Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Tribute to the Brave

Frozen tears of the Dark Woods
by Isaiah Robinson

50 men entered the dark woods
50 men understood
The 50 men, they saw in their eyes
Those 50 men wouldn't survive
But 50 men young and brave
Knew not of the end that would happen that day
But still they traveled in the dark woods.

50 men entered the dark woods
40 men still understood
Those 50 men they saw in their eyes
10 of them didn't survive
That journey into the dark woods
But still the 40 men
Knew all 40 wouldn't reach the end
But still they traveled into the dark woods

50 men entered the dark woods
Only 20 men still stood
Those 50 men they saw in their eyes
30 of them had already died
They journey brought pain and sorrow
And fear of not seeing tomorrow
But they continued those 20 men
Into the dark woods.

50 men entered the dark woods
1 man still stood
At the end of those dark woods
Frozen tears filled his eyes
Of the 49 men who didn't survive
The journey into the dark woods.
Isaiah is the 15 yr. old nephew of the late Col. Rocky Baragona

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Death Anniversary

Our son TJ was on the promotions list to get his Sgts promotion. On the day of his death he was threatened that he was being removed from the promotions list. He was pronounced dead at 7:19AM Iraq time and at 2:30PM was posthumously awarded his Sgt. stripes. What they withheld from him in life, they gave to him in death.

His death was deemed a suicide by his commander before the CID investigation was completed and before the autopsy was completed. In their circular thinking, we have been told that the suicide determination was made based on the CID report, but CID says it was based on the autopsy.

On the day of our son’s death, as I said, he was pronounced dead at 7:19AM Iraq time, CID was not notified until 10:00AM of his death and CID did not arrive until 2:00PM. Before they arrived, someone in the chain of command ordered the area to be cleaned. As a result there was nothing for CID to look at when they did arrive.

A ballistics expert, who looked at the CID report and autopsy for us, says that the wound described in the autopsy could not have been made by the weapon our son was carrying, less than 12-18 inches from his head.

As he told us, “Your son’s arms were not long enough to have held the weapon that far from his head and pulled the trigger.” He shared that without a doubt, “Your son did not take his own life.”
The investigation done by CID was ordered reopened by the Army Office of the Inspector General. Their findings were that there had been procedural errors made in the investigation, but they did not comment on the outcome.

My husband, who is a Viet Nam vet says we will never know what really happened that morning.
Liz Sweet

If you have any information on this case, contact Liz Sweet through this website.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FBI Says Gangs Infiltrating the US Military

The U.S. military is facing a "significant criminal threat" from gangs, including prison and biker gangs, whose members have found their way into the ranks, according to an FBI-led investigation.
Some gang members get into the military to escape the streets, but then end up reconnecting once in, while others target the services specifically for the combat and weapons training, the National Gang Intelligence Center says in a just-released 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment/Emerging Trends.

Whatever the reasons, it's a bad mix.

""Gang members with military training pose a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of their distinctive weapons and combat training skills and their ability to transfer these skills to fellow gang members," the report states. Gang members have been reported in every branch of the armed forces, though a large proportion of them have been affiliated with the Army, the Army Reserves or Army National Guard, it says.

Read the entire story here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fort Hood shooting victims, families seek $750 million

In what could be the first step toward a massive federal lawsuit, 83 people —victims of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood and family members of those killed in the attack — have filed administrative claims against the U.S. government alleging willful negligence and seeking about $750 million in damages.

The claimants include family members of eight of the 13 people killed during the rampage, the worst shooting ever on an American military installation.

The claims allege that the federal agencies bowed to "political correctness" in ignoring warning signs regarding Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist facing 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the shooting. Witnesses have said Hasan, who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan shortly after the shooting, shouted "Allahu Akbar" — an Arabic refrain meaning "God is greatest" and something of a war cry for Muslim terrorists — before opening fire inside Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center, killing 12 soldiers and one civilian and wounding more than 30.

Read the entire article here.

Article submitted by Richard Stites

Monday, November 21, 2011

Army limiting use of anti-malaria drug

LOS ANGELES — Almost four decades after inventing a potent anti-malarial drug, the Army has pushed it to the back of its medicine cabinet.

