Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fallen Heroes, Iraq War 03/19/03

Derrick J Kirkland

Marion, Indiana

March 20, 2010

Age Military Rank Unit/Location
24 Army Sgt

Ft. Lewis, Washington

 Served 2 tours in Iraq. Lack of help led to suicide.

From democracynow.org 05/28/12

Mother of Iraq Veteran Who Committed Suicide: “Honor the Dead, Heal the Wounded, Stop the Wars”
StoryMay 28, 2012

On a makeshift stage outside the NATO summit in Chicago, antiwar veterans fold an American flag that flew over NATO operations from Bosnia to Libya and which represents the flag that is “draped over the coffins of thousands of Americans killed in combat and thousands more who have committed suicide after they returned from service.” They present the flag to Mary Kirkland, mother of Derrick Kirkland, who joined the military in 2007 and committed suicide in March 2010 after his second tour of duty in Iraq. “I am not ashamed that I have to tell people that my son committed suicide. I am ashamed of the military for failing to give him proper mental health treatment,” Kirkland says. The military originally reported that her son was killed in action.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “World Wide Rebel Songs” by Tom Morello, singing at a concert in Chicago celebrating Woody Guthrie’s upcoming 100th birthday. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to the makeshift stage outside the NATO summit in Chicago, where scores of veterans gathered to protest NATO’s wars.

ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: We’re going to begin our ceremony with a folding of the flag. This American flag flew over NATO military operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya. This flag represents 60 percent of NATO’s funding and is responsible for immense militarization and intimidation, beginning with escalation of the Cold War. This flag represents the untold suffering and pain caused by NATO wars and occupations carried out by U.S. and NATO forces against the oppressed people of the world. This flag flew over Afghanistan, standing as a constant reminder to the Afghan people that they were being occupied by foreign imperial powers. This flag flew over Libya, and it came by the way of drones, bombs, bullets and grenades.

This flag is draped over the coffins of thousands of Americans killed in combat and thousands more who have committed suicide after they returned from service. Currently, 18 veterans commit suicide each day. We retire this flag and give it to those who often suffer silently in war, at home and abroad. Military families and Mary, who lost her military son to suicide, represents those who lose something that can never be given back. Mary mourns the loss of her son and to thousands of parents in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: After the ceremony where she was presented with the American flag, I spoke with Mary Kirkland, mother of Derrick Kirkland. Derrick joined the Army in 2007, since he was not earning enough money to support his wife and child. During his second deployment to Iraq, he attempted suicide for the first time. Mary Kirkland describes what happened next.

MARY KIRKLAND: He was on his second deployment in Iraq, probably like in the six-month mark. I don’t know exactly what caused it, but he ended up putting a shotgun in his mouth over there in Iraq, and one of his buddies stopped him. They got him help while he was there, then transferred him to the hospital in Germany, where he stayed about a week and a half. Then they sent him back to his home base of Fort Lewis, which is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He came back on a Monday after two failed suicide attempts in a three-week period, kept him overnight in the hospital for one night.


MARY KIRKLAND: There at Madigan Army Hospital at Fort Lewis. He met with a psychiatrist the next day who deemed him to be low to moderate risk for suicide, his only restriction being that he was not to be around any weapons, and cleared him for him to go basically in the barracks room by himself, which I found, after talking to the veterans, was illegal.

He tried to kill hisself again on Thursday night. He got back on the 15th and killed himself on the 19th. On the Thursday, on the 18th, he had bought some rum, so was drinking rum with his medications that they did just gave him, his antidepressants and sleep medicine, and cut hisself, had bloodstains all over his room. It wasn’t successful, so he got up Friday morning and bandaged hisself.
One of his things that he wrote before he went and hung hisself was “I feel invisible. I feel like I’m transparent.” And nobody walked into the room on Friday to see the bloodstains. Derrick didn’t hang hisself until—the last time they had seen him was Friday night at 10:00, and they found him Saturday morning at 1:30. If anybody would have walked in that room on that Friday—but they didn’t even—the leadership wasn’t even checking on him.

