Army Specialist Jacob Fairbanks was in the middle of his second tour in Iraq in February 2008 when he returned home to Fort Campbell for a visit. He sought counseling for marital problems and depression during his stay, admitting first to a social worker and then to a base doctor that he had thought of killing himself. The doctor concluded that while Fairbanks "sometimes" had suicidal thoughts, he did not have suicidal tendencies. Given a prescription for the antidepressant Paxil, the St. Paul native was sent back to Camp Liberty, Iraq.
For Fairbanks, as with many soldiers, the stresses of serving in wartime were magnified by a troubled relationship.
It was no secret that Fairbanks and his wife, Dwan, had their struggles. Both raised in St. Paul, they had met at Fort Campbell while she was visiting a friend. Married for 2 1/2 years by early 2008, they had spent less than half of that time together. Dwan was six years older than 20-year-old Jake, with three children already. They had a daughter together, Kayla, born after he returned from his first tour in Iraq.
Interviews with family members and Army investigative files show that Jake constantly worried that Dwan was cheating on him. Dwan told investigators later that Jake was often drunk, violent or depressed in 2007, after his first Iraq tour. Police documented five domestic incidents between them that year.
"I want to tell you, 95 percent of the married couples at Fort Campbell or any other place that has deployed soldiers have trouble after the deployment," said Jan Fairbanks, Jake's mom. "Anybody, if they see something traumatic, something is going to come out."
Before he returned to Iraq, Jake took the time at a USO in Dallas to videotape a greeting to Dwan and the kids back home. He showed them a copy of "Curious George,'' a book that he had found comforting as a child. He held up a blanket he had for Kayla and told her that she should think of him when she snuggled with it.
He blew everyone a kiss and told them he would see them soon. On the night of April 7, a friend saw Jake crying as he left an Internet cafe. Jake told him he did not know what to do about his wife. The friend suggested divorce. Dwan later told investigators that she and Jake talked two to three hours that night, and it was one of the best conversations they'd had in some time.
On the morning of April 9, Jake was ordered to guard a supply trailer -- mild discipline for being late for training. Witnesses heard what they thought was a falling board. Jake had put his service rifle between his legs and shot himself in the head.
Fifteen days later, the Army concluded that while Fairbanks' marital problems were well known, nothing indicated he was a suicide risk.
"In fact, it was SPC Fairbanks' continued expression of his commitment to his daughter coupled with his affable demeanor that led the entire team to believe SPC Fairbanks, while troubled, was not suicidal," the Army report concluded.
But the commander of his regiment told investigators he was not aware until after Jake's death that he had been treated while on leave and given a prescription for an antidepressant.
The commander "expressed great concern in the fact that medical personnel treated Spc. Fairbanks for a possible mental disorder, knowing he was on midtour leave from a combat zone, and did not notify anyone in his chain of command regarding Spc. Fairbanks' mental condition and stability," the report said.
A captain later researched Fairbanks' history and made a discovery: A medical entry in the summer of 2007 documented suicidal thoughts.
As with the Campbell case, the Army found no one to blame for Fairbanks' death. But it described the lack of communication between Fort Campbell and commanders in Iraq as "cause for considerable reflection and concern.''
Jan Fairbanks still pores over the two volumes of investigative files about her son's death, looking for evidence that the bullet may have been a stray or that his weapon went off by accident.
Her quest is fueled in part by the lack of a suicide note. A letter to his parents found in Jake's uniform pocket talked instead of starting work on his college degree.
"How are you? I am good," it began.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434