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
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. (The two images above and below were created
by USA Patriotism! from 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.
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.”
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.”
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
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
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