- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Jacob Hutchinson wore the physical wounds of war. Jagged scars from an improvised explosive device that nearly tore off his lower legs. Precision-cut lines from more than 20 surgeries to repair the damage.

But it was the emotional toll from serving as a combat medic in Afghanistan that likely caused the 24-year-old National Guard veteran and Purple Heart recipient to kill himself on April 22 inside the Bloomington house a military organization had donated to him.

“Those wounds that he had were easy to see on the outside,” Sela Gonlubol told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/1fUTLJa ). “But his personality was larger than life, and that made the wounds on the inside harder to see.”

Her last contact with Hutchinson was a text message asking if he still planned to visit her on Mother’s Day. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied.


Hutchinson graduated early from high school, enrolled in community college classes in Cedar Rapids, then joined the National Guard in 2008. He was the first in his family to enter military service. His mother said he found his place. “He had a purpose, a passion in his life,” she said.

When members of his National Guard unit were scheduled for a stint in Afghanistan in 2010, Hutchinson was sent to San Antonio for medical training before being deployed. Military photographs taken at Fort Irwin near Barstow, California, in September 2010 show Hutchinson on his cot reading a book and also sitting on the floor with another soldier, looking at pictures on a cellphone as they awaited departure.

On May 21, 2011, the National Guard released another photo of Hutchinson. He was in a hospital bed in Germany, just three days after the explosion, receiving the Purple Heart medal that’s awarded on behalf of the president of the United States to soldiers injured or killed in the line of duty.

Four soldiers from the Iowa-based National Guard unit were injured when the 120-pound bomb blew up. Hutchinson had been scheduled to return home just nine days later.

Gonlubol told a reporter from the Cedar Rapids Gazette right after the accident that her son had two broken legs and a broken arm, but that he was hopeful and optimistic. “His legs will heal. He’s an athlete, and he will be able to work with folks and have a good outcome. I’m very convinced of that.”

Hutchinson’s injuries turned out to be more serious than first reported. He ended up spending 20 months at the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation facility near the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, where he had trained as a medic the year before.

During his recovery, Hutchinson thought about his future. He married his girlfriend, Alexandria Young. He had planned on a career as a nurse, but wasn’t sure his legs could endure long days of nursing school clinical rotations. And he was pretty sure he would not be running a marathon as he had been training for before the war intervened.

He talked a lot about his service as a medic, proud he was able to help people, including children, in village clinics. “He would not talk about the war-related things he saw, focusing more on the brotherhood of the guys serving together,” Gonlubol said. “His pictures from Afghanistan are with him and children he met. He was really connected to the kids he treated in the villages. Some of them had burns, and he treated them on a regular basis.”

Hutchinson was upset by the number of abused children he saw. “He and I had a conversation about the stress families undergo living in the middle of a war, how hard it would be on them,” Gonlubol said.

It was during his recovery in Texas that Hutchinson got two dogs, a Great Dane called Nito and a liver-spotted Dalmatian named Brownie. They came with him when he moved to Bloomington. His mother recalled a frantic call when Brownie escaped from the fenced yard and Hutchinson spent an afternoon trying to find the dog, who did return. “He called me in a panic and said, ‘Mom, that dog got me through the hardest times.’ And I knew what he meant. He loved those dogs. They were family to him.”

Gonlubol said her son changed in Afghanistan, something she had been warned about during National Guard parent meetings. “He had a shorter fuse, got angry more quickly, since coming back from Afghanistan,” she said.

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