Soldier's suicide leaves unanswered questions
March 6, 2009
- Spc. Jamie Dalton killed himself one night after drinking too much.
- He'd been deployed twice.
The suicide of Spc. Jamie Dalton, an Infantryman in B Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, in 2006 shocked everyone who knew him. Many of the warning signs weren't evident in Dalton's behavior or the things he said to friends.
"I couldn't believe that he had killed himself," said Ronie Dalton, his mother. "It was the last thing I would have ever thought about. I never worried about him ever taking his life."
Soldiers he served with said Dalton was a well-liked, competent Soldier, who was cool under fire and could be depended on.
"If you were in the worst place on earth, he was the guy you wanted beside you," said Staff Sgt. Robert Butler, one of Dalton's best friends. "As a Soldier, he knew what he was doing. He knew tactics and weapons, he could drive anything, and he was an expert marksman. There was nothing he couldn't do."
In high school, he was an accomplished student, a national merit scholar and a good athlete, earning a starting position on his high school football team. After high school, Dalton surprised his family by deciding to join the Army.
"He was such an individual we were surprised when he joined the military," his mother said. "He was such a strong-willed person.
"We found that he loved the Army, though. He loved the adventure."
However, Ronie said she saw subtle changes in her son when he returned from his second deployment from Iraq and confronted him about it.
She said her son talked about some intense and gruesome things he had seen during his combat tours in very matter-of-fact tones.
"Looking back, I can't believe we thought that what he was saying was normal, but that is how Soldiers cope with things," she said. "They see things that would horrify many of us, but they adjust to it in order to survive. I think it is tough for some people to reintegrate into what most people consider normal.
"I asked him about PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) because it was a hot topic at the time, but he said he didn't have anything like that," she said. "He thought he might have a little combat stress, however. He said that when he drank he could become really angry or emotional and that he would have to pay attention to it."
Before his second deployment, Dalton was demoted from sergeant to specialist after failing a drug test and transferred from A Company to B Company.
"Being away from Hardrock (A Company) was tough on him," Butler said. "During the next deployment, I know it tore him apart when he learned that some of his brothers had been killed and he wasn't there to protect them."
Aside from a few conversations and off-hand remarks about his wartime experiences, Dalton seemed to be adjusting well when he returned from his second deployment. He went out with his friends and attempted to stay connected with his family. Butler said that Dalton was looking forward to getting his rank restored and returning to A Company.
Which makes the events that happened on April 14, 2006, all the more puzzling and disturbing.
Ronie said Dalton was out with friends that night, and by all accounts, drank too much. Turning down several rides back to Kelley Hill, Dalton took a cab back to his barracks.
After arriving at his room, Dalton went into another Soldier's room to get something to eat. Soldiers who served with him said Dalton frequently did this. He would grab a few things and leave some money on the counter and apologize the next day. Most of them considered it funny and harmless.
"He always knew he could come into my room and take whatever he wanted," said Butler. "What was mine was his. It wasn't a big deal."
That night Dalton entered the room of a Soldier, who had just arrived from basic training and wasn't aware of Dalton's late night habits. He called the military police.
The MPs detained Dalton. Dalton wanted to change clothes before they took him away. The MPs allowed a runner to escort him up to his room.
He changed and grabbed a revolver and returned to the battalion day room with the runner. Dalton showed the weapon and told people to leave. Those who stayed in the room were told to sit on the couch. As they watched, Dalton took his own life.
The event shocked everyone in the brigade.
"When I found out the next morning, I couldn't believe it," Butler said. "I was shocked and hurt. I couldn't explain why it happened."
"He wasn't someone who was bitter or lashing out," Ronie said. "That night something shifted inside him. He wasn't planning on it."
Both recognize that alcohol was one of the factors that caused this tragedy.
"I know if he had been sober that he wouldn't have done it," Butler said.
"Obviously, there was some trauma in my son," Ronie said. "Maybe there were some things that were bothering him that weren't evident, even to him. That night, the alcohol was like lighting a match to that straw that was hidden inside him. I also wonder if a part of my son was worn down; if he had just had it."
Butler said he has quit trying to understand why his friend ended his life.
"There is really nothing to figure out," he said. "Who really cares why' It doesn't change anything. There isn't a reason that anyone can give me that will make me understand. I quit searching for reasons why a long time ago."
There isn't a day that goes by that Dalton's family and friends don't wish he was here with them. Ronie left California to be closer to the side of her son's life he rarely spoke about.
"I moved to Columbus to incorporate who he was into my life," she said. "I wanted his loss to be life affirming. Just because he is gone doesn't mean he still isn't a big part of my life."
Butler said that every suicide brief reminds him of his lost brother.
"It seems like I have a suicide brief once a month and it reopens the wound every time," he said. "I question myself every time. How did I not see it coming if he was so close to me' This guy was so close to me. Did I miss the signs' It's horrible."
These questions will never be answered because the person who can answer them is gone.
The chaplain of the 3rd HBCT, Maj. David Lile, said that Dalton's suicide was preventable.
"The main part of the tragedy that played out was brought on by alcohol," he said. "Alcohol can numb your sense of reality and make people unable to grasp the fullness of life. Alcohol, like any depressant, doesn't give you an accurate sense of how things really are around you."
Lile said he believes Dalton allowed his problems to overwhelm his decision making that night.
He hopes other Soldiers will use the suicide to see that life's problems should not limit their view of its value.
Life is complex," he said. "It's not easy. If we reduce it down to situations, we can lose sight of that. The tragedy of that situation was that Spc. Dalton didn't allow his life to be lived out in its fullness."