January 24, 2013
I used to have a reoccurring dream after I returned home from my last deployment. It always began and ended the same.
I am running down an alley towards my truck. I am at a full-out sprint with bullets skipping the dirt around my heels. I feel as though I cannot run fast enough but finally make it to my vehicle. I jump in, look at the floor board then glance down the alley from which I came. I scream to my driver to move out. No response. I look over to the driver, noticing that my gunner’s legs are not in the gunner’s position, and see that my driver has been replaced with an Insurgent. I pull my 9mm pistol out of my leg holster and point it at his head. He smiles and places the truck in gear to start moving. I pull the trigger of my pistol and put a round in his head. Blood and grey matter cover the inside of the truck, which slowly lurches to a stop against a wall. I get out of the truck, I am surrounded, they open fire, and I wake up.
The reason I wanted to share this is because it helped me. And if it wasn’t for my wife, someone who cared, I would probably still be having this dream. Talking about the dream, the events of my prior deployment, and everything I went through in Ar Ramdi with my family, friends, therapist, and Soldiers helped me cope.
When I was coming up in the Army as a young Private it was looked down upon if you wanted to get help for anything; it was considered a sign of weakness. Times have changed, but we still have this stigma (although not nearly as badly) in the military, primarily in the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Corp, that anyone that wants to get help is weak. I want to help change that. I regularly talk to my Soldiers as if getting help is no big deal, that it is as normal as spraining your ankle. The more they hear about me talking openly about getting help, the better. Soldiers need to know that they can depend on their leadership to support them getting better. It’s our job.
The Department of Defense recently released suicide numbers that were greater than the number we lost due to combat. In the Army we are all brothers, and to lose a brother to suicide is unacceptable. Yes, we receive numerous hours of training learning to identify indicators of suicide and what to do, but somewhere we are failing. Many people have their own perception of what needs to be done and how to combat the issue, but it’s only getting worse. Is it disenfranchised leadership? If so, on what level? Team Leader, Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, or is it the First Sergeant’s fault? I believe it’s everyone’s fault 90% of the time.
I think that what it boils down to is leaders need to care. Leaders need to put their Soldiers' needs above their own. Care about what they do. Care about them and their personal lives. Know everything there is to know about that Soldier, so when one little thing is off, leadership can spot it quickly and react. When deployed, we eat, sleep, and go on missions with each other every day. We spend 9 to 15 months serving with that Soldier, but when we return home, that Soldier who had constant supervision is now left out to dry for a majority of the day. From 0630-1700 he is with his platoon, but not as closely as he once was. Many of the Soldiers he deployed with have moved to new duty stations, new Platoons, or have gotten out of the Army. He has lost that support network and brotherhood that he had during deployment.
Soldiers need to know that they can get help, without repercussions, and get it as easily as they can get help for a routine headache. The resources are there, we just need to tighten the screws on the Soldiers' leadership. If they don’t genuinely care about their Soldiers and only are looking out for their own best interests, it may be time to swap them out with someone that does care.
We have been at war for over 10 years. “Suck it up and drive on” no longer works. We can beat this suicide trend. All we need to do is care.