Lee’s note: This is the third column from MSG Brian Gilly, a retired Army SOF veteran, who is my newspaper’s new military affairs columnist. Please share with other veterans.
Gilly: On veterans, thoughts of death and reasons to live
I’d take a little time and tell you how it feels to get out of the military after serving for 23 years with the majority of those training for or deploying to war.
For me it came kind of unexpectedly. I was in a leadership position and loving life. I did have some concerns of my physical well being — I was starting to get a lot of pain in certain areas but it would come and go.
When my troop deployed I was so excited.
I finally had my own troop.
We had a crazy mission for this rotation — very dangerous. I really had to make sure the bang was worth the buck before we loaded up on helicopters and risked getting shot out of the sky.
As this deployment went on, I started having bad pains in my legs — sharp, shooting pains that would launch me out of my seat.
I knew something wasn’t right. My medic, who was damn near a genius and a physical freak of nature, thought I needed another back surgery. I had already, years before, had a discectomy done to my lower back, I also got an artificial disc put in my neck. So yeah, I was kind of “blade running” and had been for years, but I was able to stay in the fight.
But this time the pain was unbearable.
As this deployment continued, my medic recommended that I should go home but I just couldn’t. Now, if I was in a different position, where I could put guys in jeopardy because of my health, I would have. But since I was a leader, I felt I could continue, so I did.
My medic developed a workout program to help me along. He and I also scheduled another surgery for when I returned.
Before we even left, I was checked out by doctors. They thought I needed another surgery as well.
I survived this deployment and so did all my guys, except for some minor injuries, from which they recovered completely.
We returned in July of 2016. I had my surgery in early August.
They put six rods and six screws in my back. Actually, it could still use some more.
During the recovery I realized — and it was a hard realization — that this was it. I had reached the end of what I could do physically in the military.
So, I got with our unit doctors and started a medical retirement. This process consisted of a lot of medical appointments, and they evaluated everything. I had already gone to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence clinic up in Bethesda, Maryland. They diagnosed that I also suffered from TBI (traumatic brain injury), depression, anxiety, low testosterone and some other issues.
A bunch of other injuries were diagnosed — bottom line, my medical retirement was approved. I was “totally and permanently disabled.”
Those were tough words to hear, and to think just a few months earlier I was overseas, in combat.
This entire medical retirement process took about six months. During that time, my unit let me go to my medical appointments, but that was basically it. This is where my real depression kicked in.
Just knowing I wasn’t part of the game anymore killed me. Showing up to work and not being a part of everything killed me. I did a lot of driving around town, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing — just driving. My motorcycle was my only relief.
Then came my last day of being a part of my unit and the Army. My unit asked if I wanted a big retirement ceremony. I said no. I came in quietly, I’d leave quietly. My guys did throw a quick going-away party, and presented me with a few items. After that ceremony, I simply walked to my truck and drove out the gates for the last time as a unit member.
I was crushed. I really didn’t know what to do. I actually did nothing for quite a bit of time, which was really not good — not good at all.
I struggled for a while — heck, I still struggle to this day. I retired at the end of 2017, so it hasn’t been that long.
Nowadays, I see so many of my fellow brothers and sisters who are still struggling — struggling to the point that they think suicide is the only option.
I understand that, but we can’t accept it.
I can’t say I’ve never thought about suicide, but I can say I have never truly thought about it as an option.
When I was at my lowest, I had relationship problems, and I was full of alcohol, sitting in my back room with my pistol sitting next to me.
I started to think, “Is it the answer?”
Then, I reached out to a couple friends of mine. We chatted a bit. Afterward, I started to think of all the reasons suicide shouldn’t become the answer.
My dad, who had already passed on, and who was so proud of me. I couldn’t do that to him.
I can’t wait to see him, but just not now — not now.
My mother? God, how would she feel? She would be crushed. Nope, not the answer.
I’ve never given up on anything. so I decided I couldn’t give up on myself.
I’ve been through a lot of hard schools in the Army. Actually, pretty much all the ones that make you regret ever showing up. Never mind all the gunfights I’ve been in and survived. I couldn’t go out like that.