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Morrison spent the next two years at Fort Rucker in Alabama, learning to fly the two-seat, 165-m.p.h. Apache helicopter, the Army's most lethal aircraft. He and his roommate, fellow West Pointer Sean McBride, divided their time among training, Walmart, church, Seinfeld and video games, fueled by macaroni and cheese with chopped-up hot dogs. Morrison and Rebecca were married two days after Christmas 2008 near Dallas. The Army assigned him to an aviation unit at Fort Hood, so they bought a three-bedroom house on an acre of land just outside the town of Copperas Cove, Texas. They supported six African children through World Vision and were planning to have some kids of their own. "We had named our kids," Rebecca says.
Morrison was surprised when the Army ordered him to Iraq on short notice late in 2010. Like all young Army officers, he saluted and began packing.
Triggers and Traps
One theory of suicide holds that people who feel useful, who feel as if they belong and serve a larger cause, are less likely to kill themselves. That would explain why active-duty troops historically had lower suicide rates than civilians. But now experts who study the patterns wonder whether prolonged service during wartime may weaken that protective function. Service members who have bonded with their units, sharing important duties, can have trouble once they are at a post back home, away from the routines and rituals that arise in a close-knit company. The isolation often increases once troops leave active duty or National Guardsmen and reservists return to their parallel lives. The military frequently cites relationship issues as a predecessor to suicides; that irritates survivors to no end. "I'm not as quick to blame the Army as the Army is to blame me," Leslie McCaddon says. "The message I get from the Army is that our marital problems caused Mike to kill himself. But they never ask why there were marriage problems to begin with."
As McCaddon made his way through med school in Maryland, he encountered ghosts from his past. He was reaching the age at which his biological father had died by suicide, which statistically increased his own risk. But he wasn't scared by it, Leslie says; he told associates about it. What did bother him was that he was gaining weight, the physical-training tests were getting harder for him, and the course work was challenging to juggle with a young family. He hid the strain, "but inside it is killing me," he blogged. He called Leslie a hero "for not kicking me out of the house on the several times I've given her reason." And he told her he sometimes thought of suicide.
"But he would tell everyone else that he was fine," Leslie says. "He was afraid they'd kick him out of medical school if he was really honest about how depressed he was." McCaddon sought counseling from a retired Army psychiatrist and seemed to be turning a corner in May 2010, when he graduated and got his first choice for a residency, at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.
"He loved being a soldier," Leslie said, "and he was going to do everything he could to protect that relationship."