malevolence disguised as entertainment.

In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation. We are certain, nevertheless, that the demonstrators (at the gates of Fort Bragg) were on to something that we as a community need to address. This may become an epidemic that threatens us all. It is a problem we, as a community, military and civilian, can't ignore. It is also a problem that we have not, so far, effectively solved." On the morning of the commemoration, the father of 2LT Holley (James) Winunc sent a message to the Quaker House, one of the sponsors of the October 8 vigil. Mr. James thanked the individuals and organizations for the tribute to Holly and the other murdered women and wrote "There will be no end to our grief. They say time heals, it hasn't started to heal for us. We visit the cemetery and mourn daily for Holley and anguish over the senseless way in which she was taken from us. Holly's children Tre and Kendell, 7 and 3 years old respectfully, will never really know their Mom. Years from now they will spend time looking through the things we've saved from their Mother's life and wonder "what might have been." We appreciate that you offer hope and help to others. It is our wish and prayer that not another family will have to go through this."

Another survivor of military domestic violence joined the vigil. Christine Horne flew from Coconut Grove, Florida to commemorate the deaths of four military and to mourn her own mother's death. 34 years ago in 1974, when she was 9 years old and her brother was 5, their Special Forces father murdered their mother in their home just off Fort Bragg by stabbing her over 50 times. In a military court martial, her father received a life sentence for the murder, but was released after 12 years in prison.

The Observer editorial acknowledged that "The Army has made a good-faith effort to provide programs and services to prevent domestic violence and save lives. But it's not enough. The effort must be redoubled, the violence studied more carefully, and the intervention waged even more aggressively... The recent spate of murders underscores the fact that domestic violence remains a significant problem here. Whatever preventive action is being taken at Fort Bragg, it isn't enough."Because the preventive action being taken by the military is not enough, 40 women and men from around North Carolina and the nation stood at the Fort Bragg entrance gate to commemorate the deaths and call for action to prevent any others. We were greeted by many honks of agreement from cars going onto the base and several military spouses came out to join us. Sadly, no one from military command authority nor from the prevention of domestic violence offices at Fort Bragg made the effort to come to the gates to talk about the ending the epidemic of violence.

Ann Wright is a retired Army Reserve colonel and a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the Department of State on March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq war. She has written several articles on violence against women in the military including "Sexual Assault in the Military: A DoD Cover-Up?" , "U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers' ‘Suicides'?" and "Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?".

She is also the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience" (

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Friendly Fire in Iraq -- and a cover-up

The Army says no, but a graphic video and eyewitness testimony indicate that a U.S. tank killed two American soldiers. The mother of one soldier demands answers.

By Mark Benjamin

Oct. 14, 2008 PHILADELPHIA — Once a cop, always a cop. Asked if she wanted to see a graphic battle video showing her son Albert bleeding to death, Jean Feggins, retired from the Philadelphia Police Department, said yes.

“Listen, I’ve moved dead bodies of people I don’t even know,” she told me, as she sat on a brown couch in the den of her West Philadelphia row house. “I need to know everything. Because he is not a stranger. That’s my baby. That’s my child.”

When Pfc. Albert Nelson died in Iraq in 2006, the Army first told Feggins that he might have been killed by friendly fire, and then that it was enemy mortars. She says she never believed the Army’s explanation. “I always felt like they were lying to me,” she said. “I could never prove it.”

“I would ask the casualty officer what was going on. I’d be told they are still working on the report,” she said. “They were still doing their investigation. What could I do? It’s the U.S. military. I had no control.”

She did not know that there was a video of his death until I contacted her recently. Salon has obtained evidence — including a graphic, 52-and-a-half minute video — suggesting that friendly fire from an American tank killed two U.S. soldiers in Ramadi, Iraq, in late 2006, and that the Army ignored the video and other persuasive data in order to rule that the deaths were due to enemy action. Feggins watched the video with me in her den.

Read the rest of this article at

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cornyn seeking probe into Army recruiter suicides

Senator cites 'very troubling' allegations

By LINDSAY WISE Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Oct. 9, 2008, 11:32PM

In March 2007, Sgt. Nils Aron Andersson, 25, shot himself to death in a Houston parking garage.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday called for an independent probe into a string of suicides among Houston-based Army recruiters, citing "very troubling" allegations that the chain of command interfered with official investigations in order to cover up a toxic leadership climate and low morale.

The Houston battalion has lost five recruiters to suicide since 2001, including two in the past two months.

Cornyn, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, detailed his concerns in a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of the Army Pete Geren.

In the letter, the Republican senator said he recently heard from numerous Army recruiters and their family members who claim to have direct knowledge of "serious problems" within the Houston battalion.

They told Cornyn that certain leaders in the battalion have attempted to block investigating officers from meeting with material witnesses and "strongly suggested" to subordinate officers that they should avoid portraying the chain of command in an unfavorable light, even if it meant lying in their statements to authorities.

"These allegations, if true, point to criminal misconduct punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," Cornyn wrote. "In addition, such actions would absolutely undermine and call into question the findings and conclusions of these investigations.

Should these claims be substantiated, the relevant individuals must be held fully accountable for their misconduct and the resultant problems with the Houston Recruiting Battalion."

Cornyn said the constituents who contacted him also accused the battalion's senior leadership of "improper and unprofessional" practices such as mass punishment, organized hazing, and confrontational "counseling sessions," in which recruiters who fail to fill their monthly quotas are insulted and threatened with being kicked out of the Army.

'Cultural disconnect'

The senator said he's particularly disturbed by reports of unreasonably long work hours and seven-day weeks that have "constrained recruiters' family time and stressed their marriages."

Cornyn asked Geren to appoint an outside investigator to review the allegations and requested a copy of the report.

The senator said he also is concerned about a "cultural disconnect" between detailed recruiters, who are assigned to recruiting duty, and permanent recruiters, who choose recruiting as their military career speciality. Permanent recruiters are non-deployable, Cornyn said, and might have trouble relating to detailed recruiters under their command, many of whom recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said efforts to encourage permanent recruiters to volunteer for deployment don't go far enough, and suggested the Army reconsider its policy of granting permanent recruiters non-deployable status.

A spokesman for Geren's office, Lt. Colonel David Patterson Jr., said he would be unable to respond to written questions about Cornyn's letter before today. U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the Houston Recruiting Battalion declined to comment.

The battalion's three most recent suicides all occurred within the past year and a half.

Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Henderson, 35, hanged himself in a shed behind his house on Sept. 20. He died six weeks after another recruiter, Staff Sgt. Larry Flores Jr., 26, hanged himself in his garage.

Suicides on the rise

Henderson, an Iraq veteran, worked at a station in Longview. Flores, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was station commander in Nacogdoches. Both men belonged to the battalion's Tyler Company.

In March 2007, 25-year-old Sgt. Nils Aron Andersson shot himself to death in a Houston parking garage. Andersson, a two-tour Iraq veteran, was assigned to the Houston battalion's Rosenberg station.

The recruiters' deaths come at a time when suicides among all active duty soldiers are on track to set a record for the second year in a row. Last year, 115 soldiers committed suicide. By the end of August this year, 93 soldiers had killed themselves.

For the first time since the Vietnam War, the Army's suicide rate is on track to exceed that of the general U.S. population, Army officials say.

Amid intensive efforts to reduce overall suicides, however, little attention has so far been paid to the unique pressures facing returning veterans assigned to high-stress noncombat jobs like recruiting.

In the wake of the suicides at the Houston battalion, that could change, veterans advocates say.

"The mental health toll of this war is really high, and especially if they've done two tours or more, that's a recipe for disaster," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.


• Veterans experiencing emotional and suicidal crisis, as well as their concerned family members or friends, have immediate access to emergency counseling services 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 800-273-TALK (8255).

• For information on suicide warning signs visit

• The Army's Battlemind Training System is a mental health awareness and education program that helps prepare soldiers and their families for the stresses of war and assists with the detection of possible mental health issues before and after deployment. Visit .

• Soldiers in crisis should talk to their chaplain, chain of command or a fellow soldier immediately. They may also call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-SUICIDE.

• Call the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline at 800-984-8523or e-mail

RELATED ITEMS Widow pleads for recruiting overhaul See Cornyn's follow-up letter to the Army Houston soldiers' suicides prompt scrutiny Cornyn voices concerns in Sept. 25 letter to Army One Houston Army recruiter's pain leads to two suicides (May 18)

Annual number of suicides of active-duty soldiers since 2000 The Army's rising suicide rate

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Army Widow Sues U.S. Over Suicide

By Maryclaire Dale

The Associated PressPosted : Wednesday Oct 8, 2008 14:02:30 EDT

PHILADELPHIA — The widow of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide while in outpatient care for depression at a Veterans Affairs hospital has sued the federal government for negligence.