So this mother got woke up Sunday morning at 6:30 to tell me that my son was dead, that I had let my guard down, 'cause he got back on Monday, he's back in the United States, he’s safe, he’s—and the Army called it a “miscommunication,” is why my son is dead.

AMY GOODMAN: When did he enlist?

MARY KIRKLAND: He enlisted January of 2007.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did he enlist?

MARY KIRKLAND: He had a wife and child, and cook at an IHOP, not enough money, went to an Army recruiter that, you know, promised all the benefits, and you get this, and he just wanted to support his family.

AMY GOODMAN: What where those two tours like in Iraq that he served?

MARY KIRKLAND: The first one lasted 15 months. That’s when they had changed it, and they had to stay over there 15 months. Before he went, always laughing, always, you know, a jokester. Then, when he got back in June, he—you could—the sparkle wasn’t in his eye no more. “Yes, I’m the tough guy, I’m the soldier.” That was right after he first joined that they took. But no, his eyes would sparkle, and he liked skateboarding, he liked playing guitar.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you want him to go into the military?

MARY KIRKLAND: At that point in time, I agreed with it, and actually it was because of Derrick that my other two younger—or, my daughter and my younger son had joined. Their father was in the Army. Their grandfather was in the Army and Navy. My father was in the Navy, with two brothers being in the Navy. You know, so he was kind of a—it’s a good thing, it’s an honorable thing, to go into the military.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened when he went for the second tour of duty?

MARY KIRKLAND: Well, in between getting home, he came home on leave and—I didn’t know what I know now about post-traumatic stress syndrome and the symptoms and, you know—but looking back, and, you know, like conversations like, “Mom, I’m the murderer.” And I’d tell him, “No, Derrick, you’re in a war. You know, there’s a difference between being in a war and killing somebody and just going up on the street and killing somebody. That’s a murderer.” And he had trouble sleeping, was drinking.

AMY GOODMAN: Was he drinking a lot before he enlisted?
MARY KIRKLAND: He drank, but not—you know, not overly drinking. Party-type drinking, you know, hanging out with his friends. And, of course, you have to realize I only got to spend probably about three days with him, while he was home on—in between the time of the leave. And like I said, I missed it. You know, I should have asked more questions or—I don’t know. You know, that’s the question I’m asking the veterans, you know, that I encounter. It’s like, what—what can I do to help? What can I do to help you?

AMY GOODMAN: When did you start asking the questions after Derrick died? What brought you here to this NATO summit?

MARY KIRKLAND: On March 27, 2010, is when we buried Derrick. And Derrick is buried at Marion National Cemetery, which is 50 miles—about 50 miles from Indianapolis. And as we was leaving, I stopped at a gas station, and I got a newspaper to see if they had anything wrote. And they had a picture with the Patriot Guards, and then the—underneath, it said that the Department of Defense states that Derrick was killed in action and that the family declines to comment. And that started two lies off right there. 

No, Derrick was not killed in action. He was killed because of failed mental healthcare at a Army base at Fort Lewis, you know. And I would have commented. From day one, I would have commented.
So, I had to, like, fight, because Derrick was still legally married, and at first they tried to put me off with, “Well, you’re not the next of kin.” You know, you have to either get permission from his wife or hire an attorney. So, I mean, to be honest, there was a few drunken nights that I made phone calls, and I started getting some paperwork. But it just started with lies, you know, and how I feel is—and I asked them, you know, when I called to get some paperwork, I asked them, I’m like, “Well, the Department of Defense said that Derrick was killed in action.” And they was like, “Well, it was probably a mistake from the newspaper, or they didn’t want to embarrass the family.”

And, to me, I am not ashamed that I have to tell people that my son committed suicide. I am ashamed of the military for failing to give him proper mental health treatment. They don’t—they haven’t even treated our Vietnam veterans, you know, and now we’re in the next generation. I am here today because I don’t want my grandchildren, you know, after I’m dead and gone, to be having to march through the streets of Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have a message for President Obama and for the NATO generals here at the summit?

