Retired Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient, and Frank Larkin, a former Navy SEAL and Secret Service agent, are promoting an initiative to encourage veterans to reach out to one another in an attempt to thwart suicides.
Both of them have suffered traumatic life-altering tragedies and want to make sure no veteran feels isolated, especially in light of the situation in Afghanistan.
There were 377 active-duty service members who died by suicide in 2020, up from 348 from the year before, according to the Department of Defense Quarterly Suicide Report. In 2016, there were 280 such deaths.
The two vets have worked together to create a “National Warrior Call Day,” a specific day to promote reaching out to others. Reps. Liz Cheney and Elaine Luria introduced a resolution in June and, if passed, would designate Nov. 21, 2021, for the commemoration.
Even with the November date three months away, both are concerned about what the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the terrorist attack that killed at least a dozen U.S. military members and more than a hundred in total are doing to veterans’ mental health.
“Unfortunately, it feels like we're abandoning our folks we went to go help,” Petry told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “And now, a lot of our veterans, hopefully, don't look at this as our Vietnam and say, what did we go there for? What we lose lives? Therefore, why did we sacrifice so much? Nothing's going to change. This is going right back to where it was.”
Petry, who deployed eight times, was given the nation’s highest military award for valor in combat for the courageous actions that resulted in the loss of his right hand. While under fire near Paktya Province, Afghanistan on May 26, 2008, he picked up a live grenade near him and two wounded Rangers to throw it away from them when it detonated.
Despite having his “own struggles” with the situation in Afghanistan, Petry explains that he doesn’t “feel like I had abandoned” anyone anymore because “I realized that I didn't make the decision to pull out of Afghanistan.”
He described their mission as "not letting people feel that despair, that the sacrifice [was] for nothing, or that they're not worth anything anymore because they're not uniform."
Suicide hits home for Larkin, who lost his son, Ryan, in 2017 after he spent 10 years of service as a Navy SEAL operator and explosives breacher.
Before his death, the younger Larkin told his father he wanted his body donated to traumatic brain research, according to the Capital Gazette, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center found that Ryan had an undiagnosed microscopic brain injury from blast exposure.
Frank Larkin, as he dedicated himself to veterans issues and advocacy, “realized that there were a lot of veterans who were disconnected and going down the same path he was going down,” which is why he’s now trying to prevent veterans from “sliding into dark places.”
President Joe Biden decided months ago to pull the troops out of Afghanistan at the end of August, but during the withdrawal, the Taliban toppled the Afghan government in an 11-day offensive that surprised officials in the United States. As a result, Western countries have begun evacuating their own citizens and allied Afghans who would be at risk under the Taliban rule.
The U.S. and coalition forces got off to a slow start evacuating people but have picked up the pace significantly in recent days. More than 110,000 people have been evacuated from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, this month, with all but approximately 5,000 having come since August 14.
An ISIS-K operative detonated a suicide vest and killed 13 U.S. service members, more than 100 people in all, and wounding countless others on Thursday at the gates of the airport. The death toll could continue to rise.
The president, amid concerns of additional attacks, vowed to find those responsible, saying in his first address after the strike, "We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay."
Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to the self-imposed Tuesday deadline to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan despite international pressure amid concerns that it would not allow for enough time to complete all necessary evacuations.
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Original Author: Mike Brest
Original Location: Two veterans team up to fight military suicides amid Afghanistan withdrawal