Army post shuts down for anti-suicide event

By Richard Allen Greene

— A major United States military post is shutting down for three days following a rash of suicides, the post announced.  Fort Campbell, home of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, is holding a three-day “suicide stand-down training event” starting Wednesday — the second one it has held this year, a post spokeswoman told CNN.

At least 11 deaths of Fort Campbell soldiers this year are confirmed or suspected suicides, spokeswoman Kelly Tyler said. That’s out of 64 confirmed or suspected suicides in the entire Army, according to official statistics. At that rate, the Army is on pace for a record number of suicides this year.

The post commander, Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, addressed all 19,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division on Wednesday, Tyler said.   “His intent was to be able to look them in the eye and make them aware that everyone cares about the issue, and make sure they know — corporal to general — what help is available,” she said. “To make sure that people know we want them to keep living.”

Soldiers often refuse to admit they are having problems because of the culture of the military, she said.  “You still have the stigma in the Army of asking for help — it’s an institution of strength and honor. And they need to understand that there is strength and honor in asking for help,” Tyler said.


Lawmakers ask GAO to review burn pit data

By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 27, 2009 10:33:31 EDT 

After learning the Defense Department’s safety testing of a burn pit at Joint Base Balad in Iraq may have “significant methodological problems,” several lawmakers have requested a review by the Government Accountability Office.

“The [military] study found that exposures to burn-pit operations were at levels that constitute an ‘acceptable’ health risk for both cancer and non-cancer long-term health effects,” states the letter, dated May 22. “Based on our conversations with independent scientists, we are concerned that long-term adverse health effects cannot be ruled out on the basis of this study, and we would like the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the study’s methodology and findings.”

The letter comes after a series of Military Times articles showed troops have burned everything from petroleum products to dioxin-producing plastic bottles at bases throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the first reports were published in October, more than 200 service members have come forward with complaints of asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs, rashes, leukemia and lymphomas.

Class-action lawsuits also have been filed in nine states against KBR, the Defense Department contractor that operated many of the burn pits, and Disabled American Veterans has begun collecting names for a database of people potentially exposed to the burn pits.  Legislation also was recently introduced to more tightly regulate the military’s use of burn pits in the war zone and more closely track the potential health effects of troops exposed to smoke from the pits.

An Inspiration to Her Peers

Courtesy Story
Date: 05.28.2009
Posted: 05.28.2009 08:33

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq – Sgt. Stephanie Jean Jacques, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., took an oath five years ago. That oath was to defend this nation from our enemies and stand for liberty, as well as justice. As a proud non-commissioned officer in the Army Reserve, she has renewed her oath by re-enlisting for an additional three years.

She is proud to represent the Quartermaster Corps as a Shower, Laundry, and Clothing Repair NCO. She has deployed twice to Baghdad, and while deployed she supported combat operations in the Multi-National Division – Baghdad, Multi-National Division – Southeast, Multi-National Division – Southwest, and Multi-National Division – North areas of operations. Through her achievements and experiences she is able to mentor and train five Soldiers. She uses her leadership and communication abilities to train her Soldiers, enhancing their own leadership potential as well as their overall military knowledge.

Women Soldiers

Courtesy Story
Date: 05.28.2009
Posted: 05.28.2009 08:19
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq – When the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Texas Army National Guard deployed last summer in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, hundreds of Soldiers were activated to fight the war on terrorism, and women were not overlooked.  The women who serve with the 56th IBCT have been classified as non-combat arms; however, many of the female Soldiers currently serving have found themselves in situations very similar to that of combat arms Soldiers. The women called up for duty these days serve in positions such as drivers, gunners, and medics, all of whom can be directly engaged by the enemy.
Almost daily, Spc. Doris Campos, a native of Cuero, Texas and the mother of two and grandmother of two, assumes her role behind the wheel of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, navigating the streets of Baghdad and placing herself on the forefront of the battle. By going outside the wire, Campos takes the risk of engaging in life-threatening situations. This is Campos’ fourth deployment. During her first three, she served in her primary Military Occupational Specialty as an Automated Supply Specialist. When she heard that Delta Company, 949th Brigade Support Battalion, was going to be tasked with convoy security, she not only volunteered to be deployed, but also requested to serve in a line company where she would be in closer contact with the enemy.

The Corporal’s Diary

Jonathan Santos, 22, documented his 37 days in Iraq on video and in writing; never knowing that day 38 would
be his last. From high explosives to clandestine home brew, his video footage and witty narrative combine personal musings on life, death, and the future he imagined but would never see. His charming buddy, Matthew, who barely survived, brings the war home. Through Jonathan’s handwritten words and videotape, the film tells a personal and profound story.

Gaps In Mental Health Screenings Still Haunt Military

By MATTHEW KAUFFMAN | The Hartford Courant: May 12, 2009

Chad Barrett had attempted suicide and was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder by the time his unit prepared for a third combat tour in Iraq. A psychiatrist had recommended the staff sergeant be separated from the military for his own good, but Barrett wanted to stay with his Army colleagues.  And when it came time for deployment, Army commanders were happy to oblige.

Barrett, who had spent a dozen years in the Army, shipped out in December 2007 with prescription bottles of Klonopin for anxiety, Pamelor for depression and migraines, and Lunesta and Ambien for sleep problems. But the drugs did not control his despair and mood swings. And less than two months after arriving in Iraq, Barrett popped open some of the bottles and committed suicide by overdose. He was 35.

“I understand that they have a mission, and mission comes first. I completely get that,” Barrett’s widow, Shelby Barrett, said from her home near Fort Carson in Colorado. “But they took a soldier who was not mentally capable of doing the things that he thought he was capable of doing. And I think they took him just as another boot on the ground. They needed their numbers.”,0,3688799.story

Spurred by Gates, Congress May Consider Overhauling Military Health Care

Corrected May 5, 2009 – 5:34 p.m

By Josh Rogin, CQ Staff

For the first time in years, Congress and the Defense Department may be ready to reach a compromise on how to overhaul the military health care system, the fastest-growing portion of the defense budget. The negotiations will play out during the formation of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization and appropriations bills and could include an updated fee structure for the more than 9 million users of the military’s Tricare system, as well as continued congressional overhaul efforts.

The Pentagon has long advocated for increases in Tricare fees and co-payments. But Congress has repeatedly rebuffed those politically unpopular initiatives. With military health care costs spiraling upward and placing increased pressure on other parts of the Pentagon’s budget, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is hoping to persuade Congress to look again at raising fees.

“Health care is eating the department alive,” Gates told an audience at Alabama’s Maxwell Air Force Base on April 15, adding that the department will spend $47 billion on health care in fiscal 2010. “Part of the problem is, we cannot get any relief from the Congress in terms of increasing either co-pays or the premiums.”  During each of the last three years of the Bush administration, the Pentagon tried to raise those fees and co-payments. It assumed huge budget savings — $1.2 billion in fiscal 2009 — but Congress rejected the payment increases and added the difference back into the defense budget each time.

This year, Gates plans to fund Tricare fully in the fiscal 2010 budget request and over the course of the budget cycle try to convince Congress of the need to raise fees and co-payments.