MARY KIRKLAND: Actually, I seen it on a T-shirt. It was: “Honor the dead, heal the wounded, stop the wars.”

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Kirkland, the mother of Derrick Kirkland. He committed suicide at Fort Lewis-McChord in Washington on March 19th, 2010, after two tours of duty in Iraq.

From The Los Angeles Times latimes.com 12/26/11

A ‘base on the brink,’ as is the community 
By Kim Murphy 
Dec. 26, 2011 12 AM 
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WASH. — Mary Coghill Kirkland said she asked her son, 21-year-old Army Spc. Derrick Kirkland, what was wrong as soon as he came back from his first deployment to Iraq in 2008.
He had a ready answer: “Mom, I’m a murderer.”
He told her how his team had kicked in the door of an Iraqi house and quickly shot a man inside. With the man lying wounded on the floor, “my son got ordered by his sergeant to stand on his chest to make him bleed out faster,” Kirkland said. “He said, ‘We’ve got to move, and he’s got to die before we move.’ ”
Not long after, Derrick told her, he had fallen asleep on guard duty, awakening as a car was driving through his checkpoint. He yelled for it to stop, but the family in the car spoke no English. “So my son shot up the car,” she said.

Summing up her son’s mental state after that deployment, Kirkland said: “What’s a nice word for saying that he was completely [messed] up?”
Kirkland relates the remaining years of her son’s life as if reading a script: He was depressed by his wife’s request for a divorce. On a second deployment in Iraq, he was caught putting a gun in his mouth and evacuated on suicide watch to Germany. There, he tried to overdose on pills. He was flown back to his home base here in Washington state. After a brief psychiatric evaluation, he was left alone in his room. He hanged himself with a cord in his closet.
Apparently worried that no one would notice, Spc. Kirkland left a note on the door of the locker in his room. “In the closet, dead,” it said.
Wars have always sent many of their practitioners home with lingering emotional scars, but the growing toll of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts is catching up not only with the U.S. military, but with communities like this.

