Posted by: annemartinfletcher | February 11, 2013

Sadness to Anger

On June 19, 2012, Yung C. Chin, USAFA Class of 2014, died on summer leave.

On September 28, 2012, Matthew Patrick , Class of 2013, died at the Academy.

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?

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Responses

  1. Good post, Anne. Thank you.

  2. You should not post this until the last incident is official. M. Padilla 83

  3. After being left with nothing but the rumor mill for support since the tragedy occurred on Saturday, this C4 death became official this morning. With the class of 2016 in the middle of aggressive, verging on vindictive, training that is a much hyped part of the “40 days of darkness” to recognition, the tenor of the day is depression and disillusionment.

    • When I attended USAFA, this part of the year that included return from Christmas leave, the dismissal of cadets who did not make academic standards in the previous semester, and the truly dark, short days, was referred to unofficially as the “Dark Ages.” The training at a military academy has no need to add “40 days of darkness” to the curriculum. It is already there. It sounds like “resilience” training and watching out for your class needs to be added.

  4. M. Padilla; I am careful not to release squadron or name until after the family is notified. I wrote this post in response to an overwhelming amount of readers looking for information and, as Ruth says, support. Fortunately, I am no longer subject to USAFA policy. I am a loyal supporter of USAFA, but my opinion is that they are not doing enough to teach our cadets and the community how to support each other.

  5. I agree with you 110%, Anne. I enjoy all of your articles. They are not only well written but every note comes from a very rational stand point. I am a proud parent of a cadet who’s currently at the Academy. There’s one point of “weeding out” those who aren’t meant for the Service Academy(ies) but when does training worth a cadet’s life? We really hope the current leadership changes for the sake of our cadet wing’s morale.

  6. Our family’s deepest condolences go out to all the cadets who are now angels watching over us. Anyone would’ve been blessed to have sons like Cadet Chin, Patrick and Walsh. Just reading the stores and thoughts shared on Mathew Patrick’s memorial page has been bringing me to tears the past hour. These are all fine young American heroes who are just human and trying to do their best in hopes to serve our nation selflessly. We hope authorities at the Academy can read the important words you’ve shared with us, Anne. Thank you so much for writing. I know your words will start to save cadet lives.

  7. Anne thank you for putting this out there. As the father of a C4C, even though I am and have been confident in the leadership of the Academy, I do worry as to whether there are any questions we as parents need to ask our own children. I understand that we as parents have to step back and continue to allow our children to develop independence as well as make their own mistakes – but at the same time I contrast that with our experience with our other child at a civilian university. She is currently a senior and over the past three years my wife and I have always been available when she has been confronted with a situation where she was unsure of the direction she should take. In those situations we always have helped her work through the situation herself.

    As a former military officer, I realize many of the differences with the Academy resulting from the necessary focus on military and leadership development. While we as parents don’t want to interfere with that development, perhaps there is some way we as parents could help the Academy’s leadership by understanding signs we should be looking for, questions we can ask or by better understanding how we can reinforce their message to our cadets as to where or whom they can turn to at the Academy when issues become overwhelming?

    I would find it very helpful to hear from the Academy’s leadership as to how we as parents can help them.

  8. Thank you so much for writing this, Anne. I also agree with everything Jamie and Michael shared as well. My son is also a C4C at the Academy and it’s been difficult to not be worried and concerned about him, especially reading about the suicide rates of Service Academies recently. I want to know from your experience, what is there we can do besides sending encouragement and support?

    My husband and daughter try not to bother him when we see him online now because we know he is extremely busy and everything has been extremely tough as they reach Recognition. I got the chance to talk to him last week, with a short note, he expressed that he’s doing fine but he’s been sad every time he sees his friends sad.

    If any cadets come across this post, please know that you are never alone and to be proud of how far you’ve gone. Your friends and family at home are always thinking about you and we’re already so proud of you for being accepted to an amazing and prestigious institution. What’s even more important that we’re beyond proud of is your selflessness, determination and sacrifice to put us and your country before yourself. That is something not many could accomplish.

    We love each and every one of our cadets. Hang in there, we’re rooting you on and have you all in our thoughts and prayers everyday!

  9. Thank you for everyone’s comments and focus on supporting the current cadets. Michael mentioned a list of “signs to look for.” Three years ago I wrote a post, “Clues a Cadet Needs Help” https://annemartinfletcher.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/clues-a-cadet-needs-help/ .

    In it I try to explain why a cadet rarely asks for help and how signs of depression are very different than those your might expect — for example, a cadet who changes her hair color every two weeks may be searching for a new identity.

    Kristine, I think your words here are wonderful, and feel free to send them to your cadet often — just don’t badger them for a reply or chat because, as you said, they are very busy. You can still send them your words. Do add one more line, “You are welcome to come home or to switch schools anytime. We will love and admire you no matter what you choose in life.”

    When I was a cadet, the big differences in my life were two cadets, neither of whom I visited regularly, who steered me into private conversations to say that they and many others would miss me if I chose to do something drastic. So “Buck” and “Lester,” Thank you very much! Kristine, maybe your cadet can do that with his sad friends.

  10. Ann, I thank you for your great helpful information posted on your site. I have been reading your blog since our son came home last Feb. as part of the 2015 class of Usafa. Love your transparency of Usafa and your ability to communicate your views as a grad of the academy.

    Now more than ever your information is so helpful as hundreds of Cadets are coming home. Cadets that have great capabilities and leadership talents that are not being given second chances or really even any opportunities to learn from mistakes while in the class four system.

    A little over a year ago several families bonded together through the use of facebook to discuss the needs of these Former Cadets. Once the Cadets come home there is no support on how to move forward on so many levels. We would hope that you would publish our information with this reply so that parents know there is lots of good information on how to progress once back home.

