Ranger Up Talks Suicide: The Need For Purpose

Updated: September 9, 2015


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.




  1. John

    September 9, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Good post. I admire the RU crew for taking on this difficult topic.

  2. Ana Cristina

    September 9, 2013 at 11:50 am

    this is very sad,I admire the post is good.

  3. Brian

    September 9, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    wow, spot on

  4. Steven

    September 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    This series is so good

  5. Lori Ann

    September 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you for helping us to understand. Thank you for your service to our country.

  6. LivehonorablyorNotatall

    September 9, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    First off, thank you, for your service and all the sacrifices you and your brothers have made. I am not yet in the military but I look forward to leaving for basic very soon. Reading your articles will help me in taking care of those around me, but I feel an unaddressed issue is having spouses untrained. The hardest part of being a military spouse was not understanding the signs, or how to help a spouse that was suffering. Its hard to convince someone they can talk to you when you don’t even remotely understand what they have been through. I wanted to help as much as I could but I truly didn’t know what to do.

    I really wished that they had workshops that spouses could go to. If even just a few go, at least they are proactive and make a small difference versus no difference at all. For now we make the best with what we have and hope that by raising awareness, someone who needs help can get it, and get the support they need.

    • Charlie N

      September 9, 2013 at 2:13 pm

      The problem with workshops, is the people who they would hire to teach them. It is often a matter of hiring the blind to lead. Remember the shrink major hired to help the returning vets down in Texas. Consider the help he provided! In my quarter century in uniform, I was mostly reminded of my grand mother saying,”God helps those who help themselves.”. When I first came back from overseas to be greeted by angry protesters, and married my bride, I explained things to her, including my feelings. I introduced her to older vets with more experience. We talked a lot. When my wife finished he battle with cancer and passed on four years ago, there were no classes. I had to put my faith in a power greater than myself and carry on. I look forward to being with her again,meanwhile I try to provide comfort and information to others. Last Saturday, I spent the day with Wounded Warriors trying to bring them a smile and comfort. We all do what we can. Put your faith in the Lord.

  7. Jason Rawdon

    September 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    You have a purpose as long as you live. Modern civilization is a joke, people will worry over some of the most stupid things, make a small mistake that can be corrected and you would think it is a life and death situation, and the interesting part they have not experienced a life and death situation up close or if they did they would react differently.
    Suicidal tendencies is the brain telling you it is time for change. Evaluate the situation make a plan and move forward. Adapt, overcome, survive.
    As for those that have gone our fellow soldiers they have full filled their purpose, sooner or later we will have to face death so being what we are, may as well stick around for a while, you never know what will happen next, God never changes, this world sure will. What you are going threw is nothing new get a New King James Bible, stuff like this has been going on for more than 5000 years.


    September 9, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Four years after joining the military I returned from overseas to my home on leave. All my non-military friends were moving up to management positions and solidifying their business contacts. Returning from overseas four years after that, all my non-military friends had purchased homes, were promoted again (at least once) and were making way more money (than me). This didn’t begin to piss me off until I got out and discovered that I would really have to struggle to (maybe) get to the place in life that my non-military friends had attained. I don’t know why this bothered me as much as it did. Maybe it’s because my non-military friends didn’t really risk anything… like I (and so many others) did. That, and none of them really seemed to give a shit about us or what we did.

  9. BmfinC

    September 9, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Damn it……straight to a lump in my throat. With out my brothers and my dogs I sure feel useless anymore. Even though it was rough on our tours,I would take it back rather than this slow death.

    • Shugar shorts

      September 10, 2013 at 4:22 am

      We all feel like this- It seems so much easier across the pond then at home. A very brilliant man told me one day, after we had both returned and we started talking about our experiences this statement, “…all we had to do was live over there…” it’s so simple and sounds crazy but it is the truth. Back at home to much BS from all diretions, all the time.

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