The dramatic about-face follows years of complaints and concerns that mefloquine caused psychiatric and physical side effects even as it was used around the globe as a front-line defense against the mosquito-borne disease that kills about 800,000 people a year.

“Mefloquine is a zombie drug. It’s dangerous, and it should have been killed off years ago,” said Dr. Remington Nevin, an epidemiologist and Army major who has published research that he said showed the drug can be potentially toxic to the brain. He believes the drop in prescriptions is a tacit acknowledgement of the drug’s serious problems.

Read the entire story here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Army Releases October Suicide Data

Army Releases October Suicide Data

The Army released suicide data today for the month of October. Among active-duty soldiers, there were 17 potential suicides: one has been confirmed as suicide and 16 remain under investigation. For September 2011, the Army reported 16 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, one case has been added for a total of 17 cases. Three cases have been confirmed as suicide and 14 cases remain under investigation.

During October 2011, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were 12 potential suicides: none have been confirmed as suicide and 12 remain under investigation. For September 2011, the Army reported six potential suicides among not-on-active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, two cases have been added for a total of eight cases. Three cases have been confirmed as suicide and five cases remain under investigation.

Maj. Gen. David E. Quantock, director of the Army Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Task Force, knows how the tragedy of suicide affects our soldiers, civilians, and families. He joins the task force as the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. “Our people are the Army and their health and well-being are top priorities. This is very important work and I can assure you that the Army team is fully engaged and is totally committed to it,” said Quantock.

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org .

Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at: http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_63.pdf and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/p600_24.pdf .

The Army’s comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at http://www.preventsuicide.army.mil .

Suicide prevention training resources for Army families can be accessed at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/training_sub.asp?sub_cat=20 (requires Army Knowledge Online access to download materials).

Information about Military OneSource is located at http://www.militaryonesource.com or by dialing the toll-free number 1-800-342-9647 for 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 http://www.army.mil/csf/.
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 Resources@DCoEOutreach.org and at http://www.dcoe.health.mil .

The website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is http://www.afsp.org/, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Council site is found at http://www.sprc.org/index.asp .
Source:  http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14924

Saturday, November 19, 2011

McCaskill Calls for Greater Accountability for Contractors

PoliticalNews.me - Nov 17,2011 - McCaskill calls for greater accountability for contractors

Following new report from federal watchdog, Senator calls again for suspending federal work with bad contractors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Citing the case of a private contractor that was never held accountable for negligence in the death of a U.S. servicemember, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill used a Senate hearing to renew her call for the federal government to stop doing business with contractors responsible for wrongdoing.

Read the entire story here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lawmaker: Commands shouldn't investigate military rape cases

The concerted campaign by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, aims to remove military sex crimes investigations and prosecutions from the standard chain of command. Even if it falls short, the campaign already is a case study in how 21st century political momentum is built.

"This silent epidemic is over," Speier said of military sexual assault Thursday.

This week, Speier introduced a bill that would assign all military sexual assault cases to a new Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office. Another new Pentagon office would oversee all sexual assault-related prosecutions.

Speier says the new bureaucracy is necessary for sexual assault-related cases because the current system is "woefully inadequate" and overly influenced by the chain of command.

Read the entire story here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Azerbaijan: Non-Combat Deaths Put Military Reforms in Spotlight

A coalition of several Azerbaijani human rights groups has been tracking non-combat deaths and notes a disturbing upward trend. Based on Defense Ministry information not released to the public, the Group of Monitoring Compliance with Human Rights in the Army (GMCHRA) has recorded the deaths of 76 soldiers to date in non-combat incidents for 2011, and the injury of 91 others. That compares with 62 non-combat deaths and 71 cases of injury in 2010. Possible reasons for the increase were not identified.

“Civil society cannot stand aside from these problems,” commented Arzu Abdullayeva, one of GMCHRA’s founders and the head of Azerbaijan’s National Committee of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly.

