Thursday, December 20, 2007

Private Scheuerman's suicide

I recently read the article on Yahoo News about Private Scheuerman's suicide.

I found it extremely depressing that there were so many indicators that this was a troubled young man and his leadership's best action was to punish him and restrict his amenities that is often the one thing that keeps us sane.

The ability to talk to or email my friends and family are the only things that have helped keep my head about me. If I had emails and phone calls to my family taken away from me during the severe bouts of depression I have had, there is no telling what I would have done.

Sometimes the mentality of the Army leadership is so ignorant. For a First Sergeant to "motivate" his troubled soldier by telling him to straighten up or he will be sent to prison and raped is beyond wreckless and irresponsible.

I have seen all types of soldiers and there are soldiers that do not like being in Iraq and some do try to take advantage of the situation. Some of them do make exaggerated claims to get attention. As Non-Commissioned Officers, as leaders, however, we have a responsibility to our junior soldiers to take care of them.

My feeling is that his leadership's handling of Private Scheuerman directly led to his suicide. According to the article, he repeatedly exhibited behaviors that should have triggered a more involved response. Instead, his leadership took away his contact with his family, made him sleep in a public company area and humiliated him in front of other soldiers.

The chaplain reported, "His mood had drastically changed and said Scheuerman demonstrated disturbing behavior by sitting with his weapon between his legs and bobbing his head on the muzzle."

The psychologist reported, "Scheuerman checked on a mental health questionnaire that he had thoughts about killing himself, was uptight, anxious and depressed, had feelings of hopelessness and despair."

The article states, "Scheuerman's mother got an e-mail from her son telling her goodbye. She contacted a family support official at Fort Benning and later received a call saying her son had been checked and was fine. Later, her son sent her an instant message and said her phone call had made things worse."

As is often the case, leaders do not like a soldier going outside the chain-of-command to report concerns about their leadership ability. There are ways that leaders make life harder on a junior soldier to prove how bad things can be. It's the mentality of, "You think it's bad now, you have no idea how miserable I can make your life."

I am not a psychologist so I cannot professionally comment on the psychologist recommending, "Scheuerman sleep in an area where he could be watched and that most of his personal belongings and privileges be taken away for his safety (all of his belongings except his weapon and ammo)." What an extremely negligent recommendation in my opinion. Were his privileges of emails and phone calls to his parents more hazardous than a loaded gun?

If it were not for my ability to talk with my family and friends, I would still be in a very dark place in my mind and quite capable of harming myself and others; especially when I carry a machine gun and ammo everywhere I go.

Can you fathom the suicide rate in the United States if a person was diagnosed as “…having thoughts about killing himself, was uptight, anxious and depressed, had feelings of hopelessness and despair" and then were given a loaded gun and sent on their way?

Here is a big red flag that hits me hard, "Scheuerman had tears in his eyes, but one of his non-commissioned officers said he was surprisingly calm before he went to his room, weapon in hand."

At that point, I believe he felt he was completely out of hope and without contact and the support of his family, he felt he had no options left. Less than an hour later, his NCO said he heard someone yelling that Scheuerman had done something.

We now know that is when he wrote a note and pinned it to the door as he shut himself inside his closet. My opinion is that his leadership failed to act in a responsible manner and directly contributed to his death by having knowledge of his severe depression and thoughts of suicide, then giving him a weapon and telling him his future consisted of going to jail and becoming a "butt-buddy".

The saddest part for me is that Private Scheuerman had an extremely loving and dedicated family that cared for and supported their son very much. I believe his family's support could have prevented his very unnecessary death.