“It’s very much a local issue,” said Democratic state Rep. Tina Orwall, who led a hearing in December on how state and local officials can help returning soldiers land on their feet.
Around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a major staging base for the wars, the working-class suburbs are almost indistinguishable from the base itself. Towns like Lakewood, DuPont, Spanaway and Parkland are home not only to military families, but to thousands of veterans who over the years have stayed on after their enlistments.
Among them are many with mental health issues.
More than 13% of the Army, which has borne the brunt of the fighting, now meets the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Senior officers point out that today’s soldiers are under unique stresses.
“At 24 years of age, a soldier, on average, has moved from home, family and friends and has resided in two other states; has traveled the world (deployed); been promoted four times; bought a car and wrecked it; married and had children; has had relationship and financial problems; seen death; is responsible for dozens of soldiers; maintains millions of dollars worth of equipment; and gets paid less than $40,000 a year,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said in a report last year.
At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, described by the independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes last year as “the most troubled base in the military,” all of these factors have crystallized into what some see as a community-wide crisis. A local veterans group calls it a “base on the brink.”
In a recent series of community meetings, the group warned that the trauma of multiple deployments had begun to show up in troubling numbers outside the base. The recent reports of suicides -- seven confirmed and five under investigation, with a total of 62 since 2002 -- parallel those of murders, fights, robberies, domestic violence, drunk driving and drug overdoses.
The local crime wave became apparent as early as 2004, when three elite Army Rangers were among a group of five men who stormed into a Bank of America in Tacoma armed with AK-47s, took over the branch and walked out with $54,011.
Over the last two years, an Iraq veteran pleaded guilty to assault after being accused of waterboarding his 7-year-old foster son in the bathtub. Another was accused of pouring lighter fluid over his wife and setting her on fire; one was charged with torturing his 4-year-old daughter for refusing to say her ABCs. A Stryker Brigade soldier was convicted of the kidnap, torture and rape or attempted rape of two women, one of whom he shocked with cables attached to a car battery; and an Iraq war sergeant was convicted of strangling his wife and hiding her body in a storage bin.
In April, 38-year-old combat medic David Stewart, who had been under treatment for depression, paranoia and sleeplessness, led police on a high-speed chase down Interstate 5 before crashing into a barrier. As officers watched, he shot himself in the head. His wife, a nurse, was found in the car with him, also shot to death. Police later found the body of their 5-year-old son in the family home.
“My daughter played with the little boy, and even now when they’re playing outside, the kids are screaming, ‘Jordan lived in there. Jordan died in there.’ So it affects everybody, even the kids,” said Jackie Baleto, who lives nearby.
“I can tell you that in the last two years, we have had 24 instances in which we contacted soldiers who were armed with weapons,” said Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar. “We’ve had intimidation, stalking with a weapon, aggravated assault, domestic violence, drive-bys.”
The military is redoubling efforts to provide suicide hotlines and counseling.
The flagship effort is the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, designed to make troops healthy and resilient before they go to war.
“We teach them about patience, about maturity, about how it’s OK to have issues, because everybody has issues,” said Col. Michael Brobeck, who commands the 555th Engineer Brigade at Lewis-McChord, about a fourth of whom are currently in Afghanistan.
The local Madigan Army Medical Center this year opened a $52-million “warrior transition” barracks for 408 wounded or stressed soldiers and their families. The center has seen a big increase in behavioral health visits -- more than 118,000 this year. Brobeck thinks all this is helping.
Over the last two years, he said, the number of his soldiers exhibiting an extremely high risk of mental health problems has declined. “Out of 4,000 [troops] when I started doing it about two years ago, we were in the 70s. Now I’m down in the 50s or low 60s,” he said.
Yet in the tough warrior culture of Lewis-McChord, some say soldiers who go to counseling or say they aren’t emotionally prepared to go back to war can be humiliated or ignored.
Kirkland, when he returned to Lewis-McChord after his first two suicide attempts, was set upon by the unit’s acting first sergeant, said Kevin Baker, who served with Kirkland in Iraq and was in the office that day.
“As soon as he walked in the door, [one of the sergeants] called him a coward” and worse, recalled Baker, who recently left the Army.
Ashley Joppa-Hagemann of Yelm, Wash., a mother of two young children, said her husband, 25-year-old Staff Sgt. Jared Hagemann, begged Army commanders this year not to have to return for what she said would be a ninth deployment overseas. She said she went herself to the base commander, all to no avail.
“He was always drinking, and he became very violent and aggressive. There was just hatred in his eyes,” she said.
Joppa-Hagemann went to court on June 27 to get a restraining order to keep her husband away from her and the children, telling the court that her husband had threatened to kill himself “and take as many folks down with him as possible.”
The order couldn’t be served, as it turned out. Hagemann’s body was found the next day in a training field at Lewis-McChord, shot through the head.
“We told them. We told everybody there was something wrong,” she said. “Nobody would listen.”
From Seattle Weekly seattleweekly.com 08/16/11

Joint Base Lewis-McChord held a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday for a $53 million
by Nina Shapiro
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 12:00am

