By Associated Press Monday, December 22, 2008 -
HENDERSON, Texas - Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Henderson, a strapping Iraq combat veteran, spent the last, miserable months of his life as an Army recruiter, cold-calling dozens of people a day from his strip-mall office and sitting in strangers’ living rooms, trying to sign up their sons and daughters for an unpopular war.
He put in 13-hour days, six days a week, often encountering abuse from young people or their parents. When he and other recruiters would gripe about the pressure to meet their quotas, their superiors would say that they ought to be grateful they were not in Iraq, according to his widow.
Less than a year into the job, Henderson - afflicted by flashbacks and sleeplessness after his tour of battle in Iraq - went into his backyard shed, slid the chain lock in place and hanged himself with a dog chain.
He became, at age 35, the fourth member of the Army’s Houston Recruiting Battalion to commit suicide in the past three years - something Henderson’s widow and others blame on the psychological scars of combat, combined with the pressure-cooker job of trying to sell the war.
“Over there in Iraq, you’re doing this high-intensive job you are recognized for. Then, you come back here, and one month you’re a hero, one month you’re a loser because you didn’t put anyone in,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Henderson, herself an Iraq veteran and a former recruiter in the battalion.
The Army has 38 recruiting battalions in the United States. Patrick Henderson’s is the only one to report more than one suicide in the past six years.
The Army began an investigation after being prodded by Amanda Henderson and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The all-volunteer military is under heavy pressure to sign up recruits and retain soldiers while it wages two wars.
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command, said, “I don’t have an answer to why these suicides in Houston Recruiting Battalion occurred, but perhaps the investigation that is under way may shed some light on that question.”