I just learned of the death of one of my fellow soldiers over the weekend. Any one dying is a tragedy, what makes this worse is the cause. My fellow soldier was found dead by suicide. An all to common occurrence these days. When a soldier goes to combat they know they may not come home, and at some level they accept that. The danger should end when they come home, but it’s becoming apparent that returning from combat does not always end the mental anguish that some soldiers feel.
What gets me is that this Soldier was in so much pain and no one noticed. How does this happen? It pisses me off every time they ask the Soldiers Chain of Command, their immediate supervisors, those tasked with the well-fare and well-being of these Soldiers, if they noticed anything out of ordinary before the Soldier is found dead, and the Chain says, “No everything was fine, the Soldier was just a little sad, I wasn’t concerned.” How can you work with someone, especially in the Military where we live and work so close with each other, and not notice a change? When one of my Soldiers came back early from deployment I talked to him for 5 minutes and knew there was something wrong. I spent all of my 1st deployment in Afghanistan with him, and some of my last tour with him. I hadn’t seen him since I left for medical treatment in early June of last year, he returned in February of this year. I knew right away after we hung out that first time he wasn’t right, I took him to the hospital, and I was right he was having some problems. Was he suicidal, was he going to take his own life, I don’t know, but I do know that because I knew him and saw something I didn’t like he is getting the help he needs and will not end up a statistic.
I can not understand how any supervisor in the Military can be so out of touch with his or her Soldiers they don’t notice a problem. It is very rare for some one to commit suicide without giving hints. And all of the hints are easy to see if you know and care about the people around you. I love my Soldiers as much as I love my brothers and sisters, and it would destroy me if one of them killed themselves and I didn’t stop it. I know Squad Leaders in the Army who went as far as taking a Soldiers weapon from them and escorting them to the medics on nothing more than a gut feeling. It was nothing they could see or hear, the Soldier never came out and said, “I’m gonna kill myself,” but the Leader had a feeling and it turned out he was right. And that Soldier lived, just because his Leader had a feeling.
How can you say you care about someone and not notice a change in them? And how can any one live with themselves knowing they could have done something but didn’t? How can you let someone you care about go through this, let this happen?
As good as the Army has become at taking care of the returning Soldiers there is still a long way to go. It starts with the people you work and live with. If you see someone going through a rough time talk to them, they may not be contemplating suicide, but talking tot hem is the 1st step to helping them. If they seem down, or depressed talking might help them realize they need help. If you see someone who is exhibiting suicidal tendencies, after seeming depressed for a long time than are suddenly happy, if they start talking about suicide or not having a future, especially if they make jokes like, “I’d be better off dead,” “No one will miss me,” or anything about hurting themselves or killing themselves, do what ever it takes to get them help. Call 911 and get the Police or the Paramedics to come out, take them to the hospital, do what ever you have to. Yeah they will probably hate you for it, my Soldier looked at me when the hospital involuntarily admitted him and said, “I hate you, I hope you die for this.” 2 weeks later while still in the hospital he called me crying and thanking me for saving his life.
No I did not know the Soldier who died this weekend but still I’m saddened by the loss. It is the worst crime we can commit to let a Soldier that has returned safely from combat take their own life. We owe them better than that. Yeah it may be cliché, or you might think it over used, but it is true one suicide is too many.