By Paul J. O’Leary The online veteran community has discovered something...
Ranger Up Talks Suicide: Why?
By Special RU Contributor SFC (R) Michael Schlitz
My name is SFC (Retired) Michael Schlitz and I am a 14-year US Army Veteran who medically retired after a severe injury in Iraq. Almost every day I read an article or see a video on Veteran suicide and the rising epidemic our Service Members face. It saddens me to think that someone who chose to serve the greater good reached their breaking point. It’s almost unimaginable, but is it really?
I was injured just Southwest of Baghdad in February of 2007. An IED struck my vehicle, killing my Medic, SGT Cadavero, the Gunner, SGT Soukenka, and Driver, CPL Henry, while throwing me from the vehicle on fire. I suffered burns over 85% of my body, the loss of both hands (due to the fire), and some vision loss.
Worse than the actual injuries was the impact it had on me. I went from being a hard-charging Infantryman and Ranger to a guy who was left 100 percent completely dependent on others. I couldn’t walk, feed myself, or even go to the bathroom. I felt hopeless; and I was convinced that life would never get any better than it was at that exact moment in time. As my recovery progressed, so did the idea of suicide. I thought of all kinds of ways of killing myself – falling off a building, overdoses on meds, and even to the extreme of smashing my head through a glass window to cut my throat since I didn’t have the hands to do it myself. Some people would read this saying “that guy needs help,” but in truth it was a coping mechanism for me.
After 6 months in the ICU, 4 months in the burn ward, and about a year of outpatient recovery, life started to get better. I was fitted with prosthetic hands, my energy increased, and I was physically more mobile. Pretty soon the suicidal thoughts went from everyday, to every once in awhile, and finally to very seldom. It takes time and there is no real hard situation you’ll face in life that can be resolved in a day.
So how did I get to this point where the idea of suicide is less appealing?
I leaned on my support network of family, friends, and fellow Veterans. The two I leaned on most were Mom and my fellow Veterans. Mom was with me from the start pushing me through everything and is still helping me now. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
My fellow Veterans were able to say the right things to get me to continue on. From “Don’t Quit,” “Never Give Up,” and at times reminders that “Rangers Lead The Way” – I needed gut checks like those. Because of them I pushed myself every day. I started remembering that the I was still me. The injuries only changed my appearance, but not the guy I was inside. It was time to start “taking objectives” again.
I have accomplished a lot in 5 years – from not walking to running, going to Iraq 3 times, and most importantly spending time with those around me. Had I committed suicide, I think of all the great moments I would have missed.
The one solid piece of advice I can offer is that everyone needs a purpose to wake up to. Sometime it’s work, family, or your hobby. Whatever it is, hold it close to you and don’t let go of it. My purpose in life my entire adulthood was the Army. Everyone knew I would drop anything for my career and one day it was gone. I had no purpose to wake up to and it left life feeling very empty.
As I got stronger I started doing some events with different non-profit organizations like Troops First Foundation, Operation Comfort, and Soldier’s Angels that are set up to support the Veteran community. While doing these events I talked to other Veterans and realized that we are a tight-knit brotherhood who needs to stick together. I found a new purpose in life by helping Veterans who need help. I volunteer with a Veteran Organization called GallantFew that helps Veterans go through the transition phase. It’s my new purpose and more important to me than my career ever was.
Reading these suicide articles really hits home for me because I’ve been there and still on occasion think about it. I can say life does get better, but you can’t do it alone. Reach out to your family, friends, or the Veterans you served with who shared those experiences with you. Who better to talk it out with then the men and women that were next to you?
But you need to reach out and let someone know. People like me are not good at reading between the lines. I’m working on educating myself on the warning signs, but ultimately it is up to you to seek help. Please reach out. Even one Veteran Suicide is one too many. You are not alone and you do have people willing to help.
If you have any questions hit me up on Facebook at:
Look up GallantFew and sign up for help:
For immediate help call the Veterans Crisis Hotline:
CALL 1-800- 273-8255
Visit their page for more info at: