The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, February 25, 2005  

An Increase in the Marine Corps

Is there something in the air? For the fourth time in a week, I’m blogging about suicide, this time in reference to a disturbing report in today’s Washington Post, “Suicides in Marine Corps Rise by 29%,” by Ann Scott Tyson:

The Marine Corps suffered a 29 percent spike in suicides last year, reaching the highest number in at least a decade, with the demanding pace of military operations likely contributing to the deaths, the top-ranking U.S. Marine said yesterday.

Thirty-one Marines committed suicide in 2004, all of them enlisted men, not commissioned officers. The majority were younger than 25 and took their lives with gunshot wounds, according to Marine statistics. Another 83 Marines attempted suicide. There were 24 suicides in 2003, and there have not been more than 29 in any year in the last 10.

Marine commanders say the rise in suicides continues a worrisome three-year trend that is likely linked to stress from the sharply increased pace of war-zone rotations. At the same time, they said the increase in suicides is not directly related to service in Iraq or Afghanistan; since 2001 24 percent of the suicides have been committed by Marines who have been deployed there, the statistics show.

It is “not only Iraq, it’s just the ops tempo [operational tempo] in general, that’s what I think,” Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, told reporters at a breakfast meeting yesterday.

According to Tyson, Hagee warned that some Marines believe seeking help leads to stigmatization:

“They may feel it is not acceptable to ask for help because they don't want to be labeled as ‘weak’ or ‘defective’ in the eyes of their subordinates, peers, or leaders,” he wrote. Commanders, he emphasized, must redouble their efforts to make Marines feel comfortable in revealing problems that could lead to suicide.

Sadly, studies show that’s true among the civilian (particularly the male civilian) population, though there was this piece of comparatively good news in Tyson’s article:

Although last year’s suicide rate rose, it was still below the national average for a comparable civilian group, in keeping with an established pattern of suicide being lower in the U.S. military than in the civilian population.

I didn’t know that.

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