My Own Failure and Our Military’s Mental Health Crisis

My Own Failure and Our Military’s Mental Health Crisis.

Our military culture and expectations require unbridled standards as justification and there is little room for human weakness, especially in SOF and leadership roles. Without a change in our culture and a new approach to mental health, help will be out of reach for many. I know, because I suffered in the dark and I could no longer keep up the expectations of the warrior, the leader and the family. I hope that my story will enhance our understanding and help service members who are facing similar problems to make better choices and live better lives.

Col Owen Ray.

Col. Owen Ray (retired), Former Special Forces officer

COL Owen Ray is a recently retired Army Special Forces officer who has led the Air and Special Operations Forces for nearly 25 years, including Operation Hereditary Solutions, Freedom Sentinel, Sustainable Freedom – Afghanistan and the Philippines, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Joint. Numerous deployments were made in support of the Task Force. Endopacum. COL Ray’s last assignment was as chief of staff at I Corps at the joint base Lewis-McChord.

Expert perspective

When I saw our sudden departure from Afghanistan after the Taliban occupation and celebrated the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I felt angry and sad. For many veterans of the last 20 years, it is difficult to understand the sacrifices without the benefit of victory or progress. For those who have spent their entire careers and most of their adult lives in war, personal value in terms of mental, physical and family health is neither well understood nor properly addressed. Is given.

The recent recognition of the military and veteran suicide crisis by the White House and the Department of Defense is a welcome start, but we need to change the way we deal with it. The CDC’s latest suicide figures show a 3% drop in the overall U.S. suicide rate in 2020, but the military rate continues to rise. The 2021 Department of Defense report on suicides reflects a 41% increase in active duty suicide rates between 2015 and 2020, which killed 580 soldiers in 2020 alone. The most troubling is the recent review of the Thomas Howard Suite with Brown University’s “Cost of War” project, which states that since 9/11, we have lost 7,057 fights but potentially suicides. An estimated 30,177. The crisis is likely to be exacerbated as wars approach and service members struggle to move into an unknown and sometimes alien urban life. Many continue to suffer in silence, compromising decades of conflict, failure on domestic fronts, frustration, guilt and embarrassment that can accompany a fighter’s life.


On December 26, 2020, I was standing on my balcony with a pistol over my head, intending to end my life when the police surrounded my house. I suffered from a mental and emotional breakdown that would shock my entire family, allow my friends, teammates and commanders to come down and humiliate me.

I married three wonderful children, a respected member of our small suburban community and a very successful Special Forces officer of about 25 years. My career has been marked by outstanding achievements and accomplishments – early promotions, selected for command at every strategic level in the Special Forces, a graduate degree from Harvard and serving as President Obama’s Military Assistant. Selected for – Taking nuclear football for more than two years. .

Behind the public front, which I enthusiastically defended, was a fire of mental, emotional and physical depravity, and a family struggling. I suffered from complete mental exhaustion from the cumulative effects of untreated mental and physical health problems, operational and career stressors in one career at SOF, including eight assignments. I was engulfed in war and completely unaware of my depravity.

After that horrible night, I was devastated, confused and struggling to understand what happened, why and how. I was criminally charged (And still facing trial), Defamed by the media and lost my freedom, my career, and worst of all, my family. Months later, and after extensive patient treatment, I was diagnosed with severe and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, insomnia, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I have struggled over the years, like many of us, to compensate for the apathy by sharing emotions and alcohol. Work, missions and deployments provide attention, familiarity, comfort and ultimately success. The house, however, was unfamiliar. I don’t fit in anymore and I don’t have a role, and I always seem to fail. In 2018, after coming back from the extremely difficult deployment that led the fight against ISIS, my downward spiral accelerated. I came to a different house and the life I came back to changed.

This was the second longest deployment in two years after a difficult year in Afghanistan and my marriage suffered irreparable damage. In the next two years, I will deploy twice more and lose four more soldiers as well as many friends and comrades. I became increasingly depressed, negative, guilty, angry and suicidal. My family cope with this difficult life, my deteriorating health and my inability to connect emotionally. This is a sad situation but unfortunately not uncommon.

The human cost of eternal war

I joined the Army Special Forces as a team leader shortly after 9/11 and, like many of us, began to lose friends and comrades at the beginning of the war. Then came the regular memoirs of the unit and the losses in my own command. Not only fighting but also cancer, suicide and training accidents. Visits to Dover Air Force Base to retrieve the remains, comforting and caring for spouses and children, and attending funerals were devastating.

The losses far outweighed those of close friends and included moral damage from our partner national forces, civilian casualties and devastating campaigns. As a Green Barrett, we train, live and fight together with our foreign partners, whom we saw from afar when they were released, hunted down and if they left Afghanistan in the last days. If they were not lucky enough to get out, they were killed. Without the obvious benefits, these high costs will undoubtedly affect this generation of veterans and exacerbate the current mental health crisis.

PTSD, depression, TBI, chronic pain and bodily injury, relationship problems with prolonged absence and substance abuse are significant consequences of sustainable wars. Due to unbridled standards and a culture of perfection, as well as an overall lack of awareness of mental, emotional and spiritual health, we face constant threats of human degradation and failure.

A tragic example is the loss of an extraordinary Army officer and friend, COL Scott Green, who died last June. A beloved and capable leader within the Rangers and Airborne Forces as well as a husband and father, it was a devastating loss that shook many people and they started asking “why”. Successes and career successes do not prevent mental compromise. Unless you walk in Scott’s shoes, it’s hard to understand what he was carrying, but I know it’s too much and he has no place to turn. There are others like Scott right now. As an army and as a society, we owe them more.

Doing the same but still expecting different results – a time of change

As a society, we respond to mental health, shifting our limited resources from one crisis to another. We invest vast resources in physical health, but Flexible Classes or Mental Health Awareness Month is less about active mental health. With all my education and training, I could neither understand nor recognize my impairment – I did not have the tools, nor did I admit that I had a problem. I now routinely visit the Behavioral Health Clinic, which I did not step into during my 25 years of service until I hit the wall. The ugly stain still exists. I feel ashamed in the room. No eye contact, no matter, no leadership when needed. This is in stark contrast to the physical therapy clinic where focusing on injury rehabilitation is only one part of being healthy and improving performance.

The military’s goal is to fight and win our nation’s wars, but investing in mental health will not diminish the effectiveness or quality of the war. Personal responsibility and making better choices are key to making a difference in this crisis but we need to improve mental health awareness and foster a climate and culture where our service members feel they can help. Can say for

It is important to reduce embarrassment and frustration in this life-saving effort, and we cannot continue to make the wrong choice between health and mission or career. It starts with the weakness, honesty and empathy of the leader. We are all sensitive to relationship issues, drug use issues, mental health needs. It’s time to dump her and move on. A friend saved my life in my darkest hour. Mental health is health and should be a priority throughout the military, and if need be, Congress directed through the National Defense Authority Act.

We have lost many of the best things of this nation in this conflict and we are losing more and more here at home every day. With the end of wars and the transfer of service members to civic life, we will have much more to lose.

I am now reconciling my life and my accountability, but also my responsibility to my family and friends to be healthy and live a better life. For a while, I felt like I was on the verge of a collision but I didn’t have the strength to stop it. With help and a lot of work, I’m learning to walk a better path, but it came at a very high cost.

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