Tiera Woodward, 26, claims in her lawsuit that her late husband, Donald, sought treatment at a VA hospital in Lebanon after three failed suicide attempts but wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for more than two months.

She says doctors were slow to diagnose Donald with major depression. A psychiatrist diagnosed him Feb. 2, 2006, about a month before he died, the lawsuit states. But the psychiatrist failed to schedule a follow-up meeting with Donald after he informed the doctor he had gone off his medication.

Donald deployed to Iraq with the Army in March 2003 and saw five months of active combat. Upon his return, he got a job and enrolled in college, but by July 2005, his mother says, he had become “different, quiet and withdrawn.”

“I intend to make them make changes,” said Donald Woodward’s mother, Lori Woodward. “I have too many friends whose kids are in Iraq. I have a nephew now in Iraq, in the same unit, and I can’t have my family go through this again.”

Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency does not typically comment on pending litigation.

Tiera Woodward filed the lawsuit only after the government failed to respond to her SF-95 form, a claim for death benefits that she filed Aug. 9, 2006. The claim was for $2 million.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of compensation for Donald Woodward's funeral and related expenses, loss of earnings and for pain and suffering.

It echoes other lawsuits nationwide over VA mental health services, despite legislation President Bush signed in November ordering improvements.

The family of Marine Jeffrey Lucey, also 23, has a federal suit pending in Massachusetts over his June 2004 suicide. And two veterans groups sued the VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health, but a judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.

More than 150,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have already sought mental health care from the VA, and another 200,000 have sought medical care, according to Veterans for Common Sense, veterans group that sued VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health. A judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.
“Each tragic veteran suicide is yet another painful reminder of the human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and VA’s abject failure to provide timely and appropriate mental health care,” said Paul Sullivan, the group’s executive director. “How many wake-up calls does VA need?”

--submitted by Patti W00dard

Pvt. Charged in Gang Beating Death of Sergeant

The Associated PressPosted : Wednesday Oct 8, 2008 14:00:09 EDT

BERLIN — A soldier has been charged in the gang-related beating death of another soldier at a base in Germany, the military said Wednesday.

Pvt. Bobby D. Morrissette was charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, two counts of participation in gang initiation rituals and several other offenses, the military said in a statement.

The charges relate to the beating death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson, of Baltimore, on July 4, 2005 in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The Army released no further details, but at the trial of others involved in the case witnesses testified that at least six members of the Gangster Disciples gang beat Johnson during a gang initiation ritual.

Johnson’s mother, Stephanie Cockrell, told The Associated Press in 2005 that she had spoken to her son the day before his death and he told her he was coming home in two weeks after completing an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq.

“I slept a little easier knowing he was out of Iraq and coming home soon,” she said at the time. “I just can’t believe he survived Iraq, but died in his own bed.”

Morrissette is assigned to the 1st Cargo Transfer Company, 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

He was charged Tuesday, and no date has yet been set for his court-martial, the military said.
The military said it had no information on whether an attorney for Morrissette had been appointed.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

'My Daughter’s Dream Became a Nightmare': The Murder of Military Women Continues

Published on Monday, October 6, 2008 by

by Ann Wright

"My daughter's dream became a nightmare," sadly said Gloria Barrios, seven months after her daughter, US Air Force Senior Airman Blanca Luna, was murdered on Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

On March 7, 2008, Senior Airman Luna, 27, was found dead in her room at the Sheppard Air Force Base Inn, an on-base lodging facility. She had been stabbed in the back of the neck with a short knife. Luna, an Air Force Reservist with four years of prior military service in the Marine Corps including a tour in Japan, was killed three days before she was to graduate from an Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Heating training course.

When she was notified of her daughter's death, she was handed a letter from Major General K.C. McClain, Commander of the Air Force Personnel Center, which stated that her daughter "was found dead on 7 March 2008 at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, as the result of an apparent homicide." When her body was returned to her family for burial, Barrios and other family members saw bruises on Blanca's face and wounds on her fingers as if she were defending herself. One of the investigators later told Mrs. Barrios that Blanca had been killed in an "assassin-like" manner. Friends say that she told them some in her unit "had given her problems."

Seven months later, Luna's mother made her first visit to the base where her daughter was killed to pry more information about her daughter's death from the Air Force. Although the Air Force sent investigators to her home in Chicago several times to brief her on the case, she was concerned that the Air Force would not provide a copy of the autopsy report and other documents, seven months after Luna was killed. The Air Force says it cannot provide Mrs. Barrios with a copy of the autopsy as the investigation is "ongoing." Mrs. Barrios plans to have an independent autopsy conducted.

She was accompanied by her sister and six persons from a support group in Chicago and by several concerned Texans from Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton. The Chicago support group, composed of long time, experienced social justice activists in the Hispanic community, also included Juan Torres, whose son John, an Army soldier, was found dead under very suspicious circumstances in 2004 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Because of his battle to get documents from the Army bureaucracy on the death of his son four years ago, Torres has been helping the Barrios family in their effort to gain information about the death of Luna.

When Mrs. Barrios and friends arrived on the Air Base they were greeted by five Air Force officials. Mrs. Barrios requested that her support group be allowed to join her in an Air Force conducted bus tour of the facilities where her daughter went to school and the lodging facility where she was found dead, but the request was denied. Mrs. Barrios then asked that her friend and translator Magda Castaneda and retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright be allowed to go on the bus and attend the meeting with the base commander and investigators.

After consultation with the base public affairs officer, the deputy Wing Commander Colonel Norsworthy decreed that only Mrs. Barrios' sister and Mr. Torres could accompany her. Neither Mrs. Barrios, her sister or Mr. Torres is fluent in English. Mrs. Barrios told the Air Force officers she did not feel comfortable with having translators provided by the Air Force and again asked that Mrs. Castaneda be allowed to translate for her as Mrs. Castaneda had done numerous times during Air Force briefings at her home. She asked that retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright be allowed to go as she knew the military bureaucracy.

In front of the support group, the Air Force public affairs officer George Woodward advised Colonel Norsworthy not to allow Mrs.Casteneda and Colonel Wright to come on the base and attend the meetings as both were "outspoken in the media and their presence would jeopardize the integrity of the meeting with the family."

Mrs. Castaneda countered that during a previous meeting with the Air Force investigators in Chicago, she had been told by one investigator that she asked too many questions. Could that be the reason that she unable to accompany Mrs. Barrios, she asked? Mrs. Barrios also reminded the officers that after she was interviewed for an article about her daughter that was published in July in the Chicago Reader "Murder on the Base" (, she was warned by an Air Force official not to speak to the media again.

Mrs. Castaneda demanded that Woodward provide her a copy of the article on which he based his decision to recommend to the deputy base commander that she not be allowed on the base and translate for the family. Several hours later Woodward gave Castaneda an article from Indy media in which she was quoted as the translator for Mrs. Barrios in which she had translated Barrios' statement that "Luna a four year Marine veteran."

While Colonel Wright (the author of this article) has written numerous articles concerning the rape and murder of women in the military, she reminded the officers that she holds a valid military ID card as a retired Colonel, that she had not violated any laws or military regulations by writing and speaking about issues of violence against women in the military and that most families of military members who have been killed are at a disadvantage in dealing with the military bureaucracy in finding answers to the questions they have about the deaths of their loved ones. She reminded the officials that the parents of NFL football player Pat Tillman, who after three Congressional hearings on the death of their son in Afghanistan in 2002, still don't have the answers to the questions of who killed their son and why hasn't the perpetrator of the crime been brought to justice. Families of "ordinary" service members, and particularly families limited knowledge of the military and with limited financial means find themselves at the mercy of the military for information.

The base Catholic Chaplain and the Staff Judge Advocate, both colonels, were silent during the exchange. One would have thought that perhaps a chaplain who watched as Mrs. Barrios, a single mother whose only daughter had been killed and whose English was minimal, broke down in tears and sat sobbing on the curb as the public affairs officer described her friends as "outspoken and a threat to the integrity of the meetings" would have been sensitive to a grieving mother's need for a family friend who had translated in all the previous meetings with the Air Force investigators-but he was silent. Likewise, the senior lawyer on the base who no doubt had handled many criminal cases, would have recognized that a distraught mother would need someone who could take notes and understand the nuances of the discussion in English during the very stressful discussions with the investigators-but he was silent. Instead, the colonels bowed to the civilian public affairs officer's advice that "outspoken" women were a threat to the "integrity of the meeting."

