Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Soldier Suicide

Stories like this have a great impact on me.

They haunt me.

They hurt.

The story is about a soldier who committed suicide at an Army base I was stationed at for 5 years, Fort Lewis, Washington.
A cook at the dining facility, Barber sat in his truck wearing battle fatigues, earplugs and a camouflage hood on his head. He had an arsenal: seven loaded guns, nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition, knives in his pockets. On the front seat, an AK-47 had a bullet in the chamber.

The "smell of death" he experienced in Iraq continued to haunt him, his wife says. He was embittered about the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that crippled him, the Army's failure to treat it, and the strains the disorder put on his marriage.

Despite the firepower he brought with him, Barber, 31, took only one life that day. He killed himself with a shot to the head.

"He went to Fort Lewis to kill himself to prove a point," Kelly Barber says. " 'Here I am. I was a soldier. You guys didn't help me.' "

For two days, a surveillance camera recorded the truck sitting in the Madigan Army Medical Center parking lot. Inside the truck, the body lay undisturbed.

If Josh Barber wanted his suicide to make a statement, no one seemed to notice.
This story is far too common amongst combat veterans.
A record number of soldiers, Marines and combat veterans who have killed themselves in recent years, at a time when the Pentagon has stretched deployments for combat troops to meet President Bush's security plans in Iraq. The Marine Corps reported 41 actual or suspected suicides in 2008, a 20% increase over 33 in 2007. In 2007, the Army counted 115 suicides, the most since tracking began in 1980. By October 2008, that record had been surpassed with 117 soldier suicides. Final numbers for 2008 have not been released.
These numbers do not reflect those no longer on Active Duty and are significantly higher than any projections.

Remember, 58,195 names of those killed in the Vietnam War are etched in stone in Washington DC. If we accounted for the suicides of those brave Veterans, we'd add 200,000 names to that wall.

Dealing with the mental health issues for our soldiers and Veterans is a top priority for me and yet another reason I support elected officials like Congressman Tim Walz. As a Veteran himself, he gets it.

Adding satellite clinics and ensuring better access to facilities and benefits is only one step in working to curb the excessive amount of soldier suicides.

The "warrior mentality" is also adds to the problem. After years of training as an Infantryman and having led Infantry platoons in South Korea, Fort Lewis, and Fort Hood, I can attest to a mentality that exists with those that fight, those that serve.

While on active duty, my focus was narrow. I was an Infantryman, I was mentally hardened to not show pain and complete the mission at any cost. My superiors trained me this way over the years and I passed that onto my soldiers.

Going to the TMC (Troop Medical Center) for illness or injury showed weakness. It was a harsh stereotype. At morning formations, I would have to report the number of subordinates that were at sick call, everyday. It made you just want to "suck it up and drive on".

I believe that this mentality has led to a significant number of solider suicides. This macho guise that we always put on, no matter the time or place.

It reminds me a lot of the Minnesota Veteran, Jonathan Schulze, who committed suicide almost 2 years ago.

So much to work on here...I'm just praying that someday we'll truly learn from each of these tragic episodes...

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