While the story differs significantly from the recent suicide of Jonathan Schulze, the end result is equally as disturbing and sheds significant light on the reality of Veterans and suicide.
Family members worried that his war experiences haunted him and urged him to get help.This is the case with a majority of Veterans. It reminds me of a movie I discussed with students when I spoke on Veterans Issues. The movie "Tough Guise" shows the macho nature behind images portrayed in mainstream media. Young men talk of the pressures to maintain the "macho guise".
"We tried," said his stepfather, Mitch Aanden. "He said, 'No, I'm tough. I am a Marine.'"
It also reminds me of my own time on active duty and how we were conditioned in basic training. In basic training, our drill sergeants broke us down, stipped us of our civilian identities, and built us back up as Infantrymen, soldiers ready to close with and destroy our enemy.
We never complained about how we felt. No matter how sore our backs, feet, knees and other areas felt, we drove on the accomplish our missions. We had faith in our leaders and the system to ensure that we were taken care of. Whether that is right or wrong is up for debate, but that was reality.
So for Fickel to tell his loved ones he was a tough Marine when in fact he needed help, is reality in the military.
Much of the discussion that has taken place recently is in reaction to events that have occurred to Veterans recently. Unfortunately, these issues are common amongst Veterans for decades upon decades. We just seem to forget about it until it happens in our backyard again.
To remind you, if we listed the names of our Vietnam Veterans that have committed suicide, the wall in Washington would have to be more than 4 times the size it is now.
If you have been there, visualize that...
Training programs for some of these areas were required on an annual basis. However, as a former Infantry platoon sergeant, I know few of my soldiers took any of this training seriously. Oftentimes, an hour long block of instruction would end in 15-20 minutes with no questions.
After an event, DUI, Suicide, Domestic Violence, etc, we would get even more of these "training sessions".
Hence my discussion of being reactive versus proactive.
We must create better programs to reach out to our Vets and ensure that the resources are there for their health and welfare. We need proactive programs and elected officials who will ensure that our Veterans are taken care of.