ARLINGTON, Va. – The day Army Sgt. Sheldon Benjamin’s friend asked him if he wanted his TV, Sheldon knew that something just wasn’t right.
“He was real teary faced -- a way that I just wasn’t used to seeing him,” said Benjamin, an infantryman with Honor Guard Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). “I told him to [unlatch] his door and that I would be over there in a little bit.”
When Sheldon arrived to his friend’s room, he was shocked at what he saw. Instantly, he knew his friend was in trouble.
“When I went into his room, there were weird things I just wasn’t used to seeing,” Benjamin said. “His room was really messy. There were little pills on the floor and the desk counter, and when I looked at his computer, I saw a MoneyGram website for transferring money.”
However, no warning sign was more apparent than when Benjamin heard these four words: “I’m done with this.”
Immediately, Benjamin staged an intervention, calling on other soldiers to come and sit with his friend while he went and sought help.
“I was relieved,” said Army Spc. Andre Whyne, an infantryman with 4th Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “I was really stressed out. I had a lot on my mind at that time, like family and a little bit of financial issues, and it all just caved in on me. When Benjamin and the other guys responded the way they did, I knew someone actually cared about me and was there for me.”
Whyne gained hope after seeing how his comrades reacted to his distress. He credits the quick actions of Benjamin and his battle buddies, as well as the immense support of his unit, for saving his life. As he took steps toward his recovery, he said, members of The Old Guard were with him every step of the way.
“After everything happened, I was in the hospital for two weeks, and every day someone from my platoon came to visit me,” Whyne said. “It felt good to have people there who understood me and what I was going through.”
Whyne said Army Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Denning reached out to him not only as a source of spiritual strength, but also as a friend and a listening ear.
“At first I was very closed and didn’t want to talk about it, but we continued to have regular meetings, and sometimes he would take me out to lunch,” Whyne said. “Eventually, I was able to open up to him.”
Denning said relating to Whyne on a more personal level was key.
“For me, the difference I can make is to get to know someone for who they really are outside of just the Army,” the chaplain said. “I think everyone has worth, and being able to walk through that journey with Whyne was important. Caring about someone is not just what I say, but what I do.”
Whyne went back to work immediately following his release from the hospital, although he said his chain of command was willing to give him as much time as he needed.
“The biggest role that the unit has to play is leaders and other soldiers not only have to be aware and alert to a soldier who is suicidal, but also have to be willing to step up and take action,” said Army Col. Michelle Roberts, Military District of Washington public affairs officer, who worked for two years on an Army suicide-prevention task force.
“With the way everyone rallied around [Whyne] and helped him through that rough time, it was natural for him to come back to work, because he still felt like part of the team,” she added.
Thanks to tremendous support, Whyne said, his outlook on life has definitely changed.
“I really didn’t see where my life was going at that time, but now I know things aren’t as bad as I thought they were,” he said. “I once thought everyone was in their own world and nobody cared about each other, but now I know differently.”
Whyne said he hopes his story will inspire other soldiers to reach out to someone if they are in a desperate place.
“Talk to your closest buddy in the Army or someone in your squad or platoon,” he said. “They will help you through it. Without the help of my battle buddies, I never would have made it.”