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By Pat Hatfield
posted Mar 11, 2009 - 4:50:05pm
A national tragedy hit home March 8 when a brother and sister, both Army personnel, were laid to rest with full military honors in Deltona.
The 21- and 24-year-old are believed to have killed themselves, adding two more names to the record roll of Army suicides that is gaining attention and action across the nation.
The bodies of Kristin Kouis and her older brother, Jason Kouis, were found Feb. 27 in a vehicle parked on a power-line-access road behind homes on Trumbull Street in Deltona.
A hose ran from the vehicle's tailpipe into the rear passenger-side window, which was taped shut. The vehicle was still running.
Residents had noticed the silver car, saw people inside, and called 911.
Witness Sarah McDonald told deputies she tried to open the car doors, which were locked. She tried to break the window, using a large branch.
Deputies arrived and opened the car, and fire rescue personnel attempted CPR. Paramedics on the scene pronounced both brother and sister dead.
A spokesman at the family's home in Deltona said the family had no comment for the news media.
The public record reveals little more than a mystery.
Kristin Kouis, a private in U.S. Army basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., had been declared absent without leave (AWOL) Feb. 25, two days before the siblings died. U.S. Army Spc. Jason Kouis was reported AWOL from Fort Stewart, Ga., on the same date.
Kristin, who joined the Army in July 2008, according to obituary information released by the family, had sustained an injury in training. She "was awaiting a resolution," according to Public Affairs Officer Pat Jones at Fort Jackson.
Jones said Kouis was recovering from her injury, and was in a "holding pattern" in her training.
"Her status since Feb. 25 was AWOL," Jones said.
A spokesman at the Kouis home in Deltona who identified himself only as the pair's stepfather, said family members were not discussing the deaths because of the Army's ongoing investigation.
The siblings' father, Peter Kouis, died in 2007. Kristin and Jason are survived by their mother, Cathleen Asch of Deltona, and a brother.
Volusia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Gary Davidson said suicide notes were found. The notes are being held as evidence, and their contents had not been released yet, even to family members, as of March 11.
Davidson said the Sheriff's Office is working with investigators from the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID). The Sheriff's Office is in charge, and is retaining all evidence.
Jason Kouis, a specialist stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., joined the Army in August 2005. He served in the 3rd Infantry Division, and saw duty in Iraq 2007-08, according to information provided for his obituary.
Maj. Jeff Allen, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division, said he did not know any details about the deaths. Jason had not indicated he would leave the post.
Allen said Jason's unit was not set to return to Iraq in the foreseeable future.
Suicides among military personnel on the increase
A new suicide-prevention program began at Fort Stewart in February, due to the spike in self-inflicted deaths among military personnel in recent months.
Read the Army's report to Congress, provided by the office of Rep. John Mica of the 7th Congressional District here.
"We're very sensitive to it. The Army has directed everyone to take part in suicide-prevention training," Allen said.
On March 5, the entire base went through the training.
Allen was sure Jason was on the minds of soldiers that day, less than a week after their buddy's death.
"We've got an ethos in the Army that says never leave a fallen comrade. ... Any loss, especially a suicide, is a loss too many," Allen said.
As for Jason's death, he said, "Personally, it breaks my heart."
The Army suicide-prevention training program focuses on the buddy system, Allen and Jones said.
Jones, at Fort Jackson, said soldiers are assigned "battle buddies," with whom they go everywhere. Training teaches the troops signs of suicidal depression, and they look out for each other. They are encouraged to ask questions, and escort a potentially suicidal soldier to a commander or chaplain, right away.
A related presentation on the Fort Stewart Web site states, "Soldiers know each other best," and, "Soldiers can become a competent and confident force for preservation of life within the integrity of the unit."
Christopher Grey, chief of public affairs for the CID, said investigators are working closely with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.
He said CID investigators go further into tracking the reasons for suicides than other agencies, and report back to the Army.
There were 24 suspected suicides in February this year "in an Army under stress from two wars," according to a March 6 report in the Boston Herald. The suicide rate has risen over the past four years.
For the first time, the Army rate of 20.5 suicides per 100,000 will surpass the civilian rate of 19.5 per 100,000 among people with the gender and age mix of those in the Army, the newspaper reported.
Along with wartime stress, troops are dealing with financial, legal, marital and other family problems, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told the Boston Herald.
Grey, of the CID, told The Beacon he was a U.S. Marine for 20-some years.
"It was nothing like it is now," he said.
One seven-month tour in a war zone was all that was expected, then.
In recent years, with a troop shortage, military personnel are doing two and sometimes three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the tours are often extended.
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