The number of Fort Hood soldiers who killed themselves nearly doubled in 2012, jumping to 19 from 10 in 2011, and trending upwards even as the war in Iraq ended and troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan. That echoed overall military numbers: 2012 saw 349 service members kill themselves, The Associated Press reported last week, more than any previous year and outpacing battlefield deaths.
At Fort Hood, home to more than 40,000 troops, the tragedy was in some ways foreseeable. For much of 2011, thousands of Fort Hood troops were deployed during the last months of the Iraq War, leaving the massive Army post relatively empty. When they returned, the post’s population swelled to its highest levels since the beginning of the conflicts. The last time the post was similarly full — in 2010 — Fort Hood reported a record-high 22 suicides.
But last year’s 19 Fort Hood suicides also represent a marked departure from the traditional demographics of military suicide. In 2011, fewer than half of all military suicide victims had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. Yet of Fort Hood’s 2012 suicides, 85 percent — 16 of 19 — had previously deployed. (Deployment history for Fort Hood suicides in past years were not available.)
And it appears that increasing numbers of older, more experienced non-commissioned officers like Williams are dying of suicide. In 2008, 56 percent of Army suicides occurred among lower enlisted soldiers — those at the rank of specialist or below. By comparison, 58 percent of the 2012 Fort Hood suicides were more senior soldiers at the rank of sergeant or above; among them were two captains.