Monday, May 21, 2012
A Battle Buddy Failed
The last time I had talked to Neil, was when his daughter was born just a few months before. He was happy and excited. How did he go from excited to be a father to. . . dead. What possibly transpired to make him so despondent that he felt the need to kill himself? At some point he started acting a little off, and talked to his soon to be wife about a time when the platoon came under contact, and he killed a little girl on a rooftop. To make matters worse he was looking at pictures from the deployment, the pictures you're not supposed to show to the media. Things only got worse from there, to the point where he flat out told her he was suicidal.
He had called the VA Suicide hotline, I do not know what was said, but I do know that because of his economic situation he couldn't afford to go to the nearest VA Facility. I also know that if he had flat out said "I am going to kill myself" the police would have been called. Could he have been treated could he have been saved? I don't know and this question really bothers me. Could I have reached him? Its possible. We're so spread out, having come from all walks of life, but I know that at least someone in the Company could have come to his aid if he had asked.
You know what's most troubling about this whole incident? To my knowledge 2nd platoon never killed any little Iraqi girls. Even the girl in the van on 12 July 2007 survived. Indeed at that point, pretty much every time we fired our weapons there was a 15-6 (investigation). Neither the Battalion nor the Army as a whole has any record of us in heavy contact killing a little girl on a rooftop. We came under contact plenty of times, and there were plenty of times we killed people, but never anything like he described. So what happened?
Well I think I know the answer. Something similar happened to me while I was at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Riley. See when you experience combat, it can be intense. The Adrenalin flooding through your system makes the memories sharper, and thus more readily recalled. But the mind can be like a bad lithograph that has warped. A bump in a lithograph will cause the needle to jump and skip thus making it repeat. The mind can do the same thing, only it can be far worse. For me I would replay the 7 minuets that it took to get Craig to Loyalty. I could replay all seven minuets in their entirety and the feelings of utter failure only increased with each playback.
When 2-2 was hit, I could remember the stench of burning Humvee and could almost imagine burned human flesh. I didn't actually smell that at the time, but my mind started playing tricks on me, and because I knew what that smell smelled like (burn patients stick with you) my mind could insert that in. One of the guys there had said that they'd heard screaming, and I had almost convinced myself that I had heard Harrelson screaming for help when the Humvee was engulfed in flames. It was only when I talked to Drew and Price, who were in the vehicle, that I realized Harrelson was dead before the Humvee hit the ground, that I started to let go of this image. Still a Burning Humvee with rounds cooking off, and an AT-4 blowing, is not an easy image not to dwell on.
When the "Collateral Murder" Video was released and pundits and Political activists gleefully picked it apart trying to tease out the horror, well I went right back to that state. See I felt no sympathy for those insurgents that had been killed, nor the reporter. I was actually more worried that I didn't feel anything, but that day was pretty memorable. There's a lot of things the video doesn't show, like getting mortared in the open, which happened as my platoon left Gate 5. It doesn't show that for a majority of the day we were actually doing good works. but it also doesn't show the drastic measures we took to try to save the survivors of the incident. It doesn't matter, the glee with which people took this as proof of the "heartless killer" meme did horrendous things to my mental state. Yes I did have flashbacks. It really wasn't pretty.
In the WTB, I nearly did commit suicide. Twice. Once outside of a strip club, I had the bright idea of running into traffic, but was saved by a soldier from 1-16 Infantry, whose simple action of giving me a ride back to the barracks saved my life. The second time I was on a back roads driving as fast as my new Mustang would go (safely) and for the first time in a long time I felt alive, the music was blaring something angry, and it was only because one of the guys I knew, Gary, gave me a call. Ironically he needed help, which probably kicked in my latent need to be the Medic that fixes everything. I never thought about suicide in 2009, I had long passed that hurdle, but if I hadn't I probably might have thought about it, and this time I would not have any battle buddies to stop me.
Holmes, did not have any battle buddies to save him. He did not have anyone who could reach through his despair and shake him out of it. Ironically enough when it comes to Veterans, when they get really bad, only another Veteran can reach them. It doesn't matter what combat they saw, that shared experiences ans bond between all that have seen combat, can sometimes be the only lifeline that will save a Veteran who is seriously contemplating killing themselves. I know that at the very least I could have reached Holmes. I could have gotten him to hold off, if only long enough to call someone to come get him, and get him the help he really needed. I failed him as his medic, his friend and his Battle Buddy. His loss is no less tragic than those that died in combat, though it will probably not be treated as solemnly because he no longer wears the uniform of this nation's Army. I think we as a Nation owe him the same gratitude and reverence that we owe men like Andre Craig Jr (06/25/07 Ruatamayah Iraq), James J. Harrelson (07/17/07 Rustamayah Iraq) or James D. Doster (09/29/07 Rustamiyah Iraq).