In general, the Azerbaijani public has remained passive on this issue. In 2009, several anonymously posted videos on social networking websites depicted soldiers beating, as well as the humiliation of fresh draftees – a practice known as dedovshchina during the Soviet era. The videos prompted prosecutions and prison terms for the accused. But this case has proven the exception, rather than the rule.

Read the entire story, from EurasiaNet.org by clicking here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

We remember

For the families of the fallen, every day is Veteran’s Day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remains of war dead dumped in landfill

The Dover Air Force Base mortuary for years disposed of portions of troops’ remains by cremating them and dumping the ashes in a Virginia landfill, a practice that officials have since abandoned in favor of burial at sea.

The Dover, Del., mortuary, the main point of entry for the nation’s war dead and the target of federal investigations of alleged mishandling of remains, engaged in the practice from 2003 to 2008, according to Air Force officials. The manner of disposal was not disclosed to relatives of fallen service members.

Read the entire story here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Hotline for Families


The Air Force has set up a toll-free number for families of fallen service members with questions about the Office of Special Counsel investigation or Air Force mortuary operations. That number is 1-855-637-2583, and the service will also answer questions through dover.pm@pentagon.af.mil.

Semper Fi Screenings in North Carolina

This weekend there will be two screenings of the Camp Lejeune Documentary, "Semper Fi: Always Faithful" in North Carolina. This is the first time the film has been seen in the state.

The first screening will be held Saturday, November 12th at 4PM in Wilmington NC. This screening is part of the Cucalorus Film Festival. For tickets and more information, please visit the film's website. www.semperfialwaysfaithful.com.

The second screening will be held on Sunday, November 13th in Jacksonville. NC at 3PM. This screening is free to the public and will be held at the Jacksonville Northside High School.

Jerry Ensminger and the film's producers will attend both screenings and participate in a post viewing question and answer session. This is your opportunity to see for yourselves how this fight has evolved and support our cause.

Mike Partain

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Air Force morgue lost body parts from war dead

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 17:47:45 -0500
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Dover military mortuary entrusted with the solemn duty of receiving and caring for America's war dead twice lost body parts of remains shipped home from Afghanistan, the Air Force revealed Tuesday.

Three mortuary supervisors have been punished, but no one was fired in a grisly case reminiscent of the scandalous mishandling and misidentifying of remains at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Air Force, which runs the mortuary at Dover, Del., acknowledged failures while insisting it made the right decision in not informing families linked to the missing body parts until last weekend — months after it completed a probe of 14 sets of allegations lodged by three members of the mortuary staff.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, told a Pentagon news conference he and the service's top civilian, Michael Donley, are ultimately responsible for what happens at Dover and for its mistakes.

"There's no escaping it," Schwartz said.

Read the entire story here.

Air Force Officials Disciplined Over Handling of Human Remains

Mishandling of remains sparks anger

Air Force Investigates and Improves Mortuary Operation

The Air Force announced today that it has completed a year-long investigation of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations (AFMAO) at Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Del., and the point of entry for U.S. service members who are killed or die overseas. The service implemented multiple corrective actions and took action regarding three senior mortuary officials responsible for operations at AFMAO after some employees complained about the handling of certain cases.
The Air Force Inspector General began its investigation in June 2010. The investigation focused primarily on the handling of remains of four service members. The Air Force inspector general’s investigation was conducted in coordination with other federal offices and included nearly 50 interviews and an extensive review of mortuary operating procedures. Investigators found no evidence anyone intentionally mishandled remains, but concluded the mortuary staff failed to maintain accountability while processing portions of remains for three service members. While it is likely that disposition of remains was by an appropriate method, it could not be shown that it was in accordance with the families’ directions.

Each family received remains of their service member for interment; the staff, however, was not able to ensure additional portions of remains were handled in a manner consistent with the families’ instructions.

The Air Force determined senior AFMAO officials failed to provide proper management and corrective actions when they did not respond appropriately to indications that procedures were inadequate to prevent problems related to the tracking of portions of human remains.

