Thursday, July 28, 2011

Closed Death Investigations

Listen to a discussion about closed military death investigations with Pam Baragona, Lois Vanderbur, and Donna Janeczko by clicking here.

Links to references within the conversation:

Frontline Program, "Postmortem"

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Army Releases June Suicide Information

Army Releases June Suicide Information
The Army released suicide data today for the month of June. Among active-duty soldiers, there were nine potential suicides: none have been confirmed as suicide, and nine remain under investigation. For May 2011, the Army reported 21 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, one case has been removed because the manner of death was ruled accidental, two cases have been confirmed as suicide, and 18 cases remain under investigation.

During June, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were five potential suicides: one has been confirmed as suicide, and four remain under investigation. For May 2011, the Army reported six potential suicides among not-on-active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, one case has been added for a total of seven cases. Two cases have been confirmed as suicide, and five cases remain under investigation.

"Early recognition of high risk behavior associated with administrative, legal and other disciplinary actions presents intervention opportunities for leaders, law enforcement personnel and service providers to mitigate negative outcomes, specifically suicidal behavior," said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Task Force.

In response to this, the U.S. Army Military Police School has incorporated training into all professional military education courses to alert military police to the effects of stress caused by investigations or other disciplinary actions that can lead to acts of self harm.

McGuire, who is also the provost marshal general of the Army, recently implemented a new "Risk Notification Memorandum" to field commanders to highlight the potential risk to soldiers who are subject to a serious felony investigation. This notification is provided by Criminal Investigation Command to commanders upon the initiation of an investigation on one of their soldiers.

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255), from OCONUS using the appropriate country access code, or by visiting their website at .

The Army's comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at

Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at: and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at .
Suicide prevention training resources for Army families can be accessed at (requires Army Knowledge Online access to download materials).

Information about Military OneSource is located at or by dialing the toll-free number 1-800-342-9647for those residing in the continental United States. Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource Website for dialing instructions for their specific location.

Information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at .
The Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at and at
The website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is and the Suicide Prevention Resource Council site is found at

The website for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is, and they can be reached at -1-800-959-TAPS (8277).

Source:  DoD Announcement, verbatim

Friday, July 15, 2011

Death Memorial

PFC Jason Pirro

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.

Are you willing to help us?  If you can help us right this wrong, please
contact us through this website.

Gary and Vicki Van Horn

Link to blog:  Justice for Jason Pirro


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Death Memorial

Sgt. Benjamin Thomas Griego

As we heard of our son’s death:

Our 26 year old son, Sgt. Benjamin Thomas Griego, was found dead in Army housing at White Sands Missile Range on July 13, 2007. He was serving our country as Cadre, on his second term enlistment, representing the New Mexico Army National Guard. His duty involved training military branches of service for transition to a Warrior Transition course previously transferred to Dona Ana Range from Ft. Knox, Kentucky.

When we first heard of our son’s death, there was no official report released from the Army National Guard to his wife or to us, his parents. The information we received early that morning on July 13th, was that our son had died. The information was received from the public through their phone calls and visits of sympathy and condolences.

As we tried to make sense of this, we brushed it off as gossip since the rumor had come from a Wal-Mart employee. Later, we learned that it had been channeled down from a sergeant on post at White Sands Missile Range to a family member employed at the local Wal-Mart in Clovis, NM. That in itself was devastating and shocking to find this out in this manner. We were on the phone early that morning frantically trying to make contact with someone from the White Sands Missile Range and the Army National Guard in Santa Fe, NM who would put these rumors to rest. But to my disbelief, we were notified hours later that the worst had turned out to be true, our beloved son was gone.

Jeronimo, Ben’s father, was the last person to speak to Ben just hours before his death. He had made his father promise that he would call him while he was on the range the next day. We had made plans with Ben to pick up his father at the airport in El Paso, TX Monday, July 16th after duty. His itemized phone statement showed two phone calls were made to housing on base that evening. We believe that he was trying to make accommodations for his father’s visit.

Ben was 26 years old, and the youngest of my three sons. He kept close contact with us. We spoke to him every day, we knew our son, and nothing was out of the ordinary the day prior. Everything was going well for him, except for altercations he had been having with three unit members who had recently returned from Iraq. A DVD was given to us by his commander on the night of the Rosary, July 19th , which clearly demonstrates that problems existed.

