Visitors to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., can see a collection of veteran portraits on display through Nov. 15, 2019.
The collection is Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, painted by another veteran, President George W. Bush.
The collection highlights 98 men and women out of the approximately five million post-9/11 veterans. The exhibit showcases 66 full-color oil portraits and a four-panel mural painted by the former president, himself an Air Force veteran.
Upon entering the display, visitors see a two-minute video by the 43rd president. Bush talks about the positive assets of veterans, why he continues to serve veterans, the courage involved in talking about post-traumatic stress and his painting history.
President Bush painting.
(Photo courtesy of the Bush Center)
Alongside the video is a quote from the president on why he painted these veterans.
“I painted these men and women as a way to honor their service to the country and to show my respect for their sacrifice and courage.”
Nearly all the warriors featured participated in one of the two wounded warrior sporting events hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The W100K is a 100-kilometer mountain bike ride on the president’s ranch near Crawford, Texas. The Warrior Open is a competitive golf tournament in Dallas.
The portraits are on loan from the Ambassador and Mrs. George L. Argyros Collection of Presidential Art at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a non-profit organization whose Military Service Initiative is focused on helping post-9/11 veterans and their families.
Portraits of Courage at The Kennedy Center.
For more information
The paintings are on display until Nov. 15, 2019, at The Kennedy Center. More information is at https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/ZURRA. The exhibit then moves to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, Dec. 21 through Jan. 20, 2020.
Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighters coordinated close air support with Navy SEALs, trained with F-15Es and A-10s, dropped laser-guided bombs and practiced key mission sets and tactics in Idaho as part of initial preparations for what will likely be its first deployment within several years, senior service officials said.
“We are practicing taking what would be a smaller contingent of jets and moving them to another location and then having them employ out of that location,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, former Director, F-35 Integration Office told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
Harrigian said the Air Force plane would likely deploy within several years and pointed to mini-deployments of 6 F-35As from Edwards AFB in Calif., to Mountain Home AFB in Idaho as key evidence of its ongoing preparations for combat.
“They dropped 30-bombs – 20 laser-guided bombs and 10 JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). All of them were effective. We are trying to understand not only how we understand the airplane in terms of ordnance but also those tactics, techniques and procedures we need to prepare,” Harrigian explained.
During the exercises at Mountain Home AFB, the F-35A also practiced coordinating communications such as target identification, radio and other command and control functions with 4th-generation aircraft such as the F-15E, he added.
The training exercises in Idaho were also the first “real” occasion to test the airplane’s ability to use its computer system called the Autonomic Logistic Information System, or ALIS. The Air Force brought servers up to Mountain Home AFB to practice maintaining data from the computer system.
A report in the Air Force Times indicated that lawmakers have expressed some concerns about the development of ALIS, which has been plagued with developmental problems such as maintenance issues and problems referred to as “false positives.”
“This is a new piece of the weapons system. It has been challenging and hard. You have all this data about your airplanes. We learned some things that we were able to do in a reasonable amount of time,” Harrigian said.
F-35A “Sensor Fusion”
The computer system is essential to what F-35 proponents refer to as “sensor fusion,” a next-generation technology which combines and integrates information from a variety of sensors onto a single screen. As a result, a pilot does not have to look at separate displays to calculate mapping information, targeting data, sensor input and results from a radar warning receiver.
Harrigian added that his “fusion” technology allows F-35A pilots to process information and therefore make decisions faster than a potential enemy. He explained how this bears upon the historic and often referred to OODA Loop – a term to connote the Observation Orientation, Decision, Action cycle that fighter pilots need to go through in a dogfight or combat engagement in order to successfully destroy the enemy. The OODA-Loop concept was developed by former Air Force strategist Col. John Boyd; it has been a benchmark of fighter pilot training, preparation and tactical mission execution.
