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Military Suicides on the Rise
The number of people in the U.S. military who have committed suicide has increased dramatically in recent years, with the Army alone battling a suicide rate that doubled between 2005 and 2009.
At Fort Hood in Texas, officials have documented 14 confirmed suicides and six suspected suicides among soldiers so far this year, including four suspected suicides during one weekend at the end of September. Fort Hood had 11 suicides last year and 14 total in 2008.
Sara Horn, a military wife who founded a support network called Wives of Faith, said the suicides are directly related to a problem of the heart.
"When the heart has no hope, it's very hard to see a future. This should serve only as one more wakeup call, one more plea to our local churches and believers to reach out to our military and their families," Horn told Baptist Press. "We know the hope we have in Jesus. We have to share that hope with others."
More than 1,000 troops have killed themselves during the past five years, driving the Army suicide rate above the civilian rate for the first time since the Vietnam War. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the problem is going to get worse before it gets better as more soldiers return from war.
"Things that have been pent up, or packed in, or basically suppressed or sucked up -- whatever term you want to use -- we're going to start to see that as well," Mullen said, according to Time magazine Sept. 30.
An independent report ordered by Congress found the Pentagon's suicide prevention efforts inadequate, with fewer soldiers dying in combat than by their own actions, including suicides and accidental deaths brought on by high-risk behavior.
The report, released in July, said the "hidden wounds of war" -- the psychological and emotional injuries -- have placed unprecedented demands on the Armed Forces and military families. While the military has increased efforts to curb suicides, the response has lacked the coordination necessary for sustained success, the task force found.
Jerry Jewell, a pastor near Fort Hood, suggested that the increase in suicides is a result of a generation of soldiers raised in a society without the truth of the Scriptures.
"They don't know Jesus, yet they're trained to go and kill," Jewell, pastor of Living Hope: The Church in the Field in Copperas Cove, Texas, said. "In the military we train people to kill without giving them any true moral standards to go by.
"In past generations our soldiers were given Bibles. Many of them were grounded in the Christian faith. Nowadays, most of these young soldiers don't have any idea about God, and Jesus Christ is a curse word to many of them," Jewell told Baptist Press.
When they come home traumatized by what they've seen on the battlefield or what they find is left of their marriages, many soldiers don't know how to cope, and they think, "If I can just kill myself, this will be done," Jewell said.
"Secular humanism says you die and that's all you are. Think about what we as a nation have taught them in schools," Jewell said. "We've taught them that you come from animals -- you evolved from apes -- and when you die there's nothing else. If you have the choice of continuing to live in the circumstances you can't stand and don't know how to fix or dying and ceasing to exist, many of them choose to cease to exist. Unfortunately that's a lie."
Randy Wallace, pastor of First Baptist Church in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood, said that while the military has a responsibility to help at-risk soldiers, many times prevention hinges on whether a soldier asks for help.