I want to make a couple quick comments on the furor over Major General Dana Pittard’s blog post that soldiers who kill themselves are being selfish, and his exhortation that those thinking of suicide should just buck up and face their problems like an adult. “Suicide is an absolutely selfish act,” he wrote to his official blog recently (an entry since deleted). “I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess.”
First, I know Dana Pittard. He’s now the commanding general of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas. I served as a platoon leader in the cavalry troop he commanded in 1988 and I worked in his brigade’s AOR in Iraq in 2004. This is probably the first dumb thing he’s said or done in his career.
Dana can be a little stiff, but he’s an experienced combat leader who cares about individual soldiers and their families as much as he does the Army itself. Which is to say an enormous amount.
Second, I hope he and other military leaders will learn from this gaffe and begin to listen to PTSD survivors, especially those of us who have been suicidal, about what this injury does to us and about what it feels like. It isn’t something you can just get over like a high school break-up.
It is debilitating and insidious, working at every level of your consciousness; it changes the size of the brain and its function. Speaking up, asking for help, demands more moral courage than many brave men and women can muster.
This is principally because of a generalized sense throughout the Army that PTSD is a weakness rather than an injury or a wound. Comments like those Pittard made–I can only presume out of frustration rather than from an informed, thoughtful position–deepen this ignorance and weaken the resolve of soldiers who might need help. Listen up, General.