My son presented a formal class on “Integrity”, ordered by the commander. The commander, first sergeant, and unit members were present. The class was recorded on a DVD. Some of the unit members admitted to "bum rushing" Ben before he presented the class. On the same DVD, a death threat was made. This was three weeks prior to his death. The unit members admitted to bum rushing him and the commanding officer, the highest commanding officer present, asked if it was “round two". She was well aware what was going on.

Criminal Investigation Division

Our experience with the CID is that they were quick to close his case, claiming self-infliction and filling in the blanks without thoroughly investigating claims. We, his family, had real concerns and questions and presented concrete evidence. The CID Senior Agent from El Paso, Texas seemed too bothered to return phone calls and delayed and rescheduled meeting after meeting. That went on for months. The CID Agent scheduled a meeting in November, 2007 and finally met with us in March, 2008.

We could not and do not understand why the CID did not keep or know the whereabouts of Ben’s blood stained clothes he wore the night of his death. They were not aware that the Ft. Bliss Casualty office had picked up and washed the clothes, and made sure to destroy evidence in an on-going investigation. Even to this day some blood stains still remain.

We discovered, through emails from a NM Representative (now Senator) in February 2009, that the CID closed my son’s case in October 12, 2008. No official notification was given to the family about the case being closed. How do they not think that this does not warrant personal and public outrage? We are still in contact with the state representatives and senators in the hope of getting some support from them.

Autopsy Report

The original autopsy report was written exactly the way we heard it from the men in his unit. These were the men who were with him the night he died; the men with whom our son had altercations; the men who admitted to bum rushing Ben on the DVD; the men who had threatened him, as recorded on the DVD, and the men who served as honor guards in burying our son. They made our son sound like he was a drunk, pulling pranks, and that he premeditated his death by giving a key to his roommate that night, but in fact the roommate had a key months prior to his death.

The original autopsy report, which had erroneous entries of race and weight, and another report with testimony from the members who we suspected of killing him, became final legal documents. We question why they would make these entries when the final report of the investigation had not been completed or finalized.

In the original autopsy report, physical evidence was noted: a singed eyebrow, cut index finger, split lip, and the examiner claimed his hyoid bone was intact. After having an independent second autopsy report completed, we are told that his hyoid bone is missing. We, Ben’s family, request to have the hyoid bone returned; this clearly belongs with my son’s remains. Why would the Army Examiner remove my son’s hyoid bone, and keep it without notifying the family? According the Pathologist from the Department of the Army, they kept it for evidence. The family asks, "evidence of what? Is it broken and the cause of death strangulation?"


Every day we feel the void that my family experiences in their daily lives, as I see it in them and they see it in us.

We have read many other stories of other soldiers’ questionable deaths and it saddens us that we share the same grief, emptiness, and alienation from what has taken place with our children in the military. My thoughts and prayers go out to you. God Bless.

Judy & Jeronimo Griego

Link to interview: Even More Suspicious Non-combat Deaths

Monday, July 11, 2011

Military Suicide and the Reversal of Policy on Presidential Condolence Letters

Death Memorial

SSG Justin Lee Garza, 6/1/1981 -- 7/11/2009

Justin Garza was born June 1, 1981 in Taft Texas. He was the youngest of 4 boys born to Teri Garza (currently Teri Smith). Justin was called Jon by his family and close friends. As the youngest of 4 boys Jon had to learn how to be tough at a very young age, which, of course, he did and excelled at. Jon was a truly intelligent boy, as he grew up we knew he had an intelligence all his own, he assisted his older brothers with their homework. His outstanding intelligence caused him to get bored with what was handed him while he was going to school, he was never truly challenged enough, that is why he did homework for his older brothers. Jon decided school was not for him and he got in trouble for disrespect and was suspended a few times and I had to change his school. At this time Jon was about 16. Jon and I decided to remove him from public school when he was in his teens. Jon could not figure out what to do with himself, so being a single mother at the time, I decided what I thought was best for him. I sent him to a type of boot camp in Aberdeen Maryland. I believe he lasted 3 days and decide it was not for him. As this was a voluntary school, I was called to come and pick him up. Once home, Jon found a full time job and enrolled at our local college and received his GED.

Jon joined the Army in July 11, 2001 at the age of 20. Once he completed basic and AIT he was stationed in Ansbach, Germany for, I believe, about 3 years. During this time he was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom at the age of 21. While in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Jon earned an AAM. This deployment turned out to be very difficult for Jon in more ways than I will ever know. Jon had to kill his first person, it was kill or be killed, to this day I do not believe Jon ever got over this and suffered deeply within himself, he thought of himself as a monster.

