Staff Sgt. David Senft died not in the heat of battle, but alone and despondent in Afghanistan with a single gunshot to the head, an unsent text message typed into his phone that said, "I don't know what to say, I'm sorry." The US Army deployed Senft to Afghanistan despite previous suicide attempts and a stay in a mental institution, and he stayed on even after it mandated counseling and took away his weapon. The New York Times follows the trail of warning signs.
The Army is still investigating, but suicide rates have soared in recent years as the exhaustion and trauma associated with repeated tours of duty grinds on troops. The Army counted 67 suicides in 2004; that number soared to 162 in 2009. Senft had previously served in Iraq, and afterward re-enlisted despite the trauma he suffered there. But “if he was suicidal and they had to take away his gun, why was he allowed to stay in Afghanistan?” asks Senft’s father. Says a longtime friend: “As soon as I heard he was dead, I just said to myself, he did it. He did it.”