The .45 caliber single-action, semi-automatic Colt pistol known as the M1911 in military parlance is an extremely destructive handgun at close range. On June 26, 2011, U.S. Army Ranger Jared August Hagemann removed his M1911 from its holster. The 25-year-old already had carried the sidearm with him on eight deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, so he knew how much damage even a single round could do against flesh and bone. It was late Sunday evening at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Hagemann stood in a training area, stalked by a terrorist more relentless than any Taliban suicide bomber. His opponent’s name: post-traumatic stress disorder, the clinical term for a severe form of anxiety usually known by its acronym, PTSD.
Staff Sgt. Hagemann placed the muzzle against his right temple and pulled the trigger. His obituary, published by his hometown paper in California’s San Joaquin Valley, said only he had “died unexpectedly,” words his widow would dispute.
U.S. veterans of post-9/11 combat are taking their lives in alarming numbers, and PTSD seems to be the primary cause. If the military’s response is inadequate, is anyone else ready to help GIs heal their psychic damage? And what are combat vets to do when PTSD shreds their souls, yet their commanders order them back to fight in Helmand Province? For the third time?
Ask Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, Jared’s widow and the mother of their two children. She’s sitting in a coffeehouse not far from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), a military reservation in western Washington that is home to 100,000 soldiers, Marines, Air Force personnel, their families, and civilian contractors. Sprawling across 91,000 acres set against the majesty of Mt. Rainier, JBLM was recently called “the most troubled base in the military” by Stars and Stripes, the officially sanctioned newspaper of the Department of Defense.
Though JBLM is nominally in Starbucks country, ...