Thursday, January 31, 2008

Soldier Suicides at Record Level: Increase Linked to Long Wars, Lack of Army Resources

By Dana Priest, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who was waiting for the Army to decide whether to court-martial her for endangering another soldier and turning a gun on herself last year in Iraq, attempted to kill herself Monday evening. In so doing, the 25-year-old Army reservist joined a record number of soldiers who have committed or tried to commit suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I'm very disappointed with the Army," Whiteside wrote in a note before swallowing dozens of antidepressants and other pills. "Hopefully this will help other soldiers." She was taken to the emergency room early Tuesday. Whiteside, who is now in stable physical condition, learned yesterday that the charges against her had been dismissed.

Whiteside's personal tragedy is part of an alarming phenomenon in the Army's ranks: Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980, according to a draft internal study obtained by The Washington Post. Last year, 121 soldiers took their own lives, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006.

At the same time, the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide, compared with about 350 in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

The Army was unprepared for the high number of suicides and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among its troops, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued far longer than anticipated. Many Army posts still do not offer enough individual counseling and some soldiers suffering psychological problems complain that they are stigmatized by commanders. Over the past year, four high-level commissions have recommended reforms and Congress has given the military hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its mental health care, but critics charge that significant progress has not been made.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe stress on the Army, caused in part by repeated and lengthened deployments. Historically, suicide rates tend to decrease when soldiers are in conflicts overseas, but that trend has reversed in recent years. From a suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001 -- the lowest rate on record -- the Army reached an all-time high of 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2006.

Last year, twice as many soldier suicides occurred in the United States than in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, the Army's top psychiatrist and author of the study, said that suicides and attempted suicides "are continuing to rise despite a lot of things we're doing now and have been doing." Ritchie added: "We need to improve training and education. We need to improve our capacity to provide behavioral health care."

Ritchie's team conducted more than 200 interviews in the United States and overseas, and found that the common factors in suicides and attempted suicides include failed personal relationships; legal, financial or occupational problems; and the frequency and length of overseas deployments. She said the Army must do a better job of making sure that soldiers in distress receive mental health services. "We need to know what to do when we're concerned about one of our fellows."

The study, which the Army's top personnel chief ordered six months ago, acknowledges that the Army still does not know how to adequately assess, monitor and treat soldiers with psychological problems. In fact, it says that "the current Army Suicide Prevention Program was not originally designed for a combat/deployment environment."

Staff Sgt. Gladys Santos, an Army medic who attempted suicide after three tours in Iraq, said the Army urgently needs to hire more psychiatrists and psychologists who have an understanding of war. "They gave me an 800 number to call if I needed help," she said. "When I come to feeling overwhelmed, I don't care about the 800 number. I want a one-on-one talk with a trained psychiatrist who's either been to war or understands war."

Santos, who is being treated at Walter Reed, said the only effective therapy she has received there in the past year have been the one-on-one sessions with her psychiatrist, not the group sessions in which soldiers are told "Don't hit your wife, don't hit your kids," or the other groups where they play bingo or learn how to properly set a table.

Over the past year, the Army has reinvigorated its efforts to understand mental health issues and has instituted new assessment surveys and new online videos and questionnaires to help soldiers recognize problems and become more resilient, Ritchie said. It has also hired more mental health providers. The plan calls for attaching more chaplains to deployed units and assigning "battle buddies" to improve peer support and monitoring.

Increasing suicides raise "real questions about whether you can have an Army this size with multiple deployments," said David Rudd, a former Army psychologist and chairman of the psychology department at Texas Tech University.

On Monday night, as President Bush delivered his State of the Union address and asked Congress to "improve the system of care for our wounded warriors and help them build lives of hope and promise and dignity," Whiteside was dozing off from the effects of her drug overdose. Her case highlights the Army's continuing struggles to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and to make it easier for soldiers and officers to seek psychological help.

Whiteside, the subject of a Post article in December, was a high-achieving University of Virginia graduate, and she earned top scores from her Army raters. But as a medic in charge of a small prison team in Iraq, she was repeatedly harassed by one of her commanders, which disturbed her greatly, according to an Army investigation.

On Jan. 1, 2007, weary from helping to quell riots in the prison after the execution of Saddam Hussein, Whiteside had a mental breakdown, according to an Army sanity board investigation. She pointed a gun at a superior, fired two shots into the ceiling and then turned the weapon on herself, piercing several organs. She has been at Walter Reed ever since.

Whiteside's two immediate commanders brought charges against her, but Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the only physician in her chain of command and then the commander of Walter Reed, recommended that the charges be dropped, citing her "demonstrably severe depression" and "7 years of credible and honorable service."

The case hinged in part on whether her mental illness prompted her actions, as Walter Reed psychiatrists testified last month, or whether it was "an excuse" for her actions, as her company commander wrote when he proffered the original charges in April. Those charges included assault on a superior commissioned officer, aggravated assault, kidnapping, reckless endangerment, wrongful discharge of a firearm, communication of a threat and two attempts of intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service.

An Army hearing officer cited "Army values" and the need to do "what is right, legally and morally" when he recommended last month that Whiteside not face court-martial or other administration punishment, but that she be discharged and receive the medical benefits "she will desperately need for the remainder of her life." Whiteside decided to speak publicly about her case only after a soldier she had befriended at the hospital's psychiatric ward hanged herself after she was discharged without benefits.

But the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, which has ultimate legal jurisdiction over the case, declined for weeks to tell Whiteside whether others in her chain of command have concurred or differed with the hearing officer, said Matthew MacLean, Whiteside's civilian attorney and a former military lawyer.

MacLean and Whiteside's father, Thomas Whiteside, said the uncertainty took its toll on the young officer's mental state. "I've never seen anything like this. It's just so far off the page," said Thomas Whiteside, his voice cracking with emotion. "I told her, 'If you check out of here, you're not going to be able to help other soldiers.' "

Whiteside recently had begun to take prerequisite classes for a nursing degree, and her mental stability seemed to be improving, her father said. Then late last week, she told him she was having trouble sleeping, with a possible court-martial weighing on her. On Monday night, she asked her father to take her back to her room at Walter Reed so she could study.

She swallowed her pills there. A soldier and his wife, who live next door, came to her room and, after a while, noticed that she was becoming groggy, Thomas Whiteside said. When they returned later and she would not open the door, they called hospital authorities.

Yesterday, after having spent two nights in the intensive care unit, he said, his daughter was transferred to the psychiatric ward.

Whiteside left two notes, one titled "Business," in which her top concern was the fate of her dog. "Appointment for the Vetenarian is in my blue book. Additional paperwork on Chewy is in the closet at the apartment in a folder." On her second note, she penned a postscript: "Sorry to do this to my family + friends. I love you."

Staff writer Anne Hull contributed to this report.

-- submitted by Lois Vanderbur

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Returned from Iraq and still at war

February 1, 2008

ERIC RUDER explains how the politicians are failing the soldiers they sent to war.

THE YOUNG men and women sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan who manage to return home physically intact tend to count themselves among the fortunate. But they soon learn that the struggle to return to the lives they left behind has just begun for them.

A small but growing segment of veterans is losing that battle. They find themselves confronted by inner demons--reliving memories of the horrors of war, dwelling on the loss of fallen comrades, and tormented by nervous systems that seem stuck in a constant state of high alert after all those months in the field.

Any number of indicators show the consequences of these hidden scars--substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, suicide and murder.

A New York Times investigative series found 121 cases of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who committed or were charged with murder after returning from war. A third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives; a quarter were fellow servicemembers; and the rest were acquaintances or strangers.

During the six years before and six years after the war in Afghanistan began, homicides committed by active-duty personnel and recent veterans increased by 89 percent--from 184 to 349--according to the Times.

What stuns advocates for these troubled veterans, however, is the speed with which veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are showing up in these categories.

After a happy homecoming, 28-year-old Peter Mohan broke his collarbone in a car crash, touching off a downward spiral. When he moved to be closer to his wife, who had taken a new job, he suddenly found himself without friends--and privately warring with the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his military service.

He couldn't find a job. He turned to drinking and flirted with suicide. And when his wife felt she had exhausted her ability to help him and asked him to move out, he ended up in a homeless shelter.

“While many Vietnam veterans began showing manifestations of stress disorders roughly 10 years after returning from the front, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have shown the signs much earlier,” the Associated Press reported.

The disproportionate number of veterans among the homeless is a well-established trend, dating from the Vietnam years. “Veterans have long accounted for a high share of the nation's homeless,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Although they make up 11 percent of the adult population, they make up 26 percent of the homeless on any given day.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has identified about 1,500 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were homeless at some point in 2006--a small but growing proportion of the 336,000 veterans who were homeless that same year.