Joint Base Lewis-McChord held a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday for a $53 million barracks that will house wounded soldiers. The facility, part of the base’s “Warrior Transition Battalion,” features wood floors and barbeque grills, and was hailed by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks as a sign of “significant improvement” in the way the Army treats its returning soldiers. As two recent suicides show, though, a fancy new barracks isn’t likely to insure that soldiers get the help they need.On June 28, Army Ranger Jared Hagemann, stationed at Lewis-McChord shot himself in the head. “He needed psychological help,” says Michael Prysner, a Los Angeles-based organizer with the national veterans’ group March Forward who has talked to Hagemann’s widow, Ashley. Hagemann (pictured above) had been trying to get that help since his first deployment, Prysner says. Yet the Army kept redeploying Hagemann. Before he killed himself, he faced a staggering ninth deployment. The staff sergeant, convinced that he was damned for his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, fought to get out of another tour, but the Army insisted, according to a KOMO-TV interview with Ashley. Several veterans’ rights activists who spoke with SW today see Hagemann’s fate as typical of many damaged soldiers. They don’t go to the Wounded Transition Battalion because they aren’t judged wounded enough, and the military is desperate for their manpower. Kevin Baker, who was discharged from the 4-9 Infantry Regimen last December, says that virtually “every person in my unit on rear detachment was trying to get into WTB.” A rear detachment is composed of soldiers who stay at the base, or are sent back from war due to mental or physical injuries. He says his detachment held about 15 people, and none were admitted into the battalion for wounded soldiers.One of the people in his detachment was Army Spc. Derrick Kirkland, who hung himself in March of 2010. The solider had been back from Iraq only a couple of days, probably not enough time to request admission into the WTB. It’s dubious, though, that he could have gotten in. As SW reported earlier this year, Kirkland attempted suicide three times before he finally succeeded, yet was judged “a low-moderate risk” at Madigan Army Medical Center, located at Lewis-McChord. Then, he was mocked by his sergeant, who called Kirkland a “coward” and a “pussy.” So the new barracks might be nice for the soldiers who get in, but a far bigger issue may be those who can’t. 
From Seattle Weekly seattleweekly.com 01/05/11
A couple of months ago, we wrote about Army Spc. Derrick Kirkland,
by Nina Shapiro Wednesday, January 5, 2011 12:00am

A couple of months ago, we wrote about Army Spc. Derrick Kirkland, who hung himself last March after coming back from Iraq. A group of soldiers in his battalion claimed that Kirkland’s suicide followed taunting from his sergeant, prompting a statement by a Joint Base Lewis-McChord spokesperson that such alleged mistreatment was never brought up by the late soldier’s family. But Kirkland’s mother, Mary, now tells SW that she “raised questions from day one”–and has gotten some disturbing answers. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Mary has gotten a series of documents from the Army, the latest of which arrived last month. While the documents don’t mention Kirkland’s treatment by his sergeant, they do reveal that the 23-year-old specialist, diagnosed with PTSD and facing a divorce from his wife, had tried to commit suicide three times before his final successful attempt. Speaking by phone from Indianapolis, where she lives, Mary says those were “three opportunities that [the Army] had to save him,” all of which it blew. The first time Kirkland tried to commit suicide was in Iraq, according to an investigation report read to SW by Mary. On February 10, 2010, Kirkland stuck a gun in his mouth but was interrupted by a fellow soldier. The Army sent him to a psychiatric unit at Camp Liberty near Baghdad, where he again tried to kill himself, this time by overdosing on medication.On March 13, he arrived at Madigan Army Medical Center at Lewis-McChord. Two days later, the psychiatric unit where he was staying released him. “Spc. Kirkland did not require any further supervision,” the investigation report says, noting also that he was “deemed as a low-moderate risk.” This assessment followed not only two suicide attempts but visible evidence of Kirkland’s depression, Mary notes. Her 5’6” son at that point weighed only 110 pounds, according to the documents. She says she wished the Army had assigned a buddy to Kirkland who could have watched over him. Instead, Kirkland moved into his own barracks room.Three days after he did so, he sliced his arms and took “an excessive amount of pills” while drinking alcohol, the investigation report says. Somehow he survived all that and bandaged himself up. He appeared for the routine morning formation the next day, where apparently no one noticed anything amiss. The very next night, he took a white nylon rope and finally achieved what he had set out to do so many times before. Mary says she was woken with the news at 6:30 a.m. on March 21. “I thought he was still in the hospital,” Mary says.Army spokespeople could not be immediately reached for comment. 

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