Eventually, Mrs. Barrios, her sister Algeria and Juan Torres met with Brigadier General Mannon, the commander of the 82nd Training Wing and with three members of the Office of Special Investigations. Mrs. Barrios said they were given no new information about the investigation and questioned again why her friends, who over the past seven months have been a part of the briefings from the Air Force, had been kept out of meetings where the Air Force officials knew they were not going to provide any new information.

Since 2003 there have been 34 homicides and 218 "self-inflicted" deaths (suicides) in the Air Force and in 2007-2008 alone, 5 homicides and 35 "self-inflicted" deaths according to the Public Affairs office of the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force base.

On the same day Mrs. Barrios went to Sheppard Air Force Base, October 3, 2008, the US Army announced that a US Army woman sergeant had been killed near Fort Bragg, North Carolina by a stab wound in the neck. Sergeant Christina Smith, 29, was stabbed on September 30, 2008, allegedly by her US Army husband Sergeant Richard Smith who was accompanied by Private First Class Matthew Kvapil.

Smith was the fourth military woman murdered in North Carolina in the past 9 months.
On June 21, 2008, US Army Specialist Megan Touma, 23, was killed inside a Fayetteville, NC hotel, less than two weeks after she arrived at Fort Bragg from an assignment in Germany. She was seven months pregnant. Sergeant Edgar Patino, a married male soldier assigned to Fort Bragg whom Touma knew from Germany and who reportedly was the father of the unborn child, has been arrested for her murder.

On July 10, 2008, Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse at Fort Bragg, was killed. Her estranged husband, Marine Corporal John Wimunc of Camp Lejeune, NC has been arrested in her death and the burning of her body and Lance Corporal Kyle Alden was arrested for destroying evidence and providing a false alibi.

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean's home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach's mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter .

On Wednesday, October 8, at 11:30am, a vigil for the four military women and all victims of violence will be held at the Main Gate at Fort Bragg followed by a discussion on violence against women at the Quaker Peace Center in Fayetteville, NC and a wreath laying at Lafayette Memorial Park. The events are sponsored by the Coalition to End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Military, Veterans for Peace and the Quaker Peace Center.

Ann Wright is a retired Army Reserve colonel and a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the Department of State on March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq war. She has written several articles on violence against women in the military including "Sexual Assault in the Military: A DoD Cover-Up?" , "U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers' ‘Suicides'?" and "Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?". She is also the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience" (

Friday, September 26, 2008

Houston soldiers' suicides prompt scrutiny

Response team to deploy here after deaths of 2 more recruiters

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

An alarming number of suicides among Houston-based Army recruiters — including two in recent weeks — has prompted calls by a senator and veterans' advocates for closer scrutiny of high-stress recruiting duty during wartime.

Staff Sgt. Larry G. Flores Jr., 26, and Sgt. 1st Class Patrick G. Henderson, 35, are the fourth and fifth recruiters at the Houston Recruiting Battalion to kill themselves since 2001. Both men belonged to the battalion's Tyler Company, and both were combat veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Clearly, there's a problem," said David Rudd, a former Army psychologist and psychology chair at Texas Tech University. "Somebody needs to look and see if there's a broader national problem outside of this one battalion. Is it a problem placing these combat veterans in recruiting positions?"

Following inquiries by the Houston Chronicle on the suicides, Texas Sen. John Cornyn sent a letter Thursday to the secretary of the Army, asking for a briefing on the ongoing investigation and on the policy of returning soldiers from combat and reassigning them to a recruiting office.

"I am very concerned about this apparent trend within the Houston-based recruiting battalion, and I believe the situation requires your leadership and oversight to ensure the proper actions are taken and safeguards put in place to protect our troops," Cornyn wrote.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Recruiting Command at Fort Knox in Kentucky announced that it is "deeply concerned" and will deploy a critical response team to the battalion.

Houston has one of the top recruiting battalions in the nation when it comes to putting much-needed troops in boots. But with America's all-volunteer force straining to meet the manpower requirements of fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the difficulty of meeting monthly quotas — recruiters call it "making mission" — is taking its toll on recruiters and their families, say mental health specialists and veterans advocates.

The suicides in the Houston battalion are a "very loud, very bright alarm" that Army officials and politicians can't afford to ignore, said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.

"This may warrant congressional hearings," Sullivan said. "This may warrant changes in the selection, retention, promotion and distribution of recruiters, and it may also impact how the military addresses mental health needs for returning combat veterans placed in stressful noncombat jobs."

'You dread waking up'

Recruiting has long been considered one of the toughest jobs in the military. Recruiters from the Houston battalion who spoke to the Chronicle said they regularly work 12- to 14-hour days, six or seven days a week. Many of them have long commutes to small stations far from the camaraderie and resources of a military base. The pressure to sign at least two fresh "prospects" a month is immense.

Recruiters who were hand-picked from the ranks because of their chests full of medals find themselves suddenly playing the unfamiliar role of salesman. If they don't "make mission," they're punished with even longer duty hours and threatened with losing rank or receiving bad evaluations that could label them as failures. Most would prefer the combat zone over the pressure-cooker of recruiting, they say.

"You dread waking up and going to work," said Chris Rodriguez, a Houston battalion recruiter from 2005 to 2006. "You'll have no life, you'll never see your family. It's worse than a deployment because you're there with your family, but you can't spend any time with them."

Rodriguez, 25, used to have nightmares about recruiting after he left the battalion to serve in Iraq. Last March, his friend and fellow Army recruiter Nils Aron Andersson, 25, shot himself to death in a downtown Houston parking garage. Another friend who recruited in Houston told Rodriguez he'd put a .45 in his mouth and contemplated pulling the trigger.

"You've heard that recruiters are kind of insensitive to their recruits and tell them anything, but that pressure comes down all the way from the top," Rodriguez said. "It'll change your personality."

Expectations 'lose-lose'

Seeking mental health treatment is difficult because even if recruiters get over the stigma, they have little free time or access to doctors and therapists.

Recruiters said they're proud of their Army service but feel trapped by what they describe as the Houston battalion leadership's lack of compassion.

"The situation you're placed in, the expectations you are given, are lose-lose," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan L. Heinrich, a recruiter with the battalion's Tyler Company. "You can talk to as many people as you want to, but if people don't want to join the Army, there's nothing you can do."

Heinrich considered Flores his best friend. He hopes the tragedy will force change.

"I'm not going to blame a specific person because I don't know everything," he said. "However, I think the system to recruit should be revamped to actually do what they say they're going to do and look out for you and your family as well as the mission, because right now it seems they don't care about the recruiters at all."

The Houston Recruiting Battalion's Lt. Col. Toimu "Troy" Reeves and Command Sgt. Major Cheryl M. Broussard declined a request for interviews this week.

It wasn't until Thursday that U.S. Recruiting Command at Fort Knox responded with a written statement about what steps were being taken to address the battalion's string of suicides. It said the group will deploy a critical response team made up of a chaplain and psychologist to the battalion in October and will also establish a suicide prevention board to increase awareness, analyze trends and highlight resources to combat suicide among recruiters.

An argument

Flores, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, headed up the Tyler company's Nacogdoches recruiting station.

On Aug. 2, he was called to Houston to attend "low-production training" at 10:30 a.m. with other station commanders having trouble making mission.

The recruiters were told they'd go before a panel of their superiors to defend the work ethic at their stations.

It was 6 p.m. before Flores went inside to take his turn.

From the other side of the door, Sgt. 1st Class Willie Dawson, 40, could hear voices rising and muffled shouting. When Flores came out of the room, his face was beet red, Dawson said.
Dawson, commander of Tyler Company's Jacksonville station, asked Flores what happened.

"He just shook his head and said, 'I can't talk,' " Dawson said.

Later, Flores called his friend and fellow recruiter Heinrich.

"The way he told me it went down is the sergeant major kept pressuring him to say he's a failure and that he wanted to quit so it would make it easier for her to get rid of him from recruiting altogether or even out of the Army, basically chaptering him out of the Army," Heinrich said. "To be honest, that's something that's threatened on an almost daily basis out here."

Flores had more than work stress to confront. His wife, Jennifer, later told police she'd planned to leave her husband. The couple's marriage was deteriorating under the strain of his long hours and other job-related problems, she said. He'd told her he felt like a failure at work and couldn't take it anymore.

Flores was found dead in his garage in Palestine the morning of Aug. 9. He had hung himself with an extension cord.

A meltdown

Two weeks after Flores' death, police were called to the Hendersons' home in an East Texas town also called Henderson. The recruiter was acting delusional and threatening suicide.

"He was basically having a meltdown," said Lt. Craig Sweeney of the Henderson Police Department. "He was seeing some Iraqis in the woods near his house."