    Our site is: USAFA Former Cadet Parents https://www.facebook.com/groups/341477599272895/
    This group is for the parents of former USAFA cadets that left for whatever reasons, form 34, resignation or disenrollment. It is here to provide a place to network, love and support each other.

    With the current climate and sequestration, these Cadets and all academies will face many new changes and real new stresses. More budgets cuts coming and reduced funding in all areas of our govt.

    Thank you for all of your information and please please all share our site.

    • Leslie — I admin two USAFA FB groups for current parents. I used to provide a link to your group for parents whose cadets left USAFA, but the group has since gone Secret and I’m unable to share the information. Please let me know how to get join info to parents. You can contact me through this group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/229767567187985/ Thank you!

  11. Thank you Anne and all the other respondents for their concerns and prayers for the three cadets that have passed this year. I would like to introduce myself right up front to avoid any confusion. My name is Maureen I am C4C James L Walsh’s mother. I was blessed to see the brotherhood at my son’s services as the cadets line up to honor my son and give him his props and wings. They were broken as they created a gauntlet for his coffin to pass through, their salutes brought your eyes to their young tear stained cheeks. Their letters, emails and posts on his facebook page show me that he was more than a classmate to many, he was a brother. The relationships of the older days is still there it just has transitioned into something the younger generation understands.
    To help all the other parents on what to look for, even after it happen to us we still can not pin point a time or action, except back in beginning of October, that he showed any true depression. When C1C Matthew Patrick passed my son made mention and that he thought about it, but after that he got help from the doctors on base. He was talking about the future and about next semester at school, he seemed to be on the mend. Every so often he would tell us he wanted to quit, but we would remind him how hard he worked to get there and how wonderful of an opportunity it was. I wish I knew his darkness I wish they shared information with us, I would have never played the “tough it out” routine, but I didn’t know and no one shared with me that he had been in the hospital. There are so many things I would have done differently if I had only known, but I don’t think I would have changed anything we did with the information we had. Jim was a caring young man who was very social and cared deeply for friends and family. I do believe he had the double whammy and he would have been in a better place if he was not on probation which kept him from joining anything. It was a hard pill for Jim when he was stuck on base can not get away on weekends and now he can’t get into any clubs for that social interaction. He was way too social for that and it ate away at him.
    Jim was a wonderful young man that knew military life and how to act, dress and the rules as he was prior enlisted. He looked at a lot of his classmates as not only friends but little brothers and sisters as they were the same age as his real brother. He took pride helping others through the basic training (it was his third time through basic training) as he knew what was coming next. He took all this in stride and always had his hand ready to help another up.

    • Maureen — My condolences to you and your family. My son was one of his squadmates in CS30 and attended Jimmy’s funeral. We have lots of pictures of Jimmy from WebGuy — he and my son were often marching side-by-side. As we approach the 2016 USAFA Graduation on June 2, I have been thinking about Jimmy and your family. Thank you for your work to raise awareness of military suicides. I know it can’t be an easy road for you to travel. I only hope that traveling it has made you stronger.

      • Thank you Patty for your kind words. I would love it if you and your son would agree to send me copies of pictures Jimmy is in. It is amazing how a new picture of your son can mean the world to you. I am so proud of the cadets they have come so far in such a short time. It is bitter sweet for me as I hear the excitement in the cadets messages to me, but I just wish I was able to hear it in my boy. I am none the less so happy for their bright futures.
        I was so honored to have so many young men and women come to Jimmy’s services and tell my husband and me so many stories. They gave him such a wonderful send off that everyone still talks about how beautiful his services were. Thank you for supporting your son in his decision to come out for it.
        I still head up Operation TALK and our annual event is quickly approaching so my nerves are frayed a bit, but if you are in the Chicagoland area on June 25th I would love to meet you.
        If you and your son agree to share those photos you can email them to me at maureen.w@operation-talk.org. Whatever you decide, thank you so much. Enjoy graduation…it is like no other you have been to before. My nephew graduated in 2006 from the Academy and we had the pleasure of going. It is awesome. Please congratulate your son from me and our entire family.
        Thank you,
        Maureen Walsh

  12. Dear Maureen,
    I am so sorry for your pain and I am proud of Cadet Walsh for trying so hard to serve our country. Thank you so much for reaching out in the midst of your loss to the parents who visit this site. Parents, please urge your cadets to write a statement allowing their medical records to be discussed with you. I am not quite sure of the paperwork required, but I will research it and post on how to do it when I find an answer.

    • The cadets in his wing will be selling bracelets to help support a new Suicide Awareness Program that they are trying to get into the Academy class schedule. Please support this program as we can not let this happen again. I have received so many letters from friends (last count was 25 kids alive today) on how Jim saved them when they were thinking of ending their lives…please let him continue to save others even after his death.

  13. They obviously have more to do. Another loss this evening from my son’s squad. may he rest in peace. God bless his family.

    • My son C4C James Walsh passed on February 9, 2013 at the Academy. I am trying to make a difference in the epidemic of Military Suicide both for active and Veterans. Please help us prevent another story like this. Visit us at http://www.operation-talk.org for more information. We have to stop this, one is too many. God rest this young man’s soul and may his family find peace.

  14. Dear Chris, so sorry to hear this again, and prayers for the members of your son’s squadron and the family of this young man. Maureen, I do still say prayers for you and thank you for turning this into a passion to help others.

  15. […] I wrote about friends who lost their lives in military service: Thank You, A Family of Patriots, Sadness to Anger, Mike Joyal, Help a Navy Seal. Today, I want to project their memories and my thoughts outward. I […]


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