By Ray KozakewiczOctober 31, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 31, 2013) -- Col. M.C. Stephen Cherry IV and his wife Laurie will forever share a close personal bond with Rebecca Morrison ... a survivor-suicide connection they would never wish on anyone.
Cherry, CASCOM chief of staff and a former commander of the 49th Quartermaster Group at Fort Lee, and Morrison, from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in Arlington, shared their emotional stories at a Suicide Awareness Stand-Up for about 300 Soldiers and civilians at Army Logistics University Oct. 24.
The gathering aimed to create greater awareness of suicide symptoms and important resources available to Soldiers.
"This is not a club you ever want to join or a badge to wear," noted Cherry. His son, Hunter, 24, committed suicide in July 2011. "Don't ever make such a permanent decision -- there are no replays. Life is too precious."
Morrison's husband -- Army Capt. Ian Morrison, 26, a West Point graduate -- took his life in March 2012, about three months after returning to Fort Hood, Texas, from deployment in Iraq. As an Apache Helicopter pilot, he flew more than 70 combat missions.
"I was widowed at 24," said Morrison, "and that's not something you want to experience. The Cherry's lost their beautiful son. There are a whole bunch of memories in life that we will never have."
Hunter Cherry and Ian Morrison both would have celebrated birthdays Oct. 25.
The colonel told the Soldiers that his son had been recruited to play football at the United States Military Academy.
"His love was to play football and in his third year, he had a serious back injury related to football," he said. "When he couldn't play, he got into some trouble and had to leave the academy."
He said his son understood a degree was important, though. "So, he went back to school and made straight As. Three weeks after going to school that summer, we got a phone call that he had taken his life in his grandparent's driveway."
Cherry quietly noted, "It's your worst nightmare as a parent. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I think about it every day."
Everyone has issues -- whether financial or family, he said. "No one is immune. I'm a former brigade commander and it happened to me."
He implored Soldiers to seek expert health care if needed. "There are folks who can help, and it's not a sign of weakness to reach out," he said. "As a brigade commander, I encouraged my Soldiers to get help. In my brigade, I had the only two mortuary affairs units in the Army. They had multiple rotations in the theater to handle all the remains of service members who were killed down range. They came back with issues.
"When I was a young trooper your age, you didn't talk about suicide," he continued. "If you had mental health problems or were depressed, you dealt with those yourself to push through it."
Today's Soldiers have it better than the old-timers, Cherry told the crowd. "You have someone to talk to. All you have to do is step forward. Your leadership here will allow you to go and get the help if you need it."
The colonel said he met Morrison recently at a TAPS dinner. When he asked her for help on his presentation for the Stand-Up, she agreed, and Cherry said he is grateful for her spirt of teamwork.
Morrison, who was in her first week in the job, said she moved to Washington, D.C., to work for TAPS as a suicide survivor communications liaison. "We are the family you never want to meet, but you would be so glad to have us if needed because we take care of anyone who has lost someone in the military regardless of their relationship."
With moist eyes, she recounted the deadly downfall of her husband and her own severe bouts with depression and serious thoughts of suicide. Her story was featured in a Time magazine cover article on military suicides in July 2012.
"Ian thought he was real funny and real cute, and he was," said Morrison. "He was upbeat, happy and loving. He loved to lift weights. My God, I hated to go to the gym with him. He would have loved to drink cold beer with you guys."
She said all seemed outwardly normal when he returned to Fort Hood around Christmas time. Morrison, however, noticed troubling changes with her husband about three months later.
"Ian could not sleep and he stopped working out," she said. "He sought help from six different places but never got the comforting in-depth care that he needed. He tried to tough it out."
Morrison, an elementary school teacher, was attending a master's degree psychology class on March 12, 2012. When she came home after 9:30 p.m., she found her husband dead in their bedroom from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. After burying her husband on March 31, she descended into a deep depression.
"My life was completely shattered," recalled Morrison. "I could not eat or sleep, and got into the pits. My brain was nearly ruined. In my case, I had people at the Suicide Lifeline and TAPS to call, and got the care I needed."
She urged the Soldiers to watch out for their warriors. "As a buddy and a Soldier, you're able to go up to your friends and ask, are you sleeping? How's your family? How are things? You can be a non-threatening person in their life."
One active duty service member and 22 veterans commit suicide every day, she said. "Look for signs -- show you care."
Some of the tell-tale symptoms, in addition to depression and sleep disorders, are angry outbursts, mood changes, self-destructive behavior, shame or guilt, use of alcohol, drugs or dietary supplements, relationship issues at home and loss of a support system.
"The only way to make sense of this tragedy is to look at it now with my 20-20 fresh eyes and see what could have been done, and talk to others I may be able to help," she said. And TAPS has offered her an outlet to tell her story.
"If Ian had a buddy who came to him to find out what was going on, he might still be here. Don't leave someone alone who is in pain."
She provided a list of key suicide national crisis phone numbers including the Suicide Lifeline she called.
"When I was in the pits, they listened and talked me through it. I am so grateful," she said.
For details on TAPS, visit www.taps.org or call (800) 959 TAPS (8277).