Additionally, the Air Force investigation determined the mortuary staff could have communicated more clearly with the representatives of a sister service about restorative actions taken to prepare the remains of a service member, killed by an improvised explosive device, whose family requested to view him in uniform. In addition, the investigation found that while there were some deficiencies in administrative procedures, documentation, and electronic record keeping, the processes to which they related were appropriately conducted. Public health was not endangered.

“The investigation concluded that the mission was always conducted with reverence, dignity, honor and respect for all served through the facility,” said Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff.

“However, the standard is 100 percent accountability in every instance of this important mission. We can, and will, do better and as a result of the allegations and investigation; our ability to care for our fallen warriors is now stronger,” Schwartz said. “In fact, throughout the past year new processes have been put in place to ensure the exacting standards are met every time.”

The Air Force has contacted family designated representatives of the four families directly affected and discussed these matters with them personally.

“It is the AFMAO staff’s mission and obligation to fulfill the nation’s commitment to caring for our fallen service members while also serving and supporting the families of these heroes,” said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley. “The employees who brought forth their concerns gave the Air Force an opportunity to make the operation of AFMAO better and stronger. Their initiative allowed us to correct procedures and make long-term improvements to management of Air Force mortuary operations.”

The Air Force has requested, and the Secretary of Defense has directed, an independent assessment of the current overall operations of the Port Mortuary.

An independent panel of the Defense Health Board will evaluate current operations to ensure continued effectiveness of the Port Mortuary. In addition, the review panel will identify whether the Air Force should be considering or taking any further actions to enhance these operations.

“I want to reassure our men and women in uniform, and the American public, that the Air Force mortuary standards they expect for our fallen heroes are being met,” Schwartz said.

The Dover mortuary’s staff consists of members of all branches of the military, including civilians and reservists. The staff includes mortuary affairs specialists, morticians and other technical experts. The staff operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and regularly responds to the trauma of war as staff members prepare the remains of fallen warriors under often-difficult circumstances. Since 2003, the mortuary center has prepared more than 6,300 deceased individuals for return to their loved ones.

Families of fallen service members may contact the Air Force toll free at 1-855-637-2583 or e-mail at dover.pm@pentagon.af.mil if they have questions about this investigation or Air Force mortuary operations.

For additional information, media should contact Air Force Public Affairs at 703-695-0640 or after hours at 202-528-4929.

Source:  http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14909

Monday, November 07, 2011

Kin recall Hood victims on 2-year anniversary

WASHINGTON — Two grieving families walked through endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery on a cool autumn day to pay their respects to two soldiers they never met.

But they are forever linked to Maj. Libardo Eduardo Careveo and Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, bound by tragedy. Their relatives and both soldiers were among 13 people gunned down in a Fort Hood, Texas, shooting rampage two years ago today that left more than two dozen others wounded.

Staying connected with the other victims’ families has helped in the grieving process, although they may never truly heal, they said.

Read the entire story here.

Multiple missteps led to drone killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan

"Hey now, wait. Standby on these," the pilot cautioned. "They could be animals in the field." Seconds later, tiny white flashes appeared by the figures -- the heat signature of gunfire. "There they are," he said, now sure he was looking at the enemy.

At an Air National Guard base in Terre Haute, Ind., an intelligence analyst whose job it was to monitor the video to help prevent mistakes on the mission also observed the muzzle flashes -- but noticed that they were firing away from the embattled Marines.

Marines at Patrol Base Alcatraz, 12 miles from the firefight, watched their screens too, as they kept in contact with both the drone crew and the platoon members, who had set out from the base just an hour earlier. It would be their decision whether to call in a missile strike.

Thirty-one seconds after the pilot reported muzzle flashes, the Marines at Alcatraz ordered that the Predator be prepared to strike if the shooters could be confirmed as hostile. At 8:49 a.m., 29 minutes after the ambush began, they authorized the pilot to fire.
In minutes, two Americans would be dead.

Read the entire story here.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Local DJ dedicates portion of radio show to read the names of war casualties

Fred Boenig, also known by his radio name DJ Chance Austin, experienced every parent’s worst nightmare in May 2010.