Jon returned to Iraq again in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and during this deployment he was injured, not seriously but enough to leave another scar on such a young man. I was never informed that he was injured and when we finally talked about it all Jon told me was that I was not to be notified when he was injured only when he died (which of course is another story in itself). All in all, Jon was deployed 6 times in 7 years, too much for such a young person.

Jon earned the following awards/medals while enlisted in the Army:
2 Army Achievement Medals
2 Army Commendation Medals
2 Army Good Conduct Medals
National Defense Service medal
Army Service Ribbon
Overseas Service Ribbon ( a few)
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on terrorism Service Medal
Iraqi Campaign Medal
Drivers Badge
He attended the Preliminary Leadership Development Course and the Basic Non Commission Officer Course
2 foreign awards
Polish award
Award from Holland, for his 100 mile march in uniform and 45lb rucksack
Jon competed in the German marksman competition
Received the German sportsman badge and Operation Victory Strike
Operation Victory Strike

As you can tell, my son worked hard for the Army (Alpha Braves) and gave all he had to give. He gave the Alpha Braves his blood, sweat, tears; he gave his all for them.

Now let’s talk about why I am writing this: my son committed suicide on July 11, 2009. I feel that the Army let my son down and that when he needed them the most they were not there for him. All I can do is lay out the facts as I know them and hope that I save one soldier, one mother from going through the awful pain and grieving that Jon’s three brothers and I are going through, as well as, extended family and friends.

I need to take us all back a few years and try to begin the story of Jon’s ending. As stated earlier, Jon’s first deployment to Iraq was when he was 21, how traumatic could that have been, not only to see what he saw and to go through what he went through he actually had to deicide to kill another person, which is totally against all he knew/knows. When Jon came home from Iraq he came straight home to see me, so I can say that he had no counseling he was just sent home and sent on leave to deal the best way he could. I can tell you it had an impact on my son, it took him quite awhile to readjust to life in the States and he did not talk much about this experience as he knew I could never relate to what he saw or went through. I spent about a week or so with my son and could tell that he was different but I had no idea how to talk to him how to help him through this.

Jon deployed numerous times while in Germany. He supported Operation Victory Strike II in Poland, while there he was the American liaison to the Polish Army. He deployed to Normandy France to host the 60th Anniversary of D-Day and also went to Holland to compete in a 100 – 4 day ruck march.

During the years Jon would talk about how he wanted to volunteer to go back overseas, he said he felt more comfortable there and I believed him. It was hard for him here in the States, trying to defend all that was going on and yet not being able to discuss it with his friends or family. Soon, the only friends he truly had were his army buddies. Yes, we still talked and emailed but it was never the same as before his first deployment to Iraq. He started coming home to visit less and less; always saying he was busy and had to be there for his unit. At that time I know I lost my baby and did not know how to get him back, how to be close to him like we were before. He did come home for a few holidays, special occasions and a family vacation, but it would be far and few between, we did get him home for, I believe, two Christmas’ in a row. I think it was easier for him to talk to us on the phone and email than to see us face to face, as we could then see his depression, and desperation.

Please excuse the long background but want everyone to know who my son was before the Army and while in the Army. He loved the Army and excelled in all that he did for the Army. I have reviewed all the military records I have and can tell you my son got written up for the excellence and motivation he showed in his work and all that he brought out in his soldiers as well. He felt most at home with the Alpha Braves, he loved them and worked as hard as he could to be worthy of them.

My son got reassigned to Ft. Gordon, Georgia in March of 2009. He, for whatever reason, could not settle in, he felt alone and abandoned there. He felt like he just did not fit in, but during this time he again gave 100% to his training and to Ft. Gordon. For whatever reason, looking at all his letters, emails and talking to his buddies I believe this was the beginning of the end for my son. I truly believe he had PTSD and will explain a little later.

The downhill started for my son in May 2009. On or around May 15, 2009 my son used his web cam and emailed and talked with a friend of his, during this conversation he had letters stewn all on the floor and was talking about being a monster and want to stop the pain and commit suicide. His friend talked him out of it at that time, or at least so we thought. On May 22, 2009 my son wrecked his car in a suicide attempt and again he survived. At some point in June 2009 (the Army still will not provide dates to me) my son went AWOL. He was tracked by his credit card receipts, he was headed to Texas and along the way he bought a shot gun and some alcohol and was in a hotel. Family and some of his Army buddies tried calling him all day and he would not answer his phone. When one of his closest Army buddies got ahold of him, he told my son he would come to him. Instead, one of his superiors found him and took him to Metroplex Hospital in Killeen, Texas. From the records I found in my son's car after his death it looks like he only spent a few days at Metroplex and then was transferred to Darnall Army Hospital on the 19th of June. He hated Darnall (which he told his Uncle, Gary Garza) it seemed Metroplex did more for him. He was in Darnall Army hospital for about 10 days or so. When Darnall released him they released him with specific instructions as follows:

