Suicide at US Army Human Terrain System

General Martin Dempsey Channels Joker

A staff sergeant on duty with the US Army TRADOC Human Terrain System (HTS) committed suicide in April 2011. He left behind his wife and children. Suicide has become a plague within the US Army. Whatever the reasons—despair, stress, relationship issues—it is obviously tragic for family, friends and colleagues. According to the CDC, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. Latest data show that 34,598 Americans killed themselves in 2010. The preferred way for exiting life was a firearm, with 17,352 choosing that method.

The US Army, led by Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli, has moved aggressively to identify the underlying causes of suicide among its ranks. There are many resources available in the civil-military universe to assist those contemplating suicide and to educate family and colleagues trying to decode suicidal signals/tendencies.

One notable US Army effort in this area is Army STARRS that provides dozens of suicide prevention resources. It’s worth the visit. There is also a very compelling statement on the matter by Chiarelli.

What I’m trying to do is change the culture of the Army, I’m trying to get soldiers to realize that the wounds you can’t see are just as serious as the ones you can.

Go Chiarelli! When done in the US Army, take up that cause (and basic national health care) in civilian life.

US Army HTS PAO, Mr. Greg Mueller, was contacted concerning the suicide, plus other matters that observers say have surfaced recently. These include the results of a Command Climate Survey, ongoing internal investigations, and “disruptive” Human Terrain Teams operating in Afghanistan. Mueller’s response was: “It would be inappropriate for HTS to comment on any of these questions. HTS takes seriously the personal privacy of its team members. Additionally, we impose similar restrictions on the release of information concerning the internal practices of the organization.”

Fair enough.

Born Under a Bad Sign

These days the US Army’s HTS brings to mind the classic song by Booker Jones and William Bell titled “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Cream’s version is particularly good. One phrase from the song is, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.”

The song should be the HTS anthem.

In the short life of this relatively small program (Pentagon relativity at work here), the brand name US Army TRADOC HTS has suffered battlefield killed and wounded, murder/manslaughter, a hostage and spy case, a suicide, sexual harassment (hostile work place), alleged waste-fraud-abuse, a skirmish with academia/anthropologists, plus other matters unreported or barely touched upon in this long series on HTS.

The news for June 2011, according to sources, is that HTS program leaders Colonel’s Jose Davis and Sharon Hamilton received substandard results on the latest Command Climate Survey. They say that the reviews were worse than those of former program manager Steve Fondacaro. There are stories of heavy duty partying by HTT’s in Afghanistan, pay and grade changes that affect program performance, high turnover rates, etc. “Turmoil” is how sources describe the program.

We’ll maintain a reputation as good stewards of America’s resources. We’ll remain connected to America. And we’ll succeed in all of that because we’ll reconnect, engage, empower and hold our leaders accountable.

That was General Martin Dempsey, former CG of US Army TRADOC (December 2008 to April 2011), speaking at his Assumption of Responsibility Ceremony (for CSA) on April 11, 2011. Now he is on his way to the Chair of the JCS.

Dempsey recently remarked that US Army leaders should, “Encourage curiosity and don’t be afraid to introduce chaos once in a while.”

Perhaps Dempsey is a fan of Heath Ledger’s Joker segment on “Chaos” in the movie The Dark Knight.

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in political and national security affairs. He wrote The Raptor's Eye, and his latest book is US Army Human Terrain System. He can be reached at: captainkong22@gmail.com. Read other articles by John.