Henderson, an Iraq War veteran, was posted in Tyler Company's Longview station. His wife, Staff Sgt. Amanda Henderson, worked as a recruiter under Flores at the Nacogdoches station. The couple lived halfway between the two cities in Henderson.

After his breakdown, Patrick Henderson was treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, police said. He was removed from recruiting duty and ordered to report to the Tyler Company headquarters until reassignment.

On Sept. 19, Patrick Henderson and his wife apparently argued, police said. The next morning, his stepson found him dead in the shed behind his house. Like Flores, he had hung himself. The two recruiters died just six weeks apart.

Their deaths come at a time when suicides among all active duty soldiers are on track to set a record for the second year in a row. Last year, 115 soldiers committed suicide. By the end of August this year, 93 soldiers had killed themselves.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mother to talk in Camarillo about son's controversial death

Mary Tillman says she may never know the entire story surrounding the death of her son

By Eliav Appelbaum

Pat Tillman For Mary Tillman, finding peace in her son's death has been an arduous and mysterious journey, one teeming with lies, bureaucracy and Congressional hearings.

It has been a hard battle, one fought in metaphorical trenches, to understand how and why her son Pat Tillman died in combat in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

Pat Tillman gave up a career and a $1-million contract in the National Football League to join the U.S. Army Rangers in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

To this day, Mary Tillman doesn't have all the answers concerning the death of the former Arizona Cardinals safety. Writing her book, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman," has brought some comfort to the Tillman family.

"I think we've done about all we can; we've pressed this as hard as we could," Tillman said on the phone from her home in San Jose. "I guess we've come to believe that this was an accident with very gross negligence. There is a part of me that wonders that, if this investigation was done properly, could there have been something more nefarious to it?—but we'll never know."

Mary Tillman Mary Tillman will talk about her son and the book at 2 p.m. next Fri., Sept. 26 at the Camarillo Library.

Released April 29, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk" chronicles the family's attempt to understand what happened on the day Pat Tillman died and examines his life away from football and the armed forces.

"I felt the media turned him into a caricature, and part of that was because he played football," said Mary Tillman, who spent 11 years teaching middle school students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. "The (Bush) administration used Pat: They wanted to cover up his death but at the same time use him to rally patriotic feelings and support for the war. I wanted to humanize Pat."

The Tillmans were initially told by the government that Pat Tillman was shot in the head by enemy gunfire. At his memorial service, the story changed to say he died running up a hill to pursue an enemy. About a month later, the family learned that their son was shot three times in the head by his own troops in a friendly fire incident.

Over the years, details have changed, and the truth remains murky. Since Pat Tillman's death, there have been six investigations, several inquiries and two Congressional hearings.

"At every turn, we discovered peculiar nuances in the stories that didn't make any sense," Mary Tillman said. "We've tried to find out the truth. I think (Pat) would be satisfied with our effort.

He would have wanted us to do this, but not beat our heads against the wall."

With the NFL season less than three weeks old, this time of year has, in the past, been emotionally tough on Mary Tillman.

"It's gotten easier," she said. "The first two or three years it was really hard. I couldn't watch football games. I had a hard time watching if a game was on in a restaurant or bar. I don't have the same enthusiasm for the game. My sons (Kevin and Richard) are able to watch and enjoy football."

When asked what advice she'd give to a mother whose son is about to be deployed, she said, "I wouldn't want to frighten them already; they're scared enough (about) their child going off. It's important for parents, wives and husbands to be very vigilant about what's going on. Pay close attention, and don't believe everything that the military tells you."

The San Jose woman plans to speak at four other Southern California libraries this week.
While she continues dealing with the healing process, she will always cherish the memories of her son.

"There's so much about him. I miss his laugh. I miss his wisdom," Mary Tillman said. "Pat was a very caring person, and he just kept growing as a person. Like a lot of young teenage boys, he could be very selfabsorbed and overly macho. As he went through college and started getting older, his sense of self improved, and he just became a gentler, wiser person.

"One of the last things he said to me before he went to Afghanistan was that the military made him a better person. It actually humbled him. . . . I can go on and on about Pat. He was the most serious person I ever knew but also the lightest guy I ever knew. He loved to laugh, and he loved life."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Family of U.S. soldier in dark about 'non-hostile' death

Story Highlights

Army Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson and another soldier were killed in Iraq this week
Another U.S. soldier is being held in connection with the killings
Dawson's father says he can't get a "straight answer" from the U.S. military
The U.S. military has classified the death as "non-hostile"

By Cal Perry

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Darryl Mathis waits in his Pensacola, Florida, home for the body of his 24-year-old son to return home from Iraq. Mathis, a military veteran himself, was seething with anger Thursday as he spoke about the death of Army Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson.

An unnamed U.S. soldier is accused of killing Army Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson in Iraq on Sunday.

Dawson, and Sgt. Wesley Durbin, 26, are said to have been shot and killed by another U.S. soldier on Sunday at a base south of Baghdad.

Darryl and his wife, Maxine (Dawson's stepmother), say the military has told them nothing about the incident: no details on his death, no information at all.

His voice shakes as he says he believes that the military has let him down.

"I'm very disappointed -- very," he said. "If I would get a straight answer, if they would actually tell me what's going on, I would have something to work on; but right now, I have nothing to work on. Everything I'm getting, I'm getting from the media."

His wife sobs as she says her stepson's death was foreshadowed by a phone call he made to her from Iraq.

"He said that he was more shaky sometimes of the soldiers than of the enemy, because of the young guys over there."

She said she asked him, "What in the world do you mean? You're afraid of your own soldiers?"
" 'These kids are trying to fight a war they know nothing about. ... They're jumpy. ... They're more scary than the enemy,' " she said he told her.

"And I said, 'Oh, God,' " said Maxine Mathis.

On any given day, CNN receives dozens of detailed news releases from the U.S. military, including those announcing U.S. military casualties. In the cases of Dawson and Durbin, there was no mention of their names, and the releases were terse.

"A multi-national division center soldier died this morning of non-combat related causes," the first release read. "The cause of death is under investigation."

A second release came later in the day.

"A second multi-national division center soldier died this morning of non-combat related causes. The solider died of wounds September 14 at a coalition forces combat Army support hospital," it read. "The incident is under investigation."

Inquiries Thursday from CNN were met with a news release that a press officer said had been drafted Wednesday. However, the release uncharacterisically had not been e-mailed out to reporters that day.

After naming the two soldiers and giving their rank and unit, it reads, "A U.S. soldier is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths. He is being held in custody pending review by a military magistrate. The incident continues under investigation." The release gives no other details.

The U.S. military is classifying the death of Sgt. Dawson as "non-hostile," something Dawson's father finds puzzling.

"I don't know. I really don't know," he said. "I just can't get it together with that. I had never heard that before. 'Non-hostile' in a war zone?"

Lt. Col. Paul Swiergosz is a public affairs officer for the area in Iraq where the incident took place. He says the "non-hostile" death classification was given "because the deaths were not the result of hostile enemy action."

But details on what happened remain scarce.

CNN phoned an Army base in Fort Stewart, Georgia, to ask for more details on the incident. CNN was then e-mailed another press release -- this one written by Gen. Tony Cucolo, the commanding general of the Third Infantry Division -- that a press officer said had been drafted on Wednesday.

That release also had not been e-mailed to reporters, as is customary. "We do know one soldier, a fellow noncommissioned officer, allegedly opened fire and mortally wounded his squad leader and fellow team leader," reads the statement.

A spokesman at Fort Stewart said, "A soldier has been taken into custody. The incident is under investigation, and that is all I can say."

The spokesman would not even confirm information in his commanding general's press statement.

Maxine Mathis says she is stunned at how her stepson's death has been handled by the military. She says the Army assigned someone to help the family with anything they needed once they found out Darris had been killed, but she and her husband don't know how he died.

She said her husband asked the liaison officer whether it was true that Darris had been killed by another U.S. solider. She said the officer denied it, insisting he didn't know anything else.

Darryl Mathis continues to express his disappointment in the lack of information from the military about his son, amid rumors his son's body could be home by Saturday.

"I don't even know where he's at, at this time," he said.

Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America, said he thinks the way the military classifies deaths in Iraq is an attempt to keep the public combat numbers down.

"There is a clear and long-standing record, regarding the classification of causalities in Iraq to minimize combat losses. And we're seeing people wounded and killed that would have well been considered casualties from hostile action in previous conflicts. It's an attempt to conceal the actual cost of this war in terms of casualties," Muller said.

"The Department of Defense has announced the death of every service member who has given their life in operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom," said a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck.

"We have been open and transparent on the numbers of casualties suffered in these operations."
Mathis says his son wanted to come home to his wife and four young children and was in the process of applying for a transfer.

