Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

What every American needs to know

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A guest post at The Best Defense by Blake Hall:

Every day is a national tragedy. This is not hyperbole. Eighteen veterans kill themselves every day, a figure that represents twenty percent of the suicides in this country, and veterans constitute twenty-three percent of this nation’s homeless population. Veterans represent nine percent of America’s population, so those numbers, to me, are staggering.

Last month, I sat down for dinner with my former battalion commander. I brought up these numbers and he responded with valid questions, "How much of that is self-selection? Were these vets already struggling with problems before the military? Were they already pre-disposed to engage in high-risk activity? How many of them fought in combat?" I noted that the figures don’t include the veterans who kill themselves with alcohol or who kill themselves on motorcycles or in single-car accidents, because those types of fatalities don’t fit into neatly quantifiable categories. But, ultimately, I do not have the academic knowledge or expertise to respond authoritatively to his queries. I can only comment on my former scouts and snipers, who call me from time to time, as they fight their demons.

I led twenty-four scouts and five snipers in Iraq from July 2006 to September 2007. Our mandate as a platoon was to kill/capture High Value Targets — typically Al-Qaida or Iranian backed militants. We were in some rough spots, and, as you can imagine, we saw some terrible things. It affected all of us. As the prophet Isaiah noted, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."

I’ve had two calls from my men in the last month and a half. One of them was from a sniper team leader I nominated for the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in combat. The other was from a sniper I consider one of the bravest men in my platoon. Both men told me they considered killing themselves either during deployment or when they returned home from war.

In Mosul, the sniper team leader, "David," rescued the crew of a Stryker Reconnaissance Vehicle taking heavy fire from three different directions. He exposed himself to that fire in order to secure a winch to the vehicle, which was in danger of rolling over into a draw. He saved the crew after he had emplaced and directed his sniper teams to engage insurgents firing four mortar tubes on a combat support hospital — an action senior commanders credit with saving twenty American lives, for ten coalition service members, some of them nurses, had already been critically wounded at the base from the mortar fire. And then he subdued an Al-Qaida militant in hand-to-hand combat inside of a building.

In Baghdad, another sniper, "Jonathan," was on the rooftop of a building with my company commander during a firefight. Afterwards, the company commander walked up to me with shaky legs and said, "Blake, your snipers are crazy. They were walking around on the roof, bullets everywhere, just pointing and shooting. I was huddled behind the wall taking cover. You might tell them to get down once in awhile."

Both men are brave. I want them by my side in a firefight — the highest compliment a soldier can give. So it breaks my heart when a soldier like Jonathan calls me and tells me that he wants to kill himself. Jonathan was brave in some of the scariest situations I can imagine, but it is the way that he is being treated now that he is back home that is breaking him down.

When Jonathan returned home from Iraq, he exhibited classic signs of PTSD, a term I hate, for PTSD is a disease that every veteran suffers from to some degree or another. He had trouble sleeping. He was nervous and hyper-alert in normal everyday situations. He couldn’t concentrate on a task for longer than a few minutes…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2010 at 9:37 am

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