Military cars pulled up to his house and informed him that his 19-year-old son, Airman 1st Class Austin Harper Gates Benson, 19, of Hellertown, had died in Torkham, Khyber, Afghanistan.
Benson was a 2008 graduate of Saucon Valley High School where he was voted “Most Likely to Change the World” by peers, according to his father.

Boenig would soon find out that his son wasn’t killed in combat, but from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Read the entire story here.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Non-hostile Deaths

American Society in Crisis: Non-Hostile Deaths Overtaking Veterans



Death Anniversary

Statement of Stefanie E. Pelkey
before the Committee on Veterans Affairs
House of Representatives
27 July 2005

My name is Stefanie Pelkey and I am a former Captain in the U.S. Army. This testimony is on behalf of my husband, CPT Michael Jon Pelkey, who died on November 5, 2004. Although he was a brave veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he did not die in battle, at least not in Iraq. He died in a battle of his heart and mind. He passed away in our home at Fort Sill, Oklahoma from a gunshot wound to the chest. My Michael was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) only one week before his death by a licensed therapist authorized by Tricare.

The official ruling by the Department of Defense is suicide, however, many people, including myself; believe it was a horrible accident. We also believe that he would not have been sleeping with a loaded pistol if it weren’t for the PTSD.

When I met my husband, we were both officers in a Field Artillery unit in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. Michael was working as the assistant Operations Officer for the unit. He was responsible and hard-working. He loved life, traveling, and having fun. He hailed from Wolcott, Connecticut and was one of six siblings. He received his commission from the University of Connecticut. Being a soldier was a childhood dream.

We were married in November 2001 and our journey as a military family began. Michael deployed for Iraq with the 1st Armored Division in March 2003, three weeks after our son, Benjamin, was born. He left a happy and proud father. He returned in late July of 2003. It seemed upon his return that our family was complete and we had made it through our first real world deployment. Aside from his lack of appetite and a brief adjustment period, he seemed so happy to be home.

He noted several concerns on his DD Form 2796, post-deployment health assessment, to include diarrhea, frequent indigestion, ringing in the ears, feeling tired after sleeping, headaches, and strange rashes. He also noted on this form that he had felt that he was in great danger of being killed while in Iraq and he witnessed the killings or dead coalition and civilians during this time. However, the most worrisome notation on this form was the admission of feeling down, depressed, and sometimes hopeless. He also noted that he was constantly on guard, and easily startled after returning from his deployment. 

A few days after returning to Germany, he reported to his primary care physician on July 28, 2003, as a part of a post-deployment health assessment. He expressed concerns to his primary care physician that he was worried about having serious conflicts with his spouse and close friends. The physician referred him to see a counselor, however, the mental health staff on our post was severely understaffed with only one or two psychiatrists. Michael was unable to get an appointment before we moved from our post in Germany to Fort Sill, Oklahoma only five days later.

There was no time for therapy and doctors’ visits, as we were packing our home and taking care of our then six-month-old son. When we got to Fort Sill, we both settled into our assignments. Everything seemed normal for a while. Michael was in the Officers Advanced Course for Field Artillery and I was a Chemical Officer for a Brigade. We settled into our home and about six months later, the symptoms of PTSD started to surface, only, we did not know enough about PTSD to connect the dots.

When my husband returned from Iraq, there were no debriefings for family members, service members, or forced evaluations from Army Mental Health in Germany. As a soldier and wife, I never received any preparation on what to expect upon my husband’s return. If only the military community had reached out to family members in some manner to prepare them for and make them aware of the symptoms of PTSD, my family’s tragedy could have been averted. I believe that it is crucial that spouses be informed about the symptoms and make a point in telling them that PTSD can happen long after what psychiatrists call an adjustment period. Spouses are sometimes the only ones who will encourage a soldier to seek help. Most soldiers I know will not willingly seek help at any military mental facility for fear of repercussions from commanders and even jibes from fellow soldiers. My husband worked around many high ranking officers and was most likely embarrassed about seeking help. What would they think of an officer having nightmares, being forgetful, and having to take anti-depressants?

