19 Sep 2015

Suicide is spreading through one Marine battalion like a virus

After the sixth suicide in his old battalion, Manny Bojorquez sank onto his bed. With a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam beside him and a pistol in his hand, he began to cry.
He had gone to Afghanistan at 19 as a machine-gunner in the Marine Corps. In the 18 months since leaving the military, he had grown long hair and a bushy mustache. It was 2012. He was working part time in a store selling baseball caps and going to community college while living with his parents in the suburbs of Phoenix. He rarely mentioned the war to friends and family, and he never mentioned his nightmares
He thought he was getting used to suicides in his old infantry unit, but the latest one had hit him like a brick: Joshua Markel, a mentor from his fire team, who had seemed unshakable. In Afghanistan, Corporal Markel volunteered for extra patrols and joked during firefights. Back home Mr. Markel appeared solid: a job with a sheriff’s office, a new truck, a wife and time to hunt deer with his father. But that week, while watching football on TV with friends, he had wordlessly gone into his room, picked up a pistol and killed himself. He was 25. 


Still reeling from the news, Mr. Bojorquez surveyed the old baseball posters on the walls of his childhood bedroom and the sun-bleached body armor hanging on his bedpost. Then he took a long pull from the bottle.
“If he couldn’t make it,” he recalled thinking to himself, “what chance do I have?”
He pressed the loaded pistol to his brow and pulled the trigger.
Mr. Bojorquez, 27, served in one of the hardest hit military units in Afghanistan, the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment. In 2008, the 2/7 deployed to a wild swath of Helmand Province. Well beyond reliable supply lines, the battalion regularly ran low on water and ammunition while coming under fire almost daily. During eight months of combat, the unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters and suffered more casualties than any other Marine battalion that year.
When its members returned, most left the military and melted back into the civilian landscape. They had families and played softball, taught high school and attended Ivy League universities. But many also struggled, unable to find solace. And for some, the agonies of war never ended.
Almost seven years after the deployment, suicide is spreading through the old unit like a virus. Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans. 
The deaths started a few months after the Marines returned from the war in Afghanistan. A corporal put on his dress uniform and shot himself in his driveway. A former sergeant shot himself in front of his girlfriend and mother. An ex-sniper who pushed others to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder shot himself while alone in his apartment.
The problem has grown over time. More men from the battalion killed themselves in 2014 — four — than in any previous year. Veterans of the unit, tightly connected by social media, sometimes learn of the deaths nearly as soon as they happen. In November, a 2/7 veteran of three combat tours posted a photo of his pistol on Snapchat with a note saying, “I miss you all.” Minutes later, he killed himself.
The most recent suicide was in May, when Eduardo Bojorquez, no relation to Manny, overdosed on pills in his car. Men from the battalion converged from all over the country for his funeral in Las Vegas, filing silently past the grave, tossing roses that thumped on the plain metal coffin like drum beats.
“When the suicides started, I felt angry,” Matt Havniear, a onetime lance corporal who carried a rocket launcher in the war, said in a phone interview from Oregon. “The next few, I would just be confused and sad. Then at about the 10th, I started feeling as if it was inevitable — that it is going to get us all and there is nothing we could do to stop it.”
For years leaders at the top levels of the government have acknowledged the high suicide rate among veterans and spent heavily to try to reduce it. But the suicides have continued, and basic questions about who is most at risk and how best to help them are still largely unanswered. The authorities are not even aware of the spike in suicides in the 2/7; suicide experts at theDepartment of Veterans Affairs said they did not track suicide trends among veterans of specific military units. And the Marine Corps does not track suicides of former service members.
Feeling abandoned, members of the battalion have turned to a survival strategy they learned at war: depending on one another. Doing what the government has not, they have used free software and social media to create a quick response system that allows them to track, monitor and intervene with some of their most troubled comrades.
Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/us/marine-battalion-veterans-scarred-by-suicides-turn-to-one-another-for-help.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

0 comments:

Post a Comment