The VA contends it's doing what's necessary to help these veterans. It spends about $265 million annually on programs for homeless veterans. But compared to the $8 billion a month the U.S. is spending to put soldiers on the battlefield, the money for such programs--about 0.3 percent of annual war spending--is tiny.

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THE VA has also failed to address the epidemic of suicide among veterans--a fact starkly revealed by a CBS News investigation that found the Department of Defense grossly understates the number of veterans who take their own lives.
The Pentagon only acknowledges 130 self-inflicted fatalities among U.S. military personnel in Iraq since 2003, but the U.S. Army alone reported 97 suicides in 2006. CBS News found that there were at least 6,256 suicides by veterans of all eras in 2005--an average of 120 a week.

Veterans of all ages were twice as likely as non-veterans to commit suicide, but among 20- to 24-year-olds, the suicide rate for veterans was two to four times higher.

“The Department of Defense has managed to keep what has clearly become an epidemic of death beneath the radar of public awareness by systematically concealing statistics about soldier suicides,” wrote Penny Coleman, the widow of a Vietnam veteran who committed suicide and author of a book entitled Flashback: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War.

“They have done everything from burying them on official casualty lists in a category they call 'accidental non-combat deaths' to outright lying to the parents of dead soldiers. And the Department of Veterans Affairs has rubber-stamped their disinformation, continuing to insist that their studies indicate that soldiers are killing themselves, not because of their combat experiences, but because they have 'personal problems.'”

Politicians try to muzzle antiwar critics with the charge that they don't “support the troops”--at the same time that the military and political establishment has failed to address the basic needs of returning troops.

In reality, it's the antiwar movement that stands for both the immediate withdrawal of troops from harm's way--and increased funding for health and other services that veterans deserve and desperately need.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fellow Marine charged in ’06 death of Gordon County native

A corporal faces court-martial in the death of a deployed Gordon Marine reportedly shot in the neck.

From the Calhoun Times

Lance Cpl. Kristopher Cody Warren died Nov. 9, 2006.

The Marine Corps is calling the 2006 death of Calhoun native Cody Warren negligence and has charged another Marine in his death.

Lance Cpl. Kristopher Cody Warren, 19, was killed Nov. 9, 2006, while his Marine Reserve detachment was deployed in Iraq. Click here to read a previous report: "Gordon mourning Marine.

At the time, Warren’s death was listed as “non-combat-related,” but the Marines now have charged Cpl. Douglas Michael Sullivan, who was assigned to a military police unit at Camp Pendleton, Calif., with culpable negligence, authorities said.

Lance Cpl. Blake Knowles, who served with Warren in Chattanooga-based Mike Battery, said Sullivan shot Warren in the back of the neck while Warren was working radio duty in a combat operations center, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

“From day one as a Marine we are taught never to point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot,” Knowles told the Chattanooga newspaper. “Every rule, he broke.”

Sullivan faces a general court-martial at Camp Pendleton next month.

An official with Naval Criminal Investigative Services confirmed NCIS is conducting an ongoing investigation into the death and said the agency cannot comment.

Warren was a 2005 graduate of Gordon Central High School, sang in the school’s chorus and was drum major of the Blue Wave Marching Band during his junior and senior years.

Kim Watters, who directed Warren in the GCHS chorale, said military officials told Warren’s family very little at the time of his death.

“I spent a good bit of time with his family at the time, and they knew nothing about the circumstances of his death,” Watters told the Calhoun Times on Saturday. “The military told them an investigation was being conducted but that it would be at least nine months before it was completed.

“That’s not going to bring Cody back,” Watters said when told the Marines plan to court-martial Sullivan. “There’s just not a good answer here.”

Warren, who performed with the GCHS Chorale, had “a strong tenor voice,” Watters said when news of his death reached Calhoun. Watters described Warren as an ideal student who pulled the best out of the people around him.

Watters said Warren’s family was working with Gordon Central officials to establish a scholarship in his memory to support a student who excels in band and chorus.

Warren was proud to be a Marine and of his service in Iraq, Neal Crawford, GCHS band director, said at the time of his death.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press contributed to this report.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Transcript of Marine Corps Statement and Reaction

Marine Corps statement gives timeline of Lauterbach case
January 15, 2008 - 10:12PM
Marine Corps officials held a news conference at Camp Lejeune this afternoon to talk about the case of Lance Cpl Maria Lauterbach, a pregnant Marine whose remains were found in the back yard of another Marine.
Here is the statement given at the opening of the news conference:


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, my name is Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Hill and I’m the public affairs officer for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, or II MEF as we refer to it, here at Camp Lejeune. I’m joined here by Colonel Gary Sokoloski, the Staff Judge Advocate for II MEF, and Special Agent in Charge Paul Ciccarelli from the Camp Lejeune field office of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

First, on behalf of the Commanding General of II Marine Expeditionary Force, we wish to offer our deepest sympathy and our heartfelt sorrow to the Lauterbach family and their friends for the loss of their daughter, Maria, and their grandchild. It is our hope that they will find strength during these tragic times. We, her Marine Corps family, miss her and we join the family in mourning her. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with them.

Second, I want to thank you for your patience as we within II MEF and our subordinate command, 2d Marine Logistics Group, worked to collect information and conduct a review to determine what information was available to commanders and when that information was available in relation to the tragic events involving Lance Cpl Lauterbach and Cpl Laurean. Additionally, we collected information and reviewed actions taken as a result of information becoming available. We are now in a position to provide information to you that we are confident is accurate and will not adversely impact ongoing investigations or possible future judicial proceedings.

I will provide you a statement that will, within the limitations of what I can provide, lay out a timeline for this tragic case. I’d ask that you hold questions till the end of the statement. At that time, I’ll open the floor for questions.

I will begin with some background information on the two Marines:

LCpl Maria Lauterbach was born in Orange City, Florida. Her home of record when she joined the Marine Corps in July of 2005 was Vandalia, Ohio. She graduated from Boot Camp in September of 2006 and was trained as a Personnel Clerk. This was her first duty station after completing her required training. She had not deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. She was promoted to Lance Corporal on February 1st, 2007, and her record indicates she was a solid Marine.

Cpl Cesar Laurean was born in Mexico and is a naturalized American citizen. His home of record when he joined the Marine Corps was Las Vegas, Nevada. He graduated from Boot Camp in December of 2004 and was trained as a Personnel Clerk. This was his first duty station after completing his required training. He had not deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. He was meritoriously promoted to Corporal on September 2nd, 2006, and his record indicates he was a stellar Marine.

On May 11th, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach confides in her Officer-in-Charge two incidents of a sexual nature with Cpl Laurean. After some initial discussions, the command’s Uniform Victim Advocate meets with LCpl Lauterbach and explains the Victim Advocate Program to her. The UVA takes LCpl Lauterbach to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service office aboard Camp Lejeune to file a formal complaint. LCpl Lauterbach reports to NCIS an alleged sexual encounter with Cpl Laurean on March 26, 2007, and a second encounter approximately two weeks later. LCpl Lauterbach alleged she had been raped by Cpl Laurean. The command’s UVA accompanies LCpl Lauterbach to the medical department for a medical exam. Due to the length of time that elapsed between the alleged assault and the complaint, a forensic examination, or rape kit, is not performed. However, a “Well Woman” exam is performed to include a pregnancy test. The pregnancy test result is negative.

NCIS opens a rape investigation.

On May 12, 2007, the company commander of both LCpl Lauterbach and Cpl Laurean provides a verbal order to Cpl Laurean not to initiate any contact or communication with LCpl Lauterbach and stay a minimum of 1000 feet from her. Additionally, LCpl Lauterbach’s UVA accompanies her to the Family Service Center for victim counseling. Both individual and group counseling are offered to her.

Also on this date, the regimental commander reassigned LCpl Lauterbach to a duty office building geographically separated from Cpl Laurean, basically across the base from each other. The commander deemed it appropriate to move LCpl Lauterbach as her new duty location co-located her with her Uniform Victim Advocate.

At this point, there have been no charges preferred, the evidence did not contain elements of force or threats, and there were no indications Cpl Laurean was a flight risk. The regimental commander considered these factors and Cpl Laurean’s military character and decided pre-trial restraint was not appropriate.

On May 18th, 2007, NCIS interviews Cpl Laurean and he denies any sexual contact with LCpl Lauterbach.

On May 24, 2007, the company commander follows up the verbal order of May 12th, with a written Military Protective Order effective through June 24th. The MPO was established to preserve the integrity of the investigation and developing case, it was not based on any perceived threat towards LCpl Lauterbach.

From June 19th through June 24th, LCpl Lauterbach takes annual leave to parents home in Ohio. Upon returning from leave, LCpl Lauterbach behaves normally and displays no anxieties or unusual behavior.

