Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. A Hero Gone…Again

 

I read this late yesterday afternoon as I was preparing to go out on the back patio and demolish a few brewskies. From my back patio, I have a tremendous view of the fields of corn and soybeans running into the foothills of southern Ohio; perfect for some thought and reflection. Even some unpleasant reflection.

It’s almost impossible to read stories like this about a combat veteran lost to suicide without thinking about my own experiences. While there’s no doubt that Master Sergeant Marckesano saw more action in one month than I saw during my entire 13 months in Vietnam, I did see enough to keep asking one simple question: WHY?

He was about to get his “dream shot”; a desk job at the Pentagon where the nightmare of war could be left behind. He would be back with his wife and family; perhaps he would have never deployed again. Instead, he pulled a pistol and ended his life in front of his wife. Her last recollection of him will be his lifeless body on the floor of their residence. WHY?

We can only speculate as to what was running through his mind before he made his decision. Obviously, he was carrying some emotional baggage that became too heavy. One would have thought that he could have unloaded some of this baggage during his meeting with his former battalion commander but that didn’t happen. From what I understand, the military is providing counseling for veterans returning to the “real world”, but it was clearly inadequate for the demons that Master Sergeant Marckesano succumbed to.

It’s no secret that the number of veteran suicides has increased. Although there have been loud calls to “do something”, nothing appears to be working. Even though many programs have combat veterans as counselors, they seem to have had little effect.

For the most part, American society’s attitude ranges from “That’s too bad” to “So what? They volunteered for it”. Stories similar to Master Sergeant Marckesano’s are duly reported and disappear; victims to our 24-hour news cycle. There are always more pressing issues and stories. The only remembrance will be from the families they leave behind and organizations such as the VFW and American Legion.

The part of the story that affected me the most was one simple number: 12. Twelve combat tours? I had one tour and it took me nearly five years to put it behind me. How can we expect to send our troops into combat this many times without breaking them down?

I retired from the military in 2004 but, even then, I was beginning to see some troubling signs. Sure, troops were feeling burnout from frequent deployments but what was really beginning to disturb them was the environment being fostered by some senior NCOs and flag officers (termed “Perfume Princes” by the late LTC David Hackworth). In my own mind, they resembled the abhorrent “ticket punchers” that infested the military in the Vietnam era. Their own careers came first; the troops came second.

Equally troubling was the quality of training that I was seeing from the young troops I encountered. I was struck by the number of them that told me, “You know, I thought that boot camp was going to be difficult but it was a breeze”. These young men and women expected to be challenged; many of them had entered the military actually wanting the discipline that separated them from their civilian counterparts. Instead, they received a watered-down training that may, or may not, have prepared them for the rigors that some of them would face.

If the Veteran’s Administration is to be believed, the majority of suicides are occurring in veterans who have never been “outside the wire”. And, again from the VA, many suicides are from the ranks of those who have never even deployed. That tells me that a “one size fits all” approach will never work in attempting to stem the number of veteran suicides.

So, if this nation is serious about lessening the number of veteran suicides, some hard decisions will have to be made; some medically, some socially, some militarily and some politically.

  1.  This idea of “endless war” is not working out for our military. The courage of “super troopers” such as Master Sergeant Marckesano is not the issue. The issue is how much more can this country expect of them before they break? “Nation Building” is all well and good but to coin a phrase from “The Magnificent Seven”, there’s a time to “face mother’s picture to the wall” and get out. In the case of Afghanistan, the first few years of our war should have shown us that some folks just don’t want a McDonald’s or Starbucks in their village. It’s cold and it’s cruel to leave a populace (especially the women) to the tender mercies of the Taliban but we gave them ample opportunity to fight for themselves.
  2. It’s time for the folks in the Pentagon to ask themselves, “Just how well are we preparing enlistees for military service?” A constant burr under my saddle has been the insistence on coed boot camp by politicians who have never, and will never, serve in the military. The shift from civilian to the military is traumatic; and, it should be. No matter the length of boot camp (now, it ranges from seven to twelve weeks, depending on the branch of service) the instructors need to concentrate on preparing their trainees for duty; they should not have to worry about the landmines brought about by the mix of young men and women in their first weeks in the military. Although senior leadership seems to think that DIs/TIs should be part trainers and part counselors, this places an impossible burden on them. The only concern on their mind should be “training up” their enlistees.
  3. It’s also time to ask the question, “Just who are we bringing into the military?” I know that many of us who served occasionally ran into the individual that caused us to think, “How in the h*ll did this individual qualify to wear the uniform?” Even though most young troops that I encountered were totally squared away, toward the end of my military career, I seemed to encounter more and more kids that left me questioning both the recruitment and training process. For example, how was deserter Bowe Bergdahl allowed to enlist in the Army even though he had washed out of the Coast Guard (discharged after a grand total of 26 days)? Bergdahl was a problem, waiting to happen, yet the Army welcomed him in. Was he just a statistic that became a plaque some recruiter could hang on a wall? Another example is Bradley/Chelsea/??? Manning. What sort of psychological testing was he/she given before it was determined that he/she qualified for the MOS of Intelligence Analyst? Although Bergdahl and Manning are extreme examples, the question has to be asked, “Are we bringing individuals into the military who will never have the coping skills necessary to resolve the risks/problems inherent in the military?”
  4. Is the military giving its personnel some “decompression time” before they depart for the civilian sector? In looking back, I was fortunate in that Uncle Sam kept me in uniform for nearly six months after I finished my tour in Vietnam. I was able to ease my way back into a “semi-civilian” atmosphere while I was still in the “cocoon” provided by the Army. I say I was fortunate because, in those days, there were grunts who could literally be in combat and then, 48 hours later, be walking through the streets of their home town. During those days, the Army didn’t care; I hope it learned a lesson.

