Friday, October 30, 2009

Mother Assesses 'Beasting' Review

From BBC News:

The mother of a soldier who died after an army punishment is considering a judicial review to overturn a decision not to court-martial those involved.

Private Gavin Williams, 22, Hengoed, Caerphilly, collapsed and died at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth in 2006.

His mother Debra said she was still waiting to hear whether the Army would take any measures over her son's death.

The Ministry of Justice said it could not comment until the outcome of any disciplinary action.

Pte Williams died after being made to carry out an informal punishment known as beasting for misbehaviour, and was put through an intense session of physical exercise on one of the hottest days of the year.

A trial was held where three soldiers were cleared of manslaughter. A subsequent inquiry has also decided that three other soldiers would not face a court-martial.

Sgt Russell Price, 45, Sgt Paul Blake, 37, and Cpl John Edwards, 42, were found not guilty of manslaughter by a jury at Winchester Crown Court last year.

After the acquittal, trial judge Mr Justice Royce attacked the Army for allowing beasting to take place.

He also criticised the fact that the three non-commissioned officers were placed in the dock while their commander, the adjutant Captain Mark Davis, who said he wanted Pte Williams brought to him "hot and sweaty", was in the process of being promoted to the rank of major.

Following the trial, the Royal Military Police carried out its own investigation and sent its findings to the Independent Services Prosecuting Authority, which announced this week three different soldiers would not face a court martial over Pte Williams' death.

The three could still face administrative action against them.

Ms Williams said: "It's just frustrating because sometimes you just hit a brick wall and you feel like you're not getting anywhere.

"I think in time something has got to happen and something has got to come of this because they know damn well what took place did take place and someone has got to be blamed."

Ms Williams now has to decide what to do.

She can wait and see if the Army takes any action, or she can challenge the decision not to hold a court martial in the High Court.

However it could take several years for the case to be heard and would also hold up an inquest and board of inquiry into her son's death.

If she lost the challenge, Mrs Williams could face legal bills of £25,000.

"Money shouldn't be an issue but it's a lot of money we're talking about.

"Time for me is nothing. I could manage another two years, three years, four years, it doesn't matter to me.

"I don't think I'll ever give it up because it's something which shouldn't have happened in the first place."

Ms Williams has set up a website, Stop Beastings in the Army (, and says soldiers have contacted her to say a form of beasting still exists in the Army.

On Friday she will meet other families who have lost relatives in non-combat situations to raise awareness of what has happened.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/10/29 07:19:58 GMT

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Parents of Soldier who Killed Himself in Iraq Speak Out

View the interview on video or read the transcript at Democracy Now!

Gregg and Jannett Keesling talk about the suicide of their son.

The Case of PFC Jason Pirro: Another Hanging in the Barracks

Picking up Patterns in Military “Investigations” of Non-combat Deaths: Part 2:

Here are the basic facts in the case of Jason Pirro in the words of his parents written in 2007:

Our son, PFC Jason Pirro, wanted to provide a better life for his wife and daughter. He wanted to honor his Country. He wanted to be a Marine. Jason joined the Marines in November of 2003 and left for boot camp at Parris Island, SC in January of 2004. Shortly thereafter, he found out that his wife was pregnant with their second child. Our son finished basic training and completed his Crucibles with a broken foot.

In May 2004, Jason went to Camp Geiger's School of Infantry in North Carolina. On July 9, 2004, Jason called home to ask about an old car we had and said that even if he had to work two jobs, he couldn't wait to get out of "this hell hole." On the 14th of July at approximately 10 p.m., Jason talked to his wife, Christina. He told her that he loved her and would call in a couple of days to let her know what was going on. Jason had also talked to a couple of his friends and had several jobs waiting for him when he got home.

On July 15, 2004, three Marines came to our door. They told us that Jason was found hanging in the barracks. They would not answer any of our questions. They told us that there would be an investigation into his death. We were told that upon the completion of the investigation, someone from the Military would sit down with us and go over the findings of the investigation. That never happened.

On July 18, 2004, the Marines had a memorial service for Jason at Camp Geiger. During the service, the clergy stated that PFC Jason Pirro committed suicide. Our family was not notified of any press release, nor were we notified when the investigation was completed. We have not seen any member of the Marines or other Military personnel since the initial interview with NCIS in October 2004.

We have never been officially notified that the investigation into my son's death was closed. As of this date, we have not received his "dog tags."