On June 25th, 2007, the company commander re-issues a written Military Protective Order effective through September 24th. Again, the MPO is renewed to preserve the integrity of the investigation and developing case, it was not based on any perceived threat towards LCpl Lauterbach. Additionally, there is no indication LCpl Lauterbach and Cpl Laurean have been in contact in any way.

On June 27th, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach is ill and seeks medical attention. She is administered a pregnancy test. The result of the test is positive with medical personnel estimating the conception date as 14 May 2007. LCpl Lauterbach’s UVA calls NCIS to report the pregnancy. LCpl Lauterbach goes to NCIS to make a statement regarding her pregnancy and belief that Cpl Laurean is the father as a result of the alleged rape.

From July 11th through July 26th, Cpl Laurean takes annual leave. He returns as expected and behaves normally afterwards.

During the summer months, both Marines perform their daily jobs; participated in two long liberty periods, Independence Day and Labor Day that both returned from on time, and there are no indications of contact between LCpl Lauterbach and Cpl Laurean. Additionally, the NCIS investigation continues.

On September 17, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach requests permission from her command to move into off-base housing in order to prepare a home for her and her expected child. This is common practice for Marines who are about to go through a life changing event, for example a marriage or having a child.

On September 20, 2007, the regimental commander issues a written Military Protective Order effective through December 23rd. The regimental commander issues this MPO because the company commander is on annual leave and unavailable. Again, the MPO is renewed to preserve the integrity of the investigation and developing case, it was not based on any perceived threat towards LCpl Lauterbach. Additionally, there is no indication LCpl Lauterbach and Cpl Laurean have been in contact in any way.

From September 26th through October 2nd, LCpl Lauterbach takes annual leave. She returns as expected and no unusual behavior is observed.

On October 18, 2007, NCIS recommends no disciplinary action be initiated on the alleged rape until forensic evidence DNA can be retrieved from the child. Cpl Laurean denied having any sexual contact with LCpl Lauterbach and this was believed to be significant evidence.

On October 22, 2007, the regimental commander submits a request for legal services requesting prosecutors review the investigation and provide a recommended Course of Action with an eye towards an Article 32 investigation. An Article 32 investigation allows for witnesses to testify under oath and subject to cross examination. An accused is present and represented by counsel.

On October 23rd, trial counsel discusses the case with the regimental commander.

On October 31, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach’s request to move out of the barracks into off-base housing is approved.

On November 5, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach moves into an off-base house, renting a room from Sgt Durham who is scheduled to deploy during late December and was looking for someone to rent his home while he was deployed. Additionally on this day, trial counsel re-interviews LCpl Lauterbach who readjusts her statement that her pregnancy is a result of the rape. However, she continues to maintain that she was raped by Cpl Laurean. Trial counsel continues to look at evidence and prepare recommendations for further actions to the regimental commander. NCIS continues to look for evidence to corroborate LCpl Lauterbach’s allegations.

From November 4th through November 13th, Cpl Laurean takes annual leave to his home in Las Vegas.

On November 26, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach attends a scheduled OB appointment at the Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital.

At this point in the alleged rape investigation, the regimental commander and trial counsel continue to discuss the evidence and the possible charges, if any, to prefer against Cpl Laurean. The regimental commander has not made a decision regarding what charges, if any, to prefer against Cpl Laurean and has not consulted with his Staff Judge Advocate. Cpl Laurean has not been detailed government defense counsel and no Article 32 hearing is scheduled as Cpl Laurean has not been charged with any offenses.

On Friday, December 14, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach reported to work as normal. The work day ended at 12 noon as the command was having a Christmas party. Attendance was not mandatory and LCpl Lauterbach elected not to attend. That morning Sgt Durham saw her car at the home when leaving for work.

At this point, we’ll discuss a few things that occurred December 14th that the command did not know until sometime later. For example, when Sgt Durham arrives home from work, he finds a note left for him by LCpl Lauterbach stating, “I could not take this Marine Corps life anymore. So I am going away. Sorry for the inconvenience. Maria.” Sgt Durham notices that some of her personal items are missing. She does not leave the house key behind. Sgt Durham calls LCpl Lauterbach’s sister concerning the note. Shortly after this conversation, LCpl Lauterbach’s Mother calls Sgt Durham. Sgt Durham text messages a junior member of LCpl Lauterbach’s work section indicating his belief she was going into an Unauthorized Absence status, commonly referred to as “going UA.” There is an ATM withdrawal of $700 from LCpl Lauterbach’s account. Transaction occurs in Jacksonville. Video surveillance confirms LCpl Lauterbach makes the withdrawal. The ATM information is not provided to the command until January 9th. Please remember LCpl Lauterbach was at work on Friday, was not required to attend the Christmas party, and therefore was not required to be at work until Monday morning.

On Saturday, December 15th, Greyhound bus records reflect a ticket is purchased in LCpl Lauterbach’s name for one way to El Paso, Texas departing that evening. Ticket is not redeemed. Command is not notified of this information until January 9th.

On Monday, December 17, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach failed to report to work. Her leadership begins to inquire as to her whereabouts by calling her cell phone. Sgt Durham physically arrives at her work section and provides the note to her leadership. Sgt Durham also provides information that LCpl Lauterbach appears to have taken some clothing, personal hygiene items, and her car with her. The command takes the extraordinary step of sending representatives to her residence to check to see if she is there. They knock on the door of Sgt Durham’s residence with no response. LCpl Lauterbach’s vehicle is not there. LCpl Lauterbach is entered into the administrative system in an Unauthorized Absence status. There is an elevated concern for her welfare because of the advanced stage of pregnancy. The command requests permission to list LCpl Lauterbach as a deserter in order to release a DD553 to apprehend her. This was an extraordinary step taken in hope of having her returned so the command could ensure she was receiving the proper medical care. Basically, with a DD553, federal resources could be used to assist in locating her.

On Tuesday, December 18, 2007, the section OIC calls LCpl Lauterbach’s Mother to notify her of her daughter’s absence. Mother states she spoke to Sgt Durham on December 14th, at which time he notified her of LCpl Lauterbach’s absence. Mother also states she last spoke to her daughter on December 14th. The section OIC asks Mother about LCpl Lauterbach’s whereabouts and possible reasons for leaving. Mother stated she didn’t know where she was and didn’t have reasons why she may have left. Mother files a Missing Persons Report locally in Ohio. Command receives information regarding the MPR on December 27th.

Command determines LCpl Lauterbach has voluntarily placed herself in an Unauthorized Absence status. The determination is based on the note left behind and some personal items taken to include her car.

On Wednesday, December 19th, 2007, Ohio authorities contacted local law enforcement authorities here in Onslow County about the Missing Persons Report. Onslow County Sheriff’s Office notifies the Naval Criminal Investigative Service of the MPR. The notification went to the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office as LCpl Lauterbach’s residence falls within County jurisdiction. The command is not notified of the MPR until December 27th.

On Thursday, December 20th, 2007, Sgt Durham contacts section OIC informing him that he will be leaving on December 28th for training in California and that access to the residence would be difficult after that date. LCpl Lauterbach’s cell phone is found along Highway 24 in Jacksonville, NC. The phone was used to make several calls by stranded motorist, one of which was LCpl Lauterbach’s sister, who requests that the individual turn the phone into the police. The command is notified about the cell phone recovery and the circumstance surrounding the recovery on January 9th.

On Friday, December 21st, 2007, the Christmas Holiday liberty period begins.

On Monday, December 24th, 2007, an unidentified male withdraws $400 from Lauterbach’s account. Location is Western Blvd, Jacksonville. The command is notified on January 9th.

On Wednesday, December 26th, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach does not attend a scheduled OB appointment at the Naval Hospital, Camp Lejeune. Command is not aware of this until January 9th. The Christmas Holiday liberty period ends at 6 o’clock in the evening.

On Thursday, December 27th, 2007, LCpl Lauterbach’s leadership contact mother for any updates she may have on her daughter’s whereabouts. Mother states she has had no contact with her daughter since December 14th. Mother also states that she has filed a Missing Person Report (MPR) with Onslow County Sheriff’s Office. Onslow County Sheriff’s Office contacts LCpl Lauterbach’s OIC and confirms that the MPR exists. Detective also asks for LCpl Lauterbach’s vehicle description and asks whether her OIC believed she left of her own free will. This was the command’s first contact with OCSD concerning LCpl Lauterbach. Command is notified by NCIS that authorities from Vandalia, OH contacted Onslow County Sheriff’s Office concerning MPR that was originally filed by mother in Ohio.

On December 28, 2007, as Sgt Durham is about to depart for training in California, and with Sgt Durham’s permission, the command inventories and boxes LCpl Lauterbach’s personal belongings at the residence in order to secure her property. The New Year’s Holiday liberty period begins at noon.

On Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008, the New Year’s Holiday liberty period expires at 6 o’clock in the evening.

