The number of suicides amongst our armed forces is racking the public conscience; and it should. There’ve been over 140 active soldiers and something like 71 inactive ones, already this year (said the AP). As all statistics are, they’re better understood when compared to what’s common, perhaps what the numbers were in previous years, or not during wartime; but death no matter what, shouldn’t be a comparison. But that’s also not my point. The first number doesn’t bother me as much as the second.
A soldier’s sitting in the backyard at a barbecue. He’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt; blending back into society as we know it. Months earlier everyone feared for his life, respecting and missing him at the same time. They’re so glad the wait’s over cause he’s there now; sharing stares and a mutual drink. Mutual though, his happiness lingers beyond reach.
When you survive the denial of resources that make life easy, you learn you can live without them. You’re stronger, different, and less dependent because you did. How many people can say they fought exhaustion amongst starry nights to protect twenty sleeping men from an ambush? How many men can understand the scope of that task? Most of them never achieved such purpose in their lives, nor been given such massive responsibility back home. To ponder the idea of why some men survive, yet friends of theirs die....these things never leave. How many can come home to a life so simple, and not resent those around them; taking life for granted for the straight-and-narrow path has always just been.
Home isn’t so warm to someone without opportunity. Not every soldier’s jumping into a job on the Trading Desk at Goldman or spec'ing out blueprints as an Engineer for Boeing. Imagine the internal struggle when one day you’re holding a rifle, killing potential terrorists, saving lives and serving your country, and the next, you’re holding a spatula getting scolded by your more educated, younger boss.
I don’t know how many of us need motion in life. Craving direction or having a goal is important; monotony otherwise gets to be too much. In battle, you’re a hero. You’re the ultimate man; a survivor and a fighter. The distant comfort of family keeps you strong and mentally driven, for they need you back, and you’re doing this as much for them as yourself. As much as you yearn though, for that day back home, and fight to earn it, the minute you’re back, the fear of being regular, average and common.... the thought of never achieving such purpose or elevated respect again, is harder to handle than the drive to live.
What happens when a man’s most defining moment comes too early in life? I have to believe that struggle is what makes for the largest percent of the 71.