Over the last two and a half years, I have not had much cooperation from the Military. We have tracked down several Marines who knew Jason and agree that he did not commit suicide. A couple of Jason's fellow Marines believe, as we do, that he was murdered.

We have been requesting as much information as we can from the Military under the Freedom of Information Act. Although we did receive some information, there are a lot of missing documents and photographs.
We have been in touch with our representatives in Congress for help in getting the investigation reopened. As of this date, we have heard nothing. We are being ignored by our Military and our Government.

The Military says our son committed suicide. We strongly disagree with their opinion, but they will not take the time or effort to meet with us or even talk to us. The documents that we have received and the photographs of the death scene (which arrived on Mother's Day weekend in May 2006) show enough discrepancies to back our belief that PFC Jason Pirro was murdered while stationed at Camp Geiger, NC.

PFC Jason Pirro loved his family. His daughters have been deprived of a loving and caring father. His wife has lost her best friend, companion and the man she loved. We have lost our son. PFC Jason Pirro has lost his future.

We want the Marines who did this to our son to be brought to justice and to take responsibility for their actions. We want justice for PFC Jason Pirro.

Gary and Vicki Van Horn
If you would like to get an idea who Jason Pirro was through family photos, click on the arrow in the video below.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Class on Integrity at White Sands Missile Range

Picking up Patterns in Military “Investigations” of Non-combat Deaths: Part 1

I want to tell you about a DVD I received from one of our families.

I cannot simply post it in its entirety for reasons of privacy protection. So, I’ve decided to describe it and include a short clip.

This is video taken on June 21, 2007. It is taking place on the patio of a modest house on the White Sands base.

This will be a “formal” class on integrity, according to the Captain of Bravo Company, but there is a party atmosphere. Some of the soldiers are dressed in desert fatigues, some in shorts and T-shirts. Nearly everyone has a beer and some of the young men go inside before Sgt. Ben Griego begins the “class” to get more beer.

The Captain encourages everyone to get comfortable, and a clearly nervous Ben Griego comes out through the sliding screen patio door and rinses his head under the outside tap while the others arrange themselves around the patio.

He asks the Captain if her daughter must videotape the event and is told that things can be cut out of the video later if he wants.

The First Sergeant is seated in the middle of the patio with the others standing.

The Captain has electric clippers in her hands, and Ben asks if she has a one guard on it. Some of the lower ranking soldiers suggest that she use no guard when shaving Ben’s head.

Although there is some nervous laughter, to me the scene seems edgy, with trainees obviously delighting in the humiliation to come.

Ben is twenty six years old, a good-natured, clean cut young man who was caught lying about where he was one morning when he didn’t show up for work. He was stationed at Sante Fe, NM and taught a Warrior Transition class at White Sands one to three weeks per month.

He is taking this thing seriously even though he is smiling and trying to maintain some dignity.

The Captain, who appears amused throughout the video, asks, “Do you need a beer or something so you can start giving the class?” Ben says, “No.”

The Captain tells the group who have gone into the house to get more beer to turn the music down so the class can begin. Ben asks, “This is a formal class, isn’t it?” The Captain confirms that it is a formal class.

As Ben asks the group to “listen up” so that he can deliver his confession, without excuses, something extraordinary happens. Clearly audible from the group of soldiers on the patio:

“SALUD, CAVRON!” (Translated not literally, but in the vernacular slang by his father: “Hey, bitch“)

“DAM GUERO FROM TEXAS!” (“Dam gringo from Texas!”)

“PINCHE CAVRON” (“F___ing bitch!”)

I see the momentary look on Ben’s face showing that he hears the totally inappropriate remarks, yet he does not reply to the insults. Most of the group is Hispanic and they all, including the Captain and First Sergeant, understand what is being said. The video clip appears below. Click on the arrow to play:

There is no admonition from either the Captain or the First Sergeant, although this would appear to be a more grievous offense than what Ben is being punished for. These soldiers are insulting an NCO during a formal class on integrity.

Ben went on to tell what happened to merit his punishment with plenty of interruptions and comments from the group. Ben completes his presentation by saying, “All right. That’s the reason I’m getting my head shaved. Are there any questions?”

“I GOT A QUESTION. YOU GOT WITNESSES, DID YOU GET BUM RUSHED EARLIER?” comes from a soldier who earlier insulted him.

