What is the Challenge and What is the Point

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While looking at some of the other Vets 360 articles, I was struck by some of the points that Melissa Figueroa stated that her husband said about himself: “I was a machine, able to run faster and do more than any of my subordinates.” I understand what he feels like. I was a Staff Sergeant, responsible for “The health, welfare, morale and discipline of 8 Soldiers and 3 Non-Commissioned Officers. Responsible for the maintenance and deployability of 3 M3A2 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles and their weapons systems…” as it reads from my last Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Report.

When I transitioned out of the military, I did so because I did not think that I could do another combat deployment, having deployed with Grim Troop, 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Carson, Colorado in support of OIF I in 2003-2004 and again for OIF III in 2005-2006. I spent a grand total of 24 months in Iraq, and I felt that I needed to be present in my relationship with my family, and with my wife Amy and my daughter Olivia, who was born during my second deployment, as well as my daughters Kathy and Alex, and my step-children Emily and Michael. So I ETS’d, or let my enlistment expire, and transitioned out of the Army.

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I felt good about my decision initially. The first thing that I noticed after the euphoria wore off was that I was alone. I felt alone in a crowded room, and felt like every one of my Soldiers and peers were gone, like a shotgun blast. The guys that I leaned on for support during the most challenging, stressful times of my life were gone, three sheets into the wind. I felt a loss. A loss of my brothers, and a loss of the only career that I’ve ever been able to identify myself as… being a Soldier. I always tell people that I don’t miss the Army, with all of the chickenshit rules, even in a combat zone: “Don’t roll your sleeves up, Make sure you shave when you go to the Dining Facility,” etc., etc. ad nauseum.

This last one used to bother me a lot; you had to conform even though you’ve been out in the boonies for a week with just enough water to drink, let alone shave, and the DFAC closes in 10 minutes, leaving you faced with eating ANOTHER MRE instead of a hot meal. No, I don’t miss getting up at 0430 hrs, and I don’t miss being away from my family for a year at a time. What I do miss are the people, the Soldiers, the men and women who decided to give the Army a try. I miss my family, in this sense, my military family.

What I miss also was the responsibility; I was again relieved at first, but I began working as an Emergency Room Technician, and realized that I made no decisions which could have impacted one of the patients which I cared for. In the Army, I was on the cutting edge of U.S. Foreign Policy; as an ER Tech, I was… a nurse of sorts.

Therein lies the issue, I think. That’s what causes the distinction between traumatic experiences of nurses, policemen, and first responders whose sacrifice is a daily occurrence, and whose suicide rates are comparable to those of the military. It’s the experience of being alone again, with no one but yourself to rely upon when you used to have 32 cavalrymen who had your back no matter what. Post-traumatic Stress is an issue, but I feel it’s not the driving force behind military suicides. It’s one of the many factors that stirs the cauldron which is the crucible for each idiosyncratic case, for sure, but I believe it’s the lack of support that service men and women receive upon their discharge or upon their return from deployment.

The point is, people have to care, have to know that you’ll be there for them. Social Responsibility is a concept that Alfred Adler often discussed in his many writings when developing Adlerian or Individual Psychology (Adler, 1932). In this case, I believe that understanding that loss that each individual feels when they separate from the service is one of the key moments where people can make a difference to them. It matters so much more to those who have sacrificed everything so that others can live their lives in the safety that their sacrifice provided. So that’s the challenge. That’s the point. We have to let those folks know that they are not alone, and that someone has their back. We have to stop these senseless, preventable suicides; what’s more, we need to behave as if we are the squad leader, the first line supervisor. We connect each other to resources, and have each other’s backs, and most importantly, nominalize the “disorder” of Post-traumatic Stress.

There is a lot to be said in a name, and calling a normal reaction to an abnormal situation a “disorder” doesn’t do anyone who suffers its symptoms any justice; it just further marginalizes them, when they are already 35% of 1% of the overall population of the United States.

I am quite passionate about this; understandably so, as I am a former Soldier who has deployed himself. However, here are a few numbers which are very personal to me which are important numbers in the grand scheme of this situation: Grim Troop, 2/3 ACR lost 5 Soldiers during their deployments in 2003-2004 and 2005-2006. I will forever remember their names, and they are in my prayers every night. Since 2006, 8 more members of my unit have committed suicide. There were 125 members of my Cavalry Troop, and 1,100 members of 2nd, or Sabre Squadron. If the numbers of my troop correlate to the other 3 line troops in my Squadron, then there is a possibility that 32 more members of my Squadron have chosen to take their own lives. It needs to end. I am making that pledge that it will end with me.

Len A. Dannhaus
SSG (former), USA,
Psy.D. Candidate, Adler University

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