Ray Spencer recently died in Iraq at age 20. A United States Marine, Ray Spencer had been in Iraq on his second tour for only a few days when, according to the investigation he killed himself. The Marines classified his death as a “nonhostile incident.”
The PTSD Spirituality Blog has a focus on suicide prevention. The goal of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is to compel us into despair and self-death. PTSD damages our soul, inhibits our self-worth, and makes suicide appear to be a reasonable response. PTSD creates “nonhostile incidents” that cost men and women their lives and their loved ones immense agony. Trauma, civilian or military, can create the PTSD that then seeks to turn all of us into “nonhostile incidents.”
I was struck by an observation made in the Marine investigation of Ray Spencer’s death. According to his obituary: “The investigation uncovered no obvious reason for his suicide. His commanders did not believe he had been in a firefight during his time in Iraq, nor was anyone he knew seriously injured.”
On the one hand I am heartened that the Marines implicitly recognize that the experience of a firefight or watching a buddy get wounded or killed is a cause of PTSD and can lead to suicide. It is a sign of America’s progress and maturity that these experiences are now sometimes recognized as causes of PTSD. Fewer people and organizations are in complete denial any more.
On the other hand, the Marines’ observation is disheartening as it suggests how far America still has to go in recognizing the range of PTSD causes. PTSD can occur due to non-explicit traumas. Not every trauma involves an explosion. Something damaged this man’s soul. It drove him into despair and isolation and stole his life. It is discouraging that his commanders and other authorities were not people he thought he could go to for meaningful help. One would hope that the Marines would investigate the command climate that makes suicide appear more reasonable than talking with someone who might be able to help you. I do not desire an investigation meant to penalize, but one rather that would affirm the value of every Marine’s life. If the command climate changed so that suicidal troops felt safe in approaching their leaders, more lives would be saved.
Life in the military is plenty stressful, especially on a deployment. Significant, persistent stress is a normal baseline of the military culture. PTSD does not require an explosion to assault our souls.
Equally striking was Ray Spencer’s father’s comments: “My only worry was that people would think less of him because of it. He was a very kind and wonderful person and [I] just hope people can understand.”
Ray Spencer is a casualty of the Iraq War the same as anyone else killed in Iraq or who killed themselves later here at home due to their PTSD. He was a good man.
Many comfortable Americans look down their noses at PTSD fatalities. Often, the only time they acknowledge that PTSD exists is when they are condemning the person who has it. I encounter these sorts of people frequently. My commitment to non-violence means I frequently just walk away when it is apparent that they just want to blame the victim so that they don’t have to question why people would get PTSD and kill themselves. They fear to question the presuppositions that placed these victims at risk in the first place.
Ray Spencer’s father is correct if he is concerned that some folks will judge his son harshly. Those people are idiots. They are content to let others suffer. They choose if the suffering is worthy so as to avoid helping or taking any responsibility for improving the lives of others. It is an anti-life position focused solely on the self.
Ray Spencer was a good man. He died for his country.
***Please pray for Ray, his family and loved ones.
***Please also pray for those who are so stressed that suicide seems like a good option. They need out prayers.
***Please pray for those who are indifferent to civilian and military PTSD. They have a lot of growing up to do and prayers can help that growth.
***We pray that all may affirm life, including that of a recently deceased United States Marine.
Ray Spencer’s obituary is located at:
Semper Pax, Dr. Z
As you know, the U.S. Military has been experiencing more suicides in recent months than combat fatalities. Those are the suicides that they admit to. With the recent change of tactics and deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, that will probably change in the near-term, but not because of a decline in the number of suicides.