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The Star Advertiser
By William Cole
Jan. 5, 2011
Everybody said so, including fellow soldiers, commanders, his girlfriend — whom he planned to marry — and his mother.
So it was a complete shock when the 21-year-old private was found with a fatal bullet wound in his forehead at his U.S. base in Iraq. The Army concluded it was suicide.
“I don’t believe he killed himself,” she said. “I don’t believe anything points to that. Since joining the military and graduating from basic and (advanced individual training), after I saw him for a full month in Montana and before he went over there, he was on top of his world.”
Classified a suicide, the loss of Hutton is one of many within the ranks that the U.S. military struggles to explain.
Army suicides, historically much lower than the civilian rate, started spiking in 2005, and in 2008 the rate topped the national average and reached a record 20.2 deaths per 100,000 soldiers, the service said. The civilian rate is about 19.2 per 100,000 people.
In June there were a record 32 potential Army suicides, including 21 from active duty and 11 from Reserve ranks. The deadly march has included 100 Army active-duty suicides in 2006, 115 in 2007, 140 in 2008, 162 in 2009 and 145 potential and confirmed soldier suicides through November, according to government figures.
Adding suicides to accidental deaths, which often result from drinking and driving and drug overdose, “we find that less young men and women die in combat than die by their own actions,” the Army said in a report released in July. “Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.”
For some the rigors of service, repeat deployments, injuries and separations from family result in a sense of isolation, hopelessness and “life fatigue,” according to the report, Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention.
THE GOOD NEWS is that soldiers are seeking behavioral health care in record numbers, the Army said. The risk reduction report, the result of a 15-month effort, identified gaps in programs and an increase in high-risk behavior including illegal drug use and greater use of prescription antidepressants, amphetamines and narcotics, the Army said.
The Army said it implemented more than 200 changes, including improving access and coordination between medical and behavioral health providers, expanding behavioral health screening and recruiting more counselors and chaplains.
Hutton, however, did not exhibit suicidal indicators in the Army, according to the investigation.
He was treated for depression in high school and took Lexapro, which is used for depression and anxiety. But he was on an even keel later in life and was proud of his military service, his mother said. He had never attempted suicide, she said.
Miller postulates that her son and another soldier “could have come to blows and the gun went off or something. It looked like a struggle in the room to me” based on the Army report. Her son’s computer was on the floor next to him, she said.
The investigation was conducted by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command from its Camp Slayer office.
“I think the military from the first get-go thought it was suicide, and they didn’t go any deeper,” Miller said.
The report states, “Investigation determined the cause of PV2 Hutton’s death was a contact gunshot wound of the head, and the manner of death was suicide.” “Contact” means the muzzle was touching the person when the weapon was fired.
Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, at Fort Belvoir, Va., said agents investigate all deaths as if they are homicides.
“Agents are trained not to go into death scenes with any predetermined theories or conclusions until they have appropriately collected and analyzed all evidence and leads,” Grey said in an e-mail. “CID conducted a thorough and complete investigation into the death of the soldier and did consider numerous possibilities in this case. There was no indication or evidence to suggest that foul play was involved.”
The sequence of events leading to her son’s reputed suicide does not make sense to Miller.
“Hutton seemed in good spirits and looked normal,” the report quoted a soldier as saying (the Army blacked out names in the report).
“All soldiers stated PV2 Hutton was a good soldier, he was eager to learn, and he was looking forward to the deployment,” the investigating agent said.
His squad leader said Hutton “was completely normal when he left for lunch” the day he died.
“I have never seen him upset, cry, mad, anything,” another soldier said in the report. “He seemed to like being here in Iraq and just complained about the normal stuff like the heat.”
Hutton liked fishing, camping and river floating in his home state of Montana, family members said. He came from a broken home, was a runaway and stayed in foster homes, and was partly raised by his grandmother, they said. He wanted to build a cabin in the woods someday.
One soldier said Hutton admitted taking drugs on a regular basis before joining the Army.
One to two days prior to his death, he left a phone message at his grandmother’s saying he was “doing fine” and that he planned to marry the girl after the deployment, the investigation states.
In an interview with investigators, his girlfriend said she spoke to Hutton the day before he died, and the two confirmed their marriage plans.