Former Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers are hosting a forum Friday night on military suicides, aiming to draw attention to psychological strains on service members who carry out multiple combat deployments.
The panel discussion is taking place at 7:30 p.m. just outside the base’s gate at Coffee Strong on Union Avenue in Lakewood.
It’s centered on the March 2010 suicide of Spc. Derrick Kirkland, who hung himself at Lewis-McChord after he was evacuated from Iraq because of concerns about his psychological health.
Kirkland of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division twice tried to kill himself in Iraq before his fellow soldiers had him sent back to Lewis-McChord. He raised a shotgun to his mouth in one of the incidents.
When he arrived at Lewis-McChord, a Madigan Army Medical Center psychologist evaluated Kirkland as a low risk for suicide and the Army placed him in base housing where he was not assigned a roommate, according to documents obtained by The News Tribune. He killed himself within a few days.
“The military is guilty of murdering this kid and the chain of command should be held responsible,” said Kevin Baker, a former 4th Brigade soldier who served with Kirkland on a previous deployment to Iraq.
Kirkland’s mother, Mary Corkhill Kirkland of Indianapolis, is expected to speak at Friday’s forum along with soldiers who served with her son and have since left the military. Baker said active-duty soldiers are scheduled to speak, as well.
The Army conducted at least two investigations into Kirkland’s death, concluding that a lack of communication between Kirkland’s fellow soldiers in Iraq and the unit he was to join at Lewis-McChord contributed to his death.
“When Spc. Kirkland arrived to his unit, he should not have been assigned a room by himself and routine checks should have been established,” an officer wrote in a death investigation completed in March. “Ensuring Spc. Kirkland felt that he had support through the whole process needed to be emphasized to leave no doubt that the soldier was a priority to his unit and the Army.”
The Army investigations determined no one specifically was at fault for Kirkland’s death. He appeared stable to the psychologist he spoke with when he returned to Lewis-McChord.
Baker wants to see more accountability for Kirkland’s suicide. He also hopes Kirkland’s story will motivate service members to speak up for the behavioral health resources they need.