The Forgotten Battalion
September 21, 2015 8:40 AM   Subscribe

In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans Try to Save One Another. The Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment (2/7) was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2008. During eight months of combat, the unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters and suffered more casualties than any other Marine battalion that year. When its members returned, most left the military. Seven years later, at least 13 of the 1200 members of that battalion have killed themselves in the interim: two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. That is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans. (This story discusses self-harm, suicide and suicidal ideation. Some readers may find the content disturbing.)

The 2/7 is a battalion-level infantry unit composed of infantry Marines and support personnel. Infantry battalions are the basic tactical units that a regiment uses to accomplish its missions of locating, closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and close combat. Upon deployment, the 2/7 conducts mechanized, combined-arms operations and other expeditionary operations in order to support theater engagement plans and contingency operations. (Via: MarineParents and

In Afghanistan in 2008, after the soldiers of the 2/7 realized the scope of their mission, they began calling themselves “the Forgotten Battalion.” By the time the year was over, 20 members of the battalion would be dead and 160 wounded, thirty of whom were amputees. (Via: Leatherneck and Wikipedia).

The 2/7 returned to Afghanistan in 2012.

From the NYTimes article:
"In interviews, many Marines from the battalion said they received effective care at the V.A. But many others said they had quit the treatment because of what they considered long waits, ineffective therapists and doctors’ overreliance on drugs.

Six of the 13 Marines from the battalion who committed suicide had tried and then given up on V.A. treatment, discouraged by the bureaucracy and poor results, according to friends and relatives."
* Background from the article's author, David Philipps: Unraveling a String of Veteran Marine Suicides, One by One
* Video: A Hotline for Soldiers in Crisis
* New York Times staff photographer Todd Heisler, worked with the reporter Dave Philipps on the report: Photographing Marine Veterans on the Home Front
* Marine Corps Times: Into the breach: How [the Sangin district of Helmand Province] will enter the annals of Marine history

Where to Call for Help
For Veterans
* Veterans Crisis Line mentioned in the article: 1 (800) 273-8255, press 1.
* Online, visit, or send a text message to 838255.
* Additional resources from NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness

For Non-Veterans
* National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255
posted by zarq (9 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The 2/7 returned to Afghanistan in 2012.

Just for the record, because civilians tend not to realize things like this: The unit that went to Afghanistan in 2012 had probably less than 20 percent of the people who went to Afghanistan in 2008. Servicemembers change units every 3 years on average (closer to every 2 years for officers).
posted by Etrigan at 9:00 AM on September 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Thanks, Etrigan. I wasn't aware of that.
posted by zarq at 9:03 AM on September 21, 2015

Also from the NYT, also disturbing.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:33 AM on September 21, 2015

IMO all readers should find this disturbing.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:59 AM on September 21, 2015

This was difficult reading but I'm glad I read it - thank you for sharing it. Peer support in the face of trauma and mental illness, when the system fails to do its own supporting job properly, is a topic near and dear to my heart.
posted by Stacey at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2015

I wonder where the platoon and company level officers from 2008 are in the support group / social media dynamic here: it's their Marines who are dying. It wouldn't be surprising for the role and responsibility of officers to be lost on a New York Times reporter, so perhaps they have been involved and he just didn't see fit to note it?
posted by MattD at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2015

MattD, as I understand it, turn-over within the unit compounded by the great size of America suggests that these vets won't be seeing much of each other after they get home. (Obviously those still in uniform may continue to be together, but officers do get moved around.) As a result, they need even more support from their families, friends, and communities, because their comrades aren't nearby.

They really deserve better from us.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:08 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

They really deserve better from us.

That. Right. There.

And not just those suffering in the U.S., either.

One peer support campaign that seems to be making a difference in Canada is "Send Up the Count," named for the practice of the last person in a line tapping the one in front of them, saying "one", and having that happen all the way up the line (with the number increasing with each tap) until the boss in front hears that everyone's still there - a way of making sure everyone's OK.
posted by at 9:22 AM on September 22, 2015

A Common Language
His thoughts kept returning to the notebooks he had kept during his deployments, and in particular to the writing he had done in Afghanistan when he was first diagnosed with PTSD. Writing had always given Capps joy, and he thought he could do something with the body of work he had built up over the last decade. Maybe if he got a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, he could get his work published and figure out what to do next. So he enrolled.

In class at Johns Hopkins, he wrote about what he knew best: the killing fields. His classmates encouraged him, pushing him to break the tough-guy code and write about his battle with PTSD, and his moral failure, as he saw it, to save all those killed where he had served.

Writing helped Capps gain control of his mind, and brought stability to his life. The more he wrote about his struggles, the more manageable they became. He was no longer sobbing in the middle of the day or paralyzed by flashbacks. If writing could do this for him, he thought, it might do the same for other veterans.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:31 AM on September 22, 2015

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