Guest Authors

How One Facebook Page Saved A Soldier’s Life

05 November 2012

A Guest post by Barbara Lawrence

A late Wednesday night.

Michael M, a National Guardsman, is badly worried about his Battle Buddy, a fellow Guardsman in another platoon. His buddy is talking suicide in a real and frightening way. Michael is out of phone minutes and can only text. He does not have a roster of company phone numbers. The command post closed at 5:00pm. He is desperate to help his buddy.

I will always place the mission first.

Meanwhile, "Dan," a/k/a ~HMFIC~, the founder of Facebook (FB) page “Awesome Shit My Drill Sergeant Said,” (ASMDDS) is about to hit the sack. The page combines humor, news, military charity fund-raising, and reader stories about outrageous, outstanding and life-changing encounters with Drill Sergeants.  It is run by current and former Drill Sergeants. With over 76,000 fans registered since August of this year, the page has hit home with members of the military, their families, and civilians alike.

Michael frantically messages the Page, and his message is seen by Dan, who just happens to glance at his phone prior to bedtime. Now alert, Dan asks Michael what made him think that his friend was planning suicide. Michael replies with screen shots of his buddy’s last posts and messages. Upon viewing the first image, Dan's blood turned cold. A soldier is in trouble, the suicide risk is real, and the clock is ticking.

Immediately, Dan posts on ASMDSS that fun time is over, that there is a real crisis, "We have a troop in trouble", and asks for anyone in the Kingsport, Tennessee area to contact ASMDSS immediately.

What followed for the next five hours was an outpouring of support both on FB and behind the scenes via email and messages. Four thousand people followed through the night, many refusing to go to bed until they heard news of the soldier's situation, prayers were said, candles lit, stories shared of personal pain over a buddy’s suicide, and of personal struggles and triumphs with depression and PTSD. Overall, the theme that "we are a family" was heard throughout the night. It didn't matter what your race, sex, religion, rank, branch or MOS was. A brother was in trouble, and losing one more was one too many.

Behind the scenes twenty people rushed to Kingsport for a soldier that they never met, some from 100 miles away, with many more ready to go at a moment's notice. Dan received a flood of emails from soldiers, detectives, firefighters, computer hackers, hostage negotiators, cell phone executives, paramedics, crisis counselors, and police officers, all offering assistance.  Additionally three police departments and two sheriff departments were scouting for Michael’s friend locally. They did not know the soldier either, but they knew that a life was at stake. Through the internet and technology, Dan was able to pull the LAT/LONG coordinates off of the soldier's cell phone, but the coordinates were only accurate to within 100 meters. The location was a set of large apartment complexes. Hundreds of apartments, and in one of them a soldier was planning to end his life. Worse, he had stopped responding to messages from anyone.

I will never accept defeat.

This year alone suicides have exceeded combat deaths in Afghanistan. Despite eight-hour long Power-Point presentations on prevention, millions of dollars spent, and increased use of mental health care by active duty soldiers and veterans alike, suicide remains a problem that will not go away.  There is still a stigma in admitting to emotional or mental problems, still a sense that it is a "sign of weakness," and the valid fear that documented treatment for a mental health issue can adversely impact one's security clearance or eligibility to deploy. Though Op-Ed pieces speculate about multiple deployments, PTSD, and reluctance to seek treatment, one National Guard study found that failed relationships (often affected by deployment) topped the list, followed by finances and employment.

The soldier was not at his last known address. He quit answering text messages. The hopelessness was in him, and the silence was gut wrenching. Anxiety grew on ASMDSS as longer pauses between status updates grew. People who had to leave for work soon refused to go to bed, waiting for a glimmer of hope.  Posts from Iowa, Washington, Brooklyn, Georgia, Texas, the UK, Australia, and Afghanistan appeared, all asking the same questions, "Have you found him? Is he okay?"

I will never quit.

Dan was able to find out the soldier's unit, and by tracking down its website's administrator, located the private cell number of 1Lt Andrew Kelley, the unit executive officer, who responded immediately. The Commander, Captain Haris Balcinovic, also was alerted, and he immediately went to the desperate soldier's general location. Finally, they were able to locate and talk at length with their soldier. And to their credit, he said "Yes," to their offer of help.

A global sigh of relief and “high five” moments could have been heard if you were listening. ASMDSS is mostly for fun, but Dan believes that the fans of ASMDSS saved a life that day. The "brotherhood," the bond forged in the military, and the warrior ethos, supersedes all boundaries.

Dan also considers suicide prevention a last line of defense in Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF), which is expressed in Master Resilience Training (MRT). MRT was designed for the military by the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology department.  It trains NCOs, but in turn it allows them to train their recruits and soldiers how to manage adverse life events, how to build on their personal strengths, and how to modify their communication skills, rather than simply coping as best they can. MRT is a part of CSF, a program initiated in 2009 to improve the soldiers' ability to manage life challenges. A study published in January, 2012, showed that Brigade Combat Teams receiving MRT displayed better unit leadership and cohesion.  Unit cohesion appears to be a major factor in reducing suicide risk.

