Sunday, September 16, 2012

During a long weekend, veteran suicides wipe out an entire platoon

This is not right.

From an AP wire service story:
So far this year the number of suicides in the military has surged beyond expectations, given that the pace of combat deployments has begun to slow. The Defense Department closely tracks suicides throughout the military but releases its figures only once a year. The Associated Press in June obtained an internal Defense Department document that revealed that there had been 154 suicides in the first 155 days of the year, though June 3. That marked the fastest pace of active-duty military suicides in the nation's decade of war.
This is not right.

This past weekend at the Equality State Book Festival in Casper, Wyo., we heard from a panel of veterans who also are writers. Brian Turner served seven years in the U.S. Army, with deployments in Bosnia-Herzegovinia (1999-2000) and Iraq (2003-2004). Luis Carlos Montalvan served 17 years in the U.S. Army, with a deployment in Iraq that earned him a Purple Heart and a lifelong limp and a case of TBI -- Traumatic Brain Injury. Patrick Amelotte was a U.S. Marine Corps Reservist who was deployed during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991. They all spoke during a panel entitled "Active Duty, Active Voices."

One of the most haunting quotes came from Brian Turner. He noted that 18 veterans or active duty troops commit suicide daily. That includes veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as all of the other conflicts the U.S. has been engaged in during my lifetime: Korea, Vietnam, Cold War, Vietnam (including Cambodia and Laos), Grenada, Central America, Desert Shield/Desert Storm (Iraq and Kuwait), Bosnia, Somalia, and other hotspots too numerous to mention. It seems odd to include The Good War in these stats but, yes, there are aging WWII vets who sometimes choose the gun or rope over the long march into the darkness caused by cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Eighteen per day. At least one of those suicides is by a member if our active duty forces. You know, some 19-year-old kid who used to live next door to you and joined the Army to pay for college or a trade school or to gain citizenship.

Here's how Brian put it:
"There are 18 suicides today, 18 tomorrow and 18 on Sunday when I fly back out. By the time I get back to Orlando, my platoon is gone."
Every three days, we lose a platoon to suicide.

This is not right.

So what are you going to do about it?

I leave you with a Brian Turner poem on the subject (from Here, Bullet). Brian read this poem at the book festival:


It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

PFC B. Miller
(1980-March 22, 2004)

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