Soldier Advocates Suicide Prevention
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Twin brothers Earl and Joseph Granville were brothers by blood as well as brothers in arms. They were bunkmates in basic training and deployed twice together overseas. But everything changed after retired Army Staff Sgt. Earl Granville's third deployment with the Pennsylvania National Guard.
"This time I cut the cord and went by myself," Earl said.
He deployed to Afghanistan with the 1/109th Infantry Regiment in December 2007 and lost his left leg to a roadside bomb.
"Of everyone in my family, my twin brother took it pretty hard," said Earl. "After I got hurt, he was told he couldn't go to Iraq on a deployment he already had orders for. They sent his wife instead and it was just a downward spiral from there."
On Dec. 18th, 2010, Joseph, staff sergeant, took his own life.
"The signs were there. I just didn't realize there were signs until he left," said Earl.
Suicide rates across the military have been on the rise for the past decade with the Army reporting the highest rates, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The foundation also noted that deployed and previously deployed soldiers have the highest suicide rate of all active duty servicemembers.
Earl recently took a trip to Afghanistan as part of Operation Proper Exit. The operation allows wounded soldiers to go back to the combat theater they were medically evacuated from to check progress in the region and leave on their own terms.
During the visit, the wounded warriors spoke to soldiers at Camp Nathan Smith, located in the middle of Kandahar City. Most of the servicemembers told stories about their injuries and the long recovery process. After briefly introducing himself and his injury, Earl began to tell his brother's heartbreaking story to the group of young soldiers, much like the Granvilles themselves.
"When the soldier talked about his brother taking his own life after he got injured, it made me realize that I need to be thankful for the people in my life," said Cpl. Gavin Ching, a Hawaii Army National Guard soldier deployed to Kandahar province. "I made sure to call my family the next day to wish them happy holidays and let them know that I love them."
Earl shared his experience with the Camp Nathan Smith soldiers an many others throughout the trip, in hopes that those they will be more vigilant and take steps to see the potential signs of suicide.
The Army has implemented several programs to reduce its suicide rates and keep soldiers resilient, and is now working to consolidate those programs into a more streamlined pool of resources according to Jackie Garrick, the interim director of the Defense Suicide Office.
Garrick told the Defense Health Board she wants to focus on outreach more than emphasize a reduction of the perceived stigma of seeking help. She also noted that programs using veterans as counselors have had a successful track record.
"Is it good enough to put a poster on a wall and wait by the phone," she asked. "I don't think so. We have to turn this paradigm around and get in front of this problem."
Earl attributed much of his post-injury recovery to counseling, and is now going to school full time to become a counselor focused on veterans' needs He urges rank-and-file soldiers, or Joes, currently in the combat theater to get help while they're deployed if they feel like they might be in trouble.
"Leaders, look after your Joes and look after yourselves as well," he said. "See those signs. If somebody's having a bad day that turns into a bad month, encourage them to talk to someone."