24 hour adult supervision
Safeguard the home; make sure there is not access to any weapons, knives, medications, guns, or any other items that can be used in a harmful manner

Discharge level was Acute Psychiatric

He was discharged on June 30, 2009 with adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotion and conduct. Depressed mood

His first follow up visit was scheduled for July 9, 2009. I have a message on his phone stating that there is a backup/mix up with counselors and if he does not hear anything by Monday the 14 to give a call. Well he committed suicide on the 11th. There were also messages from a Chaplain.

Ok, then who was the 24 hour adult supervision for my son? Who went to his house with him to ensure there were no weapons? He shot himself in the head. All his appointments were listed as pending, again why a delay in counseling and why no 24 hour supervision?
When he was discharged from Darnall, Ft. Gordon did not want him. They realized he needed to be back with the Alpha Braves. Well Ft. Hood had not processed him in, so again he was alone without a Unit, not able to be in formation or on base so he was alone in an apartment all day with his thoughts. He was not receiving pay as the Army still had him listed as AWOL. He could not pay his bills and had to borrow money from his Uncle Gary.

I was never informed of any of the above, that my son had an accident, that he was AWOL or that he was suicidal. If I would have known I would have flown to be with him. The Army robbed me of a life with my son and at the very least a chance to see him again and tell him that I loved him. I did not get to say goodbye. My son filled out all the required paperwork and questionnaires that Darnall Hospital gave him and knew the answers they were looking for. Why would you have someone counsel him who had never been through what my young son had gone through? How could they understand what he was feeling and how did they miss the PTSD? Hell, I could have counseled him! I, at least, knew my son and who he is/was and knew that he was pulling the wool over these people's eyes.

Once we got the news of my son’s death (By the way I was never formally notified that he passed away) we headed to Texas. We had to go through my son's storage shed and car. In his car I found numerous letters addressed to himself, to me, to his Unit and to a friend. These letters were dated May 15, 2009 and he died on July 11, 2009. What the hell! Someone had to have noticed the change in him. My son was dating a girl and she was in Texas and my son’s best friend was a friend of hers. I have a very disturbing letter that he wrote and you can tell that PTSD had hit him strong. I am willing to share most of each one of these letters so that the Army and the general public can see how my son slipped through the cracks.

Believe it or not, this is just a general overview of all that took place. if you are interested in my son’s story please contact me. My son asked in the letter to me and the letter he left on his laptop and to his best friend that his story be told. If this even saves one soldier and one mother from going through what I went through, then telling his story will be worth it. I will be my son’s voice for as long as I can and to who ever will listen to me

Teri J. Smith
Mother of SSG Justin Lee Garza


You can contact Teri Smith through this website by clicking

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Military Suicides The President Didn't Mention

On Wednesday, the White House announced a profound change in the government's response to service members who commit suicide. President Obama will now send their families condolence letters just as he does to families of troops who die in combat or as a result of noncombat incidents in a war zone.
Read the entire story here.

Suicide In Military: Suicides In Army National Guard And Reserve Doubled Last Year  


Friday, July 08, 2011

UK hacking scandal: Info kept on families of dead soldiers

Military families call report a 'disgusting and indefensible assault on privacy'       

A phone hacking scandal sweeping Britain made a sordid turn late Wednesday with reports that personal information of the families of soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan were found in the files of a private detective working for a tabloid newspaper.

The personal details of the troops' families were discovered in the records kept by investigator Glenn Mulcaire, according to the Daily Telegraph, which did not disclose its source.

Read the entire story and watch the video here.

Radio Discussion

Bullying in the Military, Part 2 of radio discussion
Click here to listen.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Policy shift in presidential condolence letters

(CBS News)
NEW YORK - Most families who lose a loved one in the war zones receive a letter of condolence from the President of the United States. But there are a few who do not receive this honor. It's long standing policy - going back many years - that troops who commit suicide in war do not get the president's acknowledgment.

The CBS Evening News first reported on this last week, and tonight we have learned the White House is changing the policy. CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano brings us up to date with the father who led the fight to change the rules.

Read the story and view video here.

Local father's quest leads to condolence letters for military suicides