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RIR is honored to present a guest post by USA Special Forces (ret) Greg Walker. This piece originally appeared in NewsRep. Greg has also been a guest on the Running Iron Podcast. He continues to serve tirelessly as an advocate for improving the mental-health care of America’s veterans. The work he and others are doing to improve conditions and treatment for suffering veterans is vital, and a direct reflection of his life of service, and on-going commitment to others.
The suicide of Specialist Matthew Brown
According to The News Tribune, “A soldier with the 7th Infantry Division was found dead Thursday inside his Joint Base Lewis-McChord residence, the Army said. ‘It is with a heavy heart we send our condolences to the family and friends of Spc. Brown,’ said Maj. Gen. Willard Burleson III, the 7th Infantry Division commanding general.”
In his straightforward and well-researched book, “The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides,” author John Bateson identifies Joint Base Lewis McChord as a “problem base” in regard to the scourge of military service-related suicide, the signature tragedy of our now 17-plus years of ongoing war. A war that relies on a volunteer system of recruitment and the nation’s combined state National Guard. JBLM—or Fort Lewis as many of us who have been stationed there know it—is named after famed Pacific Northwest scout and explorer, Meriwether Lewis.
On October 10, 1809, Lewis took his own life. As described in a 2009 Smithsonian.com article by Abigail Tucker:
Before he left St. Louis, Lewis had given several associates the power to distribute his possessions in the event of his death; while traveling, he composed a will. Lewis had reportedly attempted to take his own life several times a few weeks earlier and was known to suffer from what Jefferson called ‘sensible depressions of mind.’ Clark had also observed his companion’s melancholy states. ‘I fear the weight of his mind has overcome him,’ he wrote after receiving word of Lewis’s fate.
At the time of his death Lewis’s depressive tendencies were compounded by other problems: he was having financial troubles and likely suffered from alcoholism and other illnesses, possibly syphilis or malaria, the latter of which was known to cause bouts of dementia.”
Fort Lewis is well named considering its long history of suicides. Bateson’s account of JBLM-related suicide and murder-suicide concludes in 2015, when his book was released. Specialist Matthew Brown took his own life on-post in August 2018, but his death falls in line with so many others at JBLM. He may have pulled the trigger of his pistol but it was the Army that killed him. More specifically, his Brigade’s JAG officer’s ego.
In 2015, Matt enlisted in the infantry and, after his training, was stationed at Fort Lewis. He was married and had a young son. His childhood was rooted in “the hood” where he’d grown up with a drug-addicted parent who had little time or use for him. Brown became a gang member and the gang became the family he never had. He was smart, tough, and violent. When he joined the Army, he was hoping to leave that all behind him, raise his family, and come out better than when he went in.
Brown’s unit did a short tour in Korea and during that time his marriage went sour. His wife ultimately left him, taking their son with her. Financial problems followed and the young soldier became increasingly depressed, morose, and ultimately suicidal. He was arrested by civilian authorities and the arrest brought him to the attention of the Army’s legal system. His behavioral health and substance abuse issues were brought to light. He shared his plan to drive his car at high speed into oncoming traffic on I‑5, which runs past Fort Lewis. He disappeared and then reappeared at will. Court-martial and dishonorable discharge loomed in his future.
Brown ended up on Madigan Army Hospital’s psychiatric floor, where he expressed active suicidal intent. While on the floor he became uncontrollable by staff. When I met him, he’d run himself at full speed into a wall on the floor trying to kill himself…several times. His face took the brunt of the impact. He was heavily medicated when we met but still managed to stand at a semblance of attention, his responses to my questions and guidance/direction always ending with, “Yes, Sir,” or “No, Sir.”
Matt spent more than five weeks in private care and treatment after that meeting. He was stabilized and never again had to be restrained by staff. His medications were adjusted. He became responsive in a positive way. He began smiling again. Laughing. A glimmer of hope returned to his eyes. Both JBLM behavioral health clinicians and their counterparts at the facility he was at worked long hours with him. They interfaced with his command. They did the same with the civilian authorities. Prior to his last week of in-patient care, Matt Brown was assured by all involved that his heartfelt efforts over the past month were going to result in a Chapter 9 discharge. This would see him provided with VA healthcare benefits to continue his recovery.
