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Report: Career stress, feelings of inadequacy drove former Fort Sill commander to take own life

Career stress, insufficient sleep and doubts about his own abilities drove the former commander of Fort Sill to take his own life last year, according to an Army investigation report released this week.

Maj. Gen. John Rossi, 55, was found dead in July at his on-post home at Redstone Arsenal, an Army installation near Huntsville, Ala. In October, Army officials concluded Rossi died by suicide, making the two-star general the highest-ranking officer to take his own life since 2000, when the Army began tracking suicides in its ranks.

Rossi left Fort Sill in July, just weeks before his death, to take command of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. At the time of his death, Rossi was just days away from taking command, a position that would have come with a third star and promotion to lieutenant general.

But in a report released Wednesday, Army officials concluded Rossi suffered from "an irrational belief that he was intellectually incapable of mastering the technical aspects" of the Army space command, especially the aspects of the job related to space defense.

"This belief was caused, in part, by his own personal insecurities regarding his intellect and worthiness for the honors he received," Army officials wrote. "He had compensated for these insecurities throughout his career with a relentless work ethic, but apparently believed his work ethic would be insufficient to overcome the challenges of the highly-technical (space command.)"

Investigators also concluded that Rossi's daily schedule only allowed him about five hours of sleep per night, meaning he was most likely deprived of sufficient sleep for about two years.

"Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of suicide, and certainly made ... Rossi less able to effectively deal with his increasing stressors and negative feelings in the week leading up to his death," investigators wrote.

According to a law enforcement report also released this week by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, several of Rossi's colleagues told investigators that Rossi had seemed more relaxed in the weeks before he relinquished command at Fort Sill.

Although Rossi may have seemed focused on the future, investigators concluded that he likely had planned and rehearsed his suicide during the week before his death. Rossi's death came during the last time he was likely to be alone before his family moved to Redstone Arsenal, according to the report.

In Wednesday's report, investigators noted that, while some aspects of Rossi's personality and lifestyle may have exacerbated his risk, generals are often at greater risk for suicide because of the responsibilities that come with their jobs. Investigators wrote that the systems in place for identifying generals who may be at risk of suicide are inadequate.

In an emailed statement, an Army spokesman said Rossi's death prompted the Army to create a task force, led by a three-star general, to study the effects of stress on senior leaders.

"We will continue to work with and teach our leaders to create an environment where it's okay to ask for help no matter your position or rank, and reinforce in all Soldiers and leaders that it is their duty to lend a helping hand," the spokesman said.

"Maj. Gen. Rossi's death was a tremendous loss for the Rossi family and, indeed, our entire Army family."

The Veteran Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line connect veterans and military service members in crisis and their families with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders. To get help, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›

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