The Desert Sun has spent the last year investigating the lives, and untimely deaths, of Marines at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. Here are some of our key findings:
• Since 2007, the base in Twentynine Palms has suffered more non-hostile deaths, like car crashes and suicides, than war fatalities. Sixty service members from the base have died in war zones in the Middle East, but at least 64 have died on American soil, mostly in the High Desert, while stationed or training at the base.
• Marines at the Twentynine Palms base have been significantly more likely to be killed in an off-duty vehicle accident than their counterparts at other Marine bases. As of 2002, Marines at Twentynine Palms were three times more likely to die in a traffic crash than the average Marine. Safety measures have made crashes less frequent in recent years, but the base maintains one of the highest fatal crash rates in the Marine Corps.
• Marines who commit suicide while at the Twentynine Palms base are nearly twice as likely to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of their death. Of the 15 Marines who committed suicide at the base between 2007 and 2012, seven had alcohol in their system at the time of death. This is nearly double the percentage reported by the Marine Corps as a whole. The base suffers an annual suicide rate of about two deaths per year, matching the Marine Corps average of 19 deaths per 100,000 troops. The civilian rate is 12 deaths per 100,000.
• In one particularly troubling case, a Marine at Twentynine Palms died after military doctors prescribed him six separate medications for post traumatic stress disorder. The Marine died of "multiple drug toxicity," and his death was ruled an accident.