He was humbled and immensely thankful. He had a plan now. A way ahead. Hope. That hope evaporated when his brigade JAG officer, infuriated at what he perceived was a “bad soldier” getting one over on the system, and despite clear and concise clinical assessments and diagnoses of severe pre-existing behavioral health and substance issues aggravated during Brown’s short military career, went to the brigade commander.
JAG argued Brown needed to be made an example of. Court-martial and dishonorable discharge were the means of doing that. According to them, “rewarding” Brown with a discharge that provided him VA benefits and medical care was absurd and would send the wrong message to the troops. The brigade commander set aside the informed decision of his battalion and company commanders and the clinicians assigned to advise him. The JAG officer got his way. Brown would be brought back for court-martial proceedings.
Advised by his company commander in a phone call, Brown, still an in-patient and off base, spiraled into anger, depression, and once again, suicidal thinking. He had been betrayed, he said. He’d “done everything they asked of me” and they’d lied. He’d be dishonored among his unit. His son would grow up believing the worst about his father. He’d have no means of support or promised VA healthcare. He was again being humiliated, but this time by those in uniform he’d trusted with his life when he’d entered care and treatment.
Matt Brown disclosed he had a pistol he’d left with a fellow soldier before going in-patient. He shared his plan to retrieve that pistol once back on base and to shoot himself with it. His plans were dutifully and swiftly conveyed to JBLM’s behavioral health clinical team to include the most-senior “green suiters” at Madigan Army Hospital.
Two mid-level clinicians and I weighed in on Brown’s behalf, but to no avail. When I was informed he would be transported under guard back to Fort Lewis, I told the clinician on the other end of the line, “They just killed this kid.”
Matt was interviewed by a psychiatrist at his brigade’s embedded behavioral health clinic. That clinician determined he was indeed, as warned about, actively suicidal once again. Brown was readmitted to Madigan Army Hospital and placed on suicide watch. Not long afterward he was determined to be safe (to stand court-martial). He was discharged from the hospital and remanded to his unit. He was directed to begin attending JBLM’s intensive outpatient program while awaiting court-martial. His pistol remained unaccounted for.
On August 2, 2018, his body was found in his on-post residence. His pistol lay nearby. He’d shot himself in the head as he’d described he would do six weeks earlier.
Those of us who had fought so hard and so long to see Matt regain hope were, and remain, distraught. A nameless, faceless JAG officer had preordained Brown’s self-imposed death sentence.
There was the mandatory suicide investigation carried out in part by CID at JBLM—the same CID with a long history of violating the rights of often-medicated in-patient soldiers. It’s been well documented that they obtain interviews with these patients through commanding officers with direct access via their positions as part of the clinical assessment team.
This is exactly what occurred in Matt’s case and was documented with the appropriate Madigan behavioral health professionals as soon as the interview was discovered. But by then the CID investigator had gotten what he’d wanted from a heavily medicated patient he knew he’d not have been allowed physical access to had he requested it.
That interview became the basis of the brigade JAG officer’s case, an interview with a documented suicidal service member under medication and with no clinician present to monitor the process. An interview, in my opinion as a retired civilian law enforcement officer, that would have been thrown out of court once CID’s duplicity in obtaining it was fully exposed.
Although Matt killed himself in early August of 2018, the investigation, which had begun with the discovery of his body, was quietly postponed until at least January 2019. Why? The evidence pointed Matt’s pistol in the other direction.
It is as Bateson describes in his book regarding the suicide of U.S. Army soldier Chad Barrett on February 2, 2008: “The Army’s investigation into Barrett’s death didn’t examine how the military’s health care system failed him. Instead it placed the blame on Barrett himself.”
Indeed, Madigan’s clinical leadership at the behavioral health level had failed Brown. Fully aware and informed of the young man’s mental health history—to include previous suicide attempts, hospitalizations, care and treatment—and an informed clinical end state that would have provided ongoing and deserved care to Brown in post-military separation, Madigan’s chief of behavioral health, LTC Kevin Goke, chose to kowtow to both the brigade’s JAG officer and its commander’s ill-informed decision to “make an example” of Specialist Brown.
