Nearly 70 coldiers died in WTU’s first 16 months.
February 1, 2009 – The last person Spc. Larry Applegate is known to have spoken to before killing himself was a sergeant with the El Paso County Sheriff’s office in Colorado Springs, Colo.
His words, according to a spokeswoman, foretold a tragic ending.
“One of the sergeants talked with him briefly on the phone,” said the spokeswoman, Lt. Lari Sevene. “He was making suicidal statements.”
Applegate, according to Sevene, who cited preliminary deputies’ reports, was arguing with his wife around 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 16 in their two-story home in the Widefield area of Colorado Springs when he fired a couple of rounds, causing her to flee the house.
He pursued her, fired a few more rounds, then holed himself up inside the house. Using a .45-caliber handgun and an M16 rifle, Applegate fired multiple rounds inside the house, tearing up the couple’s belongings and firing shots through the front door, where sheriff’s deputies had surrounded the house in a standoff, Sevene said.
Agents with a special weapons and tactics team went into Applegate’s house at 12:25 a.m., about 30 minutes after the gunfire stopped, and found him dead with a gunshot wound to the head, Sevene said.
No one else was hurt and the case is still under investigation.
Applegate, 27, was an infantryman who had deployed to Iraq for a year in December 2005 with 1st Battalion, 68th Armor, 4th Infantry Division. Since February 2008, he had been assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Carson for an undisclosed ailment.
Because of its public nature, his case is one of the most vividly detailed of the more than 70 soldiers who have died while assigned to one of the Army’s 36 WTUs, but suicide is not the leading cause.
According to data compiled by the Warrior Care and Transition Office, 68 soldiers died while assigned to a WTU between June 2007, when the wounded warrior care units were established, and Oct. 31, 2008.
Of those, nine were ruled suicides; six cases are still pending investigation; 13 were killed in accidents; and 35 were deemed to have been from natural causes.
“We do have warriors in transition who have died of cancer while under our care,” said WCTO spokesman Robert Moore, who said there have also been heart attacks.
Roughly 30 percent of the 9,000 soldiers currently assigned to WTUs live in barracks. The rest live in post housing or in private homes off-post with their families, he said. They are essentially outpatients who report to the WTU as most soldiers report to work each morning. Not all of the soldiers assigned to WTUs are there because of war wounds.
Of the 13 deaths that were ruled accidents, six were described as being the result of “combined lethal drug toxicity.”
“We have lots of safety procedures in place to ensure the proper medications are administered, but we’ve run into situations where soldiers go out and get medications of their own or get alcohol and that can be lethal,” Moore said. “Even though they’re counseled, some incidents do occur.”
Four soldiers were listed as having been victims of homicide because they died as a result of war wounds, and one homicide was listed as a non-war gunshot wound.
In addition to Applegate’s death, the Fort Carson WTU, whose population stood at 533 as of Jan. 22, has had two other deaths.
The death of Spc. John Conant on April 9 at his off-post home was determined to have been from natural causes and the death of Spc. Leland Tyrone on Dec. 20 is still under investigation. He was found dead in his barracks room, according to Fort Carson spokeswoman Karen Connelly.
At Fort Stewart, Ga., where the WTU had about 450 warriors in transition as of mid-December, the deaths of two soldiers found in their barracks rooms are still under investigation.
Spc. William Smith, 27, was found on Jan. 9, and the body of Pvt. Michael Bloomquist, 19, was found Jan. 17. They were both assigned to the WTU.
WTUs were part of the Army Medical Action Plan developed in March 2007 after reports revealed that wounded soldiers returning from the war zones were living in substandard housing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., while they awaited evaluation by a board.
The soldiers assigned to WTUs are referred to as “warriors in transition,” and their numbers have fluctuated in the 19 months since the units were created to replace understaffed, peacetime-era medical hold units.