Leslie McCaddon sensed that the enemy had returned when she overheard her husband on the phone with their 8-year-old daughter. "Do me a favor," he told the little girl. "Give your mommy a hug and tell her that I love her."
She knew for certain when she got his message a few minutes later. "This is the hardest e-mail I've ever written," Dr. Michael McCaddon wrote. "Please always tell my children how much I love them, and most importantly, never, ever let them find out how I died ... I love you. Mike"
She grabbed a phone, sounded every alarm, but by the time his co-workers found his body hanging in the hospital call room, it was too late.
Leslie knew her husband, an Army doctor, had battled depression for years. For Rebecca Morrison, the news came more suddenly. The wife of an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot, she was just beginning to reckon with her husband Ian's stress and strain. Rebecca urged Ian to see the flight surgeon, call the Pentagon's crisis hotline. He did--and waited on the line for more than 45 minutes. His final text to his wife: "STILL on hold." Rebecca found him that night in their bedroom. He had shot himself in the neck.
Both Army captains died on March 21, a continent apart. The next day, and the next day, and the next, more soldiers would die by their own hand, one every day on average, about as many as are dying on the battlefield. These are active-duty personnel, still under the military's control and protection. Among all veterans, a suicide occurs every 80 minutes, round the clock.
Have suicides spiked because of the strain of fighting two wars? Morrison flew 70 missions in Iraq over nine months but never engaged the enemy directly. McCaddon was an ob-gyn resident at an Army hospital in Hawaii who had never been to Iraq or Afghanistan. Do the pride and protocols of a warrior culture keep service members from seeking therapy? In the three days before he died, Morrison went looking for help six times, all in vain. When Leslie McCaddon alerted commanders about her husband's anguish, it was dismissed as the result of a lovers' quarrel; she, not the Army, was the problem.
This is the ultimate asymmetrical war, and the Pentagon is losing. "This issue--suicides--is perhaps the most frustrating challenge that I've come across since becoming Secretary of Defense," Leon Panetta said June 22. The U.S. military seldom meets an enemy it cannot target, cannot crush, cannot put a fence around or drive a tank across. But it has not been able to defeat or contain the epidemic of suicides among its troops, even as the wars wind down and the evidence mounts that the problem has become dire. While veterans account for about 10% of all U.S. adults, they account for 20% of U.S. suicides. Well trained, highly disciplined, bonded to their comrades, soldiers used to be less likely than civilians to kill themselves--but not anymore.