Months after arriving in Oklahoma, there were several instances in which I found a fully loaded 9mm pistol under Michael’s pillow or under his side of the bed. I would yell at him and tell him that the baby could find it and get hurt. Then I would find it under the mattress or in his nightstand. I could not seem to get through to him that having this weapon was not necessary and it posed a danger. These episodes alone started to cause marital tension. Finally, after about two months of haggling over the issue of this weapon, Michael finally agreed to put his pistols away. I thought the situation was resolved. As a soldier myself, I could understand that having a weapon after being in a war might be somewhat habitual for him. Little by little, other symptoms started to arise, including forgetfulness.

Michael would not even remember to mail a bill or pick-up his own prescriptions. This became a great problem for him. How could a Captain in the US Army forget to mail bills and miss appointments? He was not like this before his deployment. One of the greatest tests PTSD posed to our marriage was that Michael began to suffer from erectile dysfunction, which would cause him to break into tears. He did not understand what was happening. I did not know what was happening.

On other occasions, he would over-react to simple things. One night, we heard something in the garage around 8 pm. It was still fairly light outside and it could have simply been a child or an animal. We lived in a small town with very little crime. Michael proceeded to run outside with a fully loaded weapon and almost fired at a neighbor’s cat. These over-reactions occurred on several occasions.

The symptoms would come and go to a point that they didn’t seem like a problem at the time. We would later laugh about them and make jokes about the little scares we had. He would always make excuses and tell me that we needed to be careful, so I let it go. There were times that everything seemed just right in our home and he seemed capable enough. He was succeeding in his career as the only Captain in a research and development unit at Fort Sill. It was a job in which he was entrusted with researching and contributing to the Army’s latest in targeting developments.

We soon bought a new house and he was so proud of it. We were finally getting settled. Then the high-blood pressure and severe chest pains surfaced along with erectile dysfunction. Finally, the nightmares began. This would be the last symptom of PTSD to arise and it was the one symptom that I feel ultimately contributed to my husband’s death. These nightmares were so disturbing that Michael would sometimes kick me in his sleep or wake up running to turn on the lights. He would wake up covered in sweat and I would hold him until he went back to sleep. He was almost child-like in these moments. In the morning, he would joke around and tell me the boogie man was going to get him and sadly, we both laughed it off.

However, at this time, I do want to point out that Michael was seeking help for all of the symptoms I have discussed. He was put on high blood pressure medication. He also complained of chest pains and was seen on three occasions in the month preceding his death. He even sought a prescription for Viagra to ease marital tensions. However, no military physician Michael ever saw could give him any answers. No doctor ever asked him about depression or linked his symptoms to the war.

Michael tried to seek help from the Fort Sill Mental Health facility but, was discouraged that the appointments he was given were sometimes a month away. So, he called Tricare and was told that he could receive outside therapy, if it was “Family Therapy” so, we took it. Family therapy, marital counseling, or whatever they wanted to call it, we were desperate to save our marriage. After all, the symptoms of PTSD were causing most of our heartaches. In the two weeks prior to his death, we saw a therapist authorized by Tricare as a couple and individually. This therapist told Michael that he had PTSD and that she would recommend to his primary care physician that he be put on medication. She also told him that she had a method of treating PTSD and she felt she could help him because he was open to receiving help. He was so excited and finally expressed to me that he could see a light at the end of the tunnel. He finally had an answer to all of his problems and some of our marital troubles. It was an exciting day for us. Not to mention, two weeks before his death, he interviewed for a position in which he would be running the staff of a General Officer. He was so proud that he was given the job after speaking with the General for only fifteen minutes. He was beaming with pride and so excited about his new job. Things were looking up for him.

He met with the therapist on a Monday. Tuesday, we celebrated our third wedding anniversary. It was a happy time. I felt hope and relief with the recent positive events. Michael must have felt something else. Friday my parents were visiting. I was at a church function and my father returned from playing golf to find Michael. He looked as if he were sleeping peacefully, except for the wet spot on his chest. His pain was finally over and his battle with PTSD was won. No, he wasn’t in Iraq but, in his mind he was there day in and day out. Although Michael would never discuss the details of his experiences in Iraq, I know he saw casualties, children suffering, dead civilians, and soldiers perish. For my soft-hearted Michael, that was enough. Every man’s heart is different. For my Michael it may not have taken much, but, it changed his heart and mind forever.

