My wife recently asked me my thoughts concerning the suicide rate in our armed forces. After some discussion, I’m still not sure I have the answer.
A friend of mine summed it up like this: Each one of us has demons, some stronger than others. It’s a sickness, just like any other disease, and in the case of suicide, the disease wins. The number of suicides in our armed forces is closing in on the 100,000 mark. It is a disease among our armed forces, and a cure is nowhere in site.
When a person enlists, they sign a contract to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. That oath also means there is a possibility of dying. Every member of the armed forces fears the carnage of war, but a commitment has been formed. A realization that not all things are black and white, but gray, nothing is perfect. The demons still exist. What draws those demons out only God the Almighty knows. The safe comfortable life we enjoyed is no longer normal. Maybe we question our ethics and morals.
The cultures of the armed forces are very mixed. A mix of races from all corners comes together to be united as one, to work as a team, to rely on another person who may save your life. When I entered basic training, there were many different races and cultures. I was fortunate enough to have been raised in a diverse community so that was not so strange to me; to others, it was very difficult.
There was this young man in my platoon from Idaho who had never seen a black man. It just so happened his battle buddy was a black man from Oakland. One night, these two were in the latrine comparing notes, and the young man from Idaho said that he had never seen a black man until he enlisted. He was interested in how the young man from Oakland liked white people. You can see where this is going. Well, these two went to blows, punch for punch, throwing each other around the latrine. Before long, the platoon was up watching this fight. End the end, these two became the best of friends.
The demons these two faced that night were very deep-rooted stereotypes in their communities. The disease these two carried was a misunderstanding of culture, a fight for superiority.
Could the issue of suicide in our armed forces be the strain of constant battle? The ethical dilemma is obligation; the moral dilemma is kill or be killed. How can a man or woman who is trained to do one’s duty be thrust into a conflict and not be affected?
The culture of the armed forces means you are a trained professional and are there to complete the mission, never accept defeat or leave a fallen comrade, be disciplined and strong physically and mentally. The indoctrination of the American fighting man or woman is very strong, as strong as religion. It may be hard to understand; as long as there are factions or armies that wish to do harm to our nation’s people, we must train to defend; and with that training comes the possibility of the loss of our sons and daughters.
There are many things that have been considered by the brass at the highest levels, but our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen must believe they are sincere to putting an end to this crisis. As parents, we know when things are not right. Our sons and daughters will change and will not be the children they once were. They will all have their demons to deal with, and we most likely will see that in them. The only thing you can tell your child that they will understand.
Remember, they are adults just like you, they may be your child, but I assure you they are not children anymore.
Robert Valencia is a retired Army Sergeant First Class. Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion. He can be reached at 970-560-1891. Listen to Veterans Forum the last Friday of the month at 8:30am on KSJD Radio FM 90.5/91.5.