Saturday, September 8, 2012

On Suicides

It is estimated that there are 18 OIF/OEF Veterans killing themselves every day.  I could cite pointless statistics, like the fact that white males are more likely to kill themselves, And the preferred method is a gun, or that females tend to use pills. . . We all know these statistics.  Citing them would at this point be utterly useless.  I have no doubt that some S-3 somewhere has power pointed you to death with these statistics.  So I’m going to tell you a tale.  Mine, bare with me, I’m about to tell you about the time I almost killed myself, then I’m going to tell you how we, the United States men and women at arms are going to deal with this like the family we are. 

North Kansas, somewhere.  I was sitting in my newly purchased ‘07 Mustang, listening to the engine idle.  Linkin Park was playing, somehow it seemed to speak to how I was feeling inside.  It was a Wednesday and despite my strict rules for myself I had had a few beers.  As I sat on the side of the road at oh-dark-thirty, listening to the music and trying not to think about my bed.  I hadn’t slept in a day in a half and I just couldn’t go back to my room. 

I would dream of the soldier who had his face blown off, his buddy shaking his limp shoulder.

“No, Oh God, NO!” tears streaming down his face. 

The face was gone from the eyebrows down to the adamsapple.  His hamburger face staring at me accusing me of my total inability to do anything. 

I would dream of the Soldier that had his jaw shattered, his wet snoring respirations spraying blood all over me.  The gunner over my shoulder talking as much as he could to his friend, 
“Hang on Bo, you can make it”

But I knew he wouldn’t.  I knew he was going to die.  A million thoughts of putting a Combie tube in or maybe a trach.  I should have controlled the airway better.  Maybe manage the bleeding, I should have done something more than hold him.

I would dream of the Iraqis torn apart by an Apache, I felt no sympathy for them, and that if anything bothered me more than the fact they were wounded. 
I would dream of my friend burning to death.  Screaming for help. 

Then I would dream of that woman I loved, the blonde who had made mistakes in life, but turned to me, and wanted a future.  Then it had all fallen apart, and I remembered how she was now pregnant with another man’s child.  Any hope I might have once felt lost.  I had wanted nothing more than to make up for all the lost time, and now, all the little fantasies, and happy memories that sustained me in Iraq were being twisted and warped as I imagined those same memories, being forced to watch a Grade A douche bag with my woman. 

I was alone.  No one to talk to.  You think I’m going to tell my parents of the dark things I saw, and the twisted shit that was going through my mind?  No.  There was no escape from this.  Everything that I had counted on was gone, there was nothing to turn to.  Even the Army which had been my home, and family, was now doing its best to get rid of me. 

What the fuck?

All these thoughts went through my mind, and the thought of facing that empty room, and that empty bed was just too much to bare.  As I sat there listening to the engine rev, I realized I could just. . . End it.  I didn’t need this shit anymore, I didn’t have anything waiting for me, why the hell not? 

“I don‘t want to be the one the battles always chose,
cuz inside I realize I‘m the one confused,
I don‘t know what‘s worth fighting for
Or why I have to scream. . .”  blared the radio

I hit the pedal to the metal.  The engine roared to life.  Quickly I was going 30, shift to second, my heart’s starting to beat faster, this is it, 45, Shift again.  These Kansas back roads aren’t meant for this kind of speed. 60, I feel a little jolt, it sends the car a little off into another lane. 70, time for 5th gear.  Now I feel truly alive.  90.  I can barely keep control of my car.  Now, for the first time in months I feel alive.  How odd at the end I should feel this way. 

It’ll only take a little bump, and that’ll be it.  I undo my seat belt.  I know if I get ejected at this speed, I’ll break my neck at least C4, maybe I’ll be lucky and it’ll be C1 or 2, and I’ll die instantly.  But at least with C4 I’ll not linger long.  Even if I don’t get ejected closed head trauma will probably kill me.  Perfect.  No one is around, so I won’t hurt anyone, and more importantly no one will arrive on scene to render aide in time. 

110.  This is it.  These back roads were never meant to be traveled this fast.  I prepare to cut the wheel into this big tree in my headlights.  30 seconds.  One last mission.  One last fight. 

Then my phone rings. 