There were no indications of suicide but, plenty of signs to indicate PTSD. He suffered greatly from the classic symptoms of PTSD. It’s plain to see in retrospect. His weapon became a great source of comfort for him. He endured sleepless nights due to nightmares and images of suffering that only Michael knew.

My husband served the Army and his country with honor. He was a hard worker, wonderful husband and father. He leaves behind a 28-month-old son, Benjamin. One day I would like to tell my son what a hero his father was. He went to war and came back with an illness. Although PTSD is evident in his medical records and in my experiences with Michael, the Army has chosen to rule Michael’s death a suicide without documenting this serious illness. I have been told by the investigator that any PTSD diagnosis must be documented by an Army Mental Health Psychiatrist to be considered valid. At the time Michael sought help, he knew it was an urgent matter and was not willing to wait a month or even a few days. He knew it was time. Michael sought the help Tricare offered us and took it. Due to the fact that we were in family therapy and the fact that it was coded as family therapy, Michael is not going to get the credit he deserves. He is a casualty of war. I have heard this spoken from the mouth’s of two Generals. He came home from war with an injured mind and to let him become just a “suicide” is an injustice to someone who served their country so bravely. He loved being a soldier and he put his heart into it. I will be submitting petitions to have the PTSD officially documented and to have my husband put on the Official Operation Iraqi Freedom Casualty of War list. There are many soldiers who have committed suicide due to PTSD in Iraq and received full honors and benefits. Army Master Sergeant James C. Coons of Katy, Texas committed suicide and was found dead in his room at a hotel for outpatients being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical. Although Coons died outside a combat zone, his family’s petition to have him counted as a casualty of combat was approved. Michael deserves the same honors.

There are so many soldiers suffering from this disorder and so many families suffering the aftermath. I don’t want my Michael to have died in vain. He had a purpose in this life and that was to watch over his soldiers. I intend to keep helping him do so by spreading our story.

My husband died of wounds sustained in battle. That is the bottom line. The war does not end when they come home.

Stefanie Pelkey

Friday, November 04, 2011

Brief: DoD must alter suicide prevention plan

By Patricia Kime - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Nov 3, 2011 18:17:03 EDT

Military suicides threaten the health of the all-volunteer forces and the Pentagon is “losing the battle” to prevent them, with active-duty members taking their own lives at a rate of one every 36 hours, a new
The policy brief, “Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide,” from the Washington-based Center for a New American Security think-tank, exhorts the Defense Department to change protocols and policies that it says hinder suicide-prevention efforts.

It recommends changes ranging from establishing unit cohesion programs after deployments to encouraging commanders to speak with troops about their privately owned firearms.

Service in wartime, say authors Margaret Harrell and Nancy Berglass, can chip away at three endemic human factors that keep people from committing suicide. Some psychiatrists have identified these as belongingness, usefulness and a natural aversion to pain or death.

According to the report, service members feel a strong sense of belonging when they are in a field unit, but this may wane after they transfer from their unit or leave the military.

Read the entire story here.

New Report: Military Losing the Battle Against Suicide

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A Veteran Dies By Suicide Every 80 Minutes, Center For A New American Security Study Reveals

By Eleanor Goldberg The Huffington Post November 2, 2011

A veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes, according to a study published Monday.

Military suicides have increased since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Center for a New American Security Suicide report. In the fiscal year 2009 alone, 1,868 veterans of these wars have made suicide attempts, according to armytimes.com.

These staggering figures underscore the need for the VA to develop more mental-health programs and an accurate system for recording the number of veterans and service members who take their lives.

"America is losing its battle against suicide by veterans and service members," authors Dr. Margaret C. Harrell and Nancy Berglass concluded. "And as more troops return from deployment, the risk will only grow."

Faced with the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment rates tipping 12 percent and a loss of the military camaraderie, many veterans report feeling purposeless upon returning home.