“As we go in and start to target the enemy, we are maximizing the capabilities of our jets. The F-35 takes all that sensor input and gives it to you in one picture. Your ability to make decisions quicker that the enemy is exponentially better than when we were trying to put it all together in a 4th generation airplane. You are arriving already in a position of advantage,” Harrigian explained.
Also, the F-35 is able to fire weapons such as the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile “off boresight,” meaning it can destroy enemy targets at different angles of approach that are not necessarily directly in front of the aircraft.
“Before you get into an engagement you will have likely already shot a few missiles at the enemy,” Harrigian said.
The F-35s Electro-Optical Targeting System, or EOTS, combines forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track sensor technology for pilots – allowing them to find and track targets before attacking with laser and GPS-guided precision weapons.
The EOTs system is engineered to work in tandem with a technology called the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, a collection of six cameras strategically mounted around the aircraft to give the pilot a 360-degree view.
The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on-the-move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Deployment
Once deployed, the F-35 will operate with an advanced software drop known as “3F” which will give the aircraft an ability to destroy enemy air defenses and employ a wide range of weapons.
Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.
Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.
As per where the initial squadron might deploy, Harrigian said that would be determined by Air Combat Command depending upon operational needs at that time. He did, however, mention the Pacific theater and Middle East as distinct possibilities.
“Within a couple years, I would envision they will take the squadron down range. Now, whether they go to Pacific Command or go to the Middle East – the operational environment and what happens in the world will drive this. If there is a situation where we need this capability and they are IOC – then Air Combat Command is going to take a hard look at using these aircraft,” he said.
Bowe Bergdahl was Pfc. Bergdahl when he walked off his post in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was captured by the Taliban. Five years later, however, when the White House exchanged five Taliban detainees for his release, he was Sgt. Bergdahl.
According to the Department of Defense, prisoners of war and those under missing status continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries. They must be considered for promotion to the next highest grade when they become eligible.
For enlisted, it is based on time in grade and time in service. The eligibility for officers is based on the date of rank in their current grade.
A notable story is of then-Cmdr. James Stockdale. When he was captured and sent to the Hanoi Hilton, he was the most senior POW and so was the ranking officer among the prisoners there. When Lt. Col. ‘Robbie’ Risner was also captured, he outranked Stockdale by time in grade.
Later, a newly captured naval pilot informed Stockdale of his promotion to captain, he assumed command again.
This continues for prisoners of war but stops for those on missing status when they are presumed dead under Title 37 of the U.S. Code, section 555.
This happened with 1st Lt. John Leslie Ryder. His aircraft, nicknamed “Bird Dog,” went missing during a visual reconnaissance flight during the Vietnam War on June 9, 1970.
During the flight, the crew failed to report in by radio and calls were not answered. The search could not be mounted until the next day. The search continued until the 19th to no avail. A year to the day later, Lt. Ryder was promoted to captain.
Payment is also changed from regular enlistments. Instead of being involved in DFAS, the payment is authorized by Congress and made directly through the Secretary of the Treasury, tax-free. Any earnings, leave and money, are still given to the individual at their appropriate rank and are held until return.
There is also no limit on leave accrual, meaning it is well deserved for the returning service member to take all of the leave at two and-a-half days per month.
Any troop in today’s military will eventually, inevitably be deployed. Even before the announcement of the new, “deploy or get out” policy, you’d be hard-pressed to find an E-6 or above who doesn’t have a bit of time in the desert under their belt.
Everyone else is simply waiting for their time to come — and those in wait always have a few questions about their upcoming deployment. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to describe. You could be a commo guy in a signal unit, constantly dealing with threats up at your retrans site. Conversely, you could be an infantryman who spent years at the rifle range only to stay at a major base and train local forces on how to use their weapons. The fact is, you never know what it’ll actually be like until you’re there — and this is true regardless of rank, position, branch, or unit.
That being said, there are a few universal truths that stretch the spectrum of military service, for POGs, grunts, and special operators alike — and those truths are in direct conflict with what boots have on their mind.