As for the culpability of the Army’s CID investigators in their zeal to pursue their investigations into the very heart of the in-patient clinical environment by any means available to them, Bateson gave a Vietnam-era example of command cover-ups and blaming the victim that rings true to this day:
“In 1971, Major Carl Hensley of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division was assigned to lead the examination into the charges by Lieutenant Colonel Anthony B. Herbert that two of Herbert’s superior officers in Vietnam engaged in war crimes not unlike those at My Lai. Hensley found that Herbert’s allegations were true; however, he was pressured not to divulge them. Hensley told his wife that he ‘could get four to 10 years for what he knew’.”
Depressed and unable to live any longer with his decision to “play ball,” the major killed himself in April 1971. The CID commander, Colonel Henry Tufts, insisted there was no connection between his subordinate officer’s suicide and the stifled results of the investigation called for by LTC Herbert. The content of the major’s suicide note, if one was left, was not released. If it had been, they may have been able to counter Colonel Tuft’s opinion.
If CID, for years and from the top down, would protect alleged U.S. Army war criminals, would deny, deflect, and defame one of its own, there should be no surprise its investigators would throw a 21-year-old infantryman under the bus to support a career-minded JAG officer’s draconian need to “make an example” of a clinically diagnosed suicidal soldier. Madigan Army Hospital’s track record, as Bateson points out, is less than stellar.
The most recent example of its own clinicians speaking out about the impotence of its leadership in behavioral health, both uniformed and civilian, took place in November 2018. Seattle’s KING 5 News broadcast a scathing four-part series titled, “Army Punishes JBLM Soldiers that Need Help.” The series, contrary to what little response JBLM’s Public Affairs spokespersons offered, was spot on.
In March 2012, ABC News broadcast the investigation of Madigan’s forensic behavioral health team’s reversing 40 percent of previously made clinical diagnoses for combat-induced PTSD, or pre-existing PTSD aggravated by military service at JBLM. One of my SOF cases, then being overseen by the SOCOM Care Coalition, was among these.
It involved a young Ranger who’d suffered a serious TBI when the vehicle in which he was a passenger was struck at high speed by an MP vehicle that blew a stop light on-post. In challenging that reversal, which the forensics clinician re-diagnosed as a case of malingering, we proved the testing process performed by the behavioral health staff was not within the stated regulations and in fact defied best practices under any standard.
“The embedded behavioral health program takes that dynamic a step further by requiring doctors to meet regularly with commanders to discuss high-risk cases,” Col. Mike Oshiki, a former senior doctor assigned to JBLM’s I Corps and previously the 1st SFG Group surgeon, told the Seattle Times in April 2015. He continued by pointing out, “Those meetings are helpful because they reduce the likelihood that commanders will drive troubled soldiers too far.” Oshiki recalled that he’s read too many reports on military suicides in which commanders reported they didn’t know about a soldier’s distress.
“You do the deep dive after a suicide, and the commander just goes, ‘If I had just known, I never would have taken him to the field. I never would have put him on this detail.’ But if you don’t know, you don’t know,” he said. But the embedded health care system’s close tie to the command also draws criticism. “Some view the Army psychiatrists based with the unit as proxies for leaders who may want to cut ties with troubled soldiers.”
Some, as in the case of Matthew Brown, would point out even concurrent behavioral health chiefs at Madigan have become proxies as well.
The suicide of SSG Michael Mantenuto
Eager to please the group commander’s sincere interest in having such an option available, Madigan’s mental health chief at the time, LTC Phillip Holocombe, also recognized the benefit of having a local celebrity and current Green Beret, claiming to have recovered from his mental health and substance issues, become a base spokesperson.
According to one clinician at JBLM, the colonel told staff, “We finally have an inroad into Special Forces with SSG Mantenuto!” It was not unusual to find the colonel and the sergeant together in Holocombe’s office discussing behavioral health issues and strategy. Mantenuto’s W.A.R. program was being actively considered to receive the chief’s stamp of approval as a formalized option at JBLM when Mike took his life. Mantenuto never provided his PowerPoint W.A.R. presentation to anyone in his chain of command or at Madigan, according to a close associate.
He was concerned they would put him on the road giving presentations, taking away his time at group and at home. Against the objections of the mid-level, seasoned clinicians who were familiar with the Special Forces sergeant’s case, W.A.R. base presentations still became a reality, with Mantenuto teaching classes and mentoring other addicts in and out of uniform.
