Marines, sailors march for suicide awareness

CAMP PENDLETON – Chad Robichaux, a Force Recon Marine and former MMA fighter, spoke to Marines and sailors Friday about the military lives lost to war and the far greater number of military lives lost to suicide.

“I was thinking about how as a young Recon Marine I’d respond to a suicide pep talk,” said Robichaux. “I’d probably be a little arrogant and not want to listen. But I’ve been on the other side of it. After eight deployments to Afghanistan in the special operations community, I know that’s one extreme. The other is just military service and the stress it brings. Military life will change you 100 percent. The change will be either for the worse or the better, that’s up to you.”

Robichaux now runs the Mighty Oaks Warrior Program, dedicated to curtailing the high veteran suicide rate and helping American military and their families suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He spoke at the seaside base as part of the second annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk.

“We lost 6,882 in combat since 9/11,” he said “But the more significant number is the 22 lives a day from suicide. Since 9/11 we’ve lost 120,000 to suicide. We learn to push through in our mission but sometimes, we can’t push through in our personal lives.”

Robichaux relayed the story of a Marine wife he recently counseled. Her husband had shot himself standing in the street surrounded by police. The last thing he said to police was, “Tell my wife, I’m doing this for her,” Robichaux said.

“She later told me, ‘Suicide didn’t take away my husband’s pain, it just transferred the pain to those that loved him.’”

The suicide prevention walk was held by the 1st Dental Battalion. More than 1,000 Marines and sailors walked three miles around the Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital. Marine Corps Community Services set up booths providing information on resources and support programs.

“It’s very important we talk about the things that may not be easily spoken about,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Anna Wood, the command master chief with 1st Dental Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group.

“It provides an opportunity for those who may need assistance,” she said. “When you have a large group of people all walking for the same reason, it opens people up to talk about what’s bothering them because they feel more comfortable with the situation and know they are not alone.”

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report issued in 2012 put veteran suicides at 22 a day. A broader study that examined 55 million veteran records, released in 2014, shows the suicide rate at 20 a day.

Those numbers are well beyond what the civilian world sees, said Kolin Williams, a veterans counselor at Saddleback College who also teaches a course on reentering civilian life at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton.

“Creating awareness on the base does two things,” Williams said following Friday’s event. “It puts out the recognition that vets are still dying by suicide at a higher rate than the civilian community and it brings the community together. Instead of hiding it, they are addressing it and taking a stand.

“Committing suicide is a shameful thing. If you have someone who commits suicide that you were close to and you didn’t recognize it,” he said. “It’s a trickle down effect and everyone needs to be aware.”

This semester, more than 500 veterans are taking classes at Saddleback College. All of them go through Williams’ Boots to Books introductory class.

“It (suicide) is always a topic with my students,” he said. “I don’t have to ask but I put it out there. You can’t take a chance. You can’t think someone is OK and let them walk out the door. Suicide is the No. 1 thing we’re worried about.”

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