For Guardsmen returning from deployment, there is no return to an installation with a large support system in place. There is a brief ceremony, and then they go home. For Guardsmen, the answer is not so easy. There do have peer-to-peer resources such as Veteran’s Centers or the Coming Home Project. CSF-2 has also been launched this year, to include not only the soldier, but also family members, both before and post-deployment.

Building on the success of this episode, the administrators of ASMDSS envision a better way to respond to soldiers' distress, capitalizing on the use of social media and the extended reach of other military support web pages. Some soldiers seem to respond better talking with another soldier who has "been there," buddy to buddy, than to crisis hotlines with scripted responses from civilian crisis counselors. And sometimes the fear of getting the chain-of-command or law enforcement involved, and the threat of a psychiatric 72-hour "hold," discourages soldiers from otherwise seeking help.

The plan would be to allow a soldier to talk to a buddy anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, whether it is just to vent, or to bring more help to bear when needed. The details are not completely settled, but this is one more way of taking care of their own.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

In Dan's own words, "A nation is judged on how they treat their Warriors once they return from the field of battle. Despite our best intentions and efforts as a society, we are failing those who sacrificed for us in exchange for the unspoken promise that we as a Nation would have their back when the fighting was done.

If a Soldier or Veteran is at the point where a permanent solution to a temporary problem has become an option...then we have already failed that individual.

We at ASMDSS refuse to stand by as our buddies suffer alone and in silence. The implications of the success attained that night are not lost on us, and we will be making sure that this opportunity to help our Brothers and Sisters in Arms does not fade into a distant memory.

Our Drill Sergeant Badge is emblazoned with our watchwords, "This We'll Defend", and we intend to do so."

1-877-WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387)   24/7/365  Talk to another Combat Veteran
1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)     Military/Veterans Crisis Line
ASMDSS Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/ASMDSS
ASMDSS Twitter Page: http://www.twitter.com/asmdss
ASMDSS Website: http://www.asmdss.com

References:

Military Suicide Hotlines http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/default.asp
FAQs About Asking For Help For Suicide http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/faq.asp#ques87
Suicide Prevention In The Army http://www.army.mil/article/86548/Suicide_prevention__A_healthy_force_is_a_ready_force/
Suicide Statistics in the National Guard 2007 http://www.army.mil/article/4490/suicide-named-third-leading-cause-of-death-among-national-guard-soldiers/
Army Suicide and Its Prevention  http://www.care2.com/causes/army-suicide-numbers-are-on-the-rise.html
Soldier Suicide Statistics 2004-2008  http://depression.about.com/b/2012/03/23/stress-of-war-has-caused-sharp-rise-in-army-suicides.htm
Unit Cohesion and Coming Home Project  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-bobrow/military-suicides-stigma-_b_1677798.html
Comprehensive Soldier Fitness  http://www.annistonstar.com/view/full_story/4548315/article-The-Army-s-pain--Causes-and-solutions-of-suicide
Master ResilienceTraining http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/mrtinarmyjan2011.pdf
MRT Effectiveness http://www.army.mil/article/72431/Study_concludes_Master_Resilience_Training_effective
MRT in 2010  http://www.army.mil/article/36520/army-master-resilience-training-course-provides-valued-instruction/

Comments   

 
+24 # Off the record helpThomas Dikel 2012-11-05 14:50
Michael, We have a group - Give an Hour - that is made up of therapists, counselors, psychologists, who donate an hour of their time - usually one session - each week to active military, veterans, and their families. We are not associated with DOD, VA, or any other official body. We donate our time, so folks don't have to worry about insurance. They also don't have to worry about it going into their file. The home web site is: http://www.giveanhour.org/Home.aspx and you can look up someone in your area. I hope folks will spread the word. Thanks, as always, Tom.
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+8 # RE: Off the record helpJimbo 2012-11-05 16:38
What a great story.

PS - Give an Hour is a good group of people. Thumbs up for their help.
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+2 # Off the record con'tLarry 2012-11-05 21:35
Great story and hope for those who need it Mr Dikel. Just goes to show how volunteers and the private sector give their time and energy to help the people who need it the most. I am sure America, as one big family thank you and the others who sacrifice time and money to help those protecting us.
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+11 # RE: How One Facebook Page Saved A Soldier’s LifeEOD Dad 2012-11-05 15:57
Gut wrenchingly awesome !!