"Last I spoke to him was last week Monday. He called every Monday, and said he was checking his paperwork. He said he was going to call me back once he found out. That was the last I heard from him."

Mathis' wife cannot stop sobbing.

"We don't know why, we don't know why," she says "All we know is that our son died a useless, needless death. That's all we know."

--submitted by Lois Vanderbur

Soldier accused of killing two others in Iraq

A 3rd Infantry Division soldier is being accused to killing two others in Iraq earlier this week.

Third ID commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, has issued a statement Wednesday on the non-combat deaths of two Marne soldiers in Iraq.

Cucolo said, ""This is a tragic and senseless loss of two professional soldiers and NCOs, who were also husbands and fathers.

“There are some things we know right now, and there are some things we do not know.

“We do know one soldier, a fellow noncommissioned officer, allegedly opened fire and mortally wounded his squad leader and fellow team leader.

“We do know other soldiers arriving on the scene acted heroically, subduing the shooter and providing immediate medical attention to the two wounded NCOs.

“We do know medical personnel fought hard to save both mortally wounded soldiers.

“We also know the accused is in custody —— in control of military authorities in theater for now —— and the investigation is under way.

“And again, we also know we lost two professionals, two husbands, two fathers.

“What we do not know are the specific details of what happened or why. As the wheels of military justice turn, we will have more information on these two key questions that are on all of our minds."

The Department of Defense identified the dead soldiers as Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley R. Durbin, 26, of Hurst, Texas.

They were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID.

The incident is still under investigation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Parents lead charge against Sacrifice Medal

Canwest News Service
Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The new Sacrifice Medal 'recognizes the valued contribution of those who sacrificed their health or their lives while serving Canada.'

Grieving parents are leading an online protest against a new military medal meant to honour Canada's combat casualties in Afghanistan.

The Sacrifice Medal, announced by the Governor-General's office in August, will be awarded to members of the Canadian military wounded or killed in combat since October 2001.

The medal, which is similar in intent to the Purple Heart awarded to U.S. combat casualties, will only be given to those who died in battle or were wounded seriously enough to require medical treatment. It does not apply to soldiers who died in non-combat incidents, like accidents or "friendly fire."

"It's a slap in the face that Ottawa would come out and say that my son isn't entitled to a medal," said Ben Walsh of Regina. His son, Master Cpl. Jeffrey Walsh, died on Aug. 9, 2006 after he was apparently shot accidentally by a fellow soldier while on a routine patrol on a bumpy Afghan road.

Walsh and other parents of soldiers who died in non-combat incidents have launched an Internet petition calling on Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to broaden the criteria for awarding the medal. As of Tuesday evening, the petition ran to 1,526 signatures.

They're also getting support from military families who lost loved ones in combat conditions. Sherry Clark's son Pte. Joel Wiebe was killed in June 2007, the day before his 23rd birthday, by a roadside bomb. She said the loss of a son or daughter in war shouldn't be judged by the circumstances of the death.

"It would be very hurtful to hear that your son or daughter's sacrifice wasn't good enough, wasn't deemed worthy enough by the current criteria," she said from her home in Edmonton.

"It's heartbreaking. Joel paid the ultimate sacrifice, as did every other one of those soldiers who was seriously wounded or killed. Their loss is no greater or no less than mine."

© Global News 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers’ ‘Suicides’?

by Col. Ann Wright

August 26, 2008Since I posted on April 28 the article "Is There an Army Cover Up of the Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers," the deaths of two more U.S. Army women in Iraq and Afghanistan have been listed as suicides—the Sept. 28, 2007, death of 30-year-old Spc. Ciara Durkin and the Feb. 22, 2008, death of 25-year-old Spc. Keisha Morgan. Both "suicides" are disputed by the families of the women.

Since April 2008, five more U.S. military women have died in Iraq—three in noncombat-related incidents. Ninety-nine U.S., six British and one Ukrainian military women and 13 U.S. female civilians have been killed in Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women and girls. Of the 99 U.S. military women, 64 were in the Army active component, nine in the Army National Guard, seven in the Army Reserve, seven in the Marine Corps, nine in the Navy and three in the Air Force. According to the Department of Defense, 41 of the 99 U.S. military women who have been killed in Iraq died in "noncombat-related incidents." Of the 99 U.S. military women killed in the Iraq theater, 41 were women of color (21 African-Americans, 16 Latinas, three of Asian-Pacific descent and one Native American—data compiled from the Web site

Fourteen U.S. military women, including five in the Army, one in the Army National Guard, two in the Army Reserves, three in the Air Force, two in the Navy (on ships supporting U.S. forces in Afghanistan) and one in the Marine Corps, one British military woman and six U.S. civilian women have been killed in Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense, four U.S. military women in Afghanistan died in noncombat-related incidents, including one now classified as a suicide. Four military women of color (three African-Americans and one Latina) have been killed in Afghanistan. (Data compiled from

The deaths of 14 U.S. military (13 Army and one Navy) women and one British military woman who served in Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan have been classified as suicides.

Two Army women in Iraq (Pfc. Hannah Gunterman McKinney, a victim of vehicular homicide, and Pfc. Kamisha Block, who was shot five times by a fellow soldier who then killed himself) and two Navy women in Bahrain (MASN Anamarie Camacho and MASN Genesia Gresham, both shot by a male sailor who then shot, but did not kill, himself) have died at the hands of fellow military personnel.

Several more military women have died with unexplained "noncombat" gunshot wounds (U.S. Army Sgt. Melissa Valles, July 9, 2003: gunshot to the abdomen; Marine Lance Cpl. Juana Arellano, April 8, 2006: gunshot wound to the head while in a "defensive position"). Most of the deaths of women who have died of noncombat gunshot wounds have been classified as suicides, rather than homicides.

The Army, the only military service to release annual figures on suicides, reported that 115 soldiers committed suicide in 2007. According to Army figures, 32 soldiers committed suicide in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. Of the 115 Army suicides, 93 were in the Regular Army and 22 were in the Army National Guard or Reserves. The report lists five Army women as having committed suicide in 2007. Young, white, unmarried junior enlisted troops were the most likely to commit suicide, according to the report (Pauline Jelinek, "Soldier suicides hit highest rate, 115 last year," Associated Press, May 29, 2008,
From 2003 until August 2008, the deaths of 13 Army women and one Navy woman in Iraq and Afghanistan (including Kuwait and Bahrain) have been classified as suicides (numbers confirmed with various media sources):

2008—Spc. Keisha Morgan (Taji, Iraq) 2007—Spc. Ciara Durkin (Bagram, Afghanistan), Capt. (medical doctor) Roselle Hoffmaster (Kirkik, Iraq) 2006—Pfc. Tina Priest (Taji, Iraq), Pfc. Amy Duerkson (Taji, Iraq), Sgt. Denise Lannaman (Kuwait), Sgt. Jeannette Dunn (Taji, Iraq), Maj. Gloria Davis (Baghdad). 2005—Pvt. Lavena Johnson (Balad, Iraq), 1st Lt. Debra Banaszak (Kuwait), USN MA1 Jennifer Valdivia (Bahrain) 2004—Sgt. Gina Sparks (it is unclear where in Iraq she was injured, but she died in the Fort Polk, La., hospital) 2003—Spc. Alyssa Peterson (Tal Afar, Iraq), Sgt. Melissa Valles (Balad, Iraq)

The demographics of those Army women who allegedly committed suicide are as intriguing as the circumstances of their deaths: -- Seven of the women, being between the ages of 30 and 47, were older than the norm (Davis, 47; Lannaman, 46; Dunn, 44; Banaszak, 35; Hoffmaster, 32; Sparks, 32; and Durkin, 30). (Most military suicides are in their 20s). -- Three were officers: a major (Davis), a captain and medical doctor (Hoffmaster) and a first lieutenant (Banaszak). -- Five were noncommissioned officers (Lannaman, Dunn, Sparks, Valles and Valdivia). -- Five were women of color (Morgan, Davis, Johnson, Lannaman, Valles). -- Four were from units based at Fort Hood, Texas, and were found dead at Camp Taji, Iraq (Dunn, Priest, Duerkson, and Morgan). -- Two were found dead at Camp Taji, Iraq, 11 days apart (Priest and Duerkson). -- Two were found dead at Balad, Iraq (Johnson and Valles). -- Two had been raped (Priest, 11 days prior to her death; Duerksen, during basic training). -- One other was probably raped (Johnson, the night she died). -- Two were lesbians (Lannaman and Durkin). -- Two of the women were allegedly involved in bribes or shakedowns of contractors (Lannaman and Davis). -- Two had children (Davis and Banaszak). -- Three had expressed concerns about improprieties or irregularities in their commands (Durkin’s concerns were financial; Davis had given a seven-page deposition on contracting irregularities in Iraq the day before she died; Peterson was concerned about methods of interrogation of Iraqi prisoners). -- Several had been in touch with their families within days of their deaths and had not expressed feelings of depression (Morgan, Durkin, Davis, Priest, Johnson).

