On February 9, 2013, a cadet, Class of 2016, died. No official news has been released yet.
How can this happen in such a small population — about 4000 students? Three in one year seems unusual, an indicator of a true problem. To verify this, I checked suicide rates among all college students. Most sources say it is 7.5 suicides per 100,000 college students a year, mostly white males. This equates to a rate of .000075. Three deaths out of 4000 students equates to a rate of .00075. In other words, the death rate at USAFA this year is ten times higher than the national average suicide rate among college students. Even one cadet suicide per year is a higher rate than the national average. Marc Henning died in 2010. Another cadet, exhibiting self-destructive behavior, died in an on-campus auto accident in 2011.
One of the most marvelous things about attending a service academy is the esprit de corps, the feeling of belonging to a group that is stronger because one is part of it. Lately, however, I hear cadets grumble that the atmosphere is so competitive that they can no longer trust each other. They no longer belong to a brotherhood or sisterhood.If you cannot trust your fellow warriors; if you no longer know that your wingman “has your back,” then service becomes intolerable.
Is this a problem created by the USAFA staff or a problem created by the culture from which the cadets are selected? In either case, the cadets need training situations that teach them to take care of every member of their unit, as I was trained to do back in 1976. The failure or death of one is a failure of all.
UPDATE: The latest loss to the USAFA community is C4C James L. Walsh, from CS30. Cadet Walsh was a former cyber specialist (in training) with the 744th Communications Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Washington, DC. He said that his selection for the Prepratory School was, “like a second chance [to go to college].” Where was his chance when he saw no way out? When will USAFA seriously address their current culture?