Probe: Leadership, stress linked to recruiter suicides

Policy review planned after deaths

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: January 23, 2009

HOUSTON — Poor leadership, stress and individual issues were all factors in the suicides of four Army recruiters in a single battalion, an Army investigation found.

Brig. Gen. Dell Turner, who conducted the investigation ordered by the secretary of the Army, told the Houston Chronicle that there was no single cause for the deaths in the Houston Recruiting Battalion, but all Army recruiters will conduct a one-day stand-down next month for training, suicide prevention and recruiter wellness.

The investigation was prompted by four suicides within the 266-member Houston battalion since 2005. All four were combat veterans, and some family members complained that the high stress and isolation of the recruiting job helped crush the men. The Houston battalion was the only one of the 38 battalions nationwide to report more than one suicide in recent years.

Turner was appointed to conduct the investigation in October after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, pushed for a review of the recruiting command. On Thursday, Cornyn said he was pleased with the report.

"I’m relieved that in these individual incidents, it was probably more related to individual problems," he said. "But there was humiliating treatment which probably did contribute to their decisions to take their life. It’s a disturbing report, but one I found to be thorough. Now we can deal with it."

Fifteen recruiters nationwide have committed suicide since 2003.

Turner declined to say what disciplinary actions might be taken against the chain of command, but he said the Army inspector general will be asked to lead an assessment of the climate of the recruiting command.

Cornyn said he will also request the Senate Armed Services Committee hold a hearing on the larger issue of recruiter training and assessment, to make sure the problems in Houston were isolated cases.

"We need to make sure this doesn’t point to larger issues," he said. "Is this just in the Army, or does it happen with other services as well?"

Staff Sgt. Amanda Henderson, the widow of a recruiter who hanged himself, was among the most outspoken in calling for changes in recruiting.

She said the investigation’s findings are "bittersweet," but that she was encouraged the Army planned to take steps to address the issues that affected recruiters like her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Henderson.

"Now that we have an outline, let’s focus on executing the outline," Henderson said.

Stars and Stripes’ Leo Shane III contributed to this report.

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