Quick reaction, training saves troop's life
September 28, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas -- A spouse's cry for help and quick reactions from cadre saved a Warrior Transition Brigade Soldier's life here.
"If it wasn't for their direct involvement and quick reaction time, the Soldier would have been gone," Capt. Jose DaCunha, commander, Company A, WTB, said. "The Soldier intended to die."
When WTB squad leaders Sgt. Todd Middlebrook and Staff Sgt. Charlotte Trabue intervened during a suicide attempt, they illustrated a key component in Fort Hood's campaign to prevent suicides.
"Being active in preventing suicide and being an active part of eliminating the perceived stigma of asking for help are two of the most important things we can do today as Soldiers," III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr. said.
As September is observed as Suicide Prevention Month, a more visible emphasis has been placed on awareness and prevention, and many have stepped up to share success stories and beg those who need help to obtain it.
The suicide attempt from an unassuming Soldier was not expected last year around Christmas, Middlebrook and Trabue, who were recently awarded Army Commendation Medals for their actions that day, said.
"He was always so calm," Trabue said. "He was just real quiet."
Not a troublemaker, the Soldier made all of his appointments consistently and took his medications as prescribed, she added.
Something was different on that December day.
The Soldier's spouse called Trabue and alerted her that the Soldier was behaving erractically. He took the car keys and locked himself in the bathroom.
This was especially upsetting because the Soldier's profile restricted him from driving, Trabue said.
The wife was calling Trabue from the car where she and the couple's children had fled.
"She wanted cadre to come get him," Trabue said.
Trabue notified the Soldier's platoon sergeant, who called the wife because the two knew each other.
When the platoon sergeant spoke with the spouse, she advised that the Soldier was sitting on the living room floor.
It was only the calm before the storm.
Trabue, Middlebrook and the platoon sergeant decided to drive to the house, so they made preparations to get a car from the motor pool.
That planning process was interrupted by another call from the distressed Soldier's wife.
"The wife called again," Middlebrook said. "The Soldier was throwing stuff then locked himself in the bedroom."
The three jumped in Trabue's car and headed to the Soldier's off-post home.
On the way, Middlebrook stayed on the phone talking to the wife and letting her know when they would arrive.
"I just kept her talking," Middlebrook said. "I tried to keep her mind off things."
The wife told Middlebrook that she was on the home's front porch and the children were outside. She said the Soldier had gotten quiet and she assumed he was taking a nap, Middlebrook said.
When the cadre members arrived at the house, the platoon sergeant stayed outside and talked to the Soldier's wife while Middlebrook and Trabue went inside to talk to the Soldier.
"We knocked on the bedroom door," Trabue said. "We told him, 'We're here to help you,' but there was no answer."
The door was locked, so Middlebrook and Trabue got a small tool and unlocked the door.
"I knocked again and told him, 'We are about to open the door,'" Trabue said.
When the cadre members opened the door, they could not see their Soldier. Then, they looked in the closet.
"He had several plastic bags over his head, duct taped tightly around his neck," Middlebrook said. "He was unconscious."
Middlebrook and Trabue tore open each of the layers of plastic bags, but the Soldier was unresponsive.
"We picked him up, put him on the bed," Middlebrook said.
The cadre were shaking and slapping the Soldier, hoping for a response. Middlebrook was talking to him, encouraging him to wake up, while Trabue rubbed his sternum.
"He was breathing," Trabue, a medic, said. "He reacted to the pain stimulus of the sternum rub."
Middlebrook kept shaking the Soldier and talking to him, hoping to rouse him.
"I was telling him, 'We're your Family. You don't have to do this,'" Middlebrook said.
The Soldier finally gasped and regained consciousness.
"He had a frustrated look on his face," Middlebrook said about when the Soldier realized his attempt was unsuccessful. "He did not want to breathe."
Middlebrook kept talking.
"I was telling him, 'You don't have to do this. You gotta be here for your kids,'" Middlebrook said.
The Soldier broke down and cried.
Trabue had the platoon sergeant call 911 and keep the wife and children out of the room. When the paramedics and police arrived, the Soldier refused to talk to them. Trabue stayed with the Soldier and convinced him to talk to the medics.
Middlebrook and Trabue credit their Army training for their prompt and life-saving reactions.
"Everything just happened," Trabue said. "We did not expect to walk into that situation."
That Soldier had two previous suicide attempts, she added.
"It makes you more aware that it could be any Soldier. You have to watch everything -- the quiet ones, the loud ones … you have to let them know you're interested," Trabue said.
"The Soldier is doing great (now)," Middlebrook said.
With therapies including in-patient behavioral health and marriage counseling, the Soldier has become a success story.
"They're still together," Trabue said of the couple.
Their actions that day were not out of the norm for the two noncommissioned officers or their commander. DaCunha makes it his job to know his Soldiers. Every evening, he takes some time to catch up on how his Soldiers are doing.
"Every weekend, I call five Soldiers," he said. "It's time consuming, but I balance my duties. It's the right thing to do."
DaCunha still meets with the Soldier and said he has seen leaps of progress.
"I always try to let my Soldiers know they can call me," Trabue said. "It lets them know I genuinely do care. I really do care about all of my Soldiers. I want them to call before they get to that point."
"Anytime," he said, "I don't care when or what time, Soldiers can call me."