Friday Night Story


Sergeant Ruocco hanged himself.

We were scheduled to leave in a week. It was going to be our second tour; we'd been on nearly 75 missions together. Our sergeant was solid- solid as a rock. And that was the trouble. He was our go-to man, the one we all looked up to and tried to be like, the one we brought our problems to.

He didn't want to go back. But he couldn't take time away from combat, because he knew that would be taking time away from us- letting us all down- and he couldn't do that. I think that's why he never took time for R&R- though that was nothing special- less than 5% of soldiers in-theater take R&R. But he couldn't face another tour in Iraq, and probably two more in Afghanistan after that.

I don't think he was afraid to die, but now, I recognize the way he carried it when we lost people. I know things weren't perfect at home; I don't care how much love you've got, a world of separation will test any marriage. But maybe if he'd had more time with his family, more time to just decompress...

I'm not saying I blame the bosses. This isn't PTSD, they're not trying to hide it or anything, we're just reacting too slowly. Our suicide rates have doubled in the last four years. We can be in a country a world away at a moment's notice, but it still takes time to reform an entire culture.

The Army's doing what it can. The Surgeon General of the Army is asking for more mental health professionals to join up. The Army itself is asking for help- that's a step- hopefully one we can emulate, the way we used to with Ruocco.

We loved our sergeant, trusted him; from what I've read, that trust kept a lot of us safe, but it also kept us healthier, mentally. I worry about us now, without him, with another NCO coming from outside our squad, someone we don't know, and won't trust for at least a little while. I don't think the sarge thought about that, but I can't really hold it against him, either. It wasn't the sergeant's weakness, it was all of ours.

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