On Thursday, January 3rd, 2008, the command turns in LCpl Lauterbach’s inventoried gear to the supply warehouse. Supply re-inventories the gear and reports no discrepancies from the original inventory sheets.

On January 4th, 2008, the required 10-day letter is sent to LCpl Lauterbach’s family. The letter is delayed a few days due to the holiday period; however, the command has been in previous contact with LCpl Lauterbach's mother.

LCpl Lauterbach’s Mother contacts Company 1stSgt. The section OIC is made aware of the phone call to the Company 1stSgt and calls Mrs. Lauterbach. Mother asks if the command has done anything additional to find LCpl Lauterbach. According to the section OIC, the mother’s concern had clearly intensified. Mother states to the Section OIC that she is coming to Camp Lejeune on Monday, January 7th, to meet with the command and will be bringing her brother. The section OIC plans to meet her at the gate at 9:45 on Monday, January 7th, to assist her with her visit. Section OIC plans to escort her to the workspaces to meet with the leadership. The mother gives no indication during this phone call that outside law enforcement would be involved or that she thought foul play was the reason for her daughter’s absence. NCIS receives a call from LCpl Lauterbach’s Mother. NCIS receives specifics from LCpl Lauterbach’s Mother they previously did not have. Examples include specifics of LCpl Lauterbach’s cell phone recovery.

At this point, the commander has no reason to believe LCpl Lauterbach is not voluntarily UA. There is no evidence she has been the victim of foul play, and though her mother’s concern has intensified, there is still no indication that something has happened to LCpl Lauterbach. The command still has not received any information concerning recovery of her cell phone, or of the suspicious activity on her ATM account. Cpl Laurean has not been implicated in the absence in any way.

On Monday, January 7, 2008, LCpl Lauterbach’s mother and uncle arrive at Camp Lejeune earlier than expected accompanied by an Onslow County Sheriff’s Office Detective and ask for a meeting with NCIS and the command. Regimental legal officer attends the meeting once the request was sent via the proper protocol. This is the first indication to the command that foul play may be suspected in her absence. During the afternoon, LCpl Lauterbach’s section SNCOIC calls the Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital to ask if she had attended her December 26th OB appointment. Through either a mistake or confusion, the SNCOIC is told she had attended the appointment. The correct information regarding her attendance at the November 26th appointment and failure to attend the December 26th appointment was not received until January 9th.

On Tuesday, January 8, 2008, the company commander re-issues a written Military Protective Order effective through March 28th. There was a lapse in MPO coverage between December 24th and January 7th due to an administrative oversight during the holiday period. At one o’clock, Cpl Laurean’s OIC accompanies Cpl Laurean to NCIS to speak with Onslow County Sheriff’s Office. He is questioned as a possible witness, not a suspect. He was not provided his Miranda warnings. There’s no information provided to the command to implicate Cpl Laurean in LCpl Lauterbach’s absence. Cpl Laurean requests time during the workday to meet with his civilian attorneys at their office. His OIC approves the request.

On Wednesday, January 9, 2008, Cpl Laurean is out of the office all day with his civilian attorneys but maintains phone contact with OIC. Cpl Laurean requests additional time off to meet with his civilian attorneys. His OIC approves the request. Evidence previously not provided to the command is available. However, most of this evidence still points to LCpl Lauterbach going UA. Cpl Laurean’s requests to meet with his lawyers does not raise concerns as he is also under investigation for the alleged rape. Additionally, Cpl Laurean maintains contact with his OIC throughout the day by phone. There has been no request from law enforcement agencies to detain or otherwise restrict Cpl Laurean.

As the situation developed and information was provided by investigators, all indications led the command to believe LCpl Lauterbach had voluntarily placed herself in an unauthorized absence status.

On Thursday, January 10th, 2008, LCpl Lauterbach’s personal possessions are turned over to NCIS for delivery to Onslow County Sheriff’s Office. Cpl Laurean is out of his work section all day but maintains phone contact with his OIC throughout the day. That evening, Cpl Laurean informs his OIC of a possible appointment with his attorneys on Friday morning. Cpl Laurean is directed to call at 7:30 in the morning to confirm the appointment or to be at his work space at 7:30 if he does not have an appointment.
At two o’clock, the Onslow County Sheriff holds a press conference where he, the head of the lead investigating agency, implies anticipation of a positive outcome to the case. Additionally, he makes an on-camera plea for LCpl Lauterbach to return. The Onslow County Sheriff names Sgt Durham as a “person of interest” and tells the media the Marine Corps is returning him from California to Onslow County so he can interview Sgt Durham.

On Friday, January 11, 2008, Cpl Laurean fails to report to work and fails to call his OIC. His section makes several attempts to contact him by phone with no response. Cpl Laurean is reported UA. The morning reports in the media indicate there will be an announcement of a positive break in the case at a noon press conference. The command receives information regarding a note in the possession of Cpl Laurean’s spouse that will have a significant bearing on the case. The announcement is made that LCpl Lauterbach is believed to be dead and buried in Onslow County. Cpl Laurean is named a “person of interest” and the releasable information on Cpl Laurean is provided to the media to include a photograph.

At no point prior to Friday morning when information about the note was provided by Cpl Laurean’s spouse, did the regimental commander or the NCIS investigators feel that LCpl Lauterbach was anything other than UA or have information that Cpl Laurean was involved in LCpl Lauterbach’s absence in any way.

I’d like to discuss briefly some specific information received by the command and when it was received:

• Information regarding a $700 ATM withdrawal made on December 14th was provided to the command on January 9th.
• Information regarding the purchase of the Greyhound bus ticket to El Paso on December 15th was provided to the command on January 9th.
• Information regarding LCpl Lauterbach’s cell phone being recovered and the circumstances of the recovery was provided to the command on January 9th.
• Information regarding an unidentified male withdrawing $400 from LCpl Lauterbach’s account on December 24th is provided on January 9th.
• Information regarding LCpl Lauterbach’s vehicle being found near the Greyhound bus station in Jacksonville on January 7th was provided on January 9th.

At this point, Col Gary Sokoloski will provide a message from LtGen Keith Stalder, the commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force:

Ladies and Gentlemen, LtGen Stalder, Commanding General of II Marine Expeditionary Forces is not in the State today.

“I want to extend my deepest sympathies to Maria Lauterbach's family and friends. The loss of any Marine or sailor in combat, or garrison, is tragic and effects us all deeply - it effects members of this command, the Marine Corps Base, and our friends in the local civilian community - we all grieve.

I am satisfied with the actions of the commanders in this case. We followed applicable regulations and procedures with the information available to the commander. I am impressed with the level of cooperation between our County neighbors, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the flow of information during this period of intensive investigative activity.

As I indicated to Sheriff Brown this past Sunday evening, I continue to pledge the MEF’s full cooperation with Onslow County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney, Mr. Dewey Hudson. Thank you for your attendance.”

We’ll now take your questions.
Reaction from Dorothy Mackey of STAMP:

Can you please send this out--- as the US Government, military/Marine Corps move to shut down the Lauterbach case, they are blaming Ms. Lauterbach. If outrage does not follow, then we are Hitler's sheep and we now know what the German people went through that allow all their senses to become numb...

A Call for Outrage: The Marine Corps and US Government Allowed Lance Cpl Lauterbach to be raped, refused her any serious protection, and then helped her assailant(s) to murder "mother and child" and then allowed escape!!! America TAKE Notice your sons and daughters are NOT SAFE in these systems. There will be more, and they will be spun to suit the military machine!

In honor and memory of Lance Cpl Lauterbach, our martyr!!!! And in her name we will move forward and win!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

For the Love of a Soldier

The book is finally getting published and should be available this week. The cheapest way to get a copy is to buy one right away at the website, where you can get a prepublication discount. son 1st Lt. Phil Kent's story is featured in one of 29 amazing stories about our dedicated young people who have served or are serving...
Thank you
Laura Kent
Proud Mother of 1st Lt. Phil Kent

Monday, January 14, 2008

US war veterans bringing death back home

Dominic Brock

More than 120 US veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed or been charged with a murder since arriving home from war, the New York Times has found.The newspaper discovered 121 murder cases involving the recent veterans, with combat trauma, stress, alcohol abuse and family troubles often leading to the killings.

Three quarters of the veterans were still in the army when they committed the killings, most of which involved the use of guns. Other murders involved stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings.

The Times found an 89 per cent increase in homicides involving military personnel in the six years since war broke out, compared to the previous six-year period. This was despite there being fewer troops stationed in the US in the past six years, and an overall drop in homicide rates in the country.

Severe depression was a key element in many of the incidents. Thirteen veterans committed suicide after the killings, with others expressing a death wish after being caught.

Joshua Pol, a former soldier convicted of vehicular homicide, told a judge at court in 2006, “To be honest with you, I really wish I had died in Iraq.”The Pentagon did not keep track of such killings, and declined to comment on the Times’ story.

