From a War Zone to Stateside Nightmare

Andersson, less than 24 hours after marrying a girl he'd been dating for a few months -- a marriage neither of his parents knew about until after his death -- sat in his new car in a parking garage near where he used to live with an old girlfriend and shot himself.

Two days later, his new wife followed suit.

Andersson's mother, Charlotte Porter, said the marriage was the last in a string of signs that her son was slipping. He wasn't a complainer, but Porter said she remembered her son telling her that his job "sucked."

"He said, 'Mom, I'm very honest,'" Porter said. "I said, 'I know you are, Aron.'"

Whether or not the recruiting tactics directly led to the soldiers' suicides may never be known, but the rigors of the recruiting practices were enough of a concern for a senator to call for action.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sent letters in September and October to Army Secretary Pete Geren after reading about three Houston-area suicides in less than two years -- Andersson, Henderson and Staff Sgt. Larry Flores Jr. -- in a series of articles in the Houston Chronicle.

After news broke of his first letter, Cornyn said his office started getting calls from anonymous recruiters and their family members telling him about the intense, sometimes unbearable pressures placed on recruiters.

"Some have alleged that the senior leaders in the battalion, including members of the chain of command, are interfering with official investigations and also working to cover up serious problems that evidence a toxic command climate and poor unit morale," Cornyn wrote to Geren in his second letter, dated Oct. 9.

Cornyn went on to reference alleged improper recruiting practices, including "mass punishment" and organizing hazing sessions for recruiters who fail to meet their monthly quotas for new recruits; confrontational "counseling sessions" for these same recruiters, at which they have been personally insulted and threatened with separation from the Army if their performance does not improve.

In a letter dated Nov. 3, Geren wrote back to Cornyn that Brig. Gen. Frank Turner had been appointed to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations and that an Army chaplain would provide pastoral care to the families and soldiers of the Houston Recruiting Battalion.

Geren said he has also directed the commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command to assess the soldiers' mental health support access with the surgeon general. And U.S. Army Recruiting Command deployed a critical response team in October that included a chaplain and a psychologist. The visit, postponed from September after Hurricane Ike hit Texas, was originally scheduled to start six days before Henderson died.

Cornyn, elected last week to his second six-year term, told that he was surprised to hear the stories about the high-pressure recruiting tactics and how families and other recruiters said the job may be driving some soldiers to suicide.

Douglas Smith, spokesman for USAREC, referred to Geren's commitment to an investigation when asked for comment on the allegations out of the Houston Recruiting Battalion.

Smith said there are more than 8,800 recruiters across the country and 17 have committed suicide since fiscal year 2001. But Houston seems to be a unique case as neither Wright nor Smith had heard of similar allegations anywhere else in the country.

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