As you know, I have many brothers and sisters that I’m related to by choice and profession. As a group, we talk a lot about being there for each other, both downrange and at home. We’re known to make those solemn pledges to never leave one of our brothers or squad mates behind. We pledge our lives to each other because sometimes each other is all that we have. We wouldn’t leave a brother behind in battle.
However, we are also the WORST group at admitting we need help or asking for it. We suck at sharing our personal pain. It’s not in our nature to show our weaknesses. We aren’t interested in making our emotional trauma a subject of discussion. And in most cases if you challenge us on these issues, we’ll tell you that we’re fine, and, oh by the way, you should fuck off now. I know these things because I am part of that group.
What WE are all willing to do is be the one who says, “Don’t quit, brother. I’ve got you. I won’t let you go.”
But then what? Who’ll be there for the long haul, fellas? How do you make a man who used to outrun, out ruck, and out gun everyone in the unit see beyond his past and embrace a future that’s different? A life where fast isn’t an option. A life where endurance is measured by getting through the day not a 20 mile ruck. A type of life that’s the antithesis of how any one of us ever perceived ourselves.
The only thing I can think of is that we have to be there. We can’t count on “a system” to solve these things for us. We didn’t when we were active duty, and we sure as hell can’t now. Most of us can count on one hand the number of our fellow warriors who would ever voluntarily go to a mental health counselor. We weren’t giving up our careers or our weapons. We were bred to perceive asking for that type of help as tantamount to ending our careers. But as NCOs, it was our job to care for and protect our people. We were there for them. Good or bad. It wasn’t just our responsibility as professional warriors — it was our calling.
We spent most of our careers telling each other that WE were the best fighting force in the world. That WE were the best NCOs. We were the finest warriors and, sure as hell, WE weren’t just the meanest sons-a-bitches in the valley — WE were also the smartest fuckers that walked the face of the Earth.
Our leadership mantra was “Take care of the people and they’ll take care of the mission.”
The mission isn’t going downrange anymore, people. The mission is right here at home. So if you know of a brother or sister who’s struggling, get off your ass and reach out. Don’t let them push you away. You didn’t let your troop do it when you were in uniform, don’t let them do it now.
And, all you beautiful bastards who’re struggling with something ugly, listen up. Maybe your life isn’t what it used to be. Maybe you’ve fucked yourself up by booze, dope, or just living too large and too dark for too long. Maybe you don’t think you deserve the hand your brother is sticking out there for you to grab. Maybe you just plain don’t want to take it, because you ain’t “that guy.” And maybe some days it is just all too fucking much. But the simple truth is that the world will not be a better place without you. Pull your head out of your ass and think back to all the times we saw this kind of ugly shit go down. WE all hated the pain it caused the family. We all questioned how someone could do that to his wife and children. And WE ALL bore that loss as only chosen family can.
YOU were part of that WE. YOU still are. YOU are not a burden to your family or your brothers in arms.
There isn’t a one of us that doesn’t bear the scars of the life we’ve chosen. Some are visible, some aren’t. But we are left with making a choice now. We can either make all the pain and ugly shit in our life an excuse to stay in the suck, or we can make it a reason to move forward.
Sometimes all anyone needs is to be given a reason and to be asked to try. So here it is, brother. Please don’t do this to the people who love you. I’ve seen too many not to know how this works. I’ve held a boy when he breathed his last, I’ve walked into the scenes, I’ve notified the families, and I’m stuck with that ugly and horrifying shit in my head forever. For you it may be over, but for the rest of us it’s only the beginning. You are condemning your family to a lifetime of fucked up memories and pain. You say you don’t want the shit you have stuck in your head, well what do you think your loss will do to your wife and kids. Ruck up, brother, and fight one more day. You swore you’d never quit in the field, don’t fucking quit now!
For anyone who needs help, I’m here. For anyone who wants to help – just reach out to your brothers and sisters. Let’s take care of our people.