Marine Corps veteran Jason Christiansen, 35, of St. Paul, Minn. is one such veteran that nearly killed himself after watching his life unravel upon completing his service. He lost his job as an auto dealer in 2008, avoided debt collectors and fell into a serious depression, Minnesota.publicradio.org reports.

"At one point, I was sitting there with a gun in my mouth," Christiansen told the news outlet.

A friend pushed Christiansen to seek help at a VA program, a key player in the rescuing of veterans in despair.

The Veterans Crisis Line, launched in 2007, has fielded more than 400,000 calls and has saved more than 14,000 lives, according to the Veterans Affairs mental health website.

The epidemic is raging among those who are currently serving too. From 2005 to 2010, approximately one service member committed suicide every 36 hours, the CNAS study revealed.

While the VA mental-health programs have proven to be effective, the authors of the report offered concrete suggestions on how to prevent even more military members and veterans from taking their lives.

Establishing an Army unit cohesion period
When soldiers are deployed to a new mission, the unit quickly disbands, leaving service members reeling from the loss of the leaders and the service members that they had learned to trust and rely on. "This lack of unit stability following a deployment has unfortunate implications for individuals struggling with reintegration," Harrell and Berglass noted. The authors suggested that the Army follow the Marines protocol of keeping a unit together for 90 days following deployment.

Discussing personally-owned weapons with service members
Though 48 percent of military suicides in 2010 occurred at the hands of privately-owned weapons, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act bars military leaders from broaching the topic with military members, even if they appear to be severely depressed. The authors want Congress to rescind the act, so that military leaders can, at the very least, suggest that service members purchase gunlocks or store their weapons outside of the home if they suspect that they may be at risk for committing suicide.

Improving the analysis of veteran suicide data
The VA estimates that about 18 veterans commit suicide every day, but this statistic is based on limited data. Only 16 states submit the cause of death among veterans and the VA relies on 3-year-old data for its reports. Improved information collection could help determine if veterans are committing suicide soon after leaving the military and if there's a higher risk among post-9/11 veterans compared with earlier generations, the study noted.

"The DOD does not currently take sufficient responsibility for veteran suicide," the authors said. "Given the potential implications of veteran suicide for the all volunteer force, the DOD should seek to understand which veterans, and how many veterans, are dying by suicide."

Contributed by Liz Sweet

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Court-martial for 3 NCOs in wake of EOD death

By Markeshia Ricks - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Oct 31, 2011 13:15:46 EDT

It was supposed to be a routine detonation of unserviceable ordnance and a morale booster for a couple of dozen troops at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Instead it turned into a nearly 30-minute nightmare that left Senior Airman James Hansen dead and one soldier severely wounded.

Now, 13 months after the accident, three noncommissioned officers have been charged in Hansen’s death.

Two of the NCOs — Master Sgt. Garet Vannes and Tech. Sgt. Gregory Divito Jr. — face dereliction of duty and negligent homicide charges. Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hefti has been charged with dereliction of duty and negligent homicide.

Read the entire story here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Report rips platoon boss behavior in fratricide

By Joe Gould - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Oct 31, 2011 13:05:12 EDT

A new investigation into the 2008 friendly fire death of Pfc. David Sharrett II in Iraq blasts the platoon leader who shot Sharrett and abandoned him as he lay dying, saying the officer displayed “serious personal judgment errors.”

After a botched pre-dawn raid, then-1st. Lt. Timothy Hanson left the battlefield on a helicopter while Sharrett and two of his soldiers were still missing, the report stated. Sharrett was found clinging to life at least 10 minutes after Hanson left.

“[Hanson] failed to uphold the Soldier’s Creed to include the Warrior Ethos,” wrote the chief investigator, Brig. Gen. David Bishop, chief of staff of Third Army, U.S. Army Central, “and he displayed a lack of regard for completing his assigned mission and ensuring the welfare and safety of his Soldiers which calls into question his leadership.”

The new investigation, dated March 31, is the third since Sharrett was killed. It backtracks on the first investigation’s widely reported conclusion that Hanson “misidentified” Sharrett as an insurgent and shot him because Sharrett failed to switch on his infrared beacon.

Read the entire story here.