“Mike is no longer a patient,” a senior therapist at the SOF Embedded Behavioral Health Clinic on JBLM told me four months before Mantenuto killed himself. “He’s now a non-clinical ‘co-worker’ who we have to help when he has questions about addiction and mental health for his program.” At the conclusion of our conversation, this same clinician raised the worst-case scenario should SSG Mantenuto either relapse or take his own life. “He [Mantenuto] is not taking care of his own recovery. He’s busy helping everyone else—people we don’t even know about—take care of their issues. If he relapses into addiction, or worse yet, kills himself, the repercussions across the board will be horrible.”
In preparing this piece I formally obtained the Des Moines Police Department’s investigation of Mike Mantenuto’s suicide. I’d met Mike once while he was in-patient and was both horrified and astounded to learn of his death by his own hand, especially given the conversation noted at SOF EBH four months earlier. Sources close to Mantenuto provided additional background and information to include the revelation that Mike’s W.A.R. program had both CONUS and OCONUS participants in it, something neither the command at 1st Group or Madigan Army Hospital were aware of. Several W.A.R. participants, upon learning of his suicide, contacted their command and said, “If Mike couldn’t handle his demons, why should I?”
They were immediately placed under professional care.
The police report offered to the King County Medical Examiner reported that they’d found traces of substances in Mantenuto’s bloodwork. What these were had been redacted by the public records facilitator at DMPD. However, I learned from an indisputable source that traces of MMDA, used experimentally to relieve PTSD symptoms, and Ketamine, used experimentally to relieve both treatment-resistant depression and suicidal impulses, were two of the substances detected. Neither MMDA nor Ketamine are available in either the DoD or VA systems of prescription medications for such conditions.
How Mantenuto was able to avoid either random or targeted drug testing, as he was technically still a behavioral health and substance dependency patient at JBLM, remains unanswered. By the institution’s own policy he would have gone from in-patient care/treatment to the intensive outpatient program at Madigan Army Hospital, and would not by any stretch of the imagination have been given the responsibility of developing and teaching a homegrown addiction program on JBLM. According to one source, Mantenuto “pretty much came and went as he wanted” during the duty day once he’d returned to Fort Lewis. On one occasion he disappeared for a week with no one in his chain of command knowing where he was, making him essentially AWOL.
April 24, 2017, was a Monday. A work day at the 1st Special Forces Group compound. Per the official police report a witness at the park saw Mantenuto, alive, in his vehicle at 12:45 that afternoon. He was 25 miles from his duty station and dressed in civilian attire. The witness stated hearing “a popping noise” roughly 15 minutes later. Returning to where Mantenuto had parked, the witness observed what had occurred.
Although Saltwater State Park grounds are assigned to the Washington State Patrol, it is the Des Moines Police Department that routinely takes calls there. When police units arrived, they swiftly cordoned off the area. By four that afternoon, Mantenuto’s body had been secured and the vehicle inventoried and impounded.
Although no wallet or military identification (dog) tags were found with SSG Mantenuto, his U.S. passport and military ID card were discovered during the King County Medical Examiner’s search of his day pack. Military authorities at JBLM were notified. In turn, they notified the soldier’s family. On April 26th, Mantenuto’s wife contacted Detective Sergeant William Shepard, who returned her call the next day.
Mantenuto’s spouse, now a widow, told Shepard she believed her husband “may have relapsed into drug addiction.” Mantenuto had been clean and sober when he’d enlisted, but had fallen back into addictive behavior while assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, awaiting reinstatement into the Special Forces Qualification Course. He graduated the course in July 2013. He would be arrested in Wilmington, North Carolina, while celebrating with friends. Alcohol was a contributing factor.
On May 13, 2015, SSG Mantenuto was admitted to the private hospital in Portland, Oregon, per an Army’s substance abuse program referral at Fort Lewis. It was his birthday. He completed the intensive in-patient program 28 days later. His positive experience in Portland became the impetus for the peer support program he founded when he returned to base. “I don’t think he could do this without having taken a lot of drugs,” his widow continued. “He was a little quiet when he left [their quarters on post], but I didn’t think he was suicidal.”