So, despite a great deal of harrumphing from different politicians, and administrations, the band continues to play on. We continue to put people in uniforms, send them off (sometimes pointlessly), and hope that, sooner or later, they don’t self-destruct. Call me old fashioned but it seems like a h*ll of way to run a railroad.

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  1. Nohaaj Coolidge

    David Sussman did a podcast, where he interviewed Justin Sheffield, of Seal Team 6 fame. Justin discusses his own struggles with suicide, his rehab, and his program to assist other vets returning from service. It was powerful. http://ricochet.com/podcast/whiskey-politics/three-things-trump-must-do/

     

    • #1
    • July 12, 2020, at 6:25 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. Dan Pierson Coolidge

    Enlisted Army vet here, one tour split between OIF/OEF (it was a weird story, I might tell it someday). Over the years I’ve connected what I learned in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart with a 20 year forever war. Basically we’ve taken a couple million young men and women who have almost no social capital or family support, and thrust them into a Kafkaesque war that only “ends” when your tour is over. I didn’t read the article, because I can’t read articles like that, especially not a MSG from the 82nd who’s unit I might have ran medivac for in Afghanistan. But in my experience, many (but of course not all) of these suicides are a products of the “great unraveling.” In a weird way, even though vets are (or were when I cam home 10 years ago) honored and praised, the society they are coming back to is somehow more toxic then even the one Vietnam vets came home to. These deaths seem to belong in that horrible new phenomenon of “deaths of despair.” 

    • #2
    • July 13, 2020, at 7:56 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. Skyler Coolidge

    I am not concerned about the “rise” of suicides among veterans. Last I heard, the suicide rate was comparable to the rest of the population, and if it’s higher then I still wouldn’t be surprised or alarmed. People join the military for many reasons, and one is because they have certain demons, for lack of a better word, in their personality that they are trying to placate.

    There has been a concern about veteran suicides and so they’re counting them more closely. Every suicide is a tragedy, as is this one, but suicides happen.

    You don’t know why he committed suicide. It might have to do with his service or it might not. There are any number of reasons.

    • #3
    • July 13, 2020, at 8:09 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Flicker Coolidge

    I also think we should bring back the draft. It would help young American men experience life and hopefully gain some responsibility, and it would make Americans more critical in evaluating the need for the next war.

    Come to think of it, the biggest reason that I recall for lowering the voting age was that our young men were called to fight, then they should be allowed to have a say in voting for their government. But then a few years later, we stopped the draft that justified lowering the voting age. It’s as if the US planned back then to get involved in a series of unnecessary no-win wars and wanted to insulate the American people from the bloody toll.

    • #4
    • July 13, 2020, at 8:46 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    Dan Pierson (View Comment):

    Enlisted Army vet here, one tour split between OIF/OEF (it was a weird story, I might tell it someday). Over the years I’ve connected what I learned in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart with a 20 year forever war. Basically we’ve taken a couple million young men and women who have almost no social capital or family support, and thrust them into a Kafkaesque war that only “ends” when your tour is over. I didn’t read the article, because I can’t read articles like that, especially not a MSG from the 82nd who’s unit I might have ran medivac for in Afghanistan. But in my experience, many (but of course not all) of these suicides are a products of the “great unraveling.” In a weird way, even though vets are (or were when I cam home 10 years ago) honored and praised, the society they are coming back to is somehow more toxic then even the one Vietnam vets came home to. These deaths seem to belong in that horrible new phenomenon of “deaths of despair.”

    Yes, I would agree with you. Although I DEROS’d in late 1967, I didn’t ETS until May of 1968 and, yes, the environment is much more toxic than it was back then.

    It probably doesn’t mean much but, for what it’s worth; Welcome Home…

    • #5
    • July 13, 2020, at 9:08 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. BeatFeet Member

    Flicker (View Comment):

    I also think we should bring back the draft. It would help young American men experience life and hopefully gain some responsibility, and it would make Americans more critical in evaluating the need for the next war.