Ben says, “Yes.”

The soldier then says, “EXCUSE ME, WHEN DID YOU GET BUM RUSHED?”

The Captain says, “I heard that was round two…”, addressing the soldier.

The soldier replies, “No, no, we already got round three out of the way already”, addressing the Captain.

Who won?”, asked the Captain.

He did, puss, we rolled down bar and then come in guillotine…”

Note that he has just called the Captain “puss” and there is no reaction from her or from the First Sergeant.

So, you’re weak!” the Captain replies.

There is some banter about her remark. They then go back to the matter of the clipper guard.

At the end of the video, the soldier who has just asked about “bum rushing” comes up to Ben and says, “HEY, THE ONLY BAD THING, HEY, THE ONLY BAD THING NOW…YOU’RE REALLY GONNA FIND OUT WHO YOUR "MAN BOYS" ARE. THEY’RE NOT GONNA FIND THE FINGERPRINTS IN THE BACK OF YOUR GRAVE.”

Three weeks later, on July, 13, 2007, Sgt. Benjamin Griego was found dead in his quarters by his roommate. His death was ruled suicide by hanging, even though there was evidence that his hands and feet were bound.


His mother and father have explained to me that the soldier who made the threat on the video was obsessed with fighting Ben to show that he was tougher. He never won and Ben was getting tired of the constant challenges.

There were three or four confrontations with this soldier the week of Ben’s death. The group must have been involved in the “bum rushing” incidents. Was there some sort of power struggle for leadership in the unit? Did the Iraq Veterans resent the young combat instructor?

The Captain and First Sergeant were clearly aware of the situation. Why did they do nothing to stop it?

Ben had the habit of calling various family members several times a day. He never expressed any emotions or problems which would have made them think that he would commit suicide.

His father pointed out that he had a .40 Glock in a desk drawer along with ammunition. Why would he choose hanging if he had decided to kill himself?

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Military culture or rules, but I find the entire “Integrity Class” incident strange and troubling. Perhaps I have some unrealistic and stereotypical ideas about what constitutes Army Discipline, Integrity, and Army Values, not to mention "formal class."

The video does not prove that members of this unit were responsible for Ben’s death, however I think there should have been interviews of all members and that those interviews would be available to the family -- who absolutely do not accept suicide as a cause of death.

Ben’s father described the extreme nervousness of members of the unit at Ben’s funeral, where they served as the Honor Guard.

The hyoid bone was removed at Ben’s autopsy and requests for it have been denied. The condition of the hyoid bone is useful in determining details about a hanging death.

The clothing he was wearing when found were requested unwashed so that they could be forensically analyzed, but were sent from Ft. Bliss freshly laundered and still wet.

The Army CID declared the death self-inflicted and the case was closed in 2008. Documents the family has requested have been routinely denied without reason.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Marines see sharp increase in suicides

By Mark Abramson, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Friday, October 9, 2009

Recently released figures show Marines are taking their own lives at alarmingly high rates, and deployments appear to be taking a toll.

Through September, the Marines have recorded 38 confirmed or suspected suicides in 2009. Should the pace continue through the end of the year, the Marines would be facing a 20 percent increase from 2008 figures. Suicides also rose 27 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Ten suspected suicides this year remain under investigation, but those are classified as suicides because there is strong evidence to suggest that those Marines took their own lives, said Navy Cmdr. Aaron Werbel, suicide prevention program manager for the Marine Corps.

And while a recent Marine Corps report indicates that fewer than 42 percent of Marines who have committed suicide since 2001 had a deployment history, 56 of the 80 Marines who have taken their lives in the last two years have been to the war zones. That 70 percent figure is higher than Army figures for 2008, during which 61 percent of those who committed suicide were either deployed or had a deployment history.

Marine officials said they could not pinpoint an exact cause for the increase.

But, Werbel said, "A significant contributing factor is the operational tempo."

Dan Reidenberg, a psychologist and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE, said he believes deployments are a factor in servicemembers’ suicides.

"I think current people (in the military) have been deployed multiple times and that is creating stress," Reidenberg said. "I think it is the constant ongoing battle within as well as the battle outside those men and women (in the military) are fighting."

SAVE, a nonprofit organization based in Bloomington, Minn., was created about 20 years ago to raise awareness about suicide and to help prevent it. Reidenberg spoke to 5,000 Marines about suicide prevention at a base in North Carolina in May, he said.

