Since I wrote this post several years ago, suicide rates for veterans and active duty military have continued to skyrocket to epidemic proportions. I think it appropriate to again remember that these are as much a casualty of war as those who lose their lives in actual battle. Unfortunately, these losses carry none of the honor that we associate with Memorial Day. I many cases, the sacrifice made by these individuals are no less (or more) heroic than any other service member.
Over the next few days I will be posting (or re-posting) some of my thoughts on my experience as an active duty service member, as veteran, and as the father / father-in-law of service members. Some of my thoughts may at times seem controversial and even unpatriotic. My intention is not to offend, but to help readers to understand a different perspective.
“The suicide rate for our veterans and active duty is around 50% higher than for their civilian counterparts, showing what a serious issue we have on our hands,” says Dr. Gerstenhaber. “This group of people have a tremendous amount of stress and they need to know it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help. We have programs in place that have been successful at helping to reduce the suicide rates, and we want to expand those to help others around the nation.” https://www.usveteransmagazine.com/2017/09/shocking-military-suicide-rates-identifying-signs/
Honoring the heroic comes naturally to most of us. The soldier who sacrifices his life to save the life of his comrade is a no-brainer for the average American with any heart at all. Those who return home from overseas at Dover AFB in flag draped caskets leave an image that draw us all in and helps us to memorialize those who have fallen to protect our freedoms. We will wince at the report of seven rifles fired three times and the haunting tones of Taps at the graves of those killed in training accidents and un-explainable murders while on duty receive on their home soil. We rightly honor these service members and acknowledge the their sacrifice.
I have only personally known one individual who died while on active duty. It is for him and all who have fallen at the hands of an enemy that attacks every service member that has chosen to put on the uniform and served his country in peace time or on the battle field.
ETC(SS) Hill (Alias) reported to the USS Albany (SSN753) during our post-commissioning shakedown period. A newly frocked Chief Petty Officer reported to take the reins of the Reactor Controls division. Chief Hill arrived at a major cross roads in his career and his life. He was a young ambitions submariner who had risen quickly to join the “Goat Locker” (Chief Petty Officer Mess) at the earliest opportunity. Add to this that he was one of the few nuclear trained black submariners in the fleet: It was obvious that he was a star on the rise. Unfortunately, he was also making a transition that any career sailor is forced to make – transition to a non-deploying command. Although not quite shore duty, we were home most nights.
To most, this would be perceived as a great opportunity to reconnect to the family. To a sailor, this is often the most stressful time in their career. Life for the service member while deployed although difficult and sometimes wrought with danger is “comfortable”. Each day is filled with structure, focus, and purpose. He is doing exactly what he has been trained (programmed) to do. Yes … he misses his family and the life that he left behind, but that is something he does not have any control over so he loses himself in duty.
What about his family while he is gone? They have to go on without him. The spouse takes over the tasks in their marriage that he would fulfill if he were at home. Mom’s become both Mom and Dad. Yes … the family misses the service member and they acknowledge the hole that has been left, but that is something they do not have any control over so … they loose themselves in their duty.
Duty changes everyone. Often times, the end of deployment finds strangers reunited without common purpose. Chief Hill found himself locked in a battle between family and duty and there is rarely a winner in this battle. He and the stranger that had once been in love with could not find enough common ground to rebuild; divorce was eminent. A young, intelligent, and intensely proud man could not bring himself to surrender to defeat and succumbed to the enemy of our soul. Without note or notice, Chief Hill took his own life.
Chief Hill represents a casualty of war that is a constant threat; not only to those who put on the uniform, but for those that take up the duty of the military family. No service member walks away unchanged. Under the best of circumstances, one may endure and discover renewd strength through the experience, but in too many case families are destroyed and in some cases lives are lost.
No shots will be fired. Taps will not haunt our dreams. Heroes rarely are counted in their ranks. But as I reflect today I chose to memorialize the service members and families that have been sacrificed to serve you and me. The ones who have fallen before the true enemy and author of all war. I ask that you pray for those that are serving today that they will be stronger and better prepared than Chief Hill to face the unseen enemy of our souls.
Fair winds and following seas ETC. Rest in peace
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)