Joint Chiefs chairman warns of rise in military suicides

By Bryan Bender|Boston Globe

After surviving the horrors of war, soldiers face the ongoing battle of fitting in a peaceful setting. If you know one, do your best to ensure a soldier is not alone.

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top military officer said yesterday that he expects suicides by service members, already alarmingly high, and other family crises to increase in the coming months as large numbers of troops return to their bases after years of multiple deployments.

“I think we are going to see a significant increase in the challenges that we have in terms of our families,’’ Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

With the drawdown of US forces in Iraq accelerating, service members are finally beginning to receive a respite from frequent back-to-back tours of duty since 2003 — particularly for Army and Marine Corps units.

For bases such as Lewis-McChord, an Army and Air Force installation in Washington state, that means an influx of soldiers and aviators. “I was taken aback that at Fort Lewis by the end of October, 36,000 troops will be back,’’ Mullen said. “We have never had that many troops there, certainly not since 2003.’’

Yet that also means commanders must deal with a large number of troops with significant personal challenges who are back for the first extended period with their families.

Mullen remains particularly concerned about suicide rates, which have gone up in every branch of the military since 2004 and have hit record highs in the Army, which has borne the brunt of repeated deployments.

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