Did you even know we cared?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Marjorie A. Schurr
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Dear mentor,


To be honest, sir, I never liked you all that much.


Maybe this is a bit rude or callous. It’s certainly not the traditional way to start a letter to the person who shaped the foundation of one’s military career. But it’s the truth, and if there’s anything I can cling to amidst the uncertainty your absence leaves behind, it’s that.


I suppose that we might have gotten off on the wrong foot. You were the senior Army instructor of a Junior ROTC battalion in a hick-town high school. I joined the battalion a year later than most cadets, which to you probably showed a trait of indecisiveness and lack of commitment. I was your problem student from the start, from being unable to complete a single pushup to being too tall and lanky to fit in any of the hand-me-down uniforms we had in stock. Nothing about the situation would have you predisposed to liking me, either.


I was never supposed to do well in the program, and you seemed irritated that I wanted to do just that. To say we disagreed would be an understatement; we fought like cats and dogs. I felt unheard most of the time because you usually overrode me anyway. Looking back, I’m surprised you never gave me detention or some other formal punishment. I probably deserved it.


As time went on, however, our relationship relaxed a bit. It was still pretty clear that we didn’t like each other, but some sort of mutual respect had been built where none had existed before, the kind that arises when unstoppable force meets immovable object.


So it was a no-brainer when the time came for me to enlist in the military, when I was torn between two different jobs, that I would come to you for help. My family was pushing me into one career field, my heart into another. You encouraged me to follow my heart and ignore what anyone else told me I should do.


I followed your advice. I even asked you to administer the Oath of Enlistment. You had more influence on the start of my military career than anyone, even my recruiter. You’d call me at my office to arrange incentive flights for high school cadets, or to ask me to talk to them about the options the military offered them. You encouraged me when I expressed how afraid I was of my first deployment, and I went to war knowing that I had my mentor’s support.


Imagine my surprise, then, when I received the phone call last year that told me you’d committed suicide.


I’ll never forget that day. It was freezing outside my office window, and the world was wrapped in that cozy hush that only comes with fresh-fallen snow. That silence was ripped away from me and replaced with a screaming, roaring flood of questions inside my head.


When had I heard from you last? Had you shown any signs? Had I missed them? Should I have asked? Why hadn’t I contacted you earlier? Why hadn’t anyone?


But… wait.


Why hadn’t you contacted me? Didn’t you tell anyone at all? Didn’t you reach out to Military One Source? The VA hospital down the road from our school? A chaplain, a priest, a friend? Didn’t you know about the resources available to you?


Didn’t you know we cared?


It’s been a year since I got that phone call, sir. A year since I last saw you, though I’m not sure if seeing you in your coffin really counts. A year since these questions started, sir, and they haven’t stopped.


They never stop.


No, sir. I never liked you. But I’d be lying to say that I don’t miss you.


(If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide or the loss of someone to suicide, there are resources available to you. Please call Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647 or the Veteran’s Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.)