While the nation's attention is focused on the growing numbers of battle deaths occurring in Afghanistan (and rightfully so, as those fallen warriors deserve to be honored to the greatest extent possible), most of the general public is not fully aware of the soldiers who are dying as a result of "non-battle-related incidents." That's Pentagon-speak for any death due to accidents, natural causes, homicide, or suicide. My colleagues and I are tasked with investigating each and every "non-battle-related" death over here, and it is a tough mission, especially so for the suicides. The Armed Forces have devoted a lot of attention and effort to proactive suicide awareness and prevention programs. On AFN-TV, there's at least one suicide prevention-related public service "commercial" on every channel, every hour. The Army has developed a relevant and sensitive suicide awareness/prevention program which features interactive video and handouts, coupled with unit-level training on a regular basis. Almost every FOB has a combat stress control clinic, staffed by highly qualified psychologists and counselors.
Yet despite all of these excellent resources, young men and women continue to end their lives in Iraq, and it just doesn't make sense. Some of them are just months, weeks, or even days from going home. Many are on their first deployment. It has been really rugged seeing battle-hardened NCOs and officers, trying to figure out why one of their soldiers decided to take their own life.
Although I've seen a lot of death during my military and law enforcement careers, and grieved for friends and fellow officers killed in the line of duty, investigating these "non-battle-related casualties" has gotten pretty darn tough for most of us. I wish I had an answer...but I sure don't.
(On a very personal note, I am very fortunate to be blessed with a strong support system and coping skills, which allows me to get through all this stuff with my psyche, and sense of humor intact. I wish everyone was similarly blessed.)