The Marines are taking aim at the problem with a new top-down program called NCO Suicide Prevention Training.

The program requires Marine leaders from every base to select three noncommissioned officers to attend weeklong suicide prevention training in Quantico, Va. Navy corpsmen and other Navy personnel assigned to the Corps are included in the training.

"NCOs are being trained to look out for changes in personality, distress, and changes in sleeping patterns [to spot possible signs that a person is suicidal]," Werbel said.

"We are telling NCOs, you have to know your Marines … so you can see changes in behavior."

Those enlisted leaders will then give three days of training to NCOs at the battalion level, who will in turn give a half-day of training to all other Marine NCOs.

Taking a page from the Army suicide prevent program, the Marine training includes a video presentation. In the videos, Marines who attempted suicide and family members of those who have committed suicide share their experiences.

Other parts of the program feature people acting out various situations.

"I think it can be very effective," Reidenberg said about the Marines program.

The program should have an impact, especially with the "very real" videos in this age of technology, he said. Reidenberg also praised the Marines’ top-down approach.

The Marines started to develop the suicide prevention program before this year’s figures came to light.

"The reason we started doing it is our numbers were higher for 2008 compared to 2007," said Bryan Driver, spokesman for the Personal and Family Readiness Division at the Marines Headquarters.

The Marines will have a pretty good idea if the program is working if the suicide rate drops, Reidenberg said.

"You can’t ever say for sure that it was the program, but you can definitely say there was an impact."

Like the Marine Corps suicide prevention program, the Army videos also highlight spotting signs that indicate a person may be suicidal and situations where a soldier may have to deal with a suicidal buddy.

It also trains some soldiers to be facilitators. Facilitators may not be qualified to train other soldiers in suicide prevention, but they would learn how to talk informally to other troops about the issue, said Army spokesman Wayne Hall.

"The real important thing here is to get people talking," Hall said about the Army’s program.

In addition to programs such as NCO Suicide Prevention training, the Marines — like the Army — are addressing the issue by trying to help troops get over the stigma of seeking help.

"We are really trying to bust through that stigma. This isn’t a career-ender," Werbel said.

"The career ender could be not getting help."

Friday, October 09, 2009

September Suicide Statistics from DoD

The Army today released suicide data for the month of September. Among active-duty soldiers, there were seven potential suicides. One has been confirmed as a suicide, and six are pending determination of the manner of death. For August, the Army reported 11 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, four have been confirmed as suicides and seven remain under investigation.

There were 117 reported active-duty Army suicides from January 2009 through September 2009. Of those, 81 have been confirmed, and 36 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 103 suicides among active-duty soldiers.

During September 2009, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were seven potential suicides. Among that same group, from January 2009 through September 2009, there were 35 confirmed suicides. Twenty-five potential suicides are currently under investigation to determine the manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 40 suicides among reserve soldiers who were not on active duty.

Over the past year, the Army has engaged in a sustained effort to reduce the rate of suicide within its ranks. This effort has included an Army-wide suicide prevention stand-down and chain teach for every soldier; the implementation of the Army Campaign Plan for Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention; the establishment of both a Suicide Prevention Task Force and Suicide Prevention Council; a long-term partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health to carry out the largest ever study of suicide and behavioral health among military personnel; and more than 160 specific improvements to Army suicide prevention policies, doctrine, training and resources.

"Whether it's additional resources, improved training or ensuring those in our Army community can readily identify the warning signs of suicidal behavior, all our efforts often come down to one soldier caring enough about another soldier to step in when they see something wrong, " said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, Director, Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. "Soldiers will be willing to do that if they know help is available, if they believe there is no stigma attached to asking for that help, and if they are certain that Army leaders remain absolutely committed to the resiliency of our entire Army Family."

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact Military OneSource or the Defense Center of Excellence (DCOE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach Center. Trained consultants are available from both organizations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The Military OneSource toll-free number for those residing in the continental U.S. is 1-800-342-9647, their Web site address is

Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource Web site for dialing instructions for their specific location.

The DCOE Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at and at .

The Army's most current suicide prevention information is located at .

verbatim: Department of Defense Announcement

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Navy Report Ignores Sailor's Suicide

Youth Radio reports on the 2007 death of Chief Petty Officer, Jennifer Valdivia.

Click here to read the article.

NPR summary of the hazing/abuse case which resulted in Valdivia's suicide.