A Platoon Sergeant receives the gift of hope, strength and life
By MaryTherese Griffin, Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - "I was a disaster who was proficient at hiding the fact that I needed help. I was very confused on what was going on with myself and feared for the future."

Those courageous words are from Sgt. 1st Class James Spraggins. The former Infantryman turned Army Sniper has deployed multiple times over his 15 year Army career and wants to let other Soldiers know a few things about his journey.

The events of September 11th encouraged Spraggins to enlist; he felt like he was honoring his family name by taking it overseas to defend the nation's freedoms. However, after his last two deployments, Spraggins says he was a different person. "I no longer had the same mentality towards human kind when I returned," and that included himself Spraggins said.

Spraggins suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was assigned as a Platoon Sergeant to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This was the first time, he says, he was away from his comfort zone. "I can remember feeling on top of the world (before PTSD), but then I lost who I was, I lost all hope. This began the complete spiral and destruction of Sgt. 1st Class Spraggins," Spraggins recalled. "Those moments were some of the darkest moments of my life. I began neglecting everyone close to me so that I didn't have to visit them or talk to anyone."

Spraggins says he even began neglecting his basic human needs, like hygiene, for weeks and would skip meals for days to the point of complete exhaustion and he didn't sleep. After suffering multiple panic attacks daily for several months he started thinking to himself that living was no longer an option. He sat with a loaded pistol in a church parking lot, thought about it, prayed about it, then he called his sister. "After failing in every direction, I turned for help. I made the choice to walk into Building 1480, the Behavioral Health Clinic on Fort Knox, this would be the start of my new life; the gift of hope, strength, and most importantly the gift of life."

Joyce Hamilton, Spraggins Army Wounded Warrior advocate, recognizes the enormity of his courage to speak up. "It takes significant personal courage to stand up and ask for help."

Spraggins courage to speak up and ask for help turned out to be the strongest thing he says he ever did.

"The most important thing I will tell you is how Dr. Sue Bentley, Travis Slonecker, and Leroy Redeaux saved my life. I believe that it's my responsibility to tell my story on how I found hope and a new life from total strangers."

Speaking up and reaching for a hand up was that first step. The recently retired Spraggins, says like many Soldiers, the fear of rejection after asking for help was huge. He said Dr. Bentley did nothing of the sort.

"The quality of care that Dr. Bentley showed me from the day I met her was above and beyond anything I could imagine. She refused to quit on me and made the recommendation I attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (a 3 and a half hour group session five days a week) on Fort Knox. I looked at her like she was crazy and maybe I needed to start doing some counseling on her," Spraggins laughed. "I remember thinking 'I'm a Sergeant First Class, and there is no way I'm being caught there.' And 'how was I supposed to sell this to my command?"

Spraggins explained his embarrassment and concerns about not wanting the Soldiers in his group to know his rank to Redeaux who suggested he wear civilian clothes, which he did. "Looking back, I spent too much time on finding an excuse to avoid the difficult situation rather than just doing it and putting all that energy into recovery. I was running out of excuses at this point," Spraggins said.

To his surprise, Spraggins received the best reaction he could have hoped for. "My unit supported me while keeping my privacy a priority. I was met with so much support from all levels of my command and I am better because of it."

The support and resources are there for the taking, if you speak up and ask for it. Every Soldier's life is worth it.