-- submitted by Patti Woodard

A major story on this topic appeared in the New York Times. You can find it here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pentagon, Big Pharma: Drug Troops to Numb Them to Horrors of War

By Penny Coleman, AlterNet

In June, the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health acknowledged "daunting and growing" psychological problems among our troops: Nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and half of National Guard members are presenting with serious mental health issues.

They also reported "fundamental weaknesses" in the U.S. military's approach to psychological health. That report was followed in August by the Army Suicide Event Report (ASER), which reported that 2006 saw the highest rate of military suicides in 26 years. And last month, CBS News reported that, based on its own extensive research, over 6,250 American veterans took their own lives in 2005 alone -- that works out to a little more than 17 suicides every day.
That's all pretty bleak, but there is reason for optimism in the long-overdue attention being paid to the emotional and psychic cost of these new wars. The shrill hypocrisy of an administration that has decked itself in yellow ribbons and mandatory lapel pins while ignoring a human crisis of monumental proportion is finally being exposed.

On Dec. 12, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called a hearing on "Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges Within the Department of Veterans Affairs." At that hearing suggestions were raised and conversations begun that hopefully will bear fruit.

But I find myself extremely anxious in the face of some of these new suggestions, specifically what is being called the Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007 and use of the drug propranalol to treat the symptoms of posttraumatic stress injuries. Though both, at least in theory, sound entirely reasonable, even desirable, in the wrong hands, under the wrong leadership, they could make the sci-fi fantasies of Blade Runner seem prescient.

The Psychological Kevlar Act "directs the secretary of defense to develop and implement a plan to incorporate preventive and early-intervention measures, practices or procedures that reduce the likelihood that personnel in combat will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other stress-related psychopathologies, including substance use conditions. (Kevlar, a DuPont fiber, is an essential component of U.S. military helmets and bullet-proof vests advertised to be "five times stronger than steel.") The stated purpose of this legislation is to make American soldiers less vulnerable to the combat stressors that so often result in psychic injuries.

On the face of it, the bill sounds logical and even compassionate. After all, our soldiers are supplied with physical armor -- at least in theory. So why not mental? My guess is that the representatives who have signed on to this bill are genuinely concerned about the welfare of troops and their families. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., is the bill's sponsor, and I have no reason to question his genuine commitment to mental health issues, both within and outside of the military. Still, I find myself chilled at the prospects. To explain my discomfort, I need to go briefly into the history of military training.

Since World War II, our military has sought and found any number of ways to override the values and belief systems recruits have absorbed from their families, schools, communities and religions. Using the principles of operant conditioning, the military has found ways to reprogram their human software, overriding those characteristics that are inconvenient in a military context, most particularly the inherent resistance human beings have to killing others of their own species. "Modern combat training conditions soldiers to act reflexively to stimuli," says Lt. Col. Peter Kilner, a professor of philosophy and ethics at West Point, "and this maximizes soldiers' lethality, but it does so by bypassing their moral autonomy. Soldiers are conditioned to act without considering the moral repercussions of their actions; they are enabled to kill without making the conscious decision to do so. If they are unable to justify to themselves the fact that they killed another human being, they will likely -- and understandably -- suffer enormous guilt. This guilt manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it has damaged the lives of thousands of men who performed their duty in combat."

By military standards, operant conditioning has been highly effective. It's enabled American soldiers to kill more often and more efficiently, and that ability continues to exact a terrible toll on those we have designated as the "enemy." But the toll on the troops themselves is also tragic. Even when troops struggle honorably with the difference between a protected person and a permissible target (and I believe that the vast majority do so struggle, though the distinction is one I find both ethically and humanely problematic) in war "shit happens." When soldiers are witness to overwhelming horror, or because of a reflexive accident, an illegitimate order, or because multiple deployments have thoroughly distorted their perceptions, or simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time -- those are the moments that will continue to haunt them, the memories they will not be able to forgive or forget, and the stuff of posttraumatic stress injuries.

And it's not just the inherent conscientious objector our military finds inconvenient: current U.S. military training also includes a component to desensitize male soldiers to the sounds of women being raped, so the enemy cannot use the cries of their fellow soldiers to leverage information. I think it not unreasonable to connect such desensitization techniques to the rates of domestic violence in the military, which are, according to the DoD, five times those in the civilian population. Is anyone really surprised that men who have been specifically trained to ignore the pain and fear of women have a difficult time coming home to their wives and families? And clearly they do. There were 2,374 reported cases of sexual assault in the military in 2005, a 40 percent increase over 2004. But that figure represents only reported cases, and, as Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, commander of DoD's Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response pointed out, "Studies indicate that only 5 percent of sexual assaults are reported."
I have thought a lot about the implications of "psychological Kevlar" -- what kind of "preventive and early-intervention measures, practices or procedures" might be developed that would "reduce the likelihood that personnel in combat will develop post-traumatic stress disorder." How would a soldier with a shield against moral response "five times stronger than steel" behave?

I cannot convince myself that what is really being promoted isn't a form of moral lobotomy.

I cannot imagine what aspects of selfhood will have to be excised or paralyzed so soldiers will no longer be troubled by what they, not to mention we, would otherwise consider morally repugnant. A soldier who has lost an arm can be welcomed home because he or she still shares fundamental societal values. But the soldier who sees her friend emulsified by a bomb, or who is ordered to run over children in the road rather than slow down the convoy, or who realizes too late that the woman was carrying a baby, not a bomb -- if that soldier's ability to feel terror and horror has been amputated, if he or she can no longer be appalled or haunted, something far more precious has been lost. I am afraid that the training or conditioning or drug that will be developed to protect soldiers from such injuries will leave an indifference to violence that will make them unrecognizable to themselves and to those who love them. They will be alienated and isolated, and finally unable to come home.

Posttraumatic stress injuries can devastate the lives of soldiers and their families. The suicides that are so often the result of such injuries make it clear that they can be every bit as lethal as bullets or bombs, and to date no cure has been found. Treatment and disability payments, both for injured troops and their families, are a huge budgetary concern that becomes ever more daunting as these wars drag on. The Psychological Kevlar Act perhaps holds out the promise of a prophylactic remedy, but it should come as no surprise that Big Pharma has been looking for a chemical intervention.

What they have come up with has already been dubbed "the mourning after pill." Propranalol, if taken immediately following a traumatic event, can subdue a victim's stress response and so soften his or her perception of the memory. That does not mean the memory has been erased, but proponents claim that the drug can render it emotionally toothless.

If your daughter were raped, the argument goes, wouldn't you want to spare her a traumatic memory that might well ruin her life? As the mother of a 23-year old daughter, I can certainly understand the appeal of that argument. And a drug that could prevent the terrible effects of traumatic injuries in soldiers? If I were the parent of a soldier suffering from such a life-altering injury, I can imagine being similarly persuaded.

Not surprisingly, the Army is already on board. Propranolol is a well-tolerated medication that has been used for years for other purposes.

And it is inexpensive.

But is it moral to weaken memories of horrendous acts a person has committed? Some would say that there is no difference between offering injured soldiers penicillin to prevent an infection and giving a drug that prevents them from suffering from a posttraumatic stress injury for the rest of their lives. Others, like Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, object to propranolol's use on the grounds that it medicates away one's conscience. "It's the morning-after pill for just about anything that produces regret, remorse, pain or guilt," he says. Barry Romo, a national coordinator for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, is even more blunt. "That's the devil pill," he says. "That's the monster pill, the anti-morality pill. That's the pill that can make men and women do anything and think they can get away with it. Even if it doesn't work, what's scary is that a young soldier could believe it will."

It doesn't take a neuroscientist to see the problem with both of these solutions. Though both hold the promise of relief from the effects of an injury that causes unspeakable pain, they do so at what appears to be great cost. Whatever research projects might be funded by the Psychological Kevlar Act and whatever use is made of propranolol, they will almost certainly involve a diminished range of feelings and memory, without which soldiers and veterans will be different. But in what ways?

I wish I could trust the leadership of our country to prioritize the lives and well-being of our citizens. I don't. The last six years have clearly shown the extent to which this administration is willing to go to use soldiers for its own ends, discarding them when they are damaged. Will efforts be made to fix what has been broken? Return what has been taken? Bring them home?

Will citizens be enlightened about what we are condoning in our ignorance, dispassion or indifference? Or will these two solutions simply bring us closer to realizing the bullet-proof mind, devoid of the inconvenient vulnerability of decent human beings to atrocity and horror? And finally, these are all questions about the morality of proposals that are trying to prevent injuries without changing the social circumstances that bring them about, which sidestep the most fundamental moral dilemma: that of sending people to war in the first place.

Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her latest book, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War, was released on Memorial Day, 2006. Her blog is Flashback.

