Is Joint Base Lewis-McChord "the most troubled base in the military?" Stars and Stripes, the newspaper run by the military, wrote last winter that the base had developed that reputation. The article pointed to a bunch of scandals, including the Afghan "kill team" comprising soldiers from the base. Since then, the base has seen a startling number of suicides. Antiwar activists cited such evidence yesterday at a press conference calling for a Congressional investigation of the base.
Also at the press conference was Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, whose husband, Jared (pictured above), was found dead on June 28, apparently after shooting himself in the head. "It is because the military did not take care of my husband," she said of his death. "They don't listen to their soldiers."
According to his widow, Jared was traumatized by multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and couldn't face yet another deployment, which was scheduled for August.
Base spokespeople have insisted that suicide-prevention and mental-health counseling is a top priority. Last month, the base opened a $53 million facility for wounded warriors.
Yet soldiers and widows still claim the care is inadequate. Coffee Strong executive director Jorge Gonzalez blamed the military's insistence on repeated deployments, even when soldiers are obviously damaged. When he himself was having psychological problems after a 15-month tour in Iraq, he said he was "put on a quick-fix program" consisting of medication, and then "sent back" for the next rotation. Another example, he said, was Hagemann, who was hospitalized for psychological problems at one point but soon after redeployed.
"We demand change," Joppa-Hagemann said.
The activists have put forward a list of "demands," including the hoped-for Congressional investigation and that "letters of apology be written to the families of service members who commit suicide following deployment." They are holding another meeting at Coffee Strong this Saturday, this one for soldiers and the general public looking to put pressure on the base.