No Surprise That Media Briefing on Iraq Costs Was Canceled
Meanwhile, the number of soldier suicides keeps climbing, as the army
dutifully updates journalists who call.
By Wayne F. Smith
(March 18, 2004) -- While President George W. Bush, his war cabinet and
their consultants are making the rounds this week in their current Iraq
war anniversary blitz, pushing their message on the benefits of the
conflict, a long-awaited media briefing by the army on the cost part was
The elusive report is the product of a mental health advisory team
dispatched to Iraq last summer at the request of Operation Iraqi Freedom
(OIF) commander general Ricardo Sanchez following a spike in U.S.
soldier suicides in July. The report covers only the period until the
end of October and as a result is unlikely to contain any numeric
bombshells that haven't already been reported. It was to be released
earlier this week but the so-called "media round table" was postponed
once again (See Suicides Among Soldiers Who Served in Iraq (subscription
Still, the number of suicides keep climbing, as the army dutifully
updates journalists and other interested parties who call.
To date, the Army reports 23 OIF soldiers killed themselves in Iraq and
Kuwait in 2003, well above normal Army rates. That number rose very
recently because two of five "non-combat" deaths that were under
investigation have now been classified as suicides. Then there are the
soldiers who have killed themselves back in the United States. That
number was six -- until last weekend..
Last Sunday, in Monument, Colo., a 36-year-old Special Forces soldier
named William Howell, just three weeks back from Iraq, shot himself in
the head. There had been a disturbance; a phone call to the police by
his wife. When police arrived at their home, Howell was following his
wife around the front yard waving a handgun. "He was ordered to drop his
weapon by one of the officers, but instead placed the weapon to his head
and pulled the trigger," according to a statement issued by the El Paso
County Sheriff's office.
Police said they had no record suggesting there had been any kind of
domestic disturbance in the Howell household before William went to
The Denver Post observed that the incident "sent shock waves through the
military community and forced many around the Colorado Springs-area Army
post to ask if Howell was given the help he may have needed to beat
combat stress upon returning from the war last month."
For me, the army's suicide data and the tragic homecoming narratives of
some Iraq war soldiers are beginning to impugn the administration's
apparent cost-benefit ratio. Postponing the release of the Army's long
awaited suicide report because it conflicts with the administration's
anniversary "take" on the war may alter perception but it doesn't change
the indicators that suggest thousands of OIF soldiers could be suffering
from the burden of that war.
Wayne F. Smith is a former combat medic in Vietnam and former
therapist/counselor at the Veteran's Administration's Vietnam Veterans
Readjustment Counseling Program. Currently, he is a special assistant to
the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.