On the bright side, that usually means PT is on your own schedule — but that doesn’t mean you can slack off. You’re probably still going to have to take regular PT tests.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ed Galo)
“I’ll have plenty of downtime”
Deployments seem like the perfect time to try and knock out some online college courses so you can get a leg up on your peers and have an easier time finding a job after your service — oh man, you are mistaken.
Your work schedule will shift from the standard of PT in the morning, work call during the day, and time off at night to something that looks more like work 24/7 with maybe a single day off. Sure, you’ll have a few hours here and there between missions, but those will usually get eaten up by catching up on sleep or relaxing with the squad.
Just imagine all the dumb crap that would fill these tents if people had access to wasting their money while deployed.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marie Cassetty)
“I’ll have so much money when I get back”
On paper, a deployment seems like the perfect way to get out of debt. You’re gone for somewhere between nine to eighteen months, you’ll have nothing to blow your money on, and you’ll get better pay — tax free. This could be just what you need to crawl out of debt. The operative words here are “could be.”
If you’ve got a family back home, that money is being spent on responsibilities. If you’ve got preexisting debt, that money you’re accumulating is going toward paying people back. You’ll be making more than you’re used to back stateside and you’re less likely to waste it on stupid crap, — that is if you can avoid blowing it all in one reckless weekend like so many have before you.
Also, with deployments shrinking down to nine months, units aren’t going to be required to give their troops RR, so… there’s that…
(U.S. Air Force)
“I’ll get R&R when I want to”
All the calculating in the world can’t help you outrun the reach of the Big Green Weenie. There’s no scheduled block leave when it comes to RR. If your deployment is around twelve months, you’re lucky if you’re able to take it somewhere near the mid-point.
Your unit must remain operational, however, and it can’t do that if everyone is gone — so they’re not sending everyone home at the half-way point. Your leave is more than likely going to fall somewhere between three and nine months in. Troops who are expecting the birth of kids get top priority, but it’s a free-for-all after that.
Do not get this twisted. Troops are still in harm’s way every day. The likelihood of an outright firefight, however, has dropped.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sean A. Foley)
“I’ll get that Combat Action Badge (or equivalent) soon”
If there’s one prized medal within the military, it’s the one that comes after a troop has experienced combat first-hand. There’s an undeniable badassery that comes with the badge, ribbon, medal, etc., but they aren’t just handed out like candy anymore.
These days, fewer and fewer troops are seeing direct combat as America’s responsibilities in the War on Terror shift to more advisory roles with local militaries. Armed conflicts still occur in the Middle East, definitely, but the numbers are shrinking with each passing year. Even if your unit is one of the few that goes outside the FOB, you’ll likely not see combat right away.
Which leads us directly into the next myth about deployments…
The “hearts and minds” part of counter-insurgency truly is a better strategy for the overall well-being of the region. The sooner you adapt, the better time you’ll have outside the wire.
(DoD photo by 1st Lt. Becky Bort)
“My sole mission is to fight the bad guy”
From the moment you enter basic training, you’re fed one purpose. You’re being groomed to become the biggest, baddest motherf*cker Uncle Sam has ever seen. You will shoot, move, and communicate better than anyone else ever has. For the most part, however, that’s just not going to be the case.
If you do manage to get into a unit that will send you outside the wire, 98 percent of what you do are called “atmosphericals.” Basically, this means your unit rides through an area of operations, watching to see if anything goes down, being a show of force to both the civilians who need American aid and any potential threats watching from afar.
Case in point: There is a very specific reason I personally stopped mocking the French forces…
(ISAF photo by MC1 Michael E. Wagoner)
“My foreign counterparts are held to the same standards as me”
American troops are given very strict instruction on how to be professional and courteous while turning an area of operations “less hostile.” Our foreign counterparts do not have the same level of regimented training. Other NATO nations could be treating war like it’s a nine-to-five while the local military’s training curriculum probably doesn’t even cover “minor” things, like properly using a weapon.
But this misconception swings both ways. You might also be surprised to learn that certain allies don’t mess around — and train their “standard” infantry more like special operations.
