I was a Marine.
For six weeks.
As a journalism student, I believed I should try to understand as many different perspectives as possible and I knew nothing about the military. So when I returned to my dorm room one afternoon and found a flier in my mailbox that said, “You could be a Marine,” I called the recruiter.
At the time, their officer candidate program allowed you to dis-enroll at any time without a commitment. I read that fine print several times over before making my decision and I wound up slogging through six weeks of boot camp in Quantico, Virginia.
It was hard, mentally and physically, and even though I never intended to become a Marine, I was always glad I went through the training. Even now, when I face difficult days, my inner Marine whispers in my ear, saying, “keep going…don’t quit.” (although sometimes my inner Marine uses more colorful language than that).
There is often a gap…real or perceived…between veterans and peace activists, and I don’t think it needs to exist. Maybe my six weeks in book camp is why I try to bridge that gap. We may disagree on policy and process, but it was my tax dollars and my elected officials that sent these folks into harms way, so the way I see it, we are all in this together.
As Vietnam vet Dan Gallagher said in his interview for our newest book, “We never really had the chance to talk peace with the peace people, because everybody was shouting at one another.”
You can’t listen when you’re shouting.
So last week I found myself listening.
I interviewed Heather Ehle of Project Sanctuary for my new book. She started Project Sanctuary to help reintegrate soldiers into family life after being deployed. We’ve stayed in touch and when she told me they just launched an initiative called Walton’s Warriors to train vets to be peer mentors for suicide prevention, we both thought there would be a story to tell.
We spent a few days last week in Colorado at a training retreat and we listened. We learned. And I want to share it with you.
22 vets a day are lost to suicide. As one vet said during a session, he’s lost more friends to suicide than he did in combat. Most of the guys in the room had pondered the choice. And the biggest reason I heard is that they feel alone. Misunderstood. Hopeless.
We have experienced loss by suicide as well, and it’s a weight that’s hard to shed. Look around you. Who needs your support? People need to know that they matter. Talk, encourage, and support. Get people the help they need, and if you’re the one who needs help, please know it is there for you.
Keep going. Don’t quit. We are all in this together.
We asked these soldiers the simple question, “What have you learned?”