JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.- Guest speaker Chad Robichaux's voice softens when he mentions his daughter.
"She was so excited to have me home for her birthday party," said the Marine Corps veteran and former MMA fighter. "My little girl didn't like the icing on her birthday cake, so I grabbed a handful and threw it against the wall in front of everyone."
Robichaux addressed an audience of active duty Service Members and their families, during the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 2.
"I ruined my little girl's birthday," he said. "I did that...My problems didn't begin in Afghanistan, they began at home."
Robichaux joined the Marine Corps at age 17 and served eight tours in Afghanistan, where he earned a Medal of Valor for his bravery. Following a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and a successful career as a professional MMA fighter, Robichaux and his wife Kathy, founded the Mighty Oaks Foundation. The foundation teaches warriors, who have encountered tragedy and hardship during military service with the spiritual tools they need to move forward.
After years of anger and pain, Robichaux can now speak candidly about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder that nearly cost him his family, and his life.
"I sat in the closet with a pistol, on and off, for two weeks trying to work up the courage," he said. "Knowing the kids might find me. Wondering if I could make it look like an accident."
According to the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members, almost 25 percent of the nearly 5,500 active-duty, non-deployed Army Soldiers surveyed tested positive for a mental disorder of some kind. The Military Health System claims that about 20 percent of suicide deaths in the United States each year are military veterans.
In response to these alarming numbers, the military has taken the initiative to chip away at the stigma associated with asking for help and seeking behavioral health treatment.
"We've all had the experience of losing Soldiers," said I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Walter Tagalicud, during the Value of Life Ruck March, Feb. 1. "If these programs help just one Soldier, it helps them all."
The road march was indicative of Army leadership's willingness to seek new ways to connect with Soldiers, and explore unconventional training options, leaving Power Point slides and classrooms behind.
"Supportive units and leadership make it easier for Soldiers to get the help they need," explained Sgt. Timothy Wagner, a chaplain assistant assigned to 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. "If the command knows the resources, they can push that information down to the squad leaders and anybody who might need help."
By sharing his journey navigating the murky waters of his mind, Robichaux helps others make sense of an act that is, by definition, antithetical to everything that makes us human, and challenges our most basic survival instincts. We look to rationalize a tragedy we do not fully understand, and so the self-termination of life can feel like a crime where the victim is as guilty as the perpetrator.
Suicide offers a permanent solution to what is, in grim retrospect, a temporary problem. And, like most problems, asking for help can result in a solution. The willingness of Robichaux and others like him, to make public their most intimate tragedies, is the first step forward to beginning a dialogue that could save a life.