By the 1950s, the Cold War was in full swing, and the Soviets appeared to have an edge in fighter plane technology. The USSR debuted a new plane, the MiG-15. This new fighter had a design that no one had yet seen flying. Its swept-back wingspan allowed it to achieve speeds approaching the speed of sound. It was also incredibly effective against all the fighters of that age. The Navy needed to figure out how to beat it to protect its carrier.
They turned to defense contractor Grumman, who soon turned its designs inside-out and trying to take the new MiG down.
And they started with the F9F Cougar.
Looks cool on a carrier, looks worse getting shot down by MiGs.
What came of the project was the F11F Tiger, which incorporated the latest and greatest in naval aviation technology and tactics into the basic designs of the carrier-based F9F Cougar. The Cougar has a windswept wing design of its own, as the MiG-15 had completely outclassed straight-wing fighters in the skies over Korea. The Navy wanted some fighters who could protect its ships in aerial combat. Grumman began its effort with the F9F Cougar but went back to the drawing board and came out with the Tiger, a supersonic fighter that could be launched from a carrier and bring the fight to the MiGs.
Unfortunately, its high top speed is how the F11F Tiger became the first fighter to shoot itself down.
On Sept. 21, 1956, test pilot Tom Attridge began a shallow dive in his F11F. As he did, he fired two short bursts from the aircraft’s four 20mm cannons, and thought nothing of it – until he got to the end of his dive, and the bursts began to shoot up his aircraft. He started at 20,000 feet and then went into a Mach 1 dive as he fired. He accelerated with afterburner and at 13,000 feet, fired to empty. He continued his dive. but at 7,000 feet, something struck his canopy glass and one of his engine intake lips. The aircraft began to lose power, and Attridge headed back to base to land it.
But in order to make it back without shattering the canopy, he had to slow down his Tiger to a crawl, and the engine would only produce 78 percent of its normal power. He wouldn’t make it back to base at that rate. Two miles away from the runway, the engine went out completely.
Attridge didn’t bail out – test pilots are crazy – in the slowed aircraft, he settled into some trees. Despite some injuries, he exited the plane once on the ground and was picked up by a rescue helicopter. The plane, as it turned out, was hit in the windshield, the right intake, and the nose cone by its own rounds. The low pitch of the plane and its trajectory, combined with the trajectory of the bullets and the speed of the Tiger’s descent at half the speed of sound right into the guns’ target area, meant that the plane would easily catch up with its own burst of 20mm fire.
Sunlight peeks through the treetops as the Marines make their way through a dense and humid jungle.
Rations and water have been consumed — there is no opportunity for resupply for several days. The Marines are hungry and thirsty.
Yet, the Marines will continue on with their mission because they’ve had jungle survival training.
American and South Korean Marines were taught jungle survival skills by members of Thailand’s Marines here, Feb. 19, 2018.
Learning survival skills
“Today we’re teaching jungle survival to U.S. and [South] Korea’s reconnaissance Marines,” said Royal Thai Marine Corps Master Sgt. Pairoj Prasansai, a jungle survival training instructor. “Survival is an important skill for all troops to learn, especially troops who may only have experience in urban combat but not in jungle survival.”
The class taught Marines basic skills to help them survive and thrive in a hot, dangerous environment.
“The course curriculum teaches troops how to find water sources, start fires, the differences in edible and nonedible vegetation, and finding vines suitable for consumption and hydrating.” Prasansai said. “They also learn about dangerous animals and insects — both venomous and nonvenomous — that are native to Thailand and are suitable to eat.”
Reconnaissance Marines gather vital intelligence and relay information up to command-and-control centers, enabling leaders to act and react to changes in the battlefield. Recon troops operate deep into enemy territory with limited backup.
