From Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube
Suicides among soldiers in the U.S. Army rose to an alarming number in 2008, NBC News learned today.
While the Army continues to investigate at least 17 deaths as possible suicide, they have already confirmed that at least 125 soldiers took their lives last year.
That is up from 115 in 2007; 102 in 2006; and 87 in 2005.
A senior defense official tells NBC that the Army will release the final numbers at a roundtable tomorrow, and that they will include all possible suicides in their figure. That means they will report upwards of 145 total suicides last year.
This is the highest number since the Army started keeping records -- and also the highest jump from one year to the next. It is also the fourth consecutive year when suicides rose in the ranks.
Suicides were up in all the services in 2008, but the Army's figures were the most dramatic.
And this news comes just weeks after the U.S. Army announced a $50 million program to investigate why soldier suicides continue to rise.
A senior defense official tells NBC News that the U.S. Marine Corps is also very concerned about the increase in suicides in the Corps in 2008.
While the actual jump in hard numbers is not dramatic -- 41 possible suicides in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 -- for the first time ever, the Marine Corps suicide numbers are almost as high as the general civilian population of American males aged 18-25.
In 2008, 19 of every 100,000 Marines committed suicide. That is up from 16.5 per 100,000 in 2007. The Marine Corps compares their numbers to the most recent CDC figures for American men, aged 18-25, which finds that an average of 19.8 of every 100,000 men commit suicide in a given year. Most Marines who commit suicide are enlisted white males, age 18-25.
Of the 41 marines who took their own lives, seven committed suicide while deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Twenty-eight had been deployed the war zone at least once, and 13 had never been deployed.
Suicide is now the third leading cause of deaths in the Marine Corps, with hostile actions as the main killer, and accidents as the second most prevalent cause of death.