Video: Army suicide report highlights 'high-risk' behavior

  1. Transcript of: Army suicide report highlights 'high-risk' behavior

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Because of two separate stories tonight on two separate fronts, this was a dark day for many of those who proudly wear Army green. We learned today about the extent of mismanagement on some hallowed American ground, Arlington National Cemetery . This involves the remains of those who gave everything they had to this country. And something else, the number two ranking general in the Army , a man fresh from the battlefield himself, came out with a tough report today on the toll of our dual wars. Multiple combat tours, multiple wounds and deep troubles for the proud ranks of the US Army . We begin with our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski . Jim , good evening.

    JIM MIKLASZEWSKI reporting: Good evening, Brian . Based on this new report, the Army again promises to fix its mental health problems and put the soldiers first. But it's got a long way to go . As a specialist in the Army , Jennifer Crane was sent off to Afghanistan .

    Specialist JENNIFER CRANE: Two weeks after we landed there, we were attacked for the first time .

    MIKLASZEWSKI: The war took a heavy personal toll. Once back home, she got hooked on cocaine and ended up on the streets.

    Spc. CRANE: Unfortunately didn't cope with anything that I -- anything fairly well.

    MIKLASZEWSKI: Jennifer got the necessary counseling and is back on her feet. But a devastating new report from the Army today reveals that, after nine years of war, thousands of soldiers never survive their own personal battles.

    General PETER CHIARELLI (Army Vice Chief of Staff): We have an Army that's been fully engaged for almost nine years now. I don't think that we fully understand the toll that that's taken on the force.

    MIKLASZEWSKI: The numbers are staggering. Last year more than 1700 soldiers attempted suicide; 160 succeeded, the highest number in 30 years. And drug abuse is a huge problem. Of 64,000 felonies and noncombat deaths, 72 percent were drug related. More than 1300 soldiers have failed two or more drug tests , but are still on active duty today. But how could this happen? The report suggests it's a failure of leadership. To meet the demands of two wars, the Army lowered its standards for new recruits. And Army officials admit that combat commanders were under so much pressure to get soldiers into battle, they often overlooked disciplinary problems, even criminal activity.

    Gen. CHIARELLI: Because of everything that we're doing, we have not paid the attention we need to on high-risk behavior.

    MIKLASZEWSKI: Armed with this new report, the Army pledges to restore some of the basic leadership that's been lost while fighting two wars and, more importantly, put the well-being of their soldiers first.

    But the Army came under fire for another issue today: Arlington National Cemetery .

    Senator JON TESTER (Democrat, Montana): This is not only totally unacceptable, it is a black eye.

    MIKLASZEWSKI: Angry senators grilled the cemetery's former leadership, demanding to know how more than 200 graves could have been mismarked or have no headstones at all. Senator Claire McCaskill said the actual number could be as high as 6600.

    Senator CLAIRE McCASKILL: We've lost the bodies of our fallen heroes. We've got cremated remains that we don't even know who they belong to! This is not complicated. It's called keeping track of who you bury where.

    MIKLASZEWSKI: Former superintendent John Metzler accepted responsibility. His deputy Thurman Higginbotham refused to even answer most questions, invoking the Fifth Amendment . The Army has launched its own criminal investigation, even as it promises to restore the dignity owed to the nation's fallen. And in still one more story out of the Army tonight, Pentagon officials tell NBC News that 22-year-old Private 1st Class Bradley Manning , suspected of leaking a classified video to WikiLeaks , is on his way tonight from Kuwait to Washington , DC , where he's expected to face court martial for mishandling of classified material. Now, Manning is also considered a person of interest in this latest WikiLeaks story. Pentagon officials also say that essentially Manning has been placed under suicide watch out of fear that he may harm

    himself. Brian: Jim Miklaszewski on duty for us at the Pentagon to start things off tonight. Jim ,

    WILLIAMS:

By
updated 7/29/2010 7:20:59 PM ET 2010-07-29T23:20:59

An Army report on the record number of soldier suicides says the trend reflects a rise in risky behavior including drunken driving and drug abuse in a military stretched to the breaking point by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The report says the Army is failing its soldiers by missing signs of trouble or by looking the other way as commanders try to keep to tight schedules required to meet deployment schedules.

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The Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, said Thursday that statistics on levels of drug and alcohol abuse, car accidents and crime suggests that soldiers are taking more risks while discipline has slipped.

The Army counted 160 suicides last year, the highest total ever. The rate was above that of the civilian population for the second year in a row.

The study counted an additional 146 deaths in 2009 that it says were due to murder, drug overdoses or other causes the Army lumps together as risky behavior.

There were also 1,713 known suicide attempts last year.

The ramped-up tempo of Army life, with faster deployments and too little time at home, underlies the problem but is not its sole cause, Chiarelli said.

Most suicides occur early in a soldier's Army career, and some come before a soldier has deployed.

The report raises the possibility that part of the increase in risky behavior comes from an increase in young soldiers attracted to the wartime force precisely because it is dangerous.

"Looking across the Army, the (report) team found that there appeared to be an overall increase in high-risk behavior," the report said.

"Leader accountability had atrophied," the report said. "There were too many gaps and seams in programs and processes that allowed high-risk behavior to continue undetected and seemingly unchecked."

Among dozens of recommendations are increases in drug and mental health staffs and ways to encourage soldiers to seek help.

Chiarelli said he would like to see supervisors at all levels intervene before problems get out of hand and accurately report problems when they occur.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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