U.S. special forces struggle with record suicides: admiral

TAMPA, Florida Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:40pm EDT

A Navy SEAL takes part in a demonstration in Florida November 11, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

A Navy SEAL takes part in a demonstration in Florida November 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

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TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Suicides among U.S. special operations forces, including elite Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, are at record levels, a U.S. military official said on Thursday, citing the effects of more than a decade of "hard combat."

The number of special operations forces committing suicide has held at record highs for the past two years, said Admiral William McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command.

"And this year, I am afraid, we are on path to break that," he told a conference in Tampa. "My soldiers have been fighting now for 12, 13 years in hard combat. Hard combat. And anybody that has spent any time in this war has been changed by it. It's that simple."

It may take a year or more, he said, to assess the effects of sustained combat on special operations units, whose missions range from strikes on militants such as the 2011 SEAL raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden to assisting in humanitarian disasters.

He did not provide data on the suicide rate, which the U.S. military has been battling to lower. In 2012, for example, more active duty servicemen and servicewomen across the U.S. armed forces died by suicide - an estimated 350 - than died in combat, a U.S. defense official said.

That trend appears to have held in 2013 although preliminary data is showing a slight improvement, with 284 suicides among active duty forces in the year to December 15, the official added.

McRaven's command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, oversees elite commandos operating in 84 countries.

The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations commands comprise about 59,000 people, according to Pentagon documents.

Special operations forces have been lionized in popular culture in recent years, in movies such as "Zero Dark Thirty," about the hunt for bin Laden, and "Act of Valor," as well as a National Geographic special.

Kim Ruocco, who assists the survivors of military members who commit suicide, said members of the closely knit special operations community often fear that disclosing their symptoms will end their careers.

Additionally, the shrinking size of the U.S. armed forces has put additional pressure on soldiers, whose sense of community and self-identity is often closely tied to their military service, said Ruocco, director of suicide prevention programs for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an advocacy group for military families.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jason Szep and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (4)
rebelusa2000 wrote:
I don’t BELIEVE some of the comments here. These people are not characters in a movie. What they go through is real. Then, when they get out, they have no job, some no home. It’s ridiculous how our soldiers, THOSE WHO SACRIFICE THEIR LIVES AND SANITY for our country, are treated.

by the way, I’ve never seen a POLITICIAN get up off its seat shining, pencil pushing arse to do anything but declare wars and stupid laws.

Apr 18, 2014 5:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
heybuddy wrote:
I’m Special Forces and I own kittens and like to knit.

So all your comments are erroneous.

Apr 18, 2014 12:09am EDT  --  Report as abuse
powertogod wrote:
please read the special forces pray. Wars must be conducted with Honor and there is nothing worse than shame in a soldier’s consciousness. Our Heavenly Father wants the people of Earth to know he deeply regrets and is sorry there is so much evil in his Universe. There was a time when evil did not exist. Our Heavenly Father said he introduced evil into his Universe from a sister Universe and at the time he was misled and unaware of the danger and eventual consequences. The evil spread through his Universe like a cancer and he was unable to stop it. In order to survive he created Holiness and Heaven and separated himself from his own creation. Drone strikes and torture only bring shame to America and create more mentally ill soldiers. Please read warningfromgod and treat people as Jesus taught us.

Apr 23, 2014 10:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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