Gunfire, explosions, and screams filling the battlefield as soldiers die on both sides of the conflict. Struggling to survive, the warriors fight harder, pushing themselves to the limit as their comrades systematically fall beside them. When the battle is finished, the combatants search for survivors, wounded warriors who were fortunate enough to survive, but just barely alive. They might be thinking the nightmare has finished, but in fact it has only just begun. The true terror begins with the flashbacks, memories, and post traumatic stress disorder that brings them to the brink of self-destruction.
Suicide, one of the leading causes of death within the United States military work force. The year 2018 saw an inordinate spike of these within the Department of the Navy (including the Marine Corps) among both veterans and active duty members. These preventable deaths affected many, including myself as some of these losses were people that worked alongside me in the USS Ronald Reagan. Their losses felt deeply among the crew, demoralizing the survivors, forcing them to question what could have driven these brave men and women to such depths.
Sorrowfully, I dread to imagine their last thoughts turning to the shipmates who didn’t listen, the loved ones they hardly got to see, the chain of command that failed them, and their own (presumed) inability to stop their misfortune. Placing myself in their shoes, I’m reminded of my own weakness and darkest thoughts. Knowing all too well that the only thing that inhibited me from walking down that very same road were my wife and son.
Yet, here I stand, watching as my comrades fall victim to their troubling ideology without a clue of their inner turmoil. Watching, as those who work alongside me suffer quietly, I smile politely. Slowly watching them being consumed by the negative emotions fomented by the insane machinations of the military industrial complex. Surviving on a volatile cocktail of energy drinks, sugar, caffeine, and pre-cooked meals from the galley as adversaries plot the downfall of our country and command. Carrying the knowledge that just as I am, they’re missing out of family events, reunion with friends, and even the passing of close relatives. Yet, we’re expected to perform to the best of our abilities at any given time.
Sounds stressful, no? But, then again… if you’ve ever served in any of the branches, you’d know that we’re simply told to “embrace the suck”. To accept the lunacy that surrounds us without questioning it too deeply, reminds us of our own powerlessness. Just how hopeless does our situation sound to you now? Carrying around the knowledge that nothing will ever improve because the “system” is not “broken” and continues to function [im]properly, we’re eventually indoctrinated. Is it really a surprise, when a few of our members don’t “break” and end up taking their lives instead?
We shouldn’t be, rather than being caught by surprise, we should instead address the root of the problem. Tackle the insane policies that have led our all-volunteer force to the edge of self-destruction. Cease to blame them for their weakness, and coldly judge them for their actions without taking a moment to empathize with how they must have felt in their last few moments among the living. Reminding those that are still struggling with depression that life is indeed a treasure worth cherishing.
Yet, it always sounds cliché to hear that suicide is not the answer. After all, it’s a dismissive response to someone who might be internally struggling with their own demons. You might ask yourself, “how could that be possible”? Simple, it’s almost impossible for a mentally healthy individual to harm themselves, an impulse of self-preservation will activate long before the individual can succumb to death. An individual that is contemplating suicide has reached such depths of despair that not even their mind can do anything to protect them, their survival instinct has simply ceased to fulfill its role.
In their minds, the only solution to their problems is death, and they will not stop until it has been achieved. They see themselves as a burden to the world and those around them. But, if that’s the case… who are we to cast the first stone? Why should we stand atop a mighty pillar of judgment and dismiss their actions as self-serving cries for attention? After all, these were people who saw no alternative to escaping their torment, thus decided to end their lives.
Thus, the least we can do for them is offer our silence. Forgiving their actions by offering empathy and quiet, we provide them with the respite they sought without demeaning their loss. We might not have felt their pain, but we can certainly understand… after all, they’re our brothers and sisters in arms. Their loss was a failure on our part and we feel it deeply. One less face to greet in the morning, one less person to share our experiences with, their absence is felt greatly. The fallen soldier, airman, sailor, and marine who gave it all for their country until they couldn’t give anymore. They mattered in life, and continue to be of importance in the afterlife. I ask myself, what could have driven you to such lengths?
Your siblings in arms aren’t certain, and the military does not seem know, but if they do, then they’re not releasing the data. What is clear, however, is that the amount of sacrifice they demand from their members is somewhat inhumane. Unlike most workers in the United States, Servicemen are expected to work in substandard conditions for over 50 hours weekly on average. Volunteering community service, taking college courses, and engaging in physical training during their off time is not only encouraged, but also expected for the average member looking to stand out from the crowd. Offering anything less than almost total devotion to the job means their evaluation performance will suffer.
Such mentality has inevitably created a hostile work environment, where surpassing each other requires sacrificing the time that would normally go to activities that improve mental health. If the Department of Defense truly cared about the 0.4 percent of the population that serves the country, they would instead focus on the importance of self-care over another bullet point on the member’s brag sheet. The military is already suffering from low-manpower and further losses will only aggravate such wound.
A single death of a member through suicide is already one too many, and will sadly create unforeseen ramifications over time. It is with great pain and sadness that we say goodbye to our brothers and sisters in arms as we lay them to rest. To those who no longer grace us with their presence, friendship, and life, we feel your pain. Because simply by existing, you made our lives better, and now you’re gone.
I don’t think for a second that any of you were being ignorant or selfish, you simply didn’t see a way out of the abyss. I can only hope you found the peace you were searching for so desperately…
However, for those of you who are alive, and contemplating these dark thoughts, to you I say… seek help. Counselors, friends, family and even the chain of command will support you. You just need to ask for help. At times, the people around you might seem overly preoccupied to assist you, but trust me, if you speak, they will listen. I can’t promise you that everyone will respond in a similar manner, but if they have an ounce of empathy within their souls, they will pay attention to your needs with an open heart.
You are not alone because we are all here with you.
Your life matter… at least to me it does.