The Death of Lavena Johnson

As discussed in my article "Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?," 19-year-old Army Pvt. Lavena Johnson was found dead on the military base in Balad, Iraq, in July 2005, and her death was characterized by the Army as suicide from an M-16 rifle gunshot. From the day their daughter’s body was returned to them, the parents, both of whom have had a long association with the Army—the father, a medical doctor, is an Army veteran and worked 25 years as a Department of the Army civilian and the mother, too, worked for the Department of the Army—harbored grave suspicions about the Army’s investigation into Johnson’s death and the Army’s characterization of her death as suicide. As she had been in charge of a communications facility, Johnson was able to call home daily; in those calls, she gave no indication of emotional problems or being upset. In a letter to her parents after her death, Johnson’s commanding officer, Capt. David Woods, wrote, "Lavena was clearly happy and seemed in very good health both physically and emotionally." In viewing his daughter’s body at the funeral home, Dr. John Johnson was concerned about the bruising on her face. He was puzzled by the discrepancy in the autopsy report on the location of the gunshot wound. As an Army veteran and a long-time Army civilian employee who had counseled veterans, he was mystified how the exit wound of an M-16 shot could be so small. The hole in Lavena’s head appeared to be more the size of a pistol shot rather than an M-16 round. But the gluing of military uniform white gloves onto Lavena’s hands, hiding burns on one of her hands, is what deepened Dr. Johnson’s concerns that the Army’s investigation into the death of his daughter was flawed.

Over the next two and a half years, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson and their family and friends, through the Freedom of Information Act and congressional offices, relentlessly and meticulously requested documents concerning Lavena’s death from the Department of the Army. Gradually, with the Army’s response to each request for information, another piece of evidence about Johnson’s death emerged.

The military criminal investigator’s initial drawing of the death scene revealed that Johnson’s M16 was found perfectly parallel to her body. The investigator’s sketch showed that her body was found inside a burning tent, under a wooden bench with an aerosol can nearby. A witness, an employee of the defense contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), stated that he heard a gunshot and when he went to investigate, he found a KBR tent on fire. When he looked into the tent, he saw a body. The official Army investigation did not mention a fire, nor that Johnson’s body had been pulled from the fire.

KBR Women Employees Raped in Iraq

The fact that Lavena Johnson’s body was discovered in a KBR tent raises questions.
Many KBR women employees have been raped in Iraq. One law firm in Houston has 15 clients with sexual assault, sexual harassment or retaliation complaints against Halliburton and its former subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC (KBR), as well as against the Cayman Island-based Service Employees International Inc., a KBR shell company (Karen Houppert, "Another KBR Rape Case," The Nation, April 3, 2008).

Two female employees of KBR who were raped while in Iraq have testified before Congress. On her fourth day in Iraq, July 28, 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by seven fellow KBR employees at Camp Hope in Baghdad. Jones’ rape occurred nine days after Lavena Johnson was found dead in a KBR tent at Balad Air Base. Jones was drugged, raped and beaten, and the injuries she suffered were so severe that she had to have reconstructive surgery on her chest ("Democracy Now," April 18, 2008, "Two Ex-KBR Employees Say They Were Raped by Co-Workers in Iraq,"

Jones reportedly was taken back to the KBR area, where she was placed into an empty shipping container under KBR armed guard for almost 24 hours without food or water or the ability to communicate with anyone. The military doctor who examined her turned over the "rape kit" photographs and statement to KBR. Jones persuaded a guard to allow her a phone call, which she made to her father. Her father promptly called their Texas congressional representative, Ted Poe, who then called the State Department in Iraq and demanded her immediate release. Jones was rescued shortly thereafter and quickly left Iraq. Congressman Poe again contacted the State Department and the Department of Justice in an effort to launch an investigation, but both departments ignored the requests and even refused to contact Poe for the next two years. The "rape kit" and the photographs of and statement from Jones taken by a military doctor disappeared (ABC News, "KBR Employees: Company Covered Up Sexual Assault and Harassment,"

Jones testified Dec. 17, 2007, before the House Judiciary Committee on "Enforcement of Federal Criminal Law to Protect Americans Working for U.S. Contractors in Iraq" (

The nonprofit foundation Jones created after her ordeal, the Jamie Leigh Jones Foundation, has been contacted by 40 U.S. contractor employees alleging that they are the victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment on the job and that Halliburton, KBR and Service Employees International Inc. have not helped them or have obstructed their claims (Karen Houppert, "Another KBR Rape Case," The Nation, April 3, 2008).

Dawn Leamon was another civilian contractor employed by KBR who was raped allegedly by KBR employees. She was the sole medical provider at Camp Harper, a base near Basra in southern Iraq. Leamon reported being raped anally by a U.S. soldier in January 2008 while a KBR employee forced his penis into her mouth. She says she was told to keep quiet by her KBR supervisor and by the military liaison officer. Her laptop computer was seized within hours after she e-mailed a civilian lawyer. She testified on April 9, 2008, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the hearing "Closing Legal Loopholes: Prosecuting Sexual Assaults and Other Violent Crimes Committed Overseas by American Civilians in a Combat Environment" (

Johnsons’ Quest Continues in Daughter’s Death

After two years of requesting documents, the family of Lavena Johnson received a set of papers from the Army that included a photocopy of a compact disk. Wondering why the copy was among the documents, Dr. Johnson requested the CD itself. The Army finally complied after a congressman intervened. When Dr. Johnson viewed the CD, he was shocked to see photographs taken by Army investigators of his daughter’s body as it lay where her body had been found, as well as other photographs of her disrobed body taken during the investigation.

The photographs revealed that Lavena, barely five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, perhaps a weapon stock. Her nose was broken and her teeth knocked backward. One elbow was distended. The back of her clothes contained debris, indicating she had been dragged. The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her body.

The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned, apparently from a flammable liquid poured on her and then lighted. Photographs of her genital area revealed massive bruising and lacerations. A corrosive liquid had been poured into her genital area, probably to destroy DNA evidence of sexual assault.

Despite the bruises, scratches, teeth imprints and burns on her body, Lavena was found completely dressed in the burning tent. There was a blood trail from outside the contractor’s tent to inside the tent. She apparently had been dressed after the attack and her attacker had placed her body in the tent before setting it on fire.

Investigator records reveal that members of her unit said Johnson had told them she was going jogging with friends on the other side of the base. One unit member walked with her to the post exchange, where she bought a soda, and then, in her Army workout clothes, Johnson went on by herself to meet friends and to exercise. The unit member said she was in good spirits, showing no indication of personal emotional problems.

The Army investigators initially concluded that Pvt. Johnson’s death was a homicide and indicated that on their paperwork. However, a decision apparently was made by higher officials that the investigators would stop the homicide inquiry and classify her death a suicide.
Three weeks later, a final autopsy report from the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, dated Aug. 13, 2005, said the cause of death was an intraoral gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was a suicide. However, the autopsy report—written after the July 22, 2005, autopsy at Dover Air Force Base and signed on Aug. 9, 2005 by associate medical examiner Lt. Cmdr. Edward Reedy and by chief deputy medical examiner Cmdr. James Caruso—states much more in its opinion section:

"The 19 year old female, Lavena Johnson, died as a result of a gunshot wound of the head that caused injuries to the skull and brain. The entrance wound was inside the mouth and injuries to the lips and oral mucosa were a direct result of the discharge of the weapon. The exit wound was located on the left side of the head. No bullet or bullet fragments were recovered. Toxicology was negative for alcohol and other screened drugs. The investigative information made available indicates that this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. With the information surrounding the circumstances of the death that is presently available the manner of death is determined to be suicide."

The medical examiners revealed that they were basing their determination of suicide on "investigative information made available indicat[ing] that this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound," not from medical evidence. They did not address what caliber of bullet entered her body—in fact, they stated that no bullet or bullet fragment was recovered, and they did not offer comments on what caliber of bullet would have made the entry and exit wounds.

The Aug. 25, 2005, report from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory in Forest Park, Ga., stated:

The characteristic gunshot residue particle indicated on Exhibit 5 (Gunshot residue kit (Item 9, Doc 775-05), the number is considered insignificant. Based on these results, the report concludes that the following possibilities exist, but the report makes no conclusion: a. The subject did not handle/discharge a firearm. b. The subject handled/discharged a firearm but an insignificant number of gunshot residue particles were deposited on the hands. c. The subject handled/discharged a firearm that deposited a significant number of gunshot residue particles on the hand; however, due to washing, wiping, or other activity, the particles were reduced to insignificant numbers.

