By Warren Strobel
Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:40pm EDT
(Reuters) - Suicides among U.S. special operations forces, including
elite Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, are at record levels, a U.S. military
official said on Thursday, citing the effects of more than a decade of
The number of special
operations forces committing suicide has held at record highs for the
past two years, said Admiral William McRaven, who leads the Special
"And this year,
I am afraid, we are on path to break that," he told a conference in
Tampa. "My soldiers have been fighting now for 12, 13 years in hard
combat. Hard combat. And anybody that has spent any time in this war has
been changed by it. It's that simple."
may take a year or more, he said, to assess the effects of sustained
combat on special operations units, whose missions range from strikes on
militants such as the 2011 SEAL raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama
bin Laden to assisting in humanitarian disasters.
did not provide data on the suicide rate, which the U.S. military has
been battling to lower. In 2012, for example, more active duty
servicemen and servicewomen across the U.S. armed forces died by suicide
- an estimated 350 - than died in combat, a U.S. defense official said.
trend appears to have held in 2013 although preliminary data is showing
a slight improvement, with 284 suicides among active duty forces in the
year to December 15, the official added.
McRaven's command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, oversees elite commandos operating in 84 countries.
Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations commands
comprise about 59,000 people, according to Pentagon documents.
operations forces have been lionized in popular culture in recent
years, in movies such as "Zero Dark Thirty," about the hunt for bin
Laden, and "Act of Valor," as well as a National Geographic special.
Ruocco, who assists the survivors of military members who commit
suicide, said members of the closely knit special operations community
often fear that disclosing their symptoms will end their careers.
the shrinking size of the U.S. armed forces has put additional pressure
on soldiers, whose sense of community and self-identity is often
closely tied to their military service, said Ruocco, director of suicide
prevention programs for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors,
an advocacy group for military families.