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The 8000 Mile Sniper Shot
Editor’s Note: In continuing our theme of suicide awareness, we will be highlighting articles from throughout the Mil-blog community. The piece written today is by Paul Szoldra, who posted it on the Marine Infantry Veterans Foundation. While his writing is normally funny and nonsensical, suicides are a serious issue and we must all work together to stamp out this epidemic. -RU Rob
By Guest Contributor Paul Szoldra
When you leave the military, your mind is usually filled with a range of emotions. There’s joy over your newfound freedom, sadness at leaving brothers behind, and anxiety over the unknown. In June 2010, when I picked up my discharge papers from the Marine Corps, I lived through it and felt them all.
Now two years later, I am close to graduation from The University of Tampa, run a successful military satire website, and am lucky to continue working with military veterans. It wasn’t an easy road, and many times I felt alone and helpless.
For a heartbreaking and rising number of veterans, those emotions can lead to a devastating end: suicide.
Navy Cross recipient and former Corporal Jeremiah Workman, who dealt with his own emotional trauma and thoughts of suicide, refers to it as an enemy making an 8000-mile sniper shot.
That’s what happened with Seth Smith, from Kansas City, Missouri. I first met Seth on a training exercise in Okinawa, Japan with 3rd Marine Division. As one of a small handful of infantry Marines in a unit full of different specialties, it was a lonesome time for me.
After seeing Corporal Smith directing forklifts — with his flak jacket set up much like an infantryman — I approached him.
“Are you a grunt?,” I asked.
He responded no, but after further questioning, it turns out that he was attached to my old unit, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, for a deployment to Iraq in 2009. Instead of being an electrician like he was trained, he was put into an infantry squad with Lima Company. He was grunt-enough to me.
We soon became friends.
About six months after I said goodbye and good luck to 28 year-old Corporal Seth Smith as I left the Marine Corps, he was honorably discharged and returned home. The following April, he was dead.
He didn’t give a warning, or leave a note. He was engaged and had a son named Carter.
“The threat posed before our nation’s veterans is very real,” said HM3 (FMF) Michael Barnes, a Navy Corpsman who served with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. “The scars borne by those patriotic volunteers often remain unseen as it is ingrained in many of us to internalize our pain and fight our fight as we see fit.”
In the early months of 2010, Marjah, Afghanistan was both a frozen wasteland and a volatile district swarming with enemy fighters. The men of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines endured a blend of both, including rifleman Lance Corporal Denver Short.
“The number of experiences both in theatre and here at home are innumerable,” said HM2 (FMF) Justin Hillery, of the many memories of Short. “Hundreds of patrols, engagements with the enemy, scores of field ops and many memorable nights.”
As 3/6 pushed into Marjah in February, the Marines had to dig in to defend against enemy attacks. Their defensive perimeter — their temporary home in the open air of winter — meant difficulty sleeping for many as they struggled to stay warm.
On one night, the temperature dropped and rain began to fall. One Marine, caught off guard in the storm, began showing signs of hypothermia. His fighting hole partner was LCpl Short.
“Short identified the Marine’s urgent state and quickly stripped him down and rewarmed him and suffered the cold for six hours. I did my rounds in the morning to find that Short was hypothermic and the Marine next to him had recovered,” recounts Doc Barnes. “Short gave his warmth away and suffered the night all to comfort his brother Marine. All the while he was ready to fight.”
Short cared more about his fellow Marines than himself. He was a warrior, a leader, and a well-respected member of his unit.
Denver Short endured two tours to Marjah along with his brothers in arms. His platoon-mates looked at him as a great Marine. After completing a successful enlistment with the Marine Corps, he left and was ready to move on.
He killed himself on August 20, 2012. He was 23.
It’s hard to understand why some military members commit suicide and others don’t, but the fact is that combat affects people in different ways. As the military tries to change a slow-moving culture, a stigma of suicide being an ailment of the weak still remains.
“I implore my fellow warriors: seeking help is not weakness. Do not internalize your issues for the peril in doing so far outweighs the slim chance of coming out unscathed,” Barnes said. “Your family, friends, and unit will suffer in your absence in ways we many times do not know… There are so many of us that will lay our lives down for one another, asking for a few minutes of someone’s time is a small price we will all pay to see you after the next sunrise.”
Our military and veterans affairs branches need to do more to help with this issue. As we wait for them to make changes however, it is up to veterans themselves to keep in contact and maintain the brotherhood. It is up to us, just like we do on the battlefield, to take care of each other after the uniform is retired.
Lives depend upon it.
Please learn more about Denver Short from two men who served alongside him by clicking here.
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