This isn't a WoW post. This is something that I feel needs to be said, and this is the largest audience that I can reach at this time.
I knew Abel Gutierrez. He was a good man, and a good soldier. We called him "Guty". He never complained about what was going on, no matter how stupid the brass was getting. He never caused any confrontations; he was always polite. He was a good athlete, a good shot, and possessed both a sound tactical mind and a strong work ethic. Whenever some lousy detail cropped up, he was the first to volunteer to take care of it, without complaint, regardless of the fact that his rank would allow him to slide that work onto the newer soldiers. He always pulled more than his share of the load. Every unit he served in was a better place while Guty was there. He was not the first friend that I lost, not in a warzone, but to the stresses of returning to life at home. It is my most profound fear that he might not be the last.
I know this is a cliche, but unlike the rest of the world, that is how I will remember him. For all my cynicism and arrogance, I can't let whatever darkness claimed his final hours to obscure the years of great service that he gave this country, and my unit. I couldn't live with my self if I was the kind of person who could.
Being an infantryman in wartime is the most difficult job in the world. The country asks these men to bear a burden that no one should have to shoulder. We do it because someone has to, but we should never do it alone. The Army, and the nation at large, owes it to these soldiers to do everything within its power to help them deal with the inevitable wounds that wartime service inflicts, both the physical trauma that a soldier suffers when his limbs are torn away by the enemy's bombs, and the mental trauma that comes from coping with such a drastic change from the mundane existence of a citizen in a first world nation. We all struggle with our demons; we all fight that invisible enemy; there is no shame in that struggle.
However, something is amiss. Before Guty came to my unit, he served with the 2nd Infantry Division on Fort Lewis. As I'm sure anyone who watched the news can attest, that's the same posting as SSG Robert Bales, the man accused of the recent massacre of Afghani civilians. For those with a sharper memory, the troubles pile up. The Afghanistan "kill team" a few years back were also soldiers on Fort Lewis. A Mount Rainier Park Ranger was killed by a Ft. Lewis Soldier a couple months ago. A recently discharged Ft. Lewis veteran shot and killed a police officer in Utah. There's a string of suicides, murders, and abuses that have taken place on Ft. Lewis.
While there has been an increase in suicides and crime rates on bases across the country, rightfully attributed to the increased stress of a wartime operating tempo and the relaxed standards of entry allowing soldiers who would have otherwise never made it through MEPS into the military, not only does Fort Lewis stand out among its fellow Active Duty postings, but when you begin to factor in events involving the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho National Guard, it begins to seem like the Pacific Northwest has become the epicenter of post deployment tragedies.
These events have involved soldiers from nearly every unit in the region, from 2ID, to 2nd Ranger Battalion, to the 41st Brigade Combat Team in Oregon. They're too disparate to pin the blame on unit leadership. There is, however, one common denominator linking each of these tragic acts.
Every soldier in the region routes through Madigan Army Medical Center for their health evaluation to determine what level of treatment they require, and weather or not they're capable of continued service, and if not, what level of disability they're accorded. They are the front line for America's responsibility to the troops, and they are failing, inexcusably so.
There's something rotten at Madigan. William Keppler, the Chief of the Department of Mental Health at Madigan has been quoted as advising his subordinates to "be good stewards of the public's money" and informed them that a diagnosis of PTSD would cost the government $1.5 million dollars in treatment and disability over the course of the service member's life. The mental health team at Madigan overturned 285 confirmed diagnoses of PTSD. Soldiers with 100% disability, who were living in inpatient programs to attempt to control their wounds were turned out with the stroke of a pen, and then couldn't even secure a face to face appointment with the physician who denies them the treatment that they need, that they deserve, that they are owed. Lives have been destroyed by this, not just soldiers, but the lives of their families, and even those of people who had nothing to do with this situation. Park rangers, and police officers, and children. But hey, at least they saved 427.5 million dollars! I've never been ashamed of my service, of what the uniform I wear represents, but this disgusts me.
To my fellow infantrymen, you beautiful sons of bitches, know this: You are not alone. No matter how dark things feel, no matter how bad things seem, you are never alone. Your enemies mass against you. The guilt that gnaws at the back of your mind. The anger that drives you against your will. The despair that seems like it will swallow you whole. Your courage will stand with you. Hope will illuminate the darkest nights. Your pride will push you to victory. Although, be mindful of that last one. Use your pride to keep you beholden to a higher standard. Do not allow it to drive away those that would help you. You need everyone weapon you can get in this fight, but pride has two edges.
The Army has taught us to attack the enemy with overwhelming force, both with superior firepower, and superior numbers. This fight is no different. Your friends will stand with you. Your family is there for you. Your brothers in arms will watch over you. Don't turn them away.
The fight is long. That invisible enemy is patient. He will strike when you are feeling at your weakest. But you will always have resources. If you're feeling particularly low, the VA will help you. The Vet Center will help you. There are councilors waiting 24/7 in every state to help you through your crisis. Win this fight.
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