By Tarvick Linder
In 2018, there were 127 deaths by suicide as reported by the United States Army. A survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America last fall found that more than half of their members know a Post-9/11 service member who has committed suicide. The military has recognized suicide as an epidemic and that it critically affects the force’s ability to accomplish its mission.
So, there are now many programs in place for soldiers to reach out to when they are having suicidal thoughts. I have been a member of the United States Army for 18 years and I too fall into the category of knowing a service member or “Battle Buddy” that has died by suicide. But what does the grieving process look like for the team members of the deceased soldier?
In 2004, the Aviation unit I was a part of returned to Ft. Bragg, N.C., from an 18-month deployment to Afghanistan. It was a long deployment to a very involved combat zone.
I can recall how relieved and happy we all felt when we got on the plane to go home. “A successful mission and we lost no soldiers!”, is what everyone was saying. We are taught from basic training to always look out for your Battle Buddy, and to never leave a soldier behind. So, we returned home to parties, celebrations, awards, and our families. The unfortunate thing is that we forgot about our Battle Buddies.
Three days after we returned from our long and successful deployment, one of our soldiers died by suicide. It hit us all like a ton of bricks. How could we go from the everyday events of a deployment like running missions, playing cards, having cookouts, talking about our families and what we will do when we get home, to not checking on each other once we got home? I shared the weight of guilt of this loss. Like many of my fellow soldiers, I probably did not process it well, but I thought that I did.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2018. I had just completed my first year of Divinity School, and I have a firm idea that my career will be in Hospital Chaplaincy and/or Military Chaplaincy. I am still working full-time as a Staff Sergeant in the North Carolina National Guard and I feel that I have a good handle on being reflective and processing things in my life. I get a call one evening and I hear that one of my team members has died from suicide. I sat there quietly, mostly from shock.
Immediately I found myself with the same weight of grief I experienced 14 years prior. I felt like the grief of losing someone that I have worked with, who has had my back on many missions, would simply overtake me. In my sadness I realized that I cannot bear this alone. I needed to talk with people who would understand.
Grieving well will look different for each person who experiences a loss. In many occasions members of the military can be expected to have a “suck it up and drive on” outlook.
We all must find our way through the grieving process. Even our heroes can have wounds that you cannot see. I write this because sharing these two stories is part of my grieving process. As I was writing this blog an old Battle Buddy that I had not spoken to in 10 years just called me to see how I was doing. I see that God is still showing me God’s presence even in my sadness.
Military personnel who need help can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. Suicidal troops and veterans can call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1, for assistance, or text 838255.
Tarvick Linder serves as the Religious Support NCO for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment of the North Carolina National Guard. He is endorsed for Military Chaplaincy by CBF and will receive his M. Div from Duke Divinity School May of 2020.
 Kime, Patricia. “Active-Duty Military Suicides at Record Highs in 2018.” Military.com. January 30, 2019. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/01/30/active-duty-military-suicides-near-record-highs-2018.html.