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Two Sons Lost, Two Battles - A Resilient Family
by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Shelman Spencer
October 2017

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The United States is going into its 17th year against the war on terrorism. A long with that fight, many service members battle the invisible wars; anxiety, depression, suicide, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and many other unseen wounds.

One military family lost two sons - one to the struggle with mental illness and one to the battlefield.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Mark Graham and his wife Carol, who lost their sons, recently spoke to service members about the importance of resiliency while visiting Fort Sam Houston.

Standing behind the lectern, on the stage of the Fort Sam Houston Theater, Mark recounted events that devastated his family and life as they knew it.

August 25, 2017 - Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Mark Graham recently spoke to service members at the Fort Sam Houston Theater about the importance of resiliency and how two tragic deaths changed his family’s lives forever. Mark and his wife Carol, who lost both sons, one son Kevin to suicide as a senior ROTC cadet, and the other son Jeff seven months later was killed in Iraq by an IED while he was leading a foot patrol. The Graham’s goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental healthcare and showing that coming forward is a sign of strength not weakness. (This is one of two images created by USA Patriotism! from splitting a U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shelman Spencer)

August 25, 2017 - Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Mark Graham recently spoke to service members at the Fort Sam Houston Theater about the importance of resiliency and how two tragic deaths changed his family’s lives forever. Mark and his wife Carol, who lost both sons, one son Kevin to suicide as a senior ROTC cadet, and the other son Jeff seven months later was killed in Iraq by an IED while he was leading a foot patrol. The Graham’s goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental healthcare and showing that coming forward is a sign of strength not weakness. (The two images above and below were created by USA Patriotism! from a U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shelman Spencer)

This image of Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Mark Graham now dead sons was in a slide show during Mark Graham's remarks to service members at the Fort Sam Houston Theater on August 25, 2017 about the importance of resiliency and how two tragic deaths changed his family’s lives forever. Mark and his wife Carol, who lost both sons, one son Kevin to suicide as a senior ROTC cadet, and the other son Jeff seven months later was killed in Iraq by an IED while he was leading a foot patrol. The Graham’s goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental healthcare and showing that coming forward is a sign of strength not weakness. (This is one of two images created by USA Patriotism! from splitting a U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shelman Spencer)

“We lost both of our sons, one son Kevin to suicide as a senior ROTC cadet, and our other son Jeff seven months later was killed in Iraq by an IED while he was leading a foot patrol,” Mark said.

Mark continued, “Thinking 14 years ago, how we would even be breathing today was something we didn’t think we’d be able to do, but we have. We knew that something good had to come from our sons’ deaths. We wanted to tell other people and provide hope for others.”

The Graham’s goal is to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental healthcare by showing people that coming forward is a sign of strength not weakness.

“We need to make this about healthcare not just about mental health and physical health, it needs to be completely integrated into our overall healthcare, and I think we’re starting to see our nation move in that direction,” Mark said.

For a long time, many Soldiers believed a dark cloud of shame would hover over their career and inevitably deterring them from seeking the care they need.

“The biggest change is the military embracing this [resiliency] and the cultural shift we’ve seen,” Carol said.

“In the beginning suicide was unspeakable, no one was talking about suicide. After Jeffrey died, everyone wanted to talk about him, but we were still trying to find the balance with the stigma of Kevin death and his battle,” she continued. “They died fighting different battles.”

Too often, many service members go from fighting on the battlefield to fighting a mental battle that no one see’s, hence the invisible war.

“We do believe our sons died fighting different battles. Kevin died fighting a battle in his mind and Jeffrey was fighting a battle in a foreign land. They were both fighting battles, but Kevin’s battle was invisible,” said Mark.

Leadership from the top down to each squad leader needs to know where care is provided for their Soldiers, their friends or themselves.

“The biggest difference I’ve seen is leadership in the military embrace this. We weren’t the only people talking about [suicide],” said Carol.

“At every level – it has to get all the way down to the platoons and the squads – the NCO’s and officers at the middle grades need to embrace it and understand it and it’s not a sign of weakness, not a character flaw, its real – depression, mental illness is real,” said Mark.

“There is care available, they do belong, everybody is irreplaceable – that’s the way I think of it,” Carol said. “Being mindful of self-care and to know when you need to self-refer because we can’t read each other’s minds.”

“Resilience to me is knowing how to get help and where to get help. It’s not being the toughest one in the room or the one that can go through the most – to me being resilient is when you know that something's not right and to go get help,” said Mark.

Everyone has a breaking point, everyone’s going through something – once you recognize that you find people that you can trust and lean on for help.

Resiliency is about bouncing back, we’re all going to have bad stuff happen in our lives, we’re all going to have loved ones die, we’re going to lose someone we love – things are going to happen. Sometimes they happen in a hurry and you have no idea but, you can make a choice - am I going to go on living or lay down and die, am I going to be a victim or a survivor, said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, Commander, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army).

The definition of resiliency, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the ability to become stronger, healthy or successful again after something bad happens.

By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Shelman Spencer
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2017

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