by Chris Bemiss
21 December, 2014
Had you ever had that conversation with a fellow Veteran? The one where they mention suicide and you let it slide because you really don’t think they’d do it? With 22 Veterans committing suicide each DAY, the time for making that mistake is long gone.
We all know by now that one of the most common warning signs that a person might commit suicide is that they talk about it, or at least mention it.
Below is a powerful conversation between two Rangers I served with in 1/75 Ranger Batt. It’s written by the one Ranger who’s still with us. He now lives with the pain of knowing that this conversation gave him the one clue, the one chance, to save his Ranger-Brother from himself.
“I’ll probably just kill myself”
“Have you ever had an experience so powerful that when the memory of it randomly pops into your head it twists your face and even elicits a verbal response?
I have no idea where I was going or what I was doing that day, but “Flapjack” offered me a ride. He was going through the process of turning in his equipment and getting out of the Army. I hopped in the passenger side of his little rice burner and said, “Yo! You’re almost a free man! What are you going to do once you’re out?”
I will never forget his response, “I don’t know, probably kill myself.”
The conversation that followed was inadequate at best. I had not yet heard about how prevalent veteran suicide was. I had no idea what to say. It seemed like such an odd thing for him to tell me. He said it so matter-of-factly.
“Flapjack” was in my platoon, but he was in another squad, and he was one of the single guys. We were brothers, for sure, but he had 4-5 other Rangers he always hung out with. I couldn’t understand why he would say such a thing, and to me of all people, rather than one of his closer buddies.
I remember specifically asking him “What the fuck do you mean you’re going to kill yourself? There are too many people that depend on you. You’ve done too much. Seen too many amazing things! Suicide is selfish. Don’t be an asshole!”
One thing a Ranger Buddy can always be counted on for is to knock your dick in the dirt if he thinks you need it.
At the time I was uneducated about suicide and how to approach the subject. In retrospect, that conversation seems more like it was an ass chewing than a real discussion about what was going on in his life that was so bad he thought suicide was the solution.
I should have done something. I should have followed up with his buddies. I should have said something to the chain of command. I should have stayed in contact with him after he got out. I did none of these things.
Ultimately he explained away his comments to me by saying “Oh, I didn’t really mean I am going to kill myself. I just mean I will be so drunk on freedom I’ll probably do something stupid that ends up killing me, like partying too hard or driving too fast.”
A few months after he got out Dan Filipiak committed suicide.
It is one of the most regrettable things of my life. I know his death isn’t my fault and that I did the best I could, knowing what I did at the time. But damn I wish I could have that conversation back. Don’t ever dismiss a statement about suicide, and always follow up with it! Be that annoying friend. Let them get mad at you, but follow it through! Tell on them! Don’t keep that shit a secret!
I have been reluctant to share this with people because, honestly, I am ashamed. I only do it now because it would be even more regrettable if I didn’t use that experience to influence someone else to take action. It is a hard lesson, but one I will never forget because it stings every time I remember.”
Right now as I sit on top of this mountain near Tucson Arizona writing this article I know from personal experience that you have to pay attention to what your Veteran brothers and sisters say. They truly do not want to die. They desperately want someone to help them, but many just can’t come out and say “I want to commit suicide!!”
Christmas is just a few short days away. I encourage each Veteran to not get complacent and make sure you listen for those horrible words that may be the only clue you ever get. Believe me, you do not want to live with the daily torturous pain knowing that you didn’t do enough to save them.
That is all….Except this…Merry Christmas to each and every one of you and to those you love!
Chris Bemiss is an AWN contributor and former US Army Ranger with 5 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the 1/75th Ranger Battalion. He is currently the subject of an upcoming AWN Original documentary.
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