Royal Thai Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Chaiwat Lodsin, a jungle survival training instructor from Sattahip, Chonburi province, Thailand, peels the skin off of a cobra during jungle survival training Feb. 19, 2018, in Sattahip, Chonburi province, Thailand. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)
“We fight at any time and place,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Stephen South, who hails from Goodyear, Arizona, and is assigned to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. “This training can be used during recon if we find ourselves far away from support options. Knowing what we can and can’t eat is very beneficial.”
Marines were given the opportunity to try some of the fruits, vegetables, herbs, insects, and animals that can be found in the jungle, and were shown how to safely capture, handle, and consume both venomous and nonvenomous snakes.
Drinking cobra blood
“In the wilderness, you can drink the blood of a snake to stay hydrated,” Prasansai told the Marines as he picked up a cobra. “Snakes can provide you with both the food and water you need to survive.”
After preparing the snake, students were given the opportunity to drink the cobra’s blood.
“It tastes like blood with a hint of fish,” Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Fiffie, a 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, said.
Many students enjoyed the new experience and gained valuable knowledge to help them in the field.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, and I didn’t know you could eat most of those plants,” said Marine Corps Sgt. William Singleton, who hails from Franklin, Georgia, and is assigned to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.
“Seeing the different animals that you can eat is pretty mind-blowing. It will help us recognize [edible food sources] easier in the wilderness,” Singleton added.
Tradition has long been an essential part of the United States Marine Corps. It’s tradition that’s responsible for instilling a Corps-wide expertise with rifles. It’s the reason why a Marine squad has always been a baker’s dozen — and it’s why those thirteen personnel can put some real hurt on the bad guys.
Every Marine in a fire team will be packing a M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle.
(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Tanner Seims)
The traditional rifle squad had three four-man fire teams. Each fire team was made up of one Marine with a rifle-mounted grenade launcher, another Marine with an automatic rifle (formerly the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, now the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle), a third Marine to assist the automatic rifleman, and a fourth packing just a regular rifle.
The new squad will consist of an even dozen Marines and will be comprised of three-man fire teams. Bad guys shouldn’t think that this makes things easier, though. Every member of the fire team will pack an M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. That’s a lot of rock and roll inbound for the bad guys.
Big changes are coming in the shoulder-launched weapons area: The SMAW is out, and Carl is in.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Melissa Marnell)
There will also be a change to the squad command structure. It used to be that there was a squad leader and that was it. Now, there will be an assistant squad leader (a second-in-command, if you will), as well as a new position for a “squad systems operator.” This Marine will operate quadcopter drones, with which each squad will be outfitted. One other thing: The Marines are leaving open the possibility of adding a rifleman to the new fire team organization should a mission call for it.
Other changes include replacing the shoulder-launched multi-purpose assault weapon (SMAW) with the latest multirole anti-armor anti-personnel weapon system (MAAWS), also known as Carl Gustav. Each battalion loses two 81mm mortars and four BGM-71 TOW missile launchers, but will have a total of 12 FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles.
There’s no perfect treatment for the psychological ailments that veterans face when returning from combat. What works for one veteran may not work for another — in some cases, it may even make things worse. Unfortunately, the burden of finding the best method of treatment (which usually involves endless hours of trial and error) is almost always placed squarely on the shoulders of those preoccupied with coping with post-traumatic stress.
For some folks, taking prescription medication helps — and that’s great. For others, those same medications may cause more harm than good. The veterans for which standard treatments don’t work often feel as if they’re being tossed into a box and told to just keep taking pills until the problem is better. We can all agree that there has got to be a better solution, but it’s not an easy ask — there’s no magic wand to wave to make the bad life experiences just go away.
So, to take some steps in the positive direction, some veterans are venturing into the taboo. From Shock to Awe, a new documentary that comes out November 12, follows two veterans as they embark on a journey into psychedelic medicines to try and finally find peace and balance.
House lawmakers have introduced legislative amendments to promote two military pilots who made great contributions to aerial battles during World War II.
Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, recently created an amendment to the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization legislation that would posthumously promote Richard “Dick” Cole from lieutenant colonel to colonel.
