I’ve written previously of suicide and some of the challenges it poses to us in uniform. One of the Sailors at a prior command had a roommate who had attempted suicide. We sent the suicidal Sailor back to the States (we were forwarded deployed), but his roommate was still on base. And late one Thursday afternoon, he came into my cubicle to talk. (Thursdays are the same as Fridays in the Middle East. We start the week on Sunday.)
He was quiet and really said very little. I knew something was bothering him, but did not want to force him to speak to me. Finally he came out with it.
I am sort of lonely since (my roommate who attempted suicide) went back home.
I nodded. Do you have friends to hang out with? Truly, he was a nice guy, but odd in an intellectual way.
Not really, he replied. Weekends are hell.
I nodded again. Weekends in the Middle East could be hellish if you don’t find your niche. I know you are done with your tour in three weeks, are you just homesick?
Yes, but I can’t guarantee I won’t do what (my roommate) did.
I nodded again. I really did not know the proper response to this, other than to thank him for his honesty. I truly appreciate you being so straightforward about it. Especially with me. Have you talked to the Chaplain about it?
No. I don’t go to church.
We talked some more, small talk. I tricked him into laughing by making fun of myself. I have one skill I can always fall back on and that is finding something light and amusing to say. I then asked his permission for something. Do you mind if I talk to the Master Chief about it?
No sir. Thanks.
He left my cubicle and I waited a couple of minutes before knocking on the CMC’s door.
Master Chief, you got a second?
He looked up. It really was only me, the suicidal Sailor, and the Master Chief in the office. Yeah, sir. What is up?
I told him the whole story. Can you hang out with the Petty Officer this weekend? I asked him.
Ah, any other weekend, but this. I have family in town.
You think it would be fraternization if I grabbed lunch with him on Friday. I can play it by ear and see how it is.
It is certainly a grey area. But this is too important. Can you?
You bet. We have to.
I left the Master Chief’s office and chatted up the Petty Officer about our plans. He was amenable. My experience is that most people just want to be listened to. We grabbed lunch on Friday and I told him to call me if he wanted to do anything on Saturday.
Yes, a Lieutenant should not be hanging out with his Petty Officers. But it was a strange situation, a Petty Officer who did not fit in well. And me, who can talk to anyone. He made it back to the States, tired and lonely. But alive.
I wish I could say the same for Navy SEAL Team 5 Sailor Robert Guzzo Jr:
He survived the battlefields of Iraq, but a Navy SEAL’s battles with post-traumatic stress disorder proved too much to endure.
In their first in-depth interview, the parents of Navy SEAL Team 5 member Robert Guzzo Jr. say that the horrors of war, as well as the stigma of mental illness, helped contribute to their son’s suicide.
After being deployed to Iraq in 2006, Guzzo returned home a little more than a year later, and his parents immediately noticed something was amiss.
“I could just tell immediately he was changed,” Robin Andersen, Guzzo’s mother, told The Washington Post. “His affect was different, you know. The look on his face was a distance away.”She still recalls one particular night shortly after Guzzo returned from Iraq when she tried her best to comfort her sobbing son.”I was rubbing his back, saying, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ and he said, ‘Mom, it’s never going to be okay,’” Andersen told the Post.
Accch, this is a tragic story. I will say, what the SEAL’s parents recount as his story is no longer typical. That I know of. There are ways of getting Sailors help. Of course, our suicides just passed our combat deaths this year. Which is utterly tragic.
I encouraged the suicidal Sailor, who I had lunch with, to seek more serious help. And I told him there were no ramifications to it. The Navy may not be for him. But I did not tell him that, he had enough on his plate. . .