It has been a privilege to work with the United States Army these past two years – but, there is a story that must be told.
I will be writing about my friend. I will not be using the Staff Sergeant’s name in deference to his family. I am going to present the story because I think it is important.
While working at the Ft. Bliss and Old Iron Sides Museums in 2011, I met many good men and women serving their country. The community is very supportive of the military and the Ft Bliss and Old Ironsides Museums. But, there is a program that does not receive enough attention in the public eye. The Wounded Warrior Program. This program deals with rehabilitation of soldiers returning from the war after being blown up, shot, or otherwise have need of rehabilitation so that they can come back to their homes and families and attempt to live full lives here in the United States.
Some of the men that I was fortunate enough to work with were those very men and women who had been shot or blown up, who have post-traumatic stress disorder issues, are trying to cope with rehabilitation to return to duty, or simply be well enough to retire. Medically or otherwise. More than that, they are “relearning” how to interact with their families.
Among those good people, there was this Staff Sergeant. He was tall, physically fit, and mentally – every bit a friend and role model to others. He was the last person in the world that anyone would expect to not be dealing with his return well. He was responsible, honest, direct, and forthright in aspect of his duties. Other men went to him for advice and counsel. I think the world of his wife and son. He beamed about having another child while we worked together. He was a religious man. He was involved in his 14 year old son’s education. He loved his wife. He loved being in the Army.
This good family man snapped…
He went to the first sergeant, killed her, critically wounding her husband, who had shot the Staff Sergeant in the leg. He then went home and confessed to his wife what he had done. In his mind, he had convinced himself that the only solution was to kill his children, then his wife, before himself.
His wife shot and killed the Staff Sergeant to protect her remaining family. It is said that he died in front of his son. What should have been a triumph in returning home after being blown up 3 times, shot 4, and suffered multiple surgeries to even walk again, turned to tragedy.
Not being able to re-assimilate into society has turned into a tragedy for more than one family. For all of the people that got to work with this man; a husband, a father, a staff sergeant, and my friend, I want you to think about what the life of a man means when people view someone as if a “photograph” taken of one moment in time. A photograph is a frozen moment in time, not reflective of the true picture of a person’s life. Seeing someone as that “person,” not for all the good that may have been done. Nor, all the successes that reflect well in the lives of others. But for one act of seeming disgrace… that can never be overcome.
His son will remember his father. His wife will remember her husband, confidant and lover. How with they remember him? As the highly decorated Ranger he was? Or, as a man in need of something no one thought to ask about… to help him understand?
We hear of all these “programs” available to help our returning veterans. We never really know if those programs are succeeding. The problem is understanding and knowing exactly what to do when someone is hurting. Some people hide their pains so well that no one has any idea there might be something wrong. We have no idea what demons rule someone’s life.
The Staff Sergeant loved to laughed, you know. He probably never cried where someone could see him. He played. He took care of others. Generals deferred to and relied on him. At the Museum, or on the base in his other capacities, he was never remiss from doing the job that was at hand. The Secretary of Defense even gave him a Gold Coin. And the 1st Armored Division Ft Bliss and Old Ironsides Museums have a history that is told because he was instrumental in bringing our presentation to the public. Even though there is no placard that pays tribute to his name.
There were other soldiers from the Wounded Warrior Division that worked with us there at the Museum. Men and women with varying degrees of disability. And, as we support our troops by reflecting on history’s successes, what remains is the need for success in taking care of our troops as they return home.
Listen as a friend
If you know somebody who has come back from deployment, spend time with them. Help them not to feel like an outsider. Include them in your family’s activities. Yes, they may need to unwind. They may need private time. But be thankful enough for their voluntary service to ensure that they don’t feel like there is no way out but homicide or suicide. Make sure that you are a good enough friend to listen.
Anything to prevent tragedies
Listen? It seems that I am often making challenges to my readers to be more active in other people’s lives. That I ask for you to seek out people in need to let them know how much you appreciate their sacrifices. To let them know that you are willing to listen – or just go fishing. Anything to prevent tragedies.
You see, there was no memorial service for my Staff Sergeant. Except an individual number of private ones — with those of us who knew and loved him. We, who continue to love his family. We spoke of our friend often after this tragedy. Sometimes with just a look, no one needing to say a word to each other. Private silent prayers for his remaining family.
I ask you to help others
I ask you to help others because, I myself needed help in the past. I was abandoned by those who claimed love, life and fidelity. I am viewed for something in my life that happened 15 years ago – my “photograph” in some people’s minds. Yet, as I have been asked to remain silent on those circumstances just a little while longer, I can tell you that it has been most liberating to watch people that have known you most of your life, turn away, and claim no knowledge of your association because of a “perception” that they might be tainted. Knowing the truth and being unable to do anything to voice it is most-times a lonely thing.
The problem with photographs is – people change, people find out who they really are when they face the greatest of adversity. The “lie” is that my friend became a monster. He killed out of desperation. What contributions would he have made to our future, if he were to have survived.
So when the people closest to you begin to think that you’re something different than you really are, for whatever reason, do not rebuke them. Focus on the good that they have brought to your life. Reward them. Thank them. Let them know how much they have meant to you. How appreciative you are of past service they have provided. Soon they may realize that they have stayed away out of fear, or guilt and shame for their own actions (or inaction). Let them off the hook. Because they couldn’t help or didn’t know how to help in the first place. They won’t understand this concept if pride and selfishness rule their lives;
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner was you.” (Louis B. Smedes)
All I know is I lost a friend through something that was clearly a tragedy and people don’t want to talk about it because of the incident’s heinous nature. But somebody has got to talk about it or it’s going to happen again.
The wounded warrior program is a reality – my Staff Sergeant was shot and blown up on multiple occasions, and still returned to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have distanced themselves from his memory and their past association. Others are able to face adversity with the knowledge of things most will never understand. Without excuse. Without recompense. Just memories of what once was…