This is why I am so proud to be an American and father of a US Soldier.
Stay safe, stay strong and keep holding each other up
Love you all, God Bless
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+7 # 101st Army Mom.. Hooah!!!Cindee Johnson 2012-11-05 16:33
I saw on my news feed on FB where my son "liked" ASMDDS on Sat and because I am first and formost HIS 101st Mom...of course I liked it as well. I read some of the posts that evening from soldier, telling stories about there time in BCT and just laughed at them, because I remembered hearing some of the same stories from my son when he came home on leave after completing BCT himself.

Because I love ALL things Army because of my pride in my now E6 man~child! I have to tell you that I have tears in my eyes knowing the lengths that OUR Military men & women will and do go to, to save their brothers/sister s in arms!! My son was an only child when he enlisted in the Army on Jan 5th 2004...He ETS'd in 2011 to get full custody of his daughter, but not before giving me sooo many more youngins' to love and care about...he is an amazing young man as are the brothers he gained during his time at Ft. Campbell and multiple times in Iraq! God bless you all for saving the young man in this story...As a soldiers Mother, I can only imagine how grateful his own Mom is to you ALL!!!!

~ PROUD 101st Army Mom ~ Hooah!!!
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+5 # RE: How One Facebook Page Saved A Soldier’s LifePhyllis 2012-11-05 16:59
Michael, any of us that support our troops would be more than glad to help someone in need. Maybe all they need to know is that someone cares, even if it's not someone they know. We do care about our soldiers and help is out there. I die a little inside each time I hear that one of our own has taken his own life. It makes me very sad.
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+6 # a long long way from the Deer HunterPeter in MNq 2012-11-05 18:41
Wow. This is great. A long, long ways from my Viet Nam colleagues and their return to home!
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+3 # 1 for allAO 2012-11-05 20:33
Way to go ASMDSS!!! God bless the men and women behind the scenes and even more so the Men and women who serve this great country. We might feel as if all is loosing on the home front these days but when you hear of a story like this,gives me chills all the way in Japan. WTG guys keep it up!
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+13 # This is just the beginningDan aka HMFIC 2012-11-05 20:38
This is Dan a.k.a HMFIC.

Many thanks to the author for this well written piece that truly captured the emotion, suspense, and sense of connection as a military community despite geographical, social, and service branch.

I wanted to take a moment to mention that since the night of this story, Myself and ASMDSS Fans were able to intercede and bring a successful resolution to a situation that would have resulted in another soldier lost if not for immediate, overwhelming and genuine response BY TROOPS for TROOPS on 2 more occasions.

The soldier in distress that made a cry for help to us a few nights after the above incident unfortunately did so just before consuming a lethal dose of sedatives and alcohol. Help was brought to his location and was transported to the hospital.

The most inspiring part of the story is what happened while we waited on the edge of our seats for news on his condition, the outreach and support upon leaving the hospital, and his outlook on life and plan for the future.

You'll have to wait for the next article for the details, but below is a link to the voicemail I received from the young man when he left the hospital.

http://soundcloud.com/asmdss/thankful-voicemail-from

The fact that with these incidents, we have revolutionized and changed the way Social Media can be used to bring "The Brotherhood" network of no questions asked support into the 21st century, and the opportunity to bridge the gap between Military, VA, and Private Sector through which we are watching soldiers fall through and land hard...is not lost on me.

We will be taking the above and building on it, uniting all who step forward who raise their hand and resolve to join us in ensuring no soldier walks alone. Battles helping Battles, we always have your back.

Within the next few weeks, I will be announcing a new organization and vision that we truly believe will shatter with resounding force the barriers between service members and veterans who are struggling in silence and those that stand ready, willing, and praying silently just for the chance to help those who need a Battle to have their back.

If you want to be notified when the new organization launches and/or are interested in getting involved please visit the below link and join our mailing list.

http://www.asmdss.com

What you have seen is only the beginning. We never leave a fallen comrade. We are the Non-Commissione d Officers of ASMDSS.
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+4 # RE: This is just the beginningEOD Dad 2012-11-05 21:14
Dan,
you are truly a hero in my eyes. this is just another battlefield and we need men you on it

Thank-you.
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+4 # mskaren 2012-11-05 21:54
GOD BLESS YOUR WORK
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+1 # Pulling TogetherEric Walrabenstein 2012-11-06 17:00
Barbara, thanks so much for your compelling narrative. It is so important we keep the plight of our returning warriors in the forefront of the national stage. Together, we can instigate a movement of hope and healing for all our troops and veterans! Keep it up!

Eric Walrabenstein
BOOTSTRAP: Free Stress-manageme nt for Troops and Veterans
www.bootstrapUSA.com
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# One FamilyNancy Gegner 2013-01-11 01:32
Having a son in the Army and having been a military wife and working in law enforcement, I know the bonds that are formed and the lengths we will go through to help our suffering brothers/sister s. This country is Great and our service members are the BEST!!! Stay Safe and watch each others back.
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