“He [Mantenuto] took on the burden and responsibility of well over an estimated 50 other mental health and addiction patients, some of whom we knew nothing about until after his death,” a senior clinician told me. “In doing so, and he was blessed to do so by Madigan itself, he was not being properly cared for and treated. The weight of everyone else’s problems along with his own, in my opinion, overwhelmed him in the end.”
NEWSREP inquiry into SSG Mantenuto’s suicide resulted in the following statement by the 1st Special Forces Group PAO: “Our approach to suicide prevention is to promote healthy, productive behaviors through engaged, compassionate leadership. SSG Mantenuto’s loss serves a constant reminder for leaders at all levels to remain vigilant toward caring for one another.”
There is no memorial at the compound for SSG Mantenuto, nor for any of those other 1st Group Green Berets who chose to end their lives. Yet there’s a solemn and dignified memorial wall for fallen comrades at group headquarters, and a respectful K9 memorial plaque nearby, too.
Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere, Mantenuto’s group commander at the time, told his troops, “Those of you that knew Mike will remember him for his passionate love for his family and his commitment to the health of the force.”
The well-respected and decorated Special Forces officer might have mentioned Mike’s sacrifice, for the “health of the force” came at the expense of his own.
Beaurpere is now assigned to Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, where he serves as executive officer to the commander.
The formal USASOC investigation into SSG Michael Mantenuto’s suicide and the steps leading up to it was only closed after both the Military Times and NEWSREP submitted FOIA requests for it. The USASOC FOIA Office advised both media outlets it could not fill their requests as originally hoped for. Why? DOD had just taken that responsibility away from them and would further review the report before deciding what to release, if anything at all.
Killing Corporal Travis Twiggs
“I have a lot of memories of Twiggs and every time I think of him, I mostly remember the times when he would be motivating everyone in his path. One time in particular I remember doing a company run up KT on Kbay, and for some reason he wore his flak jacket while the rest of us were green on green. It started to rain and out of the blue he was so pumped he decided to run circles around us all while on the way up. He was geared up with so much moto that it encouraged those who were hurting to get to the top without falling out, but it took so much out of him. He actually slowed up a bit but no one really cared because of all the moto he gave us. That’s the type of guy I knew him as. Give himself for his brothers’ benefit. God bless you, Twiggs.”—A fellow Marine’s recollection of Corporal Travis Twiggs
SSG Mantenuto’s 2017 tragedy is eerily like that of Corporal Travis Twiggs, USMC. Bateson describes how Twiggs, a legendary Marine tracker and combat veteran, suffered from combat-induced PTSD. In January 2008, Twiggs authored an article for the Marine Corps Gazette in which he described his behavioral health challenges “while emphasizing his ability to recover from them.” The article was quickly latched onto by the Corps, which turned his non-clinically supported account into a public-relations bonanza. Twiggs became so popular he was invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush.
According to The New Yorker:
“Twiggs, who was known for his grit and his charm, gave his piece, titled ‘PTSD: The War Within,’ an upbeat ending, emphasizing his recovery, and he soon found himself working with a new unit, the Wounded Warrior Regiment, spreading the word about the treatment and prevention of P.T.S.D. In late April, in that capacity, he met President Bush at the White House. Rather than simply shake the president’s hand, Twiggs bear-hugged him, proclaiming, ‘Sir, I’ve served over there many times—and I would serve for you anytime.’”
Three weeks later Twiggs went AWOL. He and his younger brother stole a vehicle, which led to a high-speed chase with law enforcement. When the vehicle was finally brought to a stop, Twiggs shot his brother to death and then turned the gun on himself.
The lesson? High-risk behavioral health and substance-dependent service members cannot be prostituted as public affairs stage performers while they are—or should still be—in meaningful care and treatment in accordance with military behavioral health/substance dependency best practices.
Where is the will, the commitment, and the strategy in 2019?
According to an article in Webecenter11.com, Chief of Public Affairs for U.S. Army Alaska, Lieutenant Colonel Martyn Crighton, gave the following statement on the issue of suicide:
“Look, suicide is a national problem. I mean, we are suffering from the scourge of suicide nationwide. The Army is no different, the military is no different …and because it is a priority for the Army, and so it is putting resources in from across force against it. Certainly, anything that could be done in terms of medical support and assessment is welcome. Lieutenant Colonel Crighton said they are privileged to have the support, from not only the communities they live in, but from Alaska’s representatives.”
