Third Brigade Commander Opens Up About Soldier Suicides

By Laurie Bernstein - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The repercussions of war don't always come in the form of bullets and grenades.

Sometimes, the effects aren't felt until months after the soldiers return from battle.

Third Brigade soldiers learned that lesson the hard way.

"We have had one suicide since we've been back. It happened after the first of the year. For leaders and friends, it becomes an issue of guilt...'Could I have stopped this?'" said Colonel Peter Jones, the commander of the 3rd Brigade.

It was eight months after coming home from Iraq that a Kelley Hill sergeant took his own life.

Chaplains say it's a trend for soldiers dealing with post traumatic stress disorder.

The initial months after coming home are filled with good times seeing family and friends, and things don't hit home at first.

"The joy and enthusiasm then has to come down to earth. That is when we started hearing it this quarter, started to see reality set in," said Major David Lile, chaplain for the 3rd Brigade.

The Army is truly being challenged in their role as care providers for these soldiers, seeing record numbers coming forward for treatment.

Still, many choose to stay silent.

Experts say it's all because of the old Army stereotypes that still exist.

"In the military, sometimes soldiers will bow to the pressure of the culture and not seek assistance because they interpret it as a sign of weakness," Dr. Thomas Peavy, an instructor for the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill.

A stigma also exists when it comes to their careers.

Soldiers worry that by coming forward, they'll limit their chances for promotion, or possibly risk being discharged from the military all together.

Commanders stress, though, that the alternatives could be far worse.

"Your career is not over...your career will definitely be over if you take your life. We're talking extremes here. There is nothing wrong with saying, like if you were physically wounded by being shot by a bullet, 'I need some help,'" said Col. Jones.

To help broach this issue with soldiers, the Third Brigade is holding a "Suicide Stand Down Day" next Friday, March 6th on Kelley Hill.

The mother of a former Third Brigade soldier who took his life a couple years back, as well as chaplains, will be talking with soldiers about PTSD and the signs of stress.