-- submitted by Lois Vanderbur

Saturday, January 12, 2008

From Stars and Stripes

By MIKE BAKER Associated Press Writer
AP Photo/Chuck Beckley
Watch Related Video

Police: 'Remains of Pregnant Marine Found'

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- For months after a pregnant 20-year-old Marine accused a colleague of rape, her family says, she continued to work alongside her attacker and endured harassment at Camp Lejeune.

Read the rest of the story here.

-- submitted by Patti Woodard

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Military Law Task Force
National Lawyers Guild
318 Ortega Street
San Francisco, CA 94122


By Marti Hiken, Teresa Panepinto, Louis Font and Luke Hiken

Perhaps the most devastating loss a parent can suffer is the loss of a child. Untold numbers of families are going through such a mourning process with the death of their children in these current wars. This memo is written in the hope that some parents will take solace in knowing the circumstances under which their children died. Closure frequently requires a survivor to work through the last hours of their loved one’s life, not necessarily because that knowledge will bring peace or satisfaction, but because the uncertainty of how, why and when can be assuaged through an understanding of specifics.

Sometimes, knowing “how my son died,” or “where my daughter was when she was killed,” or “could his death have been avoided,” and more importantly, “am I being told the truth about when and how my loved one died,” can help put to rest the gnawing emptiness that fuels depression.

Perhaps there are too many contradictions with the reports and stories that everyone is telling. Perhaps the military was just too brash when they arrived at your doorstop and said your child committed suicide, when you knew he was going to be married in a couple of months, and happier than he had ever been. Maybe in your heart, you knew the military’s stories and reports didn’t mesh with what you had last talked about with your child. Maybe the stories from the friends in the unit just didn’t make sense.

The purpose of this memo is to provide the survivors a checklist of issues to consider upon notification that a loved one has died as a consequence of U.S. wars. It is merely a beginning framework and overview for those stricken by grief.

The Military Knocking on the Door – Notification of the Death

Many times parents actually have felt and are aware of the death before the knock on the door. We have heard atrocious stories from those who open that door. Of course, there is no easy way to deliver the news. The task must be daunting for those servicemembers who deliver the announcement of the death. Nevertheless, too often the pronouncement of the cause of death is delivered in a brusque, rude, and inaccurate manner. This can lead to anger for the loved ones later.

Many family members and friends feel that they need to know more details about the death than the military initially offers. They may want to know the exact time of death, how it happened, and other details.

Don’t stop your quest for information until you get the answers you desire.

Getting this information while grieving, however, can be quite difficult. Feelings of sadness, anguish, and grief may overtake the ability to ask these difficult questions. As one mother points out, “Somebody with a clear head in the family is needed at the time of death to look out after the interest of the family, because the grief is so overwhelming.” If the family does not have a civilian attorney to take care of these matters, a minister or close friend of the family might be able to help.

While others take care of these issues, you may take time to collect your thoughts. “Alone time” can be important. Keep in mind that someone in the family needs to be sure that the family’s best interests are kept at the forefront. As Nadia McCaffrey, whose son, Patrick, was killed in Iraq states: “The action taken by the military should be to consider the family first. As it is, what is good for the military comes first and not the family.”

At this point, start a chronological log of all contact with the military and other important events related to the quest for information regarding your loved one’s death. Maybe one friend or member of the family can be appointed as the secretary or scribe and be responsible for the log. Be sure to include names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of all contacts, as well as a log of who calls and when. Also, include a list of those documents, photos, films, videos, and papers that you request and receive from the military.

During this time, the media may want to speak with you. The media, if it takes an interest in your case, can be your best friend or your worst enemy. (Be sure to read the media section later in this memo.)

Prior Information from the Soldier

Note that if the military labels the death a suicide or notifies you that this death was a suicide, the military might have done so because it is more convenient for them to report that, rather than the reality of what happened. Check closely the emails or letters that you received from your loved one before the death. Jot down notes from telephone conversations you might have had that you can remember. What were the plans of the unit or the military, that your loved one had talked to you about or raised? Was there a wedding planned? Was s/he depressed, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Had s/he talked to a counselor, or perhaps s/he was excited because s/he was to leave the next day on a leave to come home?

Likewise, were there problems that your loved one was having with the military at the time of death? Were there issues your loved one was trying to raise up the chain of command? How did others in the unit feel about the state of mind or problems in the unit or squad?

How did the surrounding environment affect the conditions that your loved one was serving under? Were there bounties on American servicemembers in the area where your loved one served? Were other personnel not adequately trained? Had you heard problems with friendly fire incidents?

What was listed on the death certificate or investigative reports as the cause of death? Was the military neglectful in the death?

What hospitalization and medical care did your loved one receive?

Also, had your loved one written any blogs or set up any websites? Had his/her family? Was the military worried about political activity or shirking of duty on the part of members of that unit? Was retaliation on the part of the military a possibility? Had the family of the servicemember challenged the military in any way? And lastly, was it possible that your loved one had been “put on the front lines,” smoked, or hazed at any time?

Dover Air Force Base, Delaware – Transportation of the Body

The coffins arrive in isolation, away from family members at Dover Air Force Base. An honor guard carrying the casket or box with the body from the airplane that just arrived from Dover is not the same as a living relative welcoming a body home to American soil. Family members who insist on meeting the plane are refused permission by the Bush Administration for purely political purposes.

Coffins affect attitudes, and nothing turns the American people against the war more than seeing coffins. In effect, the grieving period of those denied access is further tossed into an unreal, ephemeral realm of experience when they are denied access to the remains of someone who just a short time ago they could reach out and touch. For many people, not meeting the body and the coffin separates them from what is natural and what should be part of a healing process. The coffin can be symbolic of a shared life held in common. It is cruel not to allow grieving families and the public access to the coffins.

The bodies arrive at Dover Air Force Base and then are flown home. Families will have a hearse waiting to pick up the body. In some instances, the military performs a small ceremony at the airport (in a warehouse or hangar, for example) upon arrival of the body. The body may also be transferred from a box to a coffin at this point. We have heard that families have not been allowed to view the body at this time; their wishes in this regard are ignored. Family members also have complained that they have been pushed aside, blocking their view of the box. In addition, when families ask military personnel in attendance at these ceremonies for information, they receive no response.

A motorcade transports the body from the airport to the funeral home.

At the point when the body arrives at the funeral home, the family still might be denied the opportunity to view the body until it has been made presentable. It is unlikely that the loved one will be clothed in the uniform s/he was wearing at the time of death; instead, s/he could be clothed in greens. Immediate family members might request the actual uniform and boots that the loved one was killed in. The military might say that it doesn’t have the uniform, however.

All of this makes the investigation of the condition of the body difficult and some family members have exhumed the body to get more information on the cause of death and the condition of the body. This might be important, for example, as it was with the Lavena Johnson case, a young woman who, according to the military, committed suicide. Her exhumed body showed, however, that the she was raped, and was beaten to death. If suicide is listed by the military as the cause of death of your loved one, it may be worth investigating the veracity of such a statement.

The military will attempt to control all aspects of the arrival of the body, including media access, regardless of what the family wants. One mother reports that an officer told her that they didn’t want the media present during her son’s arrival at the airport; an officer stated that it wasn’t proper for them to be there at the arrival of the box or at the funeral, that it was anti-American.
This is not to say, however, that the military does not have very respectful and helpful officers who coordinate the funeral arrangements and generally help the family. Sometimes such officers can be of tremendous help and solace to the family.

CHECK ALL ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE ARRIVAL AND FUNERAL! Be in charge! You will be grieving and you might not react to the situation as you normally would. Don’t let officers, officers’ wives, the media, or anyone else tell you how things “must be.” You decide how things will be.

Please take note that family members may receive a lot of paperwork to fill out at this point. There are forms from the White House, for the funeral, for the uniform, etc. Families have reported that such paperwork can be very helpful in letting them know what is going to happen.

Funeral Services

There are options for the funeral and burial. Servicemembers must write wills before they go into combat areas. They might be very clear about what they want upon death, and most families choose to respect those wishes. Choices to consider, for example, are cremation or burial. To be buried at Arlington National Cemetary, a soldier must be cremated. Some servicemembers don’t want this.

The military will cover a portion of the expenses for the funeral and tombstone. The military will provide the tombstone as well as its wording. Some families object to the wording “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” for example, especially if the servicemember had not wanted to participate in the war and had been stop-lossed or otherwise involuntarily forced through the backdoor into the military. Thousands of soldiers are told by recruiters that they will never go to Iraq and are very resentful of the lies so readily told to them. Others might be very angry at their treatment while in the service and at the lack of equipment and training they received. There are a multitude of reasons a family or a servicemember would not wish the military to impose its wording on the tombstone.

