By Melony Gabbert, Fort Riley Public AffairsSeptember 29, 2011
FORT RILEY, Kan. -- The Fort Riley community gathered outside Riley's Conference Center for a candlelight vigil Sept. 20 as part of Suicide Prevention Month.
Stories of suicide and stories of survival were shared, prayers were given and a moment of silence took place as observers gathered near the "ghostly formation," a display set up by David Easterling, suicide prevention program manager.
The display consists of painted white boots representing Fort Riley Soldiers who have committed suicide during the previous year, set upon a black canvas.
"It always starts discussions," Easterling said about the display, which can be seen regularly outside his office.
As memories were discussed during the vigil, tears were shed.
Easterling said he fondly remembers his own cousin, who had lived in his boyhood home with him, and who committed suicide. Easterling said he couldn't help but think of his cousin reappearing to throw a baseball with the son Easterling now has.
It is difficult for survivors to understand suicide and to deal with the loss, he said.
In addition to the vigil, Easterling also shared a poem titled, "The Circle."
Kristy Robinson spoke about her husband, Cpl. Jessie Earl Robinson, who was posthumously promoted to sergeant after he committed suicide in 2004 when their daughter was a baby. She said she noticed changes in her husband after his return from Iraq.
Although previously a Volunteer of the Year nominee, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program vice president and a Soldier proud of his job, Robinson said her husband struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder for three years. She said her focus was in letting her daughter know how incredible her father was and how much he loved her. She also said she believed, in part, he was trying to keep her and the couple's daughter safe from him.
Several chaplains and chaplain's assistants also spoke during the vigil, including Spc. Michael Isaacs, chaplain's assistant, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
Isaacs said he has heard countless accounts of suicidal ideations, witnessed suicide attempts and attended memorial services. He then told the story of a 16-year-old, who attempted suicide by overdosing on his mother's prescription medication, but then reconsidered and confessed to his mother in time to be rushed to the hospital. He had taken the pills after his girlfriend acted out with his worst enemy. When rushed to the hospital, the boy said he had a moment of clarity. He realized he had "stinking thinking," and he had seen the situation as permanent, when it wasn't. That young man, Isaac said, was him.
"I am glad I passed that test to be a testimony to others," he said.
The greatest tragedy is suicide, said Maj. Michael McDonald, Family life chaplain, Garrison Religious Support Office. People lose sight and think they don't matter, when they do make a difference, McDonald said.
"People can make a difference and not even know it," said Chap. (Maj.) Ken Gesch, brigade chaplain, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. Gesch shared the story of a Soldier who was on the brink of committing suicide, but held off because of the kindness and concern another Soldier had shown earlier that same day.