From 2020-2021, suicides, drugs kill Fort Bragg soldiers at higher rate than combat and training deaths – WRAL News

During the first two years of the pandemic, more Fort Bragg soldiers died by suicide and drugs compared to combat and training deaths.
During the first two years of the pandemic, more Fort Bragg soldiers died by suicide and drugs compared to combat and training deaths.
While the country as a whole struggles with mental health and overdose issues, they’re both hitting the military installation in Fayetteville especially hard.
"It’s much too big. There’s obviously a problem," Lanna Jones told WRAL Investigates about the culture at Fort Bragg.
Her son, Sgt. Layne Jones, died in January while serving at Fort Bragg.
"I hope this blows the top off so this doesn’t happen to any other family member again," Sgt. Jones’ sister JoLynn Kerschner added.
Sgt. Jones was found dead in his Fayetteville apartment with a bullet wound to the temple. Kerschner said the family feels the loss.
"Layne was our glue," Kerschner said.
Police ruled the sergeant’s death a suicide, but his family worries there’s more to the tragedy because they feel officers and Fort Bragg, as a whole, are overlooking problems.
“There was no investigation,” Kershner told WRAL Investigates.
For more than year, "Rolling Stone" magazine investigative journalist Seth Harp has been tracking the deaths at Fort Bragg. He told WRAL Investigates he feels the Army’s reluctance to provide records and acknowledge issues is a cover-up.
"I had to go above Fort Bragg to get real numbers on fatalities, suicides and overdoses and that sort of thing," Harp told WRAL Investigates during a virtual interview.
Harp obtained Report of Casualty from the Army’s Human Resources Sustainment Center. Those records didn’t match information provided by Fort Bragg. His disturbing findings have been exposed in a series of articles in "Rolling Stone" magazine.
"All of this is very disheartening and suggests that serious reforms are needed," he said.
From 2020 through 2021, there were 109 active and reserve deaths among Fort Bragg soldiers, according to military records.
Records showed 41 were suicide, 21 were deemed drug overdoses or deaths that were likely caused by drug and alcohol use. Only seven deaths were in combat or training accidents.
Harp has a theory, "I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this community that’s had to absorb so much trauma over the last 20 years is now manifesting the highest rates of suicide and drug overdoses, sadly."
Fort Bragg is home to Special Forces and the 82nd Airborne. Both are on Presidential speed dial when there’s trouble around the world. While they fight for freedom, Harp feels Fort Bragg leadership is failing them at home.
"They also should have a sense of responsibility to their soldiers, and to the bases and institution to acknowledge when a problems have gotten out of hand and I think in this case it has gotten out of hand," Harp said.
WRAL Investigates reached out to Fort Bragg for reaction to Harp’s findings. A spokesperson told WRAL Investigates that Fort Bragg leadership doesn’t agree with all of Harp’s reporting, including what Bragg is doing to address the suicide and drug problems.
In a statement, 18th Airborne Corps spokesperson Sgt. Major Alex Licea wrote:
Harp questions whether it’s enough because the suicide and overdose rates don’t appear to be slowing down.
"It’s being literally caused by the amount of drug distribution on Fort Bragg," he said.
Jones’ family confirms he was a social drug user, like many of his fellow soldiers. Kerschner said there are still too many unanswered questions.
"We can’t even figure out why our own people are killing themselves, overdosing, or trying to figure out why so many people are being killed," Kerschner said.
While suicides and overdoses are a lasting impact on society from the height of the pandemic, Harp feels Fort Bragg doesn’t get a free pass.
"It’s not an excuse just to say, ‘This is everywhere and there’s nothing we can do about it,’" Harp said. "I think the Army ought to have a higher standard."
"I called him my gentle giant" Lanna Jones told us about her son.
For the soldier’s mother and sister, opening up their private pain is about exposing what they see as a military crisis in hopes of saving the next service member.
Kerschner said immediate change is needed.
"From drugs, alcohol, PTSD, the lack of mental health care, supervisors using, nobody caring, nobody getting in trouble," Kerschner said. "It just goes in one big vicious circle to where nothing is happening."
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