The medical examiners who did the autopsy on Johnson’s body did not mention any burns on her body, but when the family had gloves that had been glued onto her hands cut off by the funeral home employees in Missouri, they found her hands had been burned, and further examination showed her back was burned.

A witness statement taken on July 19, 2005, states: "The witness [name redacted] ... found the victim under the bench and verified there were no signs of life ... related he saw the M16 lying across the victim’s body ... he didn’t know what setting the weapon was on ... he related everything was smoking, including parts of the body. He called for an ambulance and secured the scene."

On April 9, 2008, Johnson’s parents flew from their home in St. Louis for meetings with members of Congress and their staff. They again went to Washington, D.C., in July 2008 and were briefed by Army investigators and the military medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Lavena. The Army briefers maintained that her death was a suicide and were unable to answer Dr. John and Linda Johnson’s long list of questions. The Johnsons are asking for a congressional hearing that would force the Army to further investigate their daughter’s death.

Murder of Three Women in North Carolina

Some of the circumstances surrounding Lavena Johnson’s death in Iraq three years ago are similar to those of other American servicewomen who died in recent months. In the six months from December 2007 to July 2008, three U.S. military women were killed by military males near the Army’s Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, two mega-bases in North Carolina.

Two of the women were in the Army. Spc. Megan Touma was seven months pregnant when her body was found inside a Fayetteville hotel room June 21, 2008. A married male soldier whom she knew in Germany has since been arrested. The estranged Marine husband of Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc has been arrested in her death and the burning of her body.

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean’s home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach’s mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter (testimony of Mary Lauterbach to the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee,

Two Women Sexually Assaulted Before Their Deaths

Remarkably, a rape test was not performed on the body of Lavena Johnson although bruising and lacerations in her genital area indicated assault.

Another family that does not believe their daughter committed suicide in Iraq is the family of Pfc. Tina Priest, 20, of Smithville, Texas, who was reported raped by a fellow soldier in February of 2006 on a military base known as Camp Taji. Priest was a part of the 5th Support Battalion, lst Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. The Army said Priest was found dead in her room on March 1, 2006, of a self-inflicted M-16 shot, 11 days after the rape. Priest’s mother, Joy Priest, disputes the Army’s findings.

Mrs. Priest said she talked several times with her daughter after the rape and that Tina, while very upset about the rape, was not suicidal. Mrs. Priest continues to challenge the Army’s 800 pages of investigative documents with a simple question: How could her five-foot-tall daughter, with a correspondingly short arm length, have held the M-16 at the angle which would have resulted in the gunshot? The Army attempted several explanations, but each was debunked by Mrs. Priest and by the 800 pages of materials provided by the Army itself. The Army now says Tina used her toe to pull the trigger of the weapon that killed her. The Army reportedly never investigated Tina’s death as a homicide, only as a suicide.

According to Tina’s mother, rape charges against the soldier whose sperm was found on Tina’s sleeping bag were dropped a few weeks after her death. He was convicted of failure to obey an order and sentenced to forfeiture of $714 for two months, 30 days’ restriction to the base and 45 days of extra duty.

On May 11, 2006, 10 days after Tina Priest was found dead, 19-year-old Army Pfc. Amy Duerksen was found dead at the same Camp Taji. Duerksen died three days after she suffered what the Army called "a self-inflicted gunshot." The Army claimed that she, too, had committed suicide. In the room where her body was found, investigators reportedly discovered her diary open to a page on which she had written about being raped during training after unknowingly ingesting a date-rape drug. The person Duerkson identified in her diary as the rapist was charged by the Army with rape after her death. Many who knew her did not believe she shot herself, but there is no evidence of a homicide investigation by the Army.

Women Had Concerns About Job Irregularities

Three women whose deaths have been classified as suicides had expressed concerns about improprieties or irregularities in their military commands.

Army Spc. Ciara Durkin, 30, a Massachusetts National Guard payroll clerk, was found dead on Sept. 28, 2007, from a gunshot wound to the head. She had gotten off work 90 minutes earlier and was found lying near a chapel on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Durkin had called her brother just hours before she died, leaving an upbeat happy birthday message on his telephone. In previous conversations, Durkin told her sister that she had discovered something in the finance unit that she did not agree with and that she had made some enemies over it. She told her sister to keep investigating her death if anything happened to her ("How did Specialist Ciara Durkin Die?" CBSNews, Oct. 4, 2007,

In June 2008, the Army declared her death a suicide.

Army interrogator Spc. Alyssa Renee Peterson, 27, assigned to C Company, 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky., was an Arabic linguist who reportedly was very concerned about the manner in which interrogations of detained Iraqis were being conducted. She died on Sept. 15, 2003, near Tal Afar, Iraq, in what the Army described as a gunshot wound to the head, a noncombat, self-inflicted weapons discharge, or suicide.

Peterson had reportedly objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners in Iraq and refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as "the cage." Members of her unit have refused to describe the specific interrogation techniques to which Peterson objected.

The military says that all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. After refusing to conduct more interrogations, Peterson was assigned to guard the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. She was also sent to suicide prevention training.

Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle on the night of Sept. 15, 2003. Family members challenge the Army’s conclusion.

Maj. Gloria Davis, 47, an 18-year Army veteran, mother and grandmother, was found dead of a gunshot wound on Dec. 12, 2006, the day after she reportedly talked at length to an Army investigator about corruption in military contracting. She had been accused of accepting a $225,000 bribe from Lee Dynamics, a defense contractor that provided warehouse space for the storage of automatic weapons in Iraq (Eric Schmitt and James Glanz, "U.S. Says Company Bribes Officers for Work in Iraq," New York Times, Aug. 31, 2007).

Davis’ mother, Annie Washington, told the author that military investigators have never located any of the $225,000 Davis is alleged to have taken. Washington said her daughter was right-handed and would have had a hard time holding the weapon in her left hand and shooting herself on the left side of her head (telephone conversation between Ann Wright and Annie Washington, July 2008).

Federal court documents show that the Army suspended Lee Dynamics from contracting on July 9, 2007, over allegations that the company paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to numerous U.S. officers in Iraq and Kuwait in 2004 and 2005 to get contracts to build, operate and maintain warehouses in Iraq where weapons, uniforms and vehicles for the Iraqi military were stored.

Reportedly included in the documents was a seven-page statement by an Army investigator who questioned Maj. Davis the day before she was found dead in her quarters. The deposition has apparently been used in ongoing federal cases on corruption in military contracting (Ed Blanche, "Kickbacks, Weapons and Suicide: The US Army’s Battle With Corruption," March 15, 2008,

The author attempted to obtain a copy of Davis’ statement from the Department of Justice, but a DoJ public affairs officer said the statement is not yet in the public domain and intimated that it is being used in other ongoing DoJ investigations into contracting fraud (telephone conversation on July 28, 2008, with DoJ public affairs officer).

The Lee Dynamics warehouses were part of a circle of corruption involving military personnel and contractors throughout Iraq and the disappearance of 190,000 U.S.-supplied weapons— 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 80,000 pistols intended for Iraqi security forces for which the U.S. military cannot account. A July 2007 Government Accountability Office report said that until December 2005 the U.S.-Iraqi training command had no centralized records on weapons provided to Iraqi forces, and although 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 sets of body armor and 140,000 steel helmets had been issued by September 2005, because of poor record keeping it was unclear what happened to 110,000 AK-47s and 80,000 pistols and more than half the armor and helmets (GAO Report 07-711, Stabilizing Iraq: DOD Cannot Ensure That U.S.-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces, July 2007, Pages 14 and 15,

In December 2007, the U.S. military acknowledged that it had lost track of an additional 12,000 weapons, including more than 800 machine guns (Ed Blanche, "Kickbacks, Weapons and Suicide: The US Army’s Battle With Corruption," March 15, 2008,

In 2005, Col. Ted Westhusing, 44, at the time the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq, allegedly committed suicide after reportedly becoming despondent about the poor performance of private contractors who were training Iraqi police, for which he was responsible. After graduating third in his West Point class and serving as the honor captain for the entire academy his senior year, Westhusing became one of the Army’s leading scholars on military ethics and was a professor at West Point.

In January 2005 Westhusing began supervising the training of Iraqi forces to take over security duties from the U.S. military. He oversaw the Virginia-based USIS, a private security contractor, which had contracts worth $79 million to train a corps of Iraqi police to conduct special-operations missions. Westhusing was upset about allegations, in a four-page anonymous letter, that USIS deliberately shorted the Iraqi government on the number of trainers it provided in order to increase its profit margin. The letter also revealed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqi civilians.