Families have complained vociferously in those circumstances where the military defines and determines the actual service and ignores the wishes of the family. Some family members have complained that they requested to speak at the funeral and the military denied the request. Immediate family members also have been told that they can’t sit in the front pews during the ceremony.

Problems with the media also have presented themselves at funerals. Family members have requested media presence at the funeral ceremony and the military either has denied such a request, or limited the media’s presence to a restricted area, such as outside of the church where the service was held. While the military places limits on media presence, it might film the ceremony itself. If so, request a copy of the film. The request will likely be denied, especially if the death has given rise to questions and the military does not want information surrounding the death to be public.

In addition to controlling the media presence at funeral services, the military may try to control civilians in attendance as well; such was the case at the funeral of Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey.

McCaffrey, a soldier from Tracy, CA, was killed in Iraq during an ambush near Balad, in 2004. He had been ambushed and shot multiple times with automatic weapons. The attack came from both sides of his body; bullets pierced through the sides of his "bulletproof" vest causing his death. At his funeral, a veteran wearing a Veterans for Peace t-shirt was asked to leave the ceremony by the military, thus denying this veteran the opportunity to honor the life of Patrick. Nadia McCaffrey, Patrick’s mother, feels the military did not want the media to see the veteran.
For those whose only funeral services occur on military bases, they face additional challenges. The military has announced that there only will be funeral services on base once a month for all those who died that month. So, some families will have to wait over 30 days before the services are held. This is most distressing to those whose lives are centered on the base and don’t have the resources available for private funerals.

This regulation on military funerals might be helpful to family members:

Department of Defense Instruction 1300.15, Military Funeral Support, October 22, 2007,

First Steps of the Investigation -- Circumstances Surrounding the Death

For those parents or loved ones who wish to know how and when their son, daughter, husband, wife, or other relative died, there are a series of steps they can take to ascertain as much as possible about the circumstances of when and how the tragedy occurred. This section lists the steps to take to get information regarding the circumstances of the death of your loved one. The section after it, “Approaching the Military,” explains how to go about performing these tasks.
Throughout your investigation, keep a record of what information you are seeking, and from whom you are seeking it.

1) Obtain a copy of the deceased’s birth certificate. You may obtain a birth certificate by contacting the Office of Vital Records in the city or state where the deceased was born. For contact information for all Offices of Vital Records in the U.S., go to

2) Contact the Commanding Officer of the unit in which the deceased was serving, and explain that you would like to speak with someone who is knowledgeable about the death of your loved one. Obtain as accurate a verbal description of what occurred as possible. Note names, dates and information about people who were present when the servicemember died.
Note that it is likely the military will order those servicemembers who served with the deceased or with those up the chain of command not to speak to the family or its representative. However, especially for those who no longer serve and who are retired from the military, they may call the parents, spouse or relative because they might want to provide condolences or information about the specifics surrounding the death. These veterans might need to grieve also.
3) Ask that a report be prepared pursuant to the regulation appropriate for your loved one’s branch of service. For the Army, that regulation is Army Regulation, 15-6: Procedures for Investigating Officers and Boards of Officers, 2 October 2006, available at

An important part of any report prepared pursuant to this authority is an autopsy report. The autopsy occurs at Dover Air Force Base or at a base in Virginia. The autopsy reports and photos can take years to get, unless there is legal pressure from the family.

4) If the military does not prepare a report in a timely manner, file a complaint with the Inspector General of the branch of service, complaining about the failure to have met your request.

5) If you cannot obtain internal military cooperation, seek congressional assistance in determining the truth about the circumstances of your loved one’s death.

6) If all other approaches fail, consider retaining the services of an attorney to assist you in getting the information sought.

7) Seek the assistance of the media, and other investigative resources.

8) Keep at least two copies of your records and files – keep one copy in a safe place. It might be necessary later to mail a copy to a lawyer, Congressperson, the media or doctor.

Finding the Answers

Approaching the Military

How should you approach the military in trying to find answers to your questions? It is important to realize that you should start out with the assumption that the military is honest, that there are no catch-22’s, and, that the military wants to bend over backwards to help you. Be direct and assertive, but polite.

Be aware that when you are stonewalled (which you most likely will be), you escalate your approach.

Also be aware that the military may be obnoxious and work against your efforts to find the truth.

This is the time when the hurt, pain and anger can be channeled into a final passage where you are defending the memory of your loved one. Be aware at the beginning of your quest that getting the answers may likely mean eventually filing a lawsuit in order to obtain copies of military records. By filing a lawsuit, you may be able to access copies of military records that were previously unavailable. Obtaining records through this process is called “discovery.”
Start a chronological file and note the names and addresses of those with whom you speak and all actions taken related to your investigation.

Seek outside, competent civilian counseling help for yourself, if necessary. Track down others who have gone through what you have gone through. Organizations such as Gold Star Mothers, Gold Star Mothers for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans for Peace can all be helpful.

Call or write to members of your loved one’s unit, your loved one’s friends, and your loved one’s commanding officer. Get the contact information, including email addresses, of the unit abroad where the death occurred, as well as the name and home addresses of each unit member. You might want to tell members of your loved one’s unit that you would like to hear from them and have many questions concerning the facts and circumstances of your loved one’s death. Let the members of the unit know that you are willing to hear back from the person as soon as possible or at any time in the future. Let them know that you are willing to speak with a unit member confidentially. If this person is under orders not to speak with you, there is always a chance that the person will get back in touch with you once reassigned to another unit, discharged from the military, or transferred back to the United States.

You might want to check out the military’s website for the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center, located in Alexandria, Virginia. It states as its purpose, “ assist Army families in an emotionally stressful time of bereavement.”

Download from the internet the appropriate regulation from the branch in which your loved one was a member. For the Army, for example, that would be AR 15-6. If you need help wading through the regulation, a counselor or attorney may be able to help you.

Confidential Sources and Information

Sometimes a family may receive communications from persons inside the military who want to provide information on a confidential basis. This may happen as early as the funeral. The source of information may say such things as: "I'm telling you this because this is what happened, but I will get in trouble because I am not supposed to tell you." This is a serious matter. We think it is usually best to keep the source of the information private so as to continue to receive information from the source and possibly from other sources as well. Be aware that telling a casualty officer, Congressperson, or other person in authority the family's source of information may go straight to the Pentagon.

In our experience there have been instances in which sources whose identities have been revealed to the military or to Congress are called in for questioning by military authorities. Such questioning can be career-threatening and usually is for the purpose of the military plugging "leaks" rather than broadening an investigation into the facts and circumstances of a loved one's death. A family may feel on the defensive and may be told that in order to get an investigation started or on track that all information should be provided to the military or Congress, but providing the source of confidential information may quickly end any additional, helpful, unauthorized, and true information from reaching the family.

Instead of revealing a confidential source's identity, a family member may want to assure the source that their identity will be kept confidential as much as possible (i.e., not turned over to the military or to Congress), and urge the source to provide additional information, including the identities of other sources. Over time, as the confidential source learns that information can be provided to the family without the source getting into trouble, more information may be forthcoming. Be sure to question the confidential source about all aspects of the death of a loved one.

IG Report

Seek an Inspector General (IG) Investigation. Each branch of the military has an Office of the Inspector General, whose responsibility it is to investigate incidents of fraud, waste, abuse, and general threats to morale and safety.

If you request an IG investigation, also request that the military provide you with a copy of the investigation results and the information upon which the results are based. Ask for the entire IG report. Contacting the IG may provide the military the opportunity to cover itself by conducting a cursory, perfunctory, or cover-up “investigation” and concluding that all proper procedures were followed and no wrongdoing occurred -- this is the military protecting the military. But it could be that the investigation will be properly done and the end result may be information that is helpful, useful and new.

For further information on filing an IG complaint, go to the website listed below that corresponds with your branch of service:
· Navy:
· Marines:
· Air Force:
· Coast Guard: (As the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the DHS Inspector General is the proper contact for Coast Guard IG complaints.)

Other Investigations

You may want to request any other possible investigation by the military that the military can conduct given the particular facts and circumstances of your case. The Navy, for instance, may conduct a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation, and/or a “JAGMAN” investigation, which is an investigation conducted by legal authorities.

Results of Investigations

Once you have obtained any investigative report, be sure to review it carefully. You may find flaws, areas of inquiry that were overlooked or not developed fully. You may have a number of questions. You might want to take your concerns and questions and request a follow-up investigation. This, for instance, is what the Pat Tillman family did. With the help of the media, concerned members of Congress, and others, the Army was compelled by circumstances to conduct a number of investigations in that case: at least two AR 15-6 investigations, a CID (Criminal Investigation Division) investigation, and additional command-directed investigations to address specific questions raised by the family after the military provided them with the results of other investigations.

In other words, do not give up once provided with the results of an investigation. That is precisely the time to review what has been provided, and request other investigations, as appropriate, to get to the bottom of the facts and circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death.

