'Theater' promotes anti-suicide discussion
September 12, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 12, 2013) -- Soldiers have not only been fighting off the enemies of their leaders since time immemorial, they have also been fighting off the mental demons that often come with the warrior's life.
Outside the Wire returned Sept. 5 with its unconventional way of approaching a topic and problem that is often difficult to speak about in public, yet one of the most troubling things the military is facing -- suicide.
Suicide is not a new phenomenon that Soldiers are facing in our century, but a timeless problem that was recognized as far back as the time of Sophocles, and "Theater of War," a dramatic reading of scenes from Sophocles' Greek tragedy "Ajax," tackled the sensitive topic.
"The play is an awareness and prevention training aid to help with discussions about suicide, combat stress and the impact of war on Soldiers, Families and the entire community," said Bryan Doerries, artistic director.
"We hear the most remarkable things about the plays we perform by the people who come into contact with the truth of the [performances]," he continued. "It is a problem that stretches across time. And these scenes show how ancient warrior culture applies to contemporary warrior culture. It shows how core military values have not changed for millennia and tries to tackle the invisible wounds of war."
The passionate reading of "Ajax" by Reg E. Cathey, who's been a part of "House of Cards," "American Psycho," and "Star Trek - The Next Generation," and Juliana Francis-Kelly, seen on shows such as "Sex and the City" and "The Girl from Monday," tells the story of a fierce warrior who slips into a depression in the ninth year of the Trojan War, after losing his friend, Achilles, and being slighted by his commanders. Struggling with survivor's guilt and betrayal, Ajax ultimately kills himself.
"We are trying to approach this differently and find new ways to address our challenges that we face," said Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander. "Look at the play, not from the perspective of, 'I don't feel suicidal so this doesn't apply to me,' but rather, 'How can I change our Army culture?'"
McRae said that, as bystanders, it is critical that everyone get involved and for people to stand up for those who need help.
"We have to change the culture of the Army, and part of the culture of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suicide and going through stressful times is a shame culture where they feel like they don't have any options and are considering making a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
"We have to change the culture of how we, the people who are not affected, view the situation so that they don't feel like they have to keep it hidden because they are afraid that their peers will think that they are weak or are a pariah, instead of the truth that they have just reached their limit," he continued. "We have to be there for them."
From a spouse to a veteran, experiences were exchanged from local volunteers who told how suicide affected their lives, what they learned, how the play related to moments in their life and what similarities they noticed.
Chaplain (Col.) Dennis Newton, garrison and U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chaplain, said that he once had a Soldier who lost his unborn son while he was deployed. The Soldier was not being permitted to go home to lay him to rest and was threatening to kill his commanding officer.
"As leaders we have to look deeper into situations," he said. "This Soldier was Catholic and the miscarriage of his son lay heavy on his heart, and that was something that his chain of command didn't understand. We have to understand our Soldiers, not just command them."
An open discussion was held after the reading, where people were able to respond to the play and share their own experiences -- stories Cathey said touched him deeply because he is an Army brat who once called Alabama his home, being born at Redstone Arsenal.
"It makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck hearing people's stories," he said. "I am in a selfish profession, and this is my way of using my craft and skills to help others. I had to be a part of this."
Doerries felt the same, saying that it is a privilege to perform for Soldiers and get them thinking.
"It brings meaning to the work that we do," he said. "It makes our job feel like a service to the men and women who serve our country, and it is an extreme privilege."