"Sending up the count" is something that's done when troops are out somewhere dark and dangerous, and the leader, normally up in front, wants to make sure everyone's still there. The leader whispers, "send up the count" to the next person, who whispers it to the next person, who whispers it to the next person and so on until it gets to the last person in line. That person starts the whispering back forward again, only this time, they start off by tapping the shoulder of the person in front of them saying "one". The next person taps the shoulder of the person in front of them and says "two". This continues until the person behind the leader in front taps the leader's shoulder with the number of people behind the first person in line.
We do this especially at night, when we can't see to the end of the line, or even see the next person. We do this to make sure all is well. We do this to make sure everyone knows that whoever's supposed to be there, front and back, is there. We do this to make sure those on the team are still with the team. And if someone is missing, we find them and bring them back into the group. [Emphasis mine]
In the last month, four Canadian Combat Veterans - who having survived deployment - have died at home, within days of each other. Now add one more, as in the last few days, another young Canadian Soldier ended his own life. Although each death is being investigated, (as are the other 70+ still being investigated) initial reports are calling these deaths suicide. I read somewhere the other day that since the current phase of this ongoing Global War On Terror, Canada has lost more than one hundred Veterans to suicide. Quite apart from the huge gaping holes left within those families, those communities, that number is beyond staggering when you consider that thus far in Afghanistan, 158 Canadian losses have occurred in the sandbox due to enemy action. In the US, various statistics claim that we lose 22 Veterans a day to suicide now outpacing Combat fatalities.
Those are just the ones we hear about. These numbers, which represent a horrific new 'normal' for their families after such a devastating loss, tell me that we are failing our Military men and women.
Veterans Day (US) and Remembrance Day(Commonwealth countries) may be over for another year, but we cannot just return to 'business as usual'. WE - yes, all of us - bear responsibility: our Military leadership; our politicians; our mainstream media, and yes, we civilians are failing our Military.
From where I sit, a very basic question arises: How can we fix this?
Dated 2009, I found this from the US:
September 23, 2009
How sad is this that our Veterans have to fight the governments when they return home. Sure, the politicians may say they "support our Troops" but talk is cheap. In the week prior to Remembrance Day, Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberals, challenged the Prime Minister to honour our commitments to Veterans.
Our politicians continue to fail our Veterans, and our Veterans continue to do at home what they did in the sandbox: fight for rights, but now they are fighting for their own rights. I came across a stunning statistic out of the US which claimed huge numbers of homeless and hungry Veterans. How can this be, that in NYC, for example and according to a recent article, thousands of Veterans are having to eat at soup kitchens??? That is just one city, and I have no way of verifying the truth of their claims. However, I wrote back in October of how the cuts to Military budgets in the UK are swelling the number of homeless Veterans there. Again, at least one volunteer group is working tirelessly to address that very real issue: Soldiers Off the Street.
Thank God there are these volunteer groups throughout Canada, the US and the UK who stand up for each other, while the fat-cat politicians obviously remain sitting down on their job. Something in the system is very broken, and regardless of the actual number, if there is even one Veteran living on the streets, that is an epic fail, in my opinion.
So what about the current batch of politicians who appear to be clueless about Military matters, and whose ignorance woefully fails our Troops and our Veterans? As things stand right now, not one of the leaders in the UK, Canada, or the US has served in our Military. They have no clue what it means to BE a Veteran. As I have watched our Troops and Veterans in the Global War on Terror, I have been anticipating that some of them would enter the political arena, but this is proving to be a very slow process. In Canada, as of May 2013, out of 4,210 Parliamentarians, a paltry 14 are listed as having Military Service (and one of those is an Honorary.) That is 0.3325416% in control of our Defence Department, all our Military policies..
From the US, I found this dated 2012:
And yes, there was this underneath the graph:
Military service by politicians is quickly nearing zero. Perhaps this is why many of our politicians are so trigger-happy these days. No one has fought and no one knows just what they are doing when they commit our soldiers overseas.
Ya think? What this underscores for me is that we need more politicians who ARE Veterans, who know what being in the Military actually means. When I was discussing this with another Veteran friend, they were quick to remind me of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan both being non-Veterans. Good point, but I would also suggest that both of those leaders, even as civilians, demonstrated their governmental, bureaucratic support for our Troops and Veterans. The Troops then knew they were supported. The world was a very different place then. Unlike today, where our political leaders continue to prove that they don't *get it*, even as they pay lip service to 'support the Troops' when absolutely necessary, it seems to me that Troops from the Reagan/Thatcher era never doubted the support from those leaders. It also seems to me, through the lens of hindsight, that Reagan and Thatcher were smart enough to listen to our Military leaders and defer to their expertise and experience (unlike the current crop of political leaders.)
As another Veteran friend (yes, I know a few!) pointed out to me recently: another part of the difference is the very low fatality rate in our current and recent wars. These low fatality rates are in large part due to military successes in trauma treatment, so that fewer troops have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan than on single days of earlier wars.
This obviously means that we have more Veterans, returning as Wounded Warriors, who have earned all the benefits that we as a society are obligated to provide. Our Veterans today, who would most assuredly have died in previous wars, are more visible, and yes, they are dealing with long-term issues that we, as a society, are failing to adequately and effectively address..
One of those issues is the terrible belief by some of our Troops and Veterans that the only option they have is to choose suicide.
