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11 Jun

Young Veteran Takes His Life

Fifteen months after bloodbath in Iraq, young veteran takes his life

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Published Thursday, Jun. 11, 2009

On March 7, 2007, Army Spc. Trevor Hogue was inside his barracks in Baghdad, describing his morning on the battlefield.

“I saw things today that I think will mess me up for life,” Hogue typed to his mother, Donna, as she sat at her computer thousands of miles away from Iraq, in Granite Bay.

That day the young soldier, whose assignment included driving a Humvee through perhaps the most dangerous ZIP code on the globe, saw his sergeant blown to pieces. He saw the bodies of half of the men in his platoon torn apart. Heads were cut off and limbs severed. It happened 30 yards in front of him, and he had never been so afraid, he told his mom.

“My arms are around you,” Donna Hogue wrote. “You’ll be alright.”

But Hogue never really recovered. Last week, he committed suicide by hanging himself in the backyard of his childhood home. He was 24 years old.

According to the Army, soldiers are killing themselves at the highest rate in nearly three decades, surpassing the civilian suicide rate for the first time since the Vietnam War.

At least 128 U.S. soldiers killed themselves last year, a number that has risen four years in a row. The death toll could be even higher this year. Through April, 91 soldiers had committed suicide.

Hogue’s death, because it occurred after he was discharged, is not included in those statistics. But his friends and loved ones believe he was a casualty of war as much as any soldier on active duty.

“You think that they are safe when they get back home,” Donna Hogue said, tearfully reading printed messages that she and her son exchanged while he was at war. “They’re not. The reality of the things that they experienced continues to haunt them.”

After his 15-month tour in Iraq ended and he came home the following February, Hogue suffered bouts of depression. He slept too much and uncharacteristically lashed out at strangers. Loud noises disturbed him. Responsible and law-abiding in the past, he became somewhat reckless and was charged with a DUI.

Despite symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, he never was formally diagnosed with the condition. His mother said he never filed a disability claim with the government in part because it required too much paperwork. If the disorder had been confirmed, the military would have been responsible for paying medical benefits.

Hogue talked to counselors and took medications for depression and anxiety. But he was skeptical the treatments were helping him, according to his family.

The Army has estimated that as many as one in eight soldiers returning from combat suffer from PTSD, which is caused by severe psychological trauma and can cause flashbacks, nightmares, sleeplessness, detachment and irritability, among other problems.

“When Trevor got back, he seemed more melancholy, less outgoing,” said one of his closest friends, Troy Peterson. He was angrier and more serious, Peterson said, though he still displayed flashes of his goofy sense of humor.

“I believe that the things Trevor saw in Iraq created demons in his mind,” said his father, Rod Hogue. “He couldn’t get rid of them, and they destroyed him.”

Trevor Hogue, an avid guitarist whose hero was Arnold Schwarzenegger and his favorite movie “The Terminator,” surprised everyone when he announced at age 19 that he had quit college and was joining the military.

“I was shocked, to be honest,” said Peterson, who described Hogue as a “ridiculously fun” guy who dressed in a skirt on “opposite day” in the sixth grade, helped found a cheerleading group called The Hooligans at Granite Bay High and admired the “hoverboards” featured in the film “Back to the Future.” “He had never talked about the military before.”

On another level, though, Hogue’s decision made sense, his parents said.

After 18 months of college, Hogue was tired of the “party scene” at Chico State, his father said, and the rules and structure of the military appealed to him. His mother said he wanted to carve out his own identity. “It was a way of making his mark in the world,” she said.

But as he shipped out to boot camp, knowing he could be sent to war, his family was terrified for him, his sister Tracey said. “It was so hard to say goodbye.”

Hogue excelled in his training, winning an award for “outstanding soldier” at boot camp. He trained as a “tanker,” but he never got to pilot a tank in Iraq, family members said.

Instead, day after day he patrolled Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods in a convoy of Humvees, clearing buildings and “looking for bad guys,” said Rod Hogue.

He kept up regular contact with family members, girlfriend Heidi Redmond and others through his MySpace page, e-mail messages and the occasional phone call. When a friend asked if he needed anything, Hogue requested toys and school supplies, which he distributed to Iraqi children. He shared little about his role in the war, but when he phoned his dad after the March 7 tragedy, he gave gory details. “He told me it was the worst day of his life,” Rod Hogue said.

By the time he was honorably discharged from the Army and came home, his mother and father had ended 30 years of marriage and the family was strained. At first Hogue lived with his sister, then moved in with his mother. He became estranged from his dad.

He drove a shiny white Jeep, which he bought shortly after his discharge, and attached an empty grenade to its gear shift. He enrolled in the California Regional Fire Academy, graduating in January, and was planning to take paramedic training. That plan got sidelined when he was charged with DUI. “He took responsibility for what happened, but he was devastated,” Rod Hogue said. He became darker and more introverted.

Hogue went to counseling appointments but was dubious because none of his caregivers had been in combat or fully understood his issues. The medications “make me feel numb, but that’s better than how I was feeling before,” he told his sister.

Something happened to Hogue, though, in the weeks before his death, loved ones said. He seemed to have achieved some kind of peace. He rode his bicycle, hung out with friends, played his guitar. “He seemed like the old Trevor,” his mother said. “Normal as can be.”

Perhaps, his sister Tracey said, he was at peace because he had finalized the decision to take his life.

On the day before he died, Hogue wrote a note in his personal journal.

“Please know that I am happy, finally,” he said.

His final journal entry was dated June 2, 2009.

“Enjoy the future,” he wrote. “I hope hoverboards are invented.”

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