“FUCK!!!” I scream, I’m too rooted in Army culture to ignore my phone.  I hit the brakes, and clutch and come to a skidding halt.  My heart pounding.  The tree at the T intersection I was going to ram was only 200 meters in front of me.  Was that branch pointing at me like a finger? 

I answered my phone, it was one of my drinking buddies.  He had just broken up with his girlfriend (again) and wanted to talk to someone. 

Just like that, that moment passed.  I was that close.  200 meters, from being just another statistic.  I still had the nightmares, I still wanted nothing to do with the empty room in the barracks, but one thing had changed from just a few seconds before, I realized someone still needed me.  The woman who left, well that heartache actually still hurts.  She has a kid now and was almost married a few times, but seems quite happy.  There would be two other women that I would love just as much, and they in turn would leave me even more confused and hurt.  But I know I’m needed, so as much as it might hurt, and seem hopeless sometimes I know I just can’t bow out without fighting tooth and nail on the way down.   

I know the pain, and I have its measure.  I will never again let it overwhelm me as it did in Kansas.  Never again will I even entertain the thought of suicide.  I passed through the eye of the needle as it were, and I have come out stronger and wiser for it.  Sadly this is a knowledge you only really get after surviving or coming close to committing suicide.  Its not an understanding I recommend you seek out.     

Suicides are no laughing matter.  June was the worst month for the Army since 2009, and from all graphics July was worse.  Perhaps worst of all, no one is really tracking what is happening to those that have gotten out.  The 18 suicides a day is anecdotal more than actual numbers being tracked.  The simple fact is that we don’t know.  We have no idea how many soldiers are killing themselves.

I know at least one soldier who did.  The last time I talked to him he was so excited by the birth of his daughter, he was so in love with his fiancé, I thought he had made it.  He had everything I did not, and I thought that was enough. At some point after the birth of his daughter he started having nightmares.  At some point after that he started looking at some of the old war photos he had on his computer, and began to convince himself of things that hadn’t really happened.  It all lead to a head when he finally took some 550 cord, and with his fiancé on the way home from a girls night out hung himself.  There she found him, dangling, dead, with their child screaming nearby. 

When I found out I felt, and to some degree still feel that I had failed a battle buddy.  Somehow I should have stayed in touch.  Shouldn’t have let my own life get in the way.  We will all feel like that after something like that happens to us.  Could I or anyone else have saved him?  Perhaps.  Its not entirely clear.  What is clear is that he left a huge hole in a lot of lives when he killed himself.    

Big Army will have its suicide stand downs, and there will be a lot of slides on powerpoint, but the truth is, there is no one solution.  OIF/OEF could be bad, but they hardly compare to Normandy, the Hurtgen, The Bulge, Anzio, Pelilu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Chosin, Heartbreak ridge, Porkchop Hill, Ia Drang, the Au Shau Valley, Dak To, Khe Sahn, Hue etc. . . .There have been tough battles before, there will, continue to be, and in the future some day.  War will not go away.  We know this.  It is not the battles themselves that are causing the suicides.  It is a lack of attention by the battle buddy, the first line supervisor, and the rest of the chain of command and responsibility. 

It is that E-4 or E-5 who is always in that Troop’s (Sailor, Airman, Marine, or Coastie) face.  He or she is the first person that is going to notice something.  He or she has to set the example, and if there’s a troop that just can’t take it anymore, they have to be the first one to speak up on that troop’s behalf.  Leaders have just two primary duties in the modern military.  1). Accomplish the mission, and 2). Take care of your troops.  We are failing on #2. 

Soldeir, Sailor, Airmen or Marine, I'm telling you right now you are not alone.  There are people out there that will help you, and you are needed, if for nothing more than to give people the wisdom you might've gleaned from your time in.  If there were any words I could tell you that would stop you and pull you back from the brink I would.  I've been there.  It's a dark and terrible place, but you can only go up from there.  Trust me.  If you need help, we, the Veteran, and milblog community are here.  We will help you.  No one gets left behind.  That is our creed, our code, and it does not stop when you take off the uniform.  There is help.  There is hope.  Just hold on, and we will be there for you, but you've got to tell us you're hurting.