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Why Won't Obama Send Condolence Letters to the Parents of Soldiers Who Have Committed Suicide?

The bereaved parents of Chancellor Keesling, a US soldier who took his own life in Iraq, wonder why the death of their son is treated differently than other mortalities.
 
 
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The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by Democracy Now! -- it has been edited for length and clarity.

Background: Gregg and Jannett Keesling are the parents of Chancellor Keesling, a US soldier who took his own life on June 19th of this year. Chancellor was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. During his first deployment, he suffered mental health issues so severe he was placed on suicide watch. After getting back to the United States, Chancellor had turned down a bonus offer to return to Iraq in the hopes he wouldn’t be redeployed. But he was called back in May. One month later, he took his own life. Since Chancellor’s death, Gregg and Jannett Keesling have yet to receive a letter of condolence from President Obama. After making inquiries, they discovered that this was not because of an oversight. Instead, it’s because of a longstanding US policy to deny presidential condolence letters to the families of soldiers who take their own lives.

Goodman: Since Chancellor’s death, Gregg and Jannett Keesling have yet to receive a letter of condolence from President Obama. After making inquiries, they discovered this was not because of an oversight. Instead, it’s because of a longstanding US policy to deny presidential condolence letters to the families of soldiers who have committed suicide.

Gregg and Jannett Keesling join us now from Indianapolis, where they live. This is the first time they’re sharing their story in a national broadcast.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Gregg, let me go first to Jannett. Tell us about your son. Tell us about Chancellor. Tell us why he joined the military, his first tour of duty, and then ultimately deciding to go back, or being called back.

 

Jannett Keesling: Chancellor recruited right out of high school, and this was something he was passionate about, joining the military. I wanted him to go to college, but he said that he wanted to be a soldier. So he was eighteen years old when he joined the Army. He left home in October for his basic training and then was stationed in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

He did very well as a young soldier, acclimated, made friends quickly, enjoyed his training. And then came his first deployment, which we went to visit him. He took off to Iraq, did fairly well, until he had a little bit of hitches and—but served his time. We were always told that he was an absolutely great soldier, very giving, great personality, punctuality. So we were quite proud of him.

Gregg Keesling:Yes. Yes, we were very proud of his service to our country. We had, you know, doubts about him joining, really great doubts. When the war broke out in 2003, when many of us were trying to retreat, he—Chancy decided, “This is my duty.” In fact, he said to his sister, “We must have a military, and somebody’s got to be in it.” And I decided I could support that. But once he did his first tour—and he was married at the time, and his marriage did not go very well. His marriage broke up during that deployment. And during the second deployment, he also had problems again. And that’s what ultimately happened.

 

Goodman: Now, explain the part where he was offered a bonus to return, but decided not to, because he didn’t want to go back to Iraq.

 

Gregg Keesling:Well, when you leave the enlisted Army and you’re moving to the Reserves—and I think they needed soldiers, so they were offering soldiers a bonus to be able to return back to Iraq at an earlier day. And so, he knew he had some mental health issues. He was undergoing treatment at the VA. And he said that—he turned down this bonus. It prevented them from deploying him for two years. And he felt he would not get deployed. In fact, we sat down as a family, and we said, you know, “President Obama is going to be reelected, and President Obama will end this war, and you won’t have to go.”