Sensing session: Fort Hood Soldier shares struggle with suicidal thoughts
September 28, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas -- During a sensing session here with III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr., Spc. Robert Kearney stood up and asked a question.
"I wanted to know why it was just senior enlisted and senior leaders talking (about seeking help)," Kearney said. "Why aren't E-4s and below talking?"
The general was meeting with leaders and Soldiers from the 4th Sustainment Brigade Monday, following the brigade's loss of three Soldiers in less than a week. Campbell wanted to dialogue with Soldiers and get their feedback about how to help. When Kearney posed his question, Campbell asked him if he would talk about his story.
"I was depressed," Kearney said.
The wheeled mechanic was struggling with a divorce and estranged from his children when he reported for a doctor's appointment last summer.
"It was just a regular doctor's appointment," Kearney said.
On the questionnaire that all patients complete before each visit, Kearney came to the question that asked if the patient thought about hurting him or herself.
Kearney marked "yes."
"I knew I needed help." he said.
Immediately identified as high-risk by the doctor's office, Kearney was informed that he needed to call a noncommissioned officer to come stay with him. He could not be alone.
Kearney called Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Patterson, his motor sergeant.
Patterson picked up Kearney and drove him to the emergency room at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. The two talked in the car.
"I had just gotten divorced and I hadn't seen my kids since Christmas," Kearney said. "I was supposed to see my kids. I already had leave, when my ex-wife pulled out."
Patterson sat and listened.
"I just listened to him and stayed with him to make sure he was OK," Patterson said.
After going to the ER, Kearney was checked out by a social worker and a doctor before he was released that night.
The next day, Kearney reported to Fort Hood's Resilience and Restoration Center for help. A behavioral health doctor adjusted his medications and he was set-up to meet with a therapist.
Months later, Kearney is still here and wants to share his story.
"I'm doing better," he said, noting that services on post and Patterson's presence that day were invaluable.
"He helped me through a dark time," Kearney said. "I needed help and was able to get it."
Patterson has been impressed with his young Soldier's drive to urge others to seek help.
"He's obviously not worried about stigma," Patterson said about
Kearney, who the NCO said is one of his most valuable, hardest working Soldiers. "Losing him would be a detriment."
Now that he is feeling better, Kearney wants others who are struggling to get the help they need.
With the 4th Sust. Bde. in the midst of a stand down week and a reinvigorated emphasis on Soldiers and Families, Brigade Commander Col. Mark Simerly and other leaders at all levels within the unit have been meeting with Soldiers.
"This is a complex problem," Simerly said. "We are arraying all assets we can to address the challenges we face."
Sensing sessions, visits to each and every Soldier's home and small group discussions that include behavioral health professionals have been going on since Friday and will continue throughout the week. Simerly also is involving Families to ensure every person in the brigade is contacted and knows there is help.
"They know you care when you come see them," Simerly said.
Other services and professionals from outside the 4th Sust. Bde. have also availed themselves. Campbell and III Corps and Fort Hood Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder have met with the Wrangler Soldiers, as well.
"The outreach has been tremendous," Simerly said. "The support from the command group has reinforced what I already knew."
With all that has happened and is happening, Kearney thought now would be as good of a time as any to speak up.
"Maybe if more lower-enlisted Soldiers spoke out about suicide, the ones it normally targets," he said. "I would have no issue talking in front of the whole battalion. The help available works."
Kearney hopes his openness will prompt other junior-enlisted Soldiers to tell their stories and seek help.
"I want everyone to know it's OK to get help," Kearney said. "If I'd killed myself, there would be five kids without a dad."