Addressing a potential cause of suicide in the Military: BMT

Basic training

I want to start out this story by stating this for whoever might need to hear it. If you are thinking about suicide seek help. It’s never too late to get help and there are people out there that care about you. Seeking help doesn’t make you weak, knowing when you need someone else to help you out is a sign of strength, if you are thinking about taking your own life, talk to someone and get help.

According to data obtained by Stars and Stripes, a military news source, the Marine Corps hit a 10 year high on the number of suicides committed by its members. Overall 75 Marines killed themselves in 2018, up from 42 in 2008.

The majority of those that killed themselves, 63 percent, were under the age of 25.  Additionally, most of those who killed themselves had not seen combat or been deployed overseas. So that rules out the reason for the increase being related to an increase in combat operations and PTSD, not surprisingly so since our troops are seeing less deployments then they were 10 years ago.

Additionally, suicide has become a high focus item in the military, leading to more training and resources then ever to address the issue.

But that begs the question why are troops killing themselves at a growing rate if the job is getting less dangerous and troops are being presented with more options for help?

With such a complex issue there certainly are multiple underlying reasons, but here’s my take on one of the potential causes, backed up only by my own experiences while in the military:

I went to Lackland Air Force Base in 2013 for Basic Military Training (BMT). When I went it was shortly after a massive sexual assault scandal where trainees were being raped by their MTI’s. Following this scandal every policy surrounding trainees and their treatment by MTI’s was looked at, and rightfully so, no one should sign up to serve their country and get raped while in training.

However, a big result of that was on how MTI’s could treat trainees while in training. For instance, they put restrictions on how much physical training (i.e. pushups, sit-ups, flutter-kicks, etc…) they could issue out as a punishment for things, they made it so MTI’s couldn’t cuss at trainees, MTI’s couldn’t throw mail at trainees, and they even gave trainees a “safe space”, although not one a student on a college campus would recognize!

The “safe space” was our day room, you could still get yelled at by a MTI in there, but they couldn’t make you do physical training in there, and they were supposed to take it a little easier on you in there. In fact, I had a MTI put a fellow trainee “on his face” (made him do pushups) in the day room once, realized his mistake, had him move to the hallway to finish his pushups, then APOLOGIZED TO HIM for making him do pushups in the day room. And I’m not talking about a snarky “I’m sorry”, I mean a full “please don’t tell on me” apology.

Now don’t get me wrong, BMT still isn’t a COMPLETE joke, we did have several people washout and go back home because they couldn’t handle it. But we also had people that shouldn’t have made it get pushed through the system.

In my flight we had a trainee try and kill himself. He failed, mainly because he was in a flight of 49 other trainees that ensured he would fail. He left, got the help he needed and moved on with his life. It’s good he didn’t make it through BMT, for his sake.

You see the military isn’t for everyone, and that’s alright. Service members give up a bunch of their rights and freedoms when they join, they go where the military tells them to, do what the military tells them to do, and that’s that. You work whatever hours they tell you to work, without overtime pay or compensation, for relatively little money. It’s a complete change in lifestyle that civilians can’t understand (The changes in lifestyle are far reaching, not just what is mentioned here, it would take an entire post of its own to even begin to address them all).

BMT is supposed to ween people out that aren’t suitable for a military lifestyle. That doesn’t make these people bad or anything, it just means they aren’t cut out for the military, and like I said before, that’s alright.

But by watering down BMT, MTI’s are less able to weed out those individuals that never belonged in the military to begin with. That’s not a good thing. BMT is supposed to stress you the hell out, that’s kind of the point. If you go to war and get put in a combat situation that’s going to be a hell of a lot more stressful then whatever they put you through in BMT.

But it goes beyond that, BMT is temporary, the stress of a military lifestyle is permanent, well at least until your contract is up, so four to six years. If you can’t handle the stress dished out at BMT you’re not going to be able to handle the stress from a military lifestyle.

And the easier they make BMT the more people are going to get pushed through the system that can’t handle the stress of a military lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with those people, everyone has their breaking point, but by making BMT easier we aren’t doing anyone any favors, in fact I think they are putting more lives at risk.

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