Ranger Up Talks Suicide: The Need For Purpose
By Peter Nealen
I am not a shrink.
I’m a former hairy-chested amphibious warrior. I am not suicidal. But, having been out of the service for a year, and off deployment for almost three, I think I can offer some understanding of those who are struggling.
When you’re deployed—when you’re part of a platoon, part of a team—you have a purpose. You have a purpose every day you get up and go to work, whether that’s training or going outside the wire to hunt bad guys.
It is a great purpose, for your team and your platoon are counting on you to pull your weight. Their lives may very well hang in the balance.
No matter how boring it is on patrol, you’re still alive in a way that you never were before. Any second, your life could end. You have to be vigilant. You are aware of the imminence of violence and death in a way you’d never have imagined before you went out there.
As absurd as the mission parameters might be, you’re still on a mission. Purpose.
Then you come back.
You see the people you left behind. You see the society you left behind—and it’s changed. It’s different, in a way that at once weirds you out and enrages you. You look around at people living posh lives without any knowledge of or even interest in where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, and what you’ve done and endured.
You hear people who’ve never been there opining loudly and obnoxiously about that which they don’t understand, because they’ve never been there.
You see the importance people place on trivial, miniscule things. You hear complaints about “First World Problems” and you think about how you slept in the dirt for weeks at a time—being eaten by insects and wondering if that next roll down the road is going to be your last.
You hear people talking about celebrities that you neither know nor care about while you wonder who, outside the family and the brotherhood, even knows the name of the husband, father, and brother you just put in the ground.
If you even bother to turn on the news and get past the latest scandal, the latest sensationalized crime, or the latest nonsensical fad that somebody decided was “news” to see what is going on in those places you sweated, fought, and faced death in, you see that nothing has changed for the better.
And you start to wonder what the whole point was.
Why are your brothers dead? What did they really die for, if nothing was ever really going to change?
Faced with this new reality—with a mundane job that can never, ever match how alive you felt walking along the Euphrates or in the fields of the Helmand Valley—while it seems few people really understand what you did or why you did it, you might start to feel lost.
Adrift. Wondering what you’re still doing here.
That’s when you’ve got to work at it.
Try to see where the purpose lies now. This is another fight, one you can’t fight alone any more than you could fight AQI or the Taliban alone.
Find your brothers.
Because once a warrior, always a warrior.
Don’t survive the war outside only to surrender to the war inside.