Since overcoming his own struggles, Sgt. 1st Class John Reeves, has taken what he learned and used that knowledge to help other Soldiers in crisis.
“I have helped Soldiers who have considered suicide,” Reeves, 1st Cavalry Division Ready and Resilient Coordinator, said. “I’ve dealt with Soldiers in crisis situations and because of my relationship with my [Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care] counselor, I was able to have a direct line of communication to help them get the care they needed.”
Reeves, who has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for more than 10 years, first used SUDCC after ‘drinking copious amounts of alcohol and playing with guns,” became his coping mechanism.
“Because I have had those experiences, and have been through the programs, and was willing to talk about it with my Soldiers -- that allowed them to have the courage to try,” Reeves said. “You just have to have the courage to try. And a lot of people don’t want to go alone, so I would go with them.”
Depending on the Soldier and their situation, Reeves will also utilize his connection to the horse ranch that has a program for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers to introduce them to horsemanship as a way to cope.
“I will pack them up and take them to the ranch and give them a grooming class, teach them the basic ways around the horse, Reeves said. “So if I take a Soldier at risk, and I take an hour teaching them horsemanship and give them access to a volunteer program… it gives them that thing to look forward to and a skill they get to take with them.”
Reeves’ passion for helping Soldiers stems from his own experiences with suicidal thoughts and depression as well as having lost Soldiers to suicide.
“I have lost three Soldiers to suicide,” Reeves said. “Losing a Soldier affects me specifically, because I always feel there was something more I could have done. I am still working on the most recent death, because it was just a shock, because I thought we had done it. It’s loss. It’s confusion.”
And while those suicides have affected him personally, he said they also impact the units.
“For the unit, that absence, it can’t be filled,” Reeves said. “Losing just one Soldier like that, it creates a void in the unit. As leaders, we wonder what we should have done and if we could have done more.”
Reeves understands the hesitation Soldiers have when seeking help, especially given the common myths that seeking help will ruin a career in the military – but he said that just isn’t true.
“Here I am, I’ve gone through terrible depression, terrible alcohol dependency, I got help and I am still a career Army Soldier,” he said. “I still have a future in the Army. It isn’t something that I can say I did it, now I am done -- I have to continue to work on it. But [getting help] doesn’t have to end your career.”
Reeves said he hopes that his willingness to stand up, as a senior noncommissioned officer and be counted as a suicide survivor will empower other leaders to open up as well.
“If we as leaders can be honest, not just about suicide but about any behavioral health needs, the stigma behind seeking help could be ended and we can be a stronger Army family.”
He said every person is a valuable member of the team and every person has a place on the team critical to accomplishing the mission.
“It will get better tomorrow,” he said. ”Keep trying and know that your life matters… There is someone out there that cares about you. It doesn’t feel like is at times, but there is. If you’re tired of fighting, come find me. I’ll fight for you.”
If you know of someone in a crisis, the Military/Veterans Crisis Line is confidential and free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and available to all Service members, Veterans, and their families, including members of the National Guard and Reserve. Seek help immediately by contacting 800-273-8255 (press 1), online chat (www.militarycrisisline.net), or text (838255).
(Editor’s note: This is part two of a two part series chronicling the experiences of Sgt. 1st Class John Reeves as he treated his feelings of isolation with alcohol and considered ways to commit suicide. He now helps others as the 1st Cavalry Division Ready and Resilient Coordinator.)