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Army to probe suicides among Texas recruiters

By Michelle Roberts
Associated Press / November 8, 2008
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SAN ANTONIO - The Army has agreed to investigate a disproportionate cluster of suicides among recruiters in an East Texas battalion, as well as allegations by other soldiers and family members that they were pressured to cover up serious problems in the battalion, Army Secretary Pete Geren said.

Seventeen Army recruiters have committed suicide nationwide since 2001, four of them from the Houston Recruiting Battalion, which recruits soldiers from East Texas. A fifth Houston-area soldier killed himself, but he was assigned to the Army's Future Soldier Training Program.

There are 38 recruiting battalions nationwide with 8,400 recruiters.

The Army's suicide rate has been climbing as the war in Iraq has forced multiple and longer deployments.

Last year, the Army's suicide rate was 18.1 per 100,000, the highest since the service started keeping records in 1980. That's lower than the US civilian rate of 19.5 per 100,000.

The investigation was sought by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican who heard from soldiers and family members after the Houston Chronicle reported the cluster of suicides earlier this year.

Brigadier General Frank Turner has been assigned to investigate the recruiter suicides and the cover-up allegations, Geren told Cornyn in a letter dated Monday.

A chaplain, psychologist, and equal employment officer talked to members of the Houston battalion in mid-October, said Douglas Smith, spokesman for the US Army Recruiting Command. Their report is not complete, but Smith said yesterday that he doesn't know of any obstruction.

Cornyn noted in an interview yesterday that the all-volunteer service is under pressure to sign recruits and retain soldiers.

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