As I heard somewhere recently: suicide is a symptom that becomes an unacceptable solution.
The Veteran friend initially quoted above had this to say about suicidal Veterans:
The reality is that suicidal veterans sometimes get raided because they admit they have a gun, who the hell is going to call that line?
Suicide is not prevented by strangers. It's prevented by friends, who notice their friend needs help, before it becomes suicidal ideation.
Powerpoints can’t fix this. Generals can’t fix this. Only individuals can fix this.
Too often civilians and even fellow veterans say and do all the wrong things. When a veteran’s life begins to derail, often those around him withdraw, making it worse. Often, those “friends” he had before the war, suddenly have nothing in common with him. Instead of just listening, they’re more concerned with their own, in his eyes, trivial, problems.
But, when veterans see broken promises, such as promises that “getting help won’t be held against you,” while those that do get help get screwed by the very military that makes the promise, they’re not going to get help. And getting (real) help isn’t seeing a shrink that has never been there, done that. It is finding someone that can help him find his own way through the challenges he’s facing, those challenges that seem to be becoming insurmountable.
Veterans are withdrawing from society, because increasingly society is self-absorbed and disconnected from what is important to our veterans.
A column from War On Terror News in 2009 reminds that this is not a recent phenomenon, but that within the GWOT environment, we must find solutions:
June 09, 2009
I could copy and paste all of this article, but instead would suggest you go read it here. For all the commonsense within it, it would be really helpful if some Generals also read it:
But with the advancement of communications, a General can watch a squad level engagement on the other side of the world in real time. The danger comes in when he tries to command that battle from the safety of his office....
Leadership, again. From where I sit, it is lack of leadership, both in the Military and governments that is sorely lacking. Our Troops, our Veterans and their families are paying the price.
Not only our Troops, but our Veterans, are missing the 'old style' leadership; leadership that undoubtedly saves their lives while in Combat, and can certainly save their lives once they become Veterans.
Today we see the old school Military leadership being deliberately being purged, as our politicians continue to declare - ignorantly and shortsightedly in my opinion - that "war is over." NO, it is not.
Still, our Military leaders, who know Combat first-hand, are leaving. Don't believe me? Take a look:
DISTURBING: The List Of Purged Military High Officers Under Obama
And there is this: [US] Army will cut almost 2,000 captains, majors
Where does all this leave our Veterans? In the same place as they were in the front-lines of the GWOT: relying on their battle buddies from the sandbox, the battle buddies who have been there, done that, and know what hell they have survived.
As another Veteran friend of mine recently commented: We are not broken. We are changed.
Who better to understand, and address those changes than another Veteran? As the politicians, and the Military leadership who has perhaps never seen Combat continue in their failure to understand, and implement, real help that could save lives, our Veterans are 'sending up the count', and adapting what worked in Combat into their post-combat lives.
Take a look at what Sgt Brian Harding has to say..
"We are reaching out to find guys who maybe have fallen through the cracks."
To this civilian, that even one of our Troops, our Veterans falls through the cracks is unacceptable.
I recently heard Canadian former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier interviewed on CBC radio, and his insights reinforce what Sgt Brian Harding and any other Veteran I know has said:
Hillier, who also served in Afghanistan as the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul in 2004, said he suffered only minuscule symptoms of PTSD when he returned home, having the occasional dream or waking up at night.
He credits his strong circle of friends and family for making him feel healthy and comfortable upon his return, but warns that not all soldiers are so lucky.
His final message to troops is to not be alone this holiday season.
"Don't be alone. Do not be alone over this period of time.
"If you've got a problem, we learned long ago in combat that there is no embarrassment in admitting a weakness. No embarrassment in approaching somebody else," Hillier said.
"You know, we entrust our battle buddies with our very lives on the battlefield, this is now a different battlefield, so trust them. Go talk to your battle buddies. Talk to them and tell them you've got a problem. [Emphasis mine]
There is much more here, which includes a link to the radio interview I mentioned above. If you haven't read Rick Hillier's biography, A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War, I highly recommend it.
As Pat Strogan says in the video above, these issues faced by our Troops and our Veterans are not just 'flavours of the day...there will be more suicides.' These issues our Troops and Veterans face on a daily basis MUST be addressed in the months and years to come. To do any less is to dishonour each and every one of our Military and their families. It is an epic fail by all of us.
Weeks ago, as I decided to write this column, I planned only to write a one-off. However, I have been reminded of the enormity of the failure of all of us to actively 'Support OUR Troops'... I deliberately say 'all of us' because from where I sit, there is more than enough failure to go around for all of us.
Despite my familial ties to our Military, and my close 'family' ties to many in the current Global War On Terror, as a civilian, no, I do not have the authority of our men and women who have risked and sometimes given all in Combat; nor would I ever claim such authority. However, after years of caring about our Troops, our Veterans, and our Military families - of watching and listening to them - I maintain my belief that we as civilians do have an irrefutable responsibility to stand with them.
We all must listen, learn and be educated by those most knowledgeable, our Combat Veterans. If we truly mean to respect and honour the Service and Sacrifice of our Troops, Veterans and their families, we need to do more than pay lip service. To say we 'support the Troops' is not enough. We ALL need to walk the walk. We need to demand our politicians also honour our Military Family. We need to address this 'unacceptable solution,' which - even during the course of my researching and writing this one article - has claimed more lives from our Military Family.
WE must not fail. Period.