In what has become a regular ritual, a local newspaper has reported the death of a U.S. soldier in Iraq -- officially described by the military as a "noncombat" fatality -- as, in fact, a suicide.
The rate of suicides among military personnel in Iraq, who are suffering from multiple tours of duty, has surged in the past two years, as official reports (a new one today from RAND) show that about one in five vets are suffering from mental problems. I've tried to chronicle this phenomenon for almost five years.
According to the RAND study, about 300,000 U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, but about half receive no care.
The study also estimated that another 320,000 troops have sustained a possible traumatic brain injury during deployment.
In the latest case of suicide, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press reported on the death of Spc. Jacob J. Fairbanks, 22, who hailed from that city, last week while serving in Iraq, six months into his second tour of duty there with the Army.
The military says only that it is under investigation -- and that's where the reporting generally stops -- but the family of Fairbanks, 22, said the Army told them their son died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"Part of my soul and heart is gone," said his mother, Janette Fairbanks, in the Pioneer Press story. "Part of me will be sad forever. My baby's gone." He leaves behind a wife and child and three step-children.
Fairbanks, a field artilleryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, was on his second tour in Iraq and was stationed in Baghdad.
Another soldier with the 101st Airborne, Shane Penley, age 19, also died last week from wounds suffered while stationed at a guard post. That, too, is "under investigation."
Fairbanks was a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. His wife told family she had spoken with her husband via webcam for three hours before his death, and it was a "positive" conversation.
His mother said to the newspaper reporter: "I don't want any soldier to get killed over there, but why did it happen to my son? I just don't think it should have been him. He had his whole life ahead of him."
Greg Mitchell probes the little-covered suicide surge in his new book So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundit -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and a foreword by Joe Galloway. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.