Cole, who died in April 2019 at age 103, was the last surviving Doolittle Raider and flew alongside then-Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle. The raid was famously named after Doolittle, who led 16 B-25 bombers and 80 crew members from the aircraft carrier Hornet in the western Pacific on a strike targeting factories and military installations in and around Tokyo on April 18, 1942.
Cole, a lieutenant at the time, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the bombing.
Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, introduced similar legislation. The news was first reported by Air Force Magazine on July 10, 2019.
Separately, Rep. Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland, created a measure to promote retired Air Force colonel and distinguished combat aviator Charles McGee to brigadier general. McGee, who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, flew 409 fighter combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Retired Col. Elmer Jones and retired Col. Charles McGee address an audience during an open forum at the 2009 Air Force Association Air Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 15, 2009.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya)
“This distinguished, decades-long career in the Air Force, which saw Col. McGee become the first African-American to command a stateside Air Force wing and base, serves as an inspirational legacy to hundreds of African-American service members and aviators,” Brown told Military.com in a statement July 10, 2019. “This honorary promotion would be well-deserved recognition of a dedicated patriot.”
Both McGee and Cole spoke to Military.com in recent years about their service.
“The flight was designed to do two things: One, to let the Japanese people know that they could be struck by air. And the other thing was the morale, and we did that, so we were very proud of that,” Cole told Military.com in 2016.
That year, the Air Force announced it would name its next-generation B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber the Raider after the Doolittle Raiders. Cole made the announcement for the service.
(U.S. Air Force graphic)
The experience was much different for the Tuskegee Airmen: They were the first African-American pilots, navigators and support personnel to serve during World War II, often escorting and protecting bombers.
McGee said he was just doing his job.
“It came from the basis of doing something for our country — for me, doing something I liked, knowing that’s what I’d pass on to young people now,” he said during an interview in 2017.
“We accomplished something that helped lead the country,” McGee said. “We didn’t call this civil rights. It was American opportunity.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Over the past few years, public awareness of veteran suicide has increased and, more importantly, people are more aware than ever before of the resources available to help struggling veterans and active-duty service members. However, in the past year, we’ve noticed a disturbing new aspect of the problem — there have been a number of recent suicides among high-profile veterans who stood as beacons of hope for others in the suicide prevention movement.
At the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), our Red Team has been reflecting on these losses and their impact on suicide prevention and postvention efforts across the military and veteran community.
The late Pfc. Kevin S. Jacobs, United States Marine Corps infantryman. Pfc. Kevin Jacobs struggled with anxiety, emotional pain, and grief due to his experiences at war. Both he and his brother Bryan Keith Jacobs a veteran U.S. Navy Corpsman suffered from PTSD and emotionally began to drift apart. Kevin’s experiences eventually got the best of him, and on Memorial Day, May 28, 2014, Kevin died by suicide. (Guest Photo by Bryan Keith Jacobs, U.S. Navy Veteran)
If any among us believes that suicide is an act of weakness, we should alter our thinking: even the strongest of us — the fierce tribe of warriors who fight our wars — sometimes die by suicide. A man or woman can be a hero to many, noted for his or her uncommon bravery and unconquerable fighting spirit, and still be at risk. Such a man or woman is a true hero.
A second truth is that death by suicide leaves a wake of loss, risk, and regret that is devastating to our community. Many times, I have witnessed and walked with veterans who are cut to the core by this kind of loss. They often say that they “did not see it coming.” In addition to shock and overwhelming grief, they often feel angry that their brother or sister did not reach out to them. Far too often have I heard, “I would have dropped everything to be there if I had only known.”
Soldiers with 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, behavioral health team, host a Cars Against Suicide Car Show Dec. 1, 2017 at Fort Stewart, Ga. The Cars against Suicide event was hosted by 2nd ABCT in an effort to promote awareness and offer resources to help prevent suicide. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Robert Winns)
They also express a deep sense of helplessness, a kind of helplessness that puts them directly at risk for self-destructive actions. And sometimes, when they think of losing a leader among them to suicide, they feel great fear. If this fear had a voice, it might say, “if suicide felt like the only option for a person this strong, what does that mean for me?”
