This is an opinion piece; the words within the article are exclusively the writer's opinions and don't necessarily reflect those of Grunt Style or American Grit.
Fort Hood has a dark record.
Yes, you read that right. Need an example? Look at the scenario surrounding Vanessa Guillen and Gregory Scott Morales. Morales was labeled a deserter for a disgusting amount of time. Left with no answers, his family had to live with the notion that their Son was a deserter for eleven months. Turns out he was actually dead and buried in a hole within hiking distance of the base, "foul play suspected." They eventually got a folded flag and an excellent apology. "Woops!"
A simple Google search into "Fort Hood Deaths" blew my tab away with a gross amount of cold cases, disappearances, and flat-out admissions by the Army that read (I paraphrase here), "we don't know how to keep our Soldiers safe." Excuse me? What?
Walking down an IED-riddled M.S.R. in Afghanistan, I'm willing to accept that the Army "can't keep me safe." But on a MILITARY INSTALLATION in the continental U.S.?
It gets worse. I want to slap you with a fact you're not ready for: the suicide epidemic in the Armed forces will never end, and this is why…
The next set of events are very real and very recent. If you know, you know.
Storytime: Imagine you're at the lowest point in your life. Your career is D.O.A. You're locked down in possibly the crappiest post and flat broke courtesy of punitive actions from your command. No one knows, perhaps not even you, how low your morale has dropped.
We'll call our protagonist "Johnny." Johnny was struggling – suffering from anxiety and depression. He had recently received news that some family members were ill (illness unknown but severe enough to warrant a bedside visit.) His already wavering mental health slid deeper into a pit of despair.
He needed help, empathy, and human-to-human connection as urgently as someone having a heart attack needs urgent care. Yet, in true Army fashion, there was nothing but punishment in his immediate future.
Johnny put in for Christmas leave which was approved by his command team weeks ahead of time. But somewhere between approval and leave, "something" happened. What that was, we're not sure – but it was enough that Johnny tried to kill himself via an overdose.
Fortunately, he was found in time to save his life. He was taken to an inpatient suicide unit where we're expected to ASSUME he was cleared correctly and discharged after treatment. It's not like they'd remove him early because it's the holidays, and the hospital is short-staffed. They'd never do that. Would they? So Johnny was released back to his command. Still, at this point in the story, there's hope. Johnny's leave is approaching, and he will soon be reunited with his family for much-needed emotional support.
Let's not kid ourselves. This is where shit gets ugly. Johnny returns to his unit, where he is instantly given a FIELD GRADE Article 15. His rank is reduced to E-1, which means his pay is cut, and he is assigned extra duty. To add salt to the wound (yes, mental illness is a wound, so pun intended), his First Sergeant cancels his leave. So now Johnny is staring down the barrel of extreme isolation and extra duty through the holidays.
This is a man who recently tried to commit suicide and who was clearly under duress. His command thought the best action was to punish and CRUSH him. You can almost feel the vindictive nature of the punishment. I'd imagine the thoughts that went through their heads went something like, "make us look bad and screw up our numbers? Make us look like shit in front of the battalion C.O. before the ink on our O.E.R.s is dry? There's no morale problem here – there's a Johnny discipline problem." They needed to crush Johnny as an example to everyone else -- their egos would allow nothing less.
Circling the internet is a series of gloomy texts between Johnny and a friend, a sympathetic N.C.O. In the exchange, he shares the details of his sudden duty schedule and expresses despair. Let's reflect on where his last sliver of hope diminished: He had already bought his flight home, which he could no longer use, and now he was broke. His career in the Army was ruined, with nothing but weeks of punishment looming. You can literally feel the pain in his words.
December 23rd, 2022, Johnny attempted suicide again, and this time there was no helping him. He died in his barracks room, alone.
Let's not kid ourselves. This is not a one-off or an isolated incident. Johnny was thrown to the wolves, treated like a number, and now he is dead. Those who loved him must live with the knowledge that his last days on Earth were filled with anguish and pain. How could this chain of events play out to what is, in retrospect, an obvious conclusion?
Because, to toxic leaders, you're a number. Leaders like this are incentivized to dehumanize living, breathing Soldiers into something not unlike an M4 or a set of N.O.D.s.
This is not how you retain Soldiers! And this is definitely not how you reduce suicide rates to keep your precious numbers on that sacred roster intact.
There won't be justice until we start shining a glaring light on these incidents. How many commanders and N.C.O.s utterly indifferent to the damage they cause have made distinguished careers while brushing the Johnnies of the world under the carpet?
His unit was 2-8 Cav, 1st ABCT, 1CD. I hope every person in the chain of command carries this Soldier in their mind for the rest of their lives -- but who are we kidding. They probably give zero f*cks.
Rest easy, brother. You deserved better.
Let us know your stories -- get in touch with us. This is how we turn the tide. To be clear, we love our Armed Forces, and I love the Army and am proud of my service. We expect better of them -- we demand it.
This we'll defend.
About the author: Ronnie Gonzalez is an OIF and OEF veteran who served as U.S. Army Medic. He’s currently a content producer and writer for Grunt Style. He once killed five people with one shot, “worst negligent discharge in battalion history.” So he’s made history. Winning!