BEHIND THE COVER Cover stories, like this week’s “When Yellow Ribbons Aren’t Enough,” take a piece of your soul when you write them. After days of research, phone calls and interviews, you write and rewrite your article, hoping that you’ve done justice to the subject.
The statistics concerning suicides and attempted suicides among our military veterans are alarming. Every day 18 veterans kill themselves, which means that while I was working on the cover story, nearly 200 veterans committed suicide. Over the last two years, more U.S. troops died from suicide than were killed by the enemy.
According to Lt. General Thomas Bostick, U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff, for every suicide that was committed in over the same period there were nearly seven known attempted suicides.
These facts are what got my attention a few weeks ago as they began to surface in the national media. When I heard that Lt. Col. Dave Glassman and Col. Christopher Holzworth, both retired from the United States Marine Corps, were the featured speakers at the 8th Annual Capitol Hill Event and Global Night for Hope, an event held to shed light on the tragedy of active duty military and veterans suicide, I decided to tackle the issue.
G-Man and Caveman worked together for eight years and trained over 15,000 men and women at the Marine Aviation Training Support Group (MATSG-21) at NAS Pensacola.
Maybe Glassman could help me put some human faces on these facts.
Alarming as the numbers might be, it was the human side that would have the impact on the readers. Glassman didn’t let me down. He found Elliott, a corporal who was honorably discharged from 155th Armored Brigade of the Mississippi National Guard, lost his right leg on the battlefield in Iraq and had battled thoughts of suicide for four years before he sought help.
Elliott is a hero. His story is compelling because he didn’t hold back in sharing it. When Holzworth spoke at the Global Night for Hope rally, he said, “War is the death of innocence and no one is immune to the change.”
Elliott shared openly and honestly how the Iraq War changed him. I was humbled by the sacrifice he made to defend my freedom, my family and me. His story is now a part of me, a part that I struggled to put on a page.
We send these young men and women off to war. We ask them to put their lives on hold and defend our freedom. We tell them that we will honor them, thank them and welcome them back with open arms.
Hearing and reading the story of Elliott, you realize how much we have let them down. We can and must do better.