"Our most valuable resource within the department is our people. We are committed to taking care of our people and that includes doing everything possible to prevent suicides in the military," Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said Monday.
The Army, by far the largest of the military services, had the highest number of suicides among active-duty troops last year at 182, but the Marine Corps, whose suicide numbers had declined for two years, had the largest percentage increase — a 50 percent jump to 48. The Marines' worst year was 2009's 52 suicides.
The Air Force recorded 59 suicides, up 16 percent from the previous year, and the Navy had 60, up 15 percent.
All the numbers are tentative, pending the completion later this year of formal pathology reports on each case.
Suicide prevention has become a high Pentagon priority, yet the problem persists.
"If you have a perfect storm of events on the day with somebody who has high risk factors, it's very difficult to be there every moment, fill every crack, and we just have to continue to be aware of what the risk factors are," Ruocco said.
Two retired Army generals, Peter W. Chiarelli and Dennis J. Reimer, have spoken out about the urgency of reversing the trend.
"One of the things we learned during our careers," they wrote in The Washington Post last month, "is that stress, guns and alcohol constitute a dangerous mixture. In the wrong proportions, they tend to blow out the lamp of the mind and cause irrational acts."
Each year the Pentagon performs an in-depth study of the circumstances of each suicide. The most recent year for which that analysis is available is 2011, and among the findings was that those who took their own lives tended to be white men under the age of 25, in the junior enlisted ranks, with less than a college education.
The analysis of 2011's 301 military suicides determined that 60 percent of military suicides were committed with the use of firearms — and in most cases the guns were personal weapons, not military-issued.
That study also found that most service members who attempted suicide — about 65 percent — had a known behavior disorder such as depression, whereas 45 percent of those who actually completed the act and killed themselves had such a history.
The Defense Department provides veterans in crisis with a toll-free number, 800-273-8255, for assistance.
Associated Press writer Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: http://www.taps.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org