Military service-related suicide is at record rates, as is the rate of suicide among the veteran population. In 2015, there were roughly 200 programs across the services meant to stem the tide. Millions of dollars have been spent since the Global War on Terrorism ignited multiple combat tours, causing family separations, financial hardships, divorces, and a massive increase in behavioral health and substance challenges that we have long known directly contribute to suicide. The rate of suicide for non-deployed service members is equally high.
So where is the will, the commitment, the strategy at both the DOD and the VA, at the highest levels of command and management?
As of April 19, 2019, the Army is sending in an investigative team to determine why its soldiers are killing themselves in record numbers. This is only because Alaskan Congressman Don Young sent a “WTF” letter to the MEDCOM commanding general due to conflicting, deflecting, and otherwise obtuse responses about soldier deaths in the Army at JBER and Fort Wainwright. Just prior to the “all-star” team’s arrival at Fort Wainwright, the chief of public affairs for the Army in Alaska issued a pithy PAO statement highlighting the thought process that Bateson warned us about back in 2015 when he wrote the following:
In March 2014, the journal of JAMA Psychiatry released the cumulative results of five years of studies conducted by the military, government, and academic researchers. The new reports were welcome news for the Pentagon…they concluded that the risk of suicide in the military was similar to the risk of suicide in the general population…As for the studies’ recommendations, they were equally predictable: improve screening for new recruits, and provide more training to troops in mental toughness as a preventative measure. In other words, keep doing what you’re doing, just do it a little better.”
The above is where PAO Crighton draws his throw-more-resources clap-trap from. He would have us believe that, because the Pentagon has identified suicide is a national problem, the Army is absolved in the deaths of service members like Matt Brown, Mike Mantenuto, Travis Twiggs, and now thousands of others since 9/11.
If Crighton were an honest representative for the Army in Alaska (and elsewhere) he’d recognize how underfunded and understaffed the Army is in terms of qualified, certified, and experienced behavioral health professionals at JBER and Wainwright. At JBLM, the substance program, SUDCC, meant to have 19 addictionologists on staff, has only seven. This is due to funding for such specialists having been quietly shifted elsewhere, and attrition.
Crighton could have described how burned out those clinicians are and the exodus of seasoned clinical professionals as a result; how uninformed, uneducated, and evasive line unit commanders are regarding early identification and referral of soldiers in trouble; how Army CID investigators, seeking to make their cases on those soldiers in care and treatment but with pending charges, routinely (as they did with Matthew Brown at JBLM) violate patient rights; and—specific to Alaska—how the Army behavioral health leadership headquartered at Fort Wainwright knows all of the above but remains mute, enabling the command’s public affairs spin doctors to frame the issues.
I predict the “dream team” from the lower 48 will faithfully render its report. It will contain nothing new. The environment; the easy availability and abuse of alcohol, drugs, firearms; the separation/divorce rate; the wear and tear of nearly 18 years of war on those career soldiers who are now senior non-commissioned and commissioned officers; the lack of in-patient facilities in the state; understaffing; and the fact that suicide is a national problem will be trotted out as factors to have more “resources thrown against.” In short, the Army and its sister services have declared victory over suicide in the ranks and will now recommend acupuncture, yoga, and an online, DOD-approved resilience course moving forward.
If you think I’m exaggerating, simply watch the April 8, 2019 interviews conducted with senior leaders at Fort Wainwright by Sara Tewksbury of Webcenter11 in Fairbanks one week prior to the “dream team’s” arrival. Not exactly a “bobby-dazzler.”
I hope Congressman Young sees through the dog and pony show headed his way and demands more than just smoke and mirrors.
We must take care of each other
The victims of suicide are saved one life at a time. Truth. That’s how it works. We are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. There are marvelous organizations and non-profits such as Mission 22 and the Wounded Warrior Project that provide services and programs that are easily applied for and accessed.
