Marine Suicides – Paradise Lost

The Marine Corps has reported an increase in suicides, up nearly 20 percent from 2008, which, in turn, was up 27 percent from 2007. While the number is relatively small at 38 when compared to a Corps of 202,000, it equals a rate of 19 suicides per 100,000. When compared with societal figures for 2006, the rate for the overall population was 10.95, while that for males was 17.98, more reflective of the Marine figures. (Note: Overall population rates are close to 2001 figures.)

Some experts have cited the stress of the Corps’ operational tempo. We say that may be part of it, but this coven may not be painting the full Picasso. Let’s say it is the stress of op tempo, something on which this testosterone-pumpin,’gun-totin’ group may thrive. What happens when this supposed culprit slows? Combat ops cease. Camaraderie becomes something else. Friendships change. Buddies turn their attention to other things. Commanders’ focus shift. It is over. Yeah, there will be another deployment, in a year or so. Maybe. As bad as napping in 30-minute shifts outfitted in full body armor was, you were in it together with your buddies. Maybe it was the closest you have been to anyone. In fact we’d venture to say these guys would opt for their brothers in arms than a spouse or loved ones. This may be loss, the depths of which are unknown to most.

Can you reach your pinnacle at age 23? Maybe age 21? It can probably seem that way. Many have support systems in place and are prepared, but some have no idea of the excruciating sense of loss that may await. This band of merry men is no more.

Self-medication is an option. Alcohol, drugs, maybe, a motorcycle bought with the money saved during the good times, when you mattered, when life mattered. An effort to cheat death or tempt it to take you once and for all. The quest to end the pain.

Enter the experts. The Marine Corps is initiating new programs (as have the other services) to find those at risk. But 38 individuals in a sea 202,000 are hard to find. Some do not want to be found. They survived Afghanistan. Survival now is of little interest. They develop a plan to stop the pain. They fight the daily fight and then move to take action. It may be in this brief moment an unrecognizable buddy might snatch them back from that blurred line separating life from death.

Suicides may seem tragic, but this latest run-up is not unique. Past armed conflicts have seen the uniformed against similar inner struggles. Given the small but reportedly statically significant numbers, one or two suicides pushes the Marine rate more than one would see in the larger national sample. Is there systemic failure as some may have you believe? While the boys and girls are given the tools to survive the tangible enemy, they are unarmed against the more lethal danger that lurks – the heart-stopping loss of one’s brothers and sisters. This nemesis can remain a lifetime.

It has been reported 72 percent of those Marines who took their own lives had deployed to a combat zone. We don’t know much about these individuals, but we’d guess the loss of the bonds forged may contribute significantly to the deep depression that replaced their reality.


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