Posted Online: Oct. 04, 2012, 10:38 pm

Arsenal Island's stand down has army standing up for life

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Welvaert
Vietnam veteran and Marine John Musgrave, Baldwin, Kan., talks about his experience with suicide and depression on Thursday during the First Army Stand Down at the Rock Island Arsenal. Mr. Musgrave told soldiers about the dangers of 'survivor's guilt.' He considered killing himself after he was severely injured and two of his fellow Marines were killed trying to save him during a firefight in Vietnam.
ARSENAL ISLAND -- About 300 soldiers and civilian military employees attended the first day-long safety and suicide stand down day Thursday at the First Army headquarters at Rock Island Arsenal.

It was part of a national effort ordered by Army Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, in the wake of reports that 38 soldiers had killed themselves in July.

Those deaths brought total number of suicides this year to 187, including 120 on active duty, according to the Army.

Males are four times more likely to commit suicide than females, and self-inflicted gunshots are responsible for 70 percent of them, said Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, First U.S. Army Commanding General. Personal-owned weapons are used 49 percent of the time, he added. And a majority of soldiers committing suicide are not, nor have been deployed overseas, he said.

Numbers this year are on a ''fatal glide path, that's why we are here,'' Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek said.

"The key thing is to acknowledge there is a problem we need to address and to elevate the awareness of the resources and agencies available.''

Lt. Gen. Bednarek referred to a ''Shoulder to Shoulder, We Stand Up For Life'' theme and to ''warrior ethos'' terms during his introductory remarks, highlighting the phrase ''I will never leave a fallen comrade,'' saying it was the centerpiece of the day's plans.

''The fact that we don't leave our wounded behind is carved in stone, and is written in the blood of heroes,'' guest speaker John Musgrave said.

Mr. Musgrave, a Vietnam veteran, said two comrades were shot and killed attempting to rescue him after he was wounded.

Mr. Musgrave was 17 when he went into the U.S. Marine Corps, and the average age of men in his combat unit was 18. Yet, he said he learned more about being an American, and what the true meaning of love is, from that group of teenagers than he learned from anyone else.

''We were willing to die for each other,'' Mr. Musgrave said. ''You can't love any one more than that.''

Later, after the war, however, and in pain, he started feeling that the gift of his life his friends had fought and died for, wasn't a gift at all. It was a burden, he said. ''It's called 'survivor's guilt,' and has probably killed more soldiers than our enemies have.

''Suicide is an act of desperation,'' Mr. Musgrave said. ''And you can make yourself think you're doing the bravest and selfless acts of all. I thought suicide was doing my family a favor. I had convinced myself I was a burden on them.''

It's an example of the mindset people have at such times, Mr. Musgrave said. ''And you have to see the world from their mindset if you're going to help them.

''If I have lifted a veil of how people are thinking at those times, then I have been successful here today,'' he said.

''It's my belief that no one goes through combat unscarred,'' he said. The emotionally wounded must be treated ''as serious as doctors care for the physically wounded.''