In the wake of soldier's suicide, understanding and strength

Julie Sherwood

Cpl. Mike Hobart became one of the military’s grim statistics on Oct. 17, 2005, when he shot himself in a field near Fort Drum while on leave from combat duty in Iraq.

Suicides in the U.S. Army will hit a new high this year, with the number of active-duty suicides so far at 140 in 2009, matching last year’s record. Concerns about stress on U.S. forces grow, particularly in light of the anticipated buildup of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Cpl. Hobart’s widow, Tricia Hobart, noticed her husband wasn’t right during a two-week leave from combat duty in Iraq in the fall of 2005. After leaving his Naples home, he was to receive treatment for nerve damage sustained in battle. Tricia knew her husband was disturbed by things he had witnessed in Iraq, as well as the suicide of a friend in his unit. But he didn’t say much about it. Now, four years later, she shares her thoughts.

Tricia and children, Kelsey, 16; Paige, 14; and Mika, 11, live in Naples.

Q: How did your husband’s suicide affect you and your family?

A: The first thing you learn quickly is who your real friends are. Our lives will never be the same. We look at everything through different eyes now. What used to matter doesn’t and what does now matter never did before. Kelsey, Paige and Mika were robbed of their innocence early in life after losing their dad. They had to grow up fast and deal with things kids never should have to think about when they were 12, 10, and 7 years old, like what am I going to wear to dad’s funeral, who will protect us if someone breaks into our house, what will Father’s Day be like, and who will give me away at my wedding.

The stigma that comes along for those left behind is horrible. Many people, both family and friends, talked about “why” Mike killed himself, because they had to find someone to blame for what Mike did.

I had to teach my daughters to believe that no matter what was said by people that their dad was a hero in the Army, as a dad, a husband and, most importantly, that Mike loved us and didn’t do this to hurt us. Both kids and adults have said and done some pretty mean things to us because of their ignorance and lack of knowledge of understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My daughters and I have grown to become very strong and very independent from our experience having to deal with military suicide.

Q: What is your reaction to the rising number of suicides by soldiers who are, or have, served in Iraq or Afghanistan?

A: I saw it coming and I feel really bad for the families that have gone through what we have or that will be going through it in the future. After seeing what a year of deployment in Iraq did to my husband, I felt that there would be many more suicides to follow.

Mike was a very loving, caring and understanding man, but after being in Iraq for many months, things changed his behavior. The men and women, after being there in times of war, are changed for life in one way or another. Some learn to deal with their nightmares and flashbacks of what they saw and did while there, and some cannot put it behind them. Unfortunately, for those men and women that can’t put it behind them, suicide is one of the ways they choose to deal with life after war.

Q: What do you think the government, VA, and/or others should do to help prevent these suicides?

A: I feel the military needs to do more to educate the family members on what to look for and what we could do to get the soldier the help they need. The soldiers are put in training for weeks before they are deployed to war, and they should also have to spend weeks after coming home to help them deal with everything they just experienced during war.

The military needs more mental health professionals to work with the returning soldiers to help them understand how they feel and to teach them to deal with all aspects of what happened over in Iraq and Afghanistan. VA should not be closing down mental health wings of their hospitals but adding help with the rising number of vets that are now reaching out for help but have nowhere to go.

These men and women put their lives on the line for us back here to keep our freedom, but when they get home and need help, some felt they have nowhere to turn to other than suicide. The soldiers need to know people are willing and wanting to help them get through their troubles, and that is OK to feel the way they do. But in time and with work they can learn to deal with most everything, and that people care about them and love them.

Daily Messenger (Canandaigua, N.Y.)