He was my best friend - and he wanted to kill himself.
We shared a house together for quite some time. He was always laughing, and looking for adventure, to do "pipe hitter" things. Until it all went wrong.
A sniper whom I had worked with on several occasions, he was one of the most technically and tactically proficient men with whom I have ever worked. His soldiers looked up to him as big brother, admired and followed him.
He ran his snipers and I ran my squad: we meshed together as one. We fought together through multiple complex ambushes in Afghanistan and I wouldn't have wanted anyone else by my side. We fought and we won..
We spent our block leave together, me meeting his family, his meeting mine. At some point we grew distant from each other. He PCS'ed then I PCS'ed. Our contact diminished to a few texts a week and maybe a phone call a month. I still considered him my best friend, someone I could vent to, bounce ideas off and laugh with. I missed him. As it turns out, I didn't have a solid grasp on the demons that he was fighting every day.
After confronting him about his absence in my life, he opened up to me about his struggles with life, problems with his marriage, and contempt for the military. He felt like he had dug a hole so deep that he couldn't get himself out. It was as if he were backed into a corner, taking his last stand.
I was trying hard to be there for my buddy and we talked more frequently for a few weeks, but then . . . nothing. I knew something was wrong. He shut me out completely, a person he once called his "only true friend". I reached out to his family to find that they were experiencing the same lack of communication. I started watching his Facebook feed and found content that revealed suicidal thoughts. He was well versed and the posts were written with humor but I knew he was serious and needed help.
He sent me a text saying, "This is it, I'm done bro. This is the end for me." I called everyone I knew in his area to get someone to check on him, to be with him. My parents volunteered to drive across Texas to reach him. I was across the country and feeling helpless, attempting to work out a plan, staring at my phone and dreading the news that I did not want to hear. I couldn't sleep, eat, I was literally worried sick. The last thing I saw written by him was a Facebook post on a PTSD page that said "HELP.”
Thankfully, my friend has overcome his demons and is living life with a positive attitude. Maybe not totally positive - more of a Charles Bukowski attitude - but hey, it is what it is. He'll get a kick out of that. He's finally back to the buddy I knew and still my best friend.
There are thousands of individuals coming out of the military with the same kind of story, a downward spiral but their stories end in disaster. I personally know three other soldiers who could not be saved and paid the ultimate price - after risking it all for this country, they don’t get the help they deserve. The guys that don’t get help take their own lives. This is a catastrophy that ripples out to parents, wives, children, friends. You may have heard the national statistic: 22 veterans commit suicide every single day. That's insane and we want to do something about it.
For a long time, I didn't know how to help. I knew that I could take care of my own and just send a message to buddies that I haven't seen in a while to see how they are doing. I figured everyone did that for their friends. What about the guy that doesn't want to admit that he is dealing with those issues? From my experience, the guys who actually take their lives are the ones that you would never expect it from. The guy who is always laughing and has a lot of friends. Why did they not speak up? Seek help? Did they not know where to get help?
I can tell you that I personally did not know of any Veteran Suicide Prevention Organizations before I started researching the issue. However, Wounded Warrior is a household name. Why is it that there is not an organization known by everyone that deals with the issue of Veteran Suicide. I mean, 22 suicides a day; this is a real and credible threat to our force.
I decided that I wanted to help spread awareness regarding this issue; I needed a plan and I needed it to work. I have always been passionate about art, whether painting, drawing or just creating. It is what helped me cope when things got rough: that, and shooting. I had the idea of creating apparel that would speak to the Veteran community in which I grew up and the community in which our brothers are taking their lives.
Backpacking has always been a favorite activity of mine and I was hiking in the Appalachians recently. I climbed a mountain to sleep on the summit. As I was sitting in my hammock staring across the valley below, I could not help but think about my time in the mountains of Afghanistan. I found myself deep in thought, staring off into space, reliving some of my worst memories.
There is a picture of me resting in the middle of that majestic landscape at that exact moment. I look serene but mentally, I am not there. I am in a dark place even as I sit in that postcard worthy setting. That is why I decided to name the company ToraBora Clothing – the beautiful mountain outside, the danger within. For me, the mountains bring back the memories. You will never know what could be a trigger for others.
I started ToraBora Clothing with a rough idea and have now publicly launched the company that sells original shirts that speak directly to the Veteran Community. The goal is to donate to the Green Beret Foundation and Ranger Lead The Way Fund, Inc. as well as raise awareness about Veteran Suicide Prevention. Global Recon is doing an excellent job raising awareness, and providing a platform for veterans to tell their stories and promote their businesses.
Help us help others.
"Shooters supporting Shooters"