But we, as individuals, make the critical first contact. A fallen comrade relies on his or her fellow soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and veterans to put the defensive perimeter in place. In Special Forces we believe that “teams survive where individuals die.” Successful detection, reporting, intervention, and then prevention is a team effort, and a team effort demands teamwork.
This is what will save lives and give new meaning to those lives saved in 2019.
It is unacceptable to hear a soldier say, “I did all they asked of me. Why are they doing this?” as Matt Brown posed to me just weeks before shooting himself in his quarters at Fort Lewis. Perhaps this is how Meriwether Lewis felt on that dark, cold night in October 1809 as he crawled across the ground, dying from his self-inflicted wounds as those who could have helped hid behind closed doors and watched him bleed to death. Lewis, whose name graces the Army’s largest base in the Pacific Northwest, died alone, unwanted, and abandoned in his hour of greatest need.
Where will we find the will, the commitment, and the strategy to save one life at a time? In the credo “No Fallen Comrade Left Behind,” that’s where.
In respectful memory of Sergeant James Hupp, ODA 5414, and Specialist 4 Matthew Brown, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2–2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division.
About Greg Walker
USA Special Forces (ret) Greg Walker’s professional training and experience in the realm of suicide includes investigating both attempted and successful suicides as an Oregon law enforcement officer. He participated in numerous successful interventions while a Pacific Northwest care coordinator for the SOCOM Care Coalition from 2009–2013. From 2013 to 2018, Greg continued to work closely with high risk behavioral health and substance dependent service members and veterans, bridging with actively suicidal patients coming to the in-patient programs he was involved with. Walker, ASIST certified, investigated his grandfather’s death in 2011 as a proactive step to bring clarity, forgiveness, and peace to his extended family. He lives the Ranger credo of “No Fallen Comrade Left Behind”.
Nancy Becker says
Thank you for this haunting post. We really do not understand the steep price of our freedoms.
Craig Rullman says
Having lost both fellow soldiers and domestic first responders to this tragically common scenario, you are well aware of those who quietly struggle in some cases, for years.
Professional sufferers that push through impossible emotional, physical and clinical conditions, self induced or not? This exists in an environment that for some, becomes entirely oppressive and consuming as their personal and professional lives crumble, to the point they don’t recover.
The collateral damage to those left behind is heart breaking.
Given the national narrative and society in general, the need for aggressive unrelenting advocacy to our first responders and soldiers has never been greater.
The conversations and acknowledgment of the epidemic is out there and foundations and private organizations are literally doing God’s work to help our cops and soldiers.
On several levels in my experience, we are failing. For various reasons both individually and institutionally. Sadly, other projects and politically motivated funding objectives seem to take priority.
Those who serve their own within the ranks and civilians, who love and care for their first responders and soldiers are a special breed of human.
It’s a struggle that too often leaves our people on an island. When the people who used to have your back, don’t and those who can’t really understand what these men and women are asked to do, step away, it can seem hopeless. Add someone suffering from legitimate clinical issues, it’s no wonder we wind up where we do.
Unnecessarily dying by another’s hand or worse, your own, has never been an advertised job requirement for soldiers, cops and first responders in general. We ask them to remain balanced while consuming chaos and unfiltered humanity for decades.
Starts with looking at each other in between bites and asking, “You alright?”
Tough topic, but good on those aggressively challenging the system and those individuals who should be removed and held accountable.
Craig Rullman says
Indeed. “Every call for service has a price tag.” In police work, the focus is placed squarely on making sure the suspects don’t come out damaged–not the other way around. I know there are at least some efforts to make this better. The work Greg is doing for veterans is absolutely critical. See a need, fill a need, was the SWAT mindset, and Greg (who is also retired LEO) is bringing that to this enormously important effort.
I don’t recall if you told me about this or not and I haven’t researched who assembled it, but I do know Seattle cops and it looks like the citizens are bailing out.
Too familiar with this scenario, although this seems uniquely terrible for those involved.
Craig Rullman says
It’s amazing how unwilling some people are to listen to cops, who are out there dealing with this day to day, hands on. It’s sort of like ignoring a fireman when he tells you a house is on fire. Good chance the fireman knows what he’s talking about.
Traven Torsvan says
The WSJ did a investigative series on the VAs use of lobotomies on vets suffering PTSD that’s a real kick in the stomach.