    Come to think of it, the biggest reason that I recall for lowering the voting age was that our young men were called to fight, then they should be allowed to have a say in voting for their government. But then a few years later, we stopped the draft that justified lowering the voting age. It’s as if the US planned back then to get involved in a series of unnecessary no-win wars and wanted to insulate the American people from the bloody toll.

    I don’t think the draft could be brought back. I served in the Army from ’71 to ’74 mostly with the 82nd (no combat). Draftees don’t want to be there and that generally reflects on their quality as soldiers; without the harsh discipline of the brown boot Army, draftees in today’s socially engineered Army would be less than useless. I was so glad when both my sons served in the Marines (both combat vets; youngest in particular did lots of shootin’ in Fallujah). Today’s Army is well on it’s way to becoming a joke – please, no draftees!

     

    • #6
    • July 13, 2020, at 9:42 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I am not concerned about the “rise” of suicides among veterans. Last I heard, the suicide rate was comparable to the rest of the population, and if it’s higher then I still wouldn’t be surprised or alarmed. People join the military for many reasons, and one is because they have certain demons, for lack of a better word, in their personality that they are trying to placate.

    There has been a concern about veteran suicides and so they’re counting them more closely. Every suicide is a tragedy, as is this one, but suicides happen.

    You don’t know why he committed suicide. It might have to do with his service or it might not. There are any number of reasons.

    Interesting observation. Just curious, did you believe that the Marines that served under you had “certain demons”? How about those above you in your chain of command?

    • #7
    • July 13, 2020, at 10:09 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Skyler Coolidge

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I am not concerned about the “rise” of suicides among veterans. Last I heard, the suicide rate was comparable to the rest of the population, and if it’s higher then I still wouldn’t be surprised or alarmed. People join the military for many reasons, and one is because they have certain demons, for lack of a better word, in their personality that they are trying to placate.

    There has been a concern about veteran suicides and so they’re counting them more closely. Every suicide is a tragedy, as is this one, but suicides happen.

    You don’t know why he committed suicide. It might have to do with his service or it might not. There are any number of reasons.

    Interesting observation. Just curious, did you believe that the Marines that served under you had “certain demons”? How about those above you in your chain of command?

    Not all. There’s a mythology about the military among some people, that being in the military bestows or is a sign of virtue.

    In reality people in the military are a slice of the population. I served with murderers, thieves, child rapists, adulterers, embezzlers, and almost every crime you can imagine. I served with drug dealers, rapists, pornographers, and lazy people.

    I served with people who were amazing with the best attributes I’ve ever known.

    I don’t mean to say anything bad about the Master Sergeant. I’m just saying that I’ve served with people who suffer from depression, I know a colonel who, when we were captains, cried to me that he kept a loaded rifle under his bed while he was going through a divorce, terrified he might use it on himself. He’s now a retired colonel and still has bouts of severe depression.

    Everyone knows people with depression. I don’t think it always, or even mostly, has anything to do with experiences in life. The above colonel was never in combat, all his duties were in a hangar.

    So, my point is that some people have “demons,” for lack of a better word, that cause depression. My supposition is that many of them join the military to try to drive those demons away with a busy and exciting life. I’m no doctor, but it seems possible that being in combat as much as this master sergeant was might possibly be a way he used to self-medicate his demon. When he could no longer use that combat to help control his demon, it then took over his life. Again, that’s pure speculation, and I don’t mean to be doing anything other making a point that we can over react to the “statistics” about depression and assume that the military service was the cuase. Maybe it’s not the chicken, and instead it’s the egg.

    • #8
    • July 13, 2020, at 12:44 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Flicker Coolidge

    BeatFeet (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    I also think we should bring back the draft. It would help young American men experience life and hopefully gain some responsibility, and it would make Americans more critical in evaluating the need for the next war.

    Come to think of it, the biggest reason that I recall for lowering the voting age was that our young men were called to fight, then they should be allowed to have a say in voting for their government. But then a few years later, we stopped the draft that justified lowering the voting age. It’s as if the US planned back then to get involved in a series of unnecessary no-win wars and wanted to insulate the American people from the bloody toll.

    I don’t think the draft could be brought back. I served in the Army from ’71 to ’74 mostly with the 82nd (no combat). Draftees don’t want to be there and that generally reflects on their quality as soldiers; without the harsh discipline of the brown boot Army, draftees in today’s socially engineered Army would be less than useless. I was so glad when both my sons served in the Marines (both combat vets; youngest in particular did lots of shootin’ in Fallujah). Today’s Army is well on it’s way to becoming a joke – please, no draftees!

     

    Oh. Well, I just posted on this, you can feel free to talk more about it there. :)

    • #9
    • July 13, 2020, at 5:48 PM PDT
    • Like