Hawk soaring at the edge of the Pamir mountains. Author photo.

My friend Chris.

Veteran Suicide Isn’t Just A Statistic… It’s a tragedy.

My friend Chris was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday.

I wasn’t there.

I was here…

Rural village in eastern Tajikistan. Author photo.

I’m overseas and was conducting a final construction inspection of a new clinic in an underserved district in rural Tajikistan. The new clinic will provide treatment and recovery rooms so routine care is available to the area’s sheep herders, farmers and their families.

He would understand.

Afterwards we stopped on the side of the road and had an MRE (meal ready to eat) picnic looking at beautiful river and mountain views and listening to the rush of water through the bends and small rapids.

All I could think was: Chris would have loved this.

Chris or “Capt D” was and remains an outsized influence in my life. He was a fierce friend, an enthusiastic mentor, a compassionate leader, a dedicated Christian, and a loving a husband and father.

He was also a veteran.

“Capt D” was my freshman Aerospace studies (ROTC) instructor at the University of Portland… but so much more…

He was new to the job and we were new to… well… everything… it was the perfect match.

His enthusiasm for the Air Force, teaching, and life made us excited too. He taught us to take the job seriously, but not ourselves… a lesson he would keep trying to teach us (well, me probably more than others) for the next seventeen years.

As we commissioned and became Lieutenants and Captains (and Majors!) we remained his ‘kids’. As he became a Major, a Lieutenant Colonel, and then a Colonel, he remained “Capt D.”

When I was on my first deployment after my daughter was born, we ran across one another (literally, we were both on morning runs) and we talked for half an hour. Half that time was him making sure I was doing okay. The other half was talking about how proud he was of the young men and women he was entrusted with leading and caring for as a new squadron commander.

When I was on another deployment, just a year later, he checked in on me again. He was in Afghanistan, I was in Iraq, but he wanted to make sure I was okay.

He helped my husband and I decide on neighborhoods to look at when we moved to San Antonio.

He took time out during business trips (his and mine) to have lunch or coffee and catch up. When it was time for us to make career decisions he was always there to lend an ear.

I say this to underline these facts:

Chris was a successful Air Force officer, retiring as a full Colonel with over 20 years of dedicated service. He was an athlete (an Ironman!). He had deployed to combat zones multiple times. He was fiercely dedicated to his family and raising the next generation of leaders.

At some point, in the last year of his life, he experienced a pain so deep that he pulled back from me and others. This man, who had assisted so many through the troubled times in their lives could not see his way through his own pain.

In October of this year it became too much and he ended his life.

I can only try to imagine the physical pain these psychic wounds caused him. It must have been excruciating. Imagining his pain is what most brings tears to my eyes. Such a kind soul who poured himself into others in agony leaves me breathless.

Stalin was wrong. A million deaths are a million tragedies. They are played out across the landscape of America in a million homes and a million communities.

Chris’s death was a tragedy. But I will not let his death be his only legacy.

I will remember his friendship, loyalty, dedication and love for his fellow human beings. I will strive to be that person for others. But most of all… I will strive to help others share their wounds and their pain. To get the help they need. There is enough tragedy in the world.

Rest Easy Chris, we have the watch.