Army Suicides

Suicide rates are rising in our armed forces.  My little brother joined the National Guard before this whole war in Iraq started, thinking he would be building levees and saving trailer parks from tornadoes.  He joined for the college money.  He wound up unprepared in Iraq for a year, teaching Iraqis to be soldiers when he had no idea how to be one.  He will tell some funny stories when insisted upon, but otherwise he DOES NOT talk about it.  I have seen some pictures of him behind ridiculously huge machine guns, his little glasses and goofy grin and prepubescent face…it makes me want to cry.  That is not where he belongs.  He came home a different person, but in a good way.  He tells us he loves us, helps out, and is less bitingly sarcastic.  He also drives in the middle of the road because it’s less likely that there is a bomb there.  He thinks helicopters fall from the sky all the time.  And he knows more about foreign policy and politics than anyone I know.  Experience gives you that.  But I’m sure he has seen people torn by bullets and burned out houses and people with their legs blown off by mines.  He has told me that he lost faith in humanity.  This war is pointless, he says.  Perhaps that is a reason people are killing themselves.  They feel that what they are doing is worthless.  Their homes and relationships are disintegrating as they throw their lives on the line for a battle that, like Vietnam, will never be won.  An article on msnbc.com gives staggering statistics of suicides:

“Last year, the Army had 140 suspected suicides among active-duty troops, an all-time high. It reported 24 suspected suicides in January, followed by 18 suspected last month. Each military branch, however, saw an increase in the number of suicides among its ranks from 2007 to 2008.”

There are people who will argue that soldiers had the choice to join the Army, that they knew what the job entailed.  I believe that it is one thing see a cool commercial advertising adventure and money.  It is another to experience the horrors and stress of war.  It is like being prepared for the death of a family member.  No matter how much you convince yourself that you can handle it, nothing prepares you for the moment it happens.

I’m sure that what my brother saw and did was mild compared to the Marines, but it is all relative.  Being gripped and on guard for years at a time will change a body’s rhythm to the point that stopping is impossible.  Returning to the relative safety of the U.S. leads to dissatisfaction and boredom that is unbearable.  Alienation from friends and family, loss of limbs, inability to find work, all these are a recipe for suicide.  What else can one do?  Plus fighting a war that one is losing faith in.  I have no idea what to do about the suicide rates in the Army.  I think support for troops when they return is the most important thing.  My brother once shied away from showing pictures of his time in Iraq because “people don’t care.”  It broke my heart to hear him say that.  The biggest thing we all can do is make sure our soldiers know that we all still care.

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