These reactions are the last thing their hero would have wanted them to think and feel.
A family and an entire community can be changed forever based on a decision made in one day of suffocating despair. There is the heroic life lived, but also the death that leaves behind more loss and destruction. How can we make sense of senseless loss?
Based on our work with veterans and military service members over the past ten years, here are 3 things we offer for the community to consider.
3. The tribe is stronger than the power of despair.
To learn to be seamlessly interdependent is to reach the summit of our human potential — it is not a sign of weakness. The lifeblood of those who do battle together is love and trust between those who would lay their lives down for each other.
Connection with the tribe is the protective factor that buffers against despair and disconnection, even in the most extreme situations. This bond of trust is stronger than despair and, when the tribe comes together and locks shields, it has a power that can defeat demons.
2. Balancing legacy and prevention.
Suicidal thinking arises in the context of a perfect storm of events; there’s never just one precipitating event. Self-destructive acts are most often the result of a combination of overwhelming mental anguish, physical pain, a biochemistry altered by chronically poor sleep, and events that create a perception of acute hopelessness. What are we to do if a perfect storm presents itself to us? Here, we can continue to find meaning and hope from the life of a hero and the things that he or she stood for.
While it is important to honor the life lived, it is equally important to balance that message with education, resources, and support around preventing additional suicides. We must think about the message that he or she carried over many years of life, while also understanding the contributing factors of that single, perfect-storm day. What did the person argue for with all of their energies while they were alive? Can their death be used to support the message that was so important during their life? Did this person advocate for turning to one’s tribe, for trusting in one’s community to supply the strength to fight demons? Was this person able to do for themselves what they encouraged in others?
These are the lessons learned on the look back that balance preventing another loss of life with the heroic life lived.
1. Leaders also need the tribe.
Finally, those who stand as a beacon of hope may have some under-appreciated vulnerabilities. Veterans are often driven to find a next mission and derive a great sense of purpose — sometimes even life-saving purpose — from inspiring others to stay in the fight. However, when veterans become caregivers and public examples of strength, there is an additional pressure that is placed on their shoulders as they hold the hope of their brothers and sisters. Veterans have expressed to us that as soon as they became a caregiver of other veterans, they have felt, in some indescribable way, a door is closed to them in terms of seeking help for themselves.
As we work with veteran and military leaders, we have observed that their first instinct is often to isolate in the hope of “getting it together” when their stress feels overwhelming. It runs against their instincts, developed through training and culture, to turn to their tribe when they themselves need support. This does not mean that they do not believe in the value of help-seeking, but may feel shame and guilt when they need it for themselves.
Maybe these leaders and heroes become like a lighthouse, helping keep other people safe, holding strong against the storm. But what happens when the lighthouse itself becomes enveloped by lashing waves and raging seas? How does it signal distress? Who looks out for the lighthouse and how can we make sure that all can turn towards the tribe of those they love and trust to lend them strength to fight their demons? Leaders also need the tribe.
When we’re aware a perfect storm is brewing, one of the best things we can do is connect the person with their tribe and with resources that can help — whether that person is a peer or a leader.
TAPS offers comprehensive, best-practice postvention support services for suicide loss survivors, including the 24/7 Helpline (1-800-959-TAPS), virtual groups and chats for survivors, and on-the-ground events and gatherings.
Veterans and their loved ones can call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Shauna Springer is the Senior Director of TAPS Red Team within the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Dr. Springer is a licensed psychologist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a Doctoral degree from the University of Florida. Known to many veterans as “Doc Springer,” she has helped hundreds of warriors reconnect with their tribe, strengthen their most important relationships, and build lives that are driven by their deepest values. TAPS Red Team provides training and consultation related to suicide prevention and postvention to clinicians, military leadership, policymakers, and organizations.