Spc Chancellor Keesling was at war, not only in the Middle East, but also within himself. Death as a result of that internal war, however, apparently doesn’t rate an official condolence letter from the White House.
According to CNN.com, the 25-year old Indiana native had served a previous tour in Iraq where marital problems and combat stress were noted, resulting in Keesling’s being put on a suicide watch for a short period. After returning home, the soldier appeared to be coping well, landing a decent job and new girlfriend.
Still a reservist, Spc Keesling was activated for a second deployment to Iraq with an unfamiliar reserve unit from Tennessee. The soldier revealed in letters to home that he didn’t feel comfortable serving alongside members of this unit, claiming to feel distant from them. No record of his previous mental or emotional state followed him on this tour, and since he’d witnessed other soldiers joking about suicide among other troops, Keesling didn’t open up to his comrades.
He did share thoughts of shooting himself in a letter to his girlfriend and after repeated urgings from his mother, Spc Keesling did agree to talk with a chaplain on June 19th. That conversation never took place – 12 hours after that email to his mother, the soldier was dead.
Chancellor Keesling was awarded fully military honors during transport and at his funeral, as is policy for anyone who served their country honorably. Those honors stopped shy of a letter from the President.
It’s presidential policy to send condolence letters to family members of those killed in combat. Since Chancellor Keesling took his own life and his death wasn’t attributed to a hostile situation, the White House says that no letter would be forthcoming, a policy that’s been in place since the Clinton administration.
What list of statistics do military suicides end up on? Are they considered a casualty of war? Should they be? If a soldier is killed as a result of an accident while serving his country stateside, does the White House recognize that with a condolence letter from the President? No. The family of any military member who dies while on active duty receives condolence letters from unit commanders at several levels in the chain of command, regardless of circumstances surrounding that death. That courtesy does not extend further to the White House.
Does the death of a loved one battling his own private enemy deserve presidential recognition? Can Spc Keesling’s suicidal state be directly attributed to serving his country in a combat environment? That’s unlikely to be proved or disproved.
Do the right thing, Mr. President.