The Tragedy of “Captains Courageous”

Time Magazine, July 12, 2012

The two soldiers couldn’t have been more different. One was young and handsome enough to be known as “Captain Brad Pitt,” a 2007 West Point graduate trained to deliver ordnance from the Army’s most terrifying flying machine, an AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship. The other was a decade older, a bomb-squad grunt who high school friends had dubbed “Buzzard” because of his pronounced Adam’s apple. In mid-career he shifted gears to become an officer and graduate from the Pentagon’s medical school…

The pilot and the doctor shared one other thing: they found themselves in a darkening, soul-sucking funnel that has trapped some 2,500 military personnel since 9/11. Like them, each died, at his own hand, on March 21, nearly 4,000 miles apart.

“We have a crisis in the military,” said General Peter Chiarelli, who until January was the Army’s No. 2 officer and top suicide fighter. Chiarelli says the persistent rate of military suicides is “caused by a lack of money and personnel to deal with the mental-health challenges created by a decade at war.”

No one seems to know the answer to stopping, or at least reducing, military suicides.  A “decade of war” can’t be the only answer; Capt Morrison returned from Iraq in December 2011, after flying 70 missions in nine months.

Is this rate of suicide “normal”?  The Pentagon doesn’t think so, nor do I. 

Something is happening with our veterans.  Capt McCaddon may have been a doctor in the latter half of his career, but before that he was in bomb disposal. 

The time frame this issue from TIME addresses is the period after 9/11.  I would like to know if the military suicide rate has changed from prior 9/11, and if so, how much.  I’d also like to know if comparisons can be made to veterans in other wars:  VietNam, World War 11, World War I, the Civil War.

Maybe I’m way off base, but it seems to me if we could compare suicide rates pre- and post-9/11, and with other wars (if the data was available), we could develop some hypotheses and make some distinctions about what causes the suicide rate now.

Without that information, it could be easy to say that people were tougher back then, more repressed; they didn’t feel their feelings, so their feelings didn’t bother them.

I don’t believe it.

Captain Ian Morrison

Captain Mike McCaddon, MD

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