After an angry counseling meeting with the contractor, Westhusing was found dead of a gunshot wound. Many of Westhusing’s professional colleagues question the Army’s ruling of suicide, despite the note found in his quarters. They point out that Westhusing did not have a bodyguard and was surrounded by the same contractors he suspected of wrongdoing. They also question why the USIS company manager who discovered Westhusing’s body was not tested for gunpowder residue.

In the space of three months in 2006, three members of the U.S. Army who had been part of a contracting and logistics group in Kuwait and Iraq were accused of taking bribes from contractors and allegedly committed suicide. Two of them were women, Maj. Gloria Davis and Sgt. Denise Lannaman, and the third was Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez. In August 2006 Gutierrez was arrested at a restaurant in Kuwait and was accused of shaking down a laundry contractor for a $3,400 bribe. He was allowed to return to his quarters and was found dead on Sept. 4, 2006, with an empty bottle of prescription sleeping pills and an open container of what appeared to be antifreeze.

The second woman soldier who was allegedly involved with bribes and allegedly committed suicide was New York Army National Guard Sgt. Denise A. Lannaman. Lannaman, 46, had completed one tour in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2005. In December 2005 she decided to volunteer to stay in Iraq longer and took an assignment at a desk job at a procurement office in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, that purchased millions of dollars in supplies. She received excellent performance ratings, and her supervisor said that her oversight eliminated misuse of funds by 36 percent. On Oct. 1, 2006, Lannaman was questioned by a senior officer about the death of Lt. Col. Gutierrez and was reportedly told by that officer that she was implicated in the contracting fraud and would be leaving the military in disgrace. She was found in a jeep dead of a gunshot later that day.

The Army has classified Lannaman’s death as a suicide. A member of her family said that Lannaman had a history of psychiatric problems but somehow been allowed to enlist in the military. She had attempted suicide four times in her life, according to the family member. In September 2007, Army spokesman Lt. Col. William Wiggins told the family that Lannaman had not been the subject of any contract investigations, but he said he could not say whether Lannaman had been threatened by a superior officer with dismissal from the service (Jim Dwyer, "Letter from America: Journey from New York to Kuwait, and Suicide," New York Times, Sept. 19, 2007). Lannaman’s family said that because of her pre-existing mental state, the threat that the superior officer made to send her home in disgrace could have caused her to take her life.

Soldiers Convicted of Bribery

In June 2008 four persons plead guilty in bribery and kickback scandals concerning military contracts in Iraq. On June 11, 2008, recently retired Army National Guard Col. Levonda Joey Selph, a key person on Gen. David Petraeus’ team that was training and equipping Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy. She admitted disclosing to the owner of Lee Dynamics International confidential bidding information about a $12-million contract for building and operating U.S. military warehouses in Iraq that stored automatic weapons and other equipment. Lee Dynamics International is the same company that reportedly gave Maj. Davis a $225,000 bribe. Col. Selph helped the company owner, a former Army pay clerk, to submit "fake bid packages on behalf of six companies he controlled to create a false sense of competition," for which she was given a trailer valued at $20,000; she eventually returned the trailer, and the contractor then gave her $4,000 in cash and paid for air fare and accommodations for a trip to Thailand in October 2005, valued at about $5,000. Selph has since agreed to pay the U.S. government $9,000 and could serve a prison sentence of up to two years (Eric Schmitt, "Guilty Plea Given in Iraq Contract Fraud," New York Times, June 11, 2008).

After having been in military custody since July 2007, Army Maj. John Cockerham, 43, pleaded guilty last January to bribery, conspiracy and money laundering in awarding illegal contracts for supplies such as bottled water. He had received more than $9 million in bribes from at least eight defense contractor companies, and records found in his home indicated he expected to get $5.4 million more. Melissa Cockerham, Cockerham’s wife, also pleaded guilty to money laundering.

Their plea bargains were kept under federal court seal until June 25, 2008, while they cooperated with investigators. Cockerham faces up to 40 years in prison, while his wife could face up to 20 years in prison (Dana Hedgpeth, "2 Plead Guilty to Army Bribery Scheme," Washington Post, June 25, 2008).

The Death of Spc. Keisha Morgan

Army Spc. Keisha Morgan, 25, was on her second tour in Iraq. Just days before her February 22, 2008, death, she called her mother, Diana Morgan, and happily told her that she had reenlisted. Her mother said that Keisha wanted to be a nurse and planned to fulfill that ambition after she got out of the Army. Assigned to the Fourth Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, Keisha reportedly suffered two seizures in her barracks at Camp Taji and died in a military hospital in Bagdad. The Army reportedly told Keisha’s mother that Keisha was on antidepressants and may have overdosed. In a blog, Keisha’s mother said her daughter had never mentioned being on antidepressants.

However, the Army reportedly frequently prescribes antidepressants to soldiers with anxiety from effects of war, and one of the known side effects of some of the depressants is seizures. The Army’s fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report indicates that, according to an anonymous survey of U.S. troops taken in the fall of 2007, about 12 percent of combat troops in Iraq and 17 percent of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants (such as Prozac and Zoloft) or sleeping pills (such as Ambien) to help them cope, with about 50 percent taking antidepressants and 50 percent taking prescription sleeping pills. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the warning on antidepressants that the drugs may increase the risk of suicide in children and young adults ages 18 to 24, the age group most taking prescribed drugs in the Army. The Army should question whether there is a link between the increased use of the drugs by military troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rising suicide rate, which is now double the Army’s suicide rate in 2001.

Deception or Just Incompetence?

It’s now well known that there was deception by the U.S. military in the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman and the decision to make a heroic character out of Pvt. Jessica Lynch ( But there are many other cases of deception and of misinformation given to families.

After much pressure from the families for more information on the deaths of their sons in 2004, the parents of Army Spc. Patrick McCaffery and 1st Lt. Andre Tyson were finally told by the Army two years after the death of their sons that they were not killed by insurgents but by Iraqi army recruits with whom they were training and patrolling (

The parents of Spc. Jesse Buryj were initially told their son died in an accident. After relentless pressure on the Army for a copy of the autopsy, his mother read that Buryj had died of a gunshot wound. She had to request through the Freedom of Information Act a copy of the incident report, which states he was killed by friendly fire from coalition Polish troops. And later a soldier from Buryj’s unit came to her home and told her he had been killed by "one of our own troops" (
Karen Meredith had to request the report on the May 30, 2004, death of her son, 1st Lt. Ken Ballard, through the Freedom of Information Act. Ballard did not die in a firefight with insurgents as she was originally told ( He actually died in an accident when a branch fell on a tank in which he was riding and set off an unmanned gun (

On Sept. 9, 2005, Meredith met with an Army colonel in the Pentagon and received a letter of apology from the Army for its misinformation on her son’s death. On Sept. 27, 2005, she met with Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey and asked him to promise that soldiers’ families would promptly be told the truth about casualties.

As the Beaumont, Texas, newspaper the Enterprise stated in its June 20, 2008, editorial, "There is no excuse for the U.S. Army’s shabby treatment of Kamisha Block’s parents and others who cared for her. Her commanders knew right away that she had been killed by a fellow soldier in Iraq, who had been harassing her. It was a standard murder-suicide. Incredibly, the Army first told her parents that it was an accidental death due to friendly fire."

A few days later, the Army changed its story and told the parents of Spc. Block that their daughter had been murdered by a shot to the chest. At the funeral home in Vidor, Texas, Block’s mother noticed her daughter had a wound to her head, not mentioned by the Army. Six months later, after numerous phone calls to the Army and enlisting help from Congressman Kevin Brady, Block’s family was told by the Army that she had been murdered by a fellow soldier in her unit, a man who had physically assaulted her three times. His unit had disciplined him once but kept him in the same unit where he assaulted Block two other times before he murdered her by firing five shots into her and then killing himself in the same barracks room. After many attempts, the parents finally received a 1,200-page investigation that gave the name of the murderer.

Our Soldiers’ Families Deserve Better

The families of slain soldiers deserve the truth about how they served and how they died. A professional military should handle each case with utmost care and concern. Tragically, in the past seven years, too many families have been faced with unanswered questions and a military bureaucracy that closes ranks against those who are trying to find answers.

I appeal to those in our military who know how these women died to come forward. Hopefully, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Susan Davis, (202) 225-2040, will hold hearings on military suicides in the next two months and provide protection from retaliation for those willing to testify.

Army Reserve Col. Ann Wright, retired, is a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a U.S. diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the Department of State in March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq war. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."


-- submitted by Patti Woodard