‘He could have been saved.’ Mother of Fort Hood soldier calls for follow-through on culture changes

Texas

KILLEEN, Texas (KXAN) — For nearly two years, Patty Troyan has been plagued with unanswered questions about her son’s death.

“It’s like the most important piece of the puzzle is missing,” she said, speaking to her life without Logan — and of the the days leading up to his death.

Private First Class Logan Castello was one of the dozens of soldiers who have died while stationed at Fort Hood, an army post in Central Texas, over the last few years.

In November 2019, he died by suicide. However, Troyan is processing new grief this week, after learning more details from her son’s death investigation report.

“Reading it was heartbreaking,” she said. “Logan’s blood is on their hands.”

According to documents Troyan said she received from Army officials, her son was designated as “high risk,” and even had his weapon taken away. The report his mother showed KXAN called his superiors “disengaged leadership” that “did not put in place any additional measures to monitor the Soldier.”

It also called policies regarding high risk soldiers “inadequate.”

“He could have been saved. They could have helped him. He could have still been alive today,” she said.

Leadership at the post has been under investigation since July 2020, after attention to the disappearance and murder of specialist Vanessa Guillén exposed a pattern of violence.

In December, the Army released the results of that independent investigation, and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said they fired or suspended 14 Fort Hood commanders and leaders.

“Leaders, regardless of rank, are accountable for what happens in their units and must have the courage to speak up and intervene when they recognize actions that bring harm to our Soldiers and to the integrity of our institution.”

Ryan McCarthy, Former Secretary of the Army

Still, Troyan told KXAN she worried that while the faces have changed, the culture may not have budged.

“I think the army is reactive instead of being proactive,” she said.

That’s a mentality Dr. Alan Peterson is working to change, in his research into military psychological health at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He also works with South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience (STRONG STAR), which is one of the nation’s largest PTSD research consortiums.

  • To read the Army’s full report on Fort Hood, click here

With combat veterans, they often focus on exposure therapy to help ready soldiers for a return home and condition them to environments that might produce anxiety.

“When people are deployed, there’s true danger, and there’s many things they do that keep them alive while they’re deployed. Because they’ve done that automatically for so long, those things happen automatically. When people come back, they don’t think about it,” he explained. “You know, driving on, I-35 in rush hour in Austin, for example, where there’s really no way to exit and you’re stuck on the highway. There’s lots of things that may not be inherently dangerous, but they trigger off a stress reaction because they’re perceived as a dangerous situation.”

The other part of his research focuses on active duty military on bases across the country, preparing them for deployment and working to get ahead of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety — before they depart.

“We’re looking specifically at: What are the factors that may help increase resilience prior to someone going on a deployment?” he said. “Many of them have never deployed before, but they, they still may have trauma exposure themselves.”

He said factors that lead to mental health hurdles for these soldiers can resemble combat veterans, particularly after training accidents or abuse on a base. Often, however, the factors can resemble civilian triggers, too, such as relationships, legal trouble, and substance abuse.

“If you go back before 9/11, for example, the military always seemed to have a lower suicide rate than civilians,” Dr. Peterson said, noting the terror attacks on September 11 as a turning point for many soldiers and first responders.

Dr. Alan Peterson, a retired lieutenant colonel, served on three deployments after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Dr. Alan Peterson, a retired lieutenant colonel, served on three deployments after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
(Photo provided by: Dr. Peterson)

Peterson himself was deployed on that day, twenty years ago, to help in the aftermath of the fall of the Twin Towers in New York City. From there, he was deployed overseas on Operation Enduring Freedom.

“There were a few close calls. I’m quite sure if things had gone a little bit different than what had happened to me, then I really could have easily been at risk to be developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder myself,” he said. “So, there’s no one that is totally immune to the surprises and unknown things that can happen in a war zone.”

He and other experts worry about the rising numbers of soldier suicides among combat veterans and active duty soldiers alike.

“Relationships: social support, your family and friends, and within the military, that would be, you know, unit cohesion — we do know that’s one of the biggest protective factors. Sometimes people that find themselves being isolated? That ends up being a risk factor for individuals,” he said. “So, as as a caring family member, the best thing a person can do is stay connected, ask questions, be supportive of the individual and that sets the stage for someone’s be more likely to share the concerns they have.”

Dr. Peterson even leads a research group at Fort Hood, funded by the Department of Defense, studying resiliency and new training methods.

“They left Logan behind.”

Patty Troyan, lost her son to suicide while he was stationed at Fort Hood

Troyan urged experts like Dr. Peterson and Army leadership to follow-through on the changes, but said it was too late for her son. She’s mainly worried about the Army enforcing the policies they already have in place to help soldiers who may be struggling.

“The people in charge just didn’t care enough to check on him, follow their own protocols, follow their own procedures,” she said. “No solider left behind. It’s a fallacy. It’s not true at all. They left Logan behind.”

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. If you — or someone you know — are struggling with mental health, here are some resources:

Call 800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, open 24 hours a day in English and Spanish.

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