By Christophe Morel, USAG Benelux Public AffairsSeptember 28, 2018
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- Participants in the Suicide Awareness Month Resiliency Olympics Sept. 20 at SHAPE will never forget the speech made by U.S. Army Master Sgt. Tom Cruz, S3 Operations at Allied Command Counter-Intelligence. With his wife Heather, he shared a story that happened eight years ago.
His story is not easy to tell, but it is part of his life. Cruz used his experience to help those who need help. He wanted to be there for others as his wife was there for him Nov. 3, 2010, a day that changed his life and those around him forever.
Everything began at midnight when Cruz had a fight with Heather, his then fiancée.
"We had an argument no different than any other [before]," he said. The argument, however, spurred Cruz to have a breakdown and make a drastic decision. "I took our computer, all the phones, our gun and left the house to an unknown location. I wrote a suicide letter and sent some text messages to family and friends," Cruz explained.
Then Cruz returned to the house and decided to take Heather's life in addition to his own. Heather was held seven hours in his house with him threatening to end both of their lives. This situation happened as people and police tried to intervene in the situation. However, only one person, Heather, managed to change his mind.
"Her calmness after each situation that triggered me and her keenness to recognize what I was actually looking for is what contributed to the de-escalation of the situation," Cruz said. "When I finally came out of the breakdown, I knew I was in a lot of trouble both personally and professionally. I had a high-level clearance that was required for my job, and I just held a person against her will. I felt remorse for my actions. I tried to release Heather, but she knew if she left the room I would have taken my life," Cruz added.
Cruz's wife never left him. Instead, she sat face-to-face with him while he held a gun to his head. "She told me how much she loved me, and how we would get through this together no matter how bad this was. For the first time, I believed someone actually cared and loved me in a long time. She convinced me to leave the gun and come with her out of the house."
MASTER RESILIENCE TRAINING
Cruz was transported to the hospital where he went through numerous tests. Then he was self-admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he was in the psychiatric ward for three weeks before participating to the Master Resilience Training.
"After these lessons, I was energized to continue my U.S. Army career instead of being released. So I went through more evaluations to get cleared and was granted permission to stay in the military. The center that controls our clearances was informed on my progress and future treatments that I had self-enrolled in and looked at those favorably. I received my clearance on the basis that I would stay on the current path that I promised. I just went through my adjudication last year for another five years, making it almost 10 years since the incident," Cruz said.
NO ONE IS ALONE
Cruz first talked about his story in 2011 on Suicide Prevention Day and never stopped. During most of his speaking engagements, Heather was with him. "She was instrumental in my recovery and ambition to stay in the military," Cruz said. Heather and he had such an overwhelming positive response that they decided to share their experience to as many people as possible: military units, military bases, Department of Defense organizations, National Suicide Organizations, the White House, Veterans Affairs, private events, social media events and more.
The couple was invited to many conferences across the U.S. and assisted numerous organizations on Twitter and Facebook by training administrators on what to look for and how to respond to veterans in distress. "I really do think that we have a huge issue on our hands with the amount of active and veterans taking their lives. We hope that we can bring someone out of the darkness that thought they were alone or the only one to experience a certain issue."
The couple's main message in these speaking engagements was to make sure no one is alone and that no one has to get to the point of despair like Cruz.
"Working community outreach I usually work with veterans, and Heather usually works with spouses and children. This is a family problem not just one person's problem and should be treated as such. We really do believe that it is a national issue with community solutions," he said.
"What we mean by that is that it will take the local communities to know their community resources and members and address suicide prevention as such. They should use people who lived through the experience and have them share within the community. Encouraging peer-to-peer mentoring is also important, because it will help the community work together. One of my favorite quotes Heather says is that we are conditioned to listen to respond, while we should be listening to hear."
AWARENESS AND PREVENTION
According to Cruz, telling his story is his way of giving back to the U.S. Army for allowing him to continue his career after the incident. Since his attempt, he became a huge advocate for more awareness and suicide prevention.
Today, Cruz is Master Resilience Trained Level One, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer and Army Suicide Intervention SI trainer. He is also the advisor to Animal Rescue and Veteran Support Services, panel member of Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research with University of South Florida, panel member of OurDataHelps.org, subject matter expert with the White House and Office of the Surgeon General.
Heather also got involved in suicide prevention for veterans and educated both spouses and veterans. She has completed the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), Questions, and Persuade and Refer online (QPR) and Crisis Intervention/Mental Health Training through Mid-Continent University. She has facilitated monthly discussions with the Monthly Military Caregiver Virtual Peer Forum via Skype with the Pentagon. Over the past six years, she was involved in multiple organizations and helped create two organizations that deal with the social media realm, particularly on Facebook.
If you or someone you know is hurting, help is available:
- Military Crisis Line: Call 00800-1273-8255 or DSN 118 in Europe. The Community Help Service telephone helpline is +32 (0)2-6484014. A live chat option is available at www.veteranscrisisline.net.
- Military OneSource Confidential Hotline: 00-800-3429-6477. A live chat option is available at www.militaryonesource.mil.
- Army Substance Abuse Program: DSN 314-423-2633 or +32(0)65-44-2633.
- Military Family Life Consultants: +32 (0)497-653738
- Garrison Chaplain's Office: DSN 361-5448 or +32 (0)68-275448
- Behavioral Health: DSN 566-5320/5011 or +32 (0)65-325320/5011
- Employee Assistance Program: DSN 423-7141 or +32 (0)65-447141.