FOIA Request

File a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for possible reports done or information obtained by the military, the FBI, and other government agencies. You just never know what might be uncovered.

To file a FOIA request, simply write a letter to each government agency from which you seek information. For example, you may write, “I request a copy of any and all records related to [inserted the deceased’s name here].” Be sure to include in the letter that you are making this request pursuant to FOIA. To see a sample FOIA request letter, go to the MLTF website at Click on Home page, Current Information, FOIA Complaint.

Information to request in a FOIA Claim:

-File against the Department of Defense, FBI, CID (Criminal Investigation Department – Army) or the investigative divisions of the other branches, CENTCOM (The Unified Commands), State National Guard, IG (Inspector General).

-Ask for all reports, ROE (Rules of Engagement and FRAGOs), orders, directives, and memos pertaining to the unit in which your loved one served, or in operation at the time she served.

-Ask for all copies of servicemember’s emails, letters, and blogs.

-Ask for the names of all those in the unit and the entire Chain of Command, and
the names of all the soldiers and COs (Commanding Officers) up and down the chain of command.

-Ask for all information/investigations regarding possible leaks from the Pentagon or Departments of Defense and Justice pertaining to this case and resulting investigations.

-Ask for any reports, notes, and memos on the servicemember’s behavior – his/her entire military history, military records (including medical records), investigations (including the AR15-6 report), communications, orders, directives, and possible charges and punishments (especially in Iraq).

Request all films and videos concerning the servicemember, including the one at the funeral.

-Ask for the uniform and boots the servicemember wore at the time of death, and other personal items.

-Try to get back any personal computer or laptop owned by your loved one. We have had at least one report of a laptop computer that was altered by the military so that a deceased servicemember’s family could not log on and get all information on the computer. There are other instances in which photographs of the deceased loved one were ordered destroyed. You may want to ask any members of your loved one’s unit, or his or her friends, about items such as computers and photographs.

Congressional Inquiry

Seek a Congressional Inquiry. A Congressional Inquiry occurs when a Member of Congress requests information from the military about a particular situation, such as the accidental death of a servicemember. The results will depend on the individual integrity of the Congressperson. We have found that most of the time, Congresspeople respond to complaints, emergencies, and problems for those who are serving inside the military by stamping a form packet with a Congressional stamp, and then delivering it to the military. The military then responds that all is fine, and the Congresspeople feel that they have done what is required of them.
This process has not led to satisfactory results for the overwhelming majority of servicemembers who have engaged in it. However, as a constituent, you might have a bit more weight in this situation, and therefore, more satisfactory results. If you find a sympathetic Congressperson, you might create a more adequate and responsible response from the military.
You might want to consider asking the Congressperson to obtain answers and additional information for you pertaining specifically to the results of investigations that you have received, analyzed, and about which you have concerns.

To find the name and contact information for your member of Congress, go to

Contacting the Media

Contacting the media should always be done in the context of an overall strategy. If you are represented by legal counsel, you should have a frank discussion with your lawyer about how you want to pursue your case. Develop an overall strategy as well as an overall media strategy. You might decide to have a press conference to inform the public about the fact that you want answers and the truth about the situation surrounding your loved one’s death. If you decide to hold a press conference, have written press releases ready, stage the hour and place of it, and be ready for questions. Make sure that your name and contact information is on the press release. You don’t want others speaking or answering for you.

Another possibility is that the media ignores your case when you want to make it public. The media can easily ignore the central questions you have as to what occurred at the time of death or the military’s role from the beginning. Think about circulating a petition asking for re-opening the investigation into the death, create a website about the death of your loved one, or, create a fact sheet about the case.

The media can be overwhelming when the death is in the public view and interest. They might hound you when they find out about the death; they may knock on your door, look into your windows, stand outside your house, telephone you, and otherwise confront you. Some family members who have been in the public view have received death threats and other threatening leaflets or telephone calls. Of course, not all of the contact is negative. Family members report receiving letters and phone calls of condolences and support as well.

The media can also be very helpful. They can support and care for the family. They can pressure and get information from the military. The family might feel that the military should give more leeway and freedom to the media and not restrict them. The media can also keep the questions the family wants to pursue in the forefront and in the view of the public, the Department of Defense and other government agencies.

Likewise, the media can easily ignore the central questions you have as to what occurred at the time of death or the military’s role in that death.


The media can sometimes apply pressure or be very useful and helpful in getting information for the families from the military. Sometimes the military leaks information to the media because it serves its needs; sometimes it is the family who wants to pressure the military through the press. Whatever the case might be, realize that it is important to be very cautious. It might be helpful to have a family spokesperson or the family attorney represent the family to the media.

Getting the Evidence – Other Considerations

When you examine the evidence obtained from the military, describe the evidence and make a list of what is available.

There most likely will be rumors floating everywhere about what happened. It can be difficult separating the chaff from the grain. There can be collateral investigations going on. IDs, dates, and names will likely be redacted from the military documents to which you have access. Get used to the word “redacted” when initiating investigations. Government and military agencies and personnel may not answer questions, stall you, and balk at helping you get information. The military can simply say that pertinent information was lost or that they can’t find it.

Friendly Fire

Friendly fire is the term used to describe the firing of any weapon upon friendly units, such as when a U.S. servicemember accidentally fires on another U.S. servicemember, potentially resulting in injury and/or death. It is an issue because it causes unnecessary deaths and tragedies that could have been avoided. In addition, and equally important, is the fact that friendly fire incidents speak to poor command control, communication, decision-making, knowledge, training, and practice. It shows negligence and poor judgment on the part of the military.

A significant fraction of the Americans who die in Iraq die due to accidents. John Pike, a military expert with, reports, "There were more U.S. service members killed in accidents than were killed in action during the first Gulf War back in 1991."

The media has reported that the deaths of up to one-half of those who have died could be from non-hostile causes.

Seek Discovery through a Lawsuit and Legal Challenges

You arrive eventually where the truth is far removed, the stories are contradictory, and there are no answers that please you. At this point, you can file a lawsuit to demand that the military turn over ALL its information to you. This is critical. We all know that the military keeps records about everything, so go after those records.

Getting Support from Members of Congress and Initiating Congressional Hearings
Famous football star Patrick Tillman was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire. His family and their local Congressperson, Mike Honda, have pursued the matter to the point of a Congressional hearing trying to find out how far up the chain of command the cover-up went. Congressional hearings provide Congress the opportunity to gain information about a matter of importance to them. These hearings often include testimony of witnesses before Congress, as well as the submission of reports and other documents. During the Pat Tillman hearing, a supportive Congressperson, Lacy Clay, brought up Lavena Johnson’s case and demanded that the Army release all its evidence to the Committee, including original photos.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Although this memo pertains to the investigation of casualties in-country during combat, it is important to mention that for those who have returned home suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they most likely are still engaged in battle.

For example, Kevin and Joyce Lucey filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that the government’s failure to treat veterans cost their son his life. A wrongful death lawsuit is when the family sues for the loss of a loved one. It can only be done in a civilian context, neither as a challenge to the military or government officials nor while the servicemember is in the military.
[See Note number 6 below]


It’s important for family members to think about what they want and need in order to grieve the loss of their loved one, and start their healing process. For some, it is getting answers to the questions of why or how their loved one died. For others, it is wanting to hold the military accountable for the actions that caused the death. This process can be difficult, but is worthwhile.

Many family members report the healing effects of getting more information about the circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death. It is just one of many ways they have honored the life of the person near and dear to them.
1.) AR 15-6
15-6 Investigation Officer Guidelines
Investigating Officer’s Guide for AR 15-6 Informal Investigations
Office of the Staff Judge Advocate
Rights in Waiving Procedure/Waiver Certificate
(To provide commanders and law enforcement officials with means by which information may be accurately identified)
A comprehensive Guide for Investigating Officers
2.) Procedure for Investigating Officers and Boards of Officers
3.) Patrick Tillman Inspector General Review
Review of Matters Related to the Death of Corporeal Patrick Tillman U.S. Army
See “Army Reprimands in Tillman Case Mild”

By Martha Mendoza, The Associated Press, 10 August 2007
Patrick McCaffrey's case - The Veteran's Village
4.) Article: “Still Seeking Answers in the U.S. Checkpoint Shooting,” by Fritzroy Sterling
Article about the incident involving the shooting of Giuliana Sgrena
5.) Lavena Johnson’s case
6.) Note re Wrongful Death Lawsuits
[From Democracy Now Interview]
“Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the U.S. military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May 2004, Jeffrey's parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him after a few days. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot.”
7.) Other Resources
Gold Star Families Speak Out,
Military Families Speak Out,
Veterans for Peace,
Iraq Veterans Against War,

-- Submitted by Renee Thurlow

Reprinted with permission of the author