Written by Jeremy M Albert
Forewarning: This article discusses suicide and self-harm. If you or someone you know is struggling, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the crisis line at 988. If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911. You are valued, and you are not alone.
This Veteran’s Day marks seven years since being discharged from the United States Army; I am officially reaching the point where when having a conversation with a younger Veteran or current service member, I begin with “Back in my day…” Throughout that time, I was able to see different parts of the world and form relationships with people that can only be described more as family than friends. The number of these relationships only grew when I attended Cleveland State University and joined the Student Veteran’s Association, and then later, a fraternity that at the time was primarily comprised of veterans. The camaraderie built through the experiences we shared from military service during one of the United States’ most extended periods of war made acclimating to the “college experience” a little more bearable. During that time, it was not uncommon for us to all get together on Veteran’s Day and take full advantage of the free and discounted meals offered at many of the restaurants as a group or otherwise get together for a beer or a few. It was during one of these excursions that I had the pleasure of meeting Shayne.
Shayne graduated high school the same year as me, 2005, and, like me, would join the United States Army. He would end up serving honorably, deploying to Iraq as an Infantryman, and then subsequently transitioning into the inactive ready reserve. It was during this time that Shayne came to Cleveland State University. Shayne became highly involved in organizations at Cleveland State University, joining the school’s paper (The Cauldron) and Sigma Tau Gamma. Throughout that time, Shayne helped me and the rest of Sig Tau develop, market, and fundraise for the Wounded Warrior Project through a 24-hour Run/Walk we organized on campus. On the day of the Run/Walk, Shayne was one of the few pledges who remained outside during the cold, rainy day to ensure everything operated smoothly. The event would be a complete success, raising just shy of $6,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project.
While this day is categorized as being a good day in my memories, I cannot help but reflect on that day with Shayne and the subsequent week leading up to the last time any of us would hear from him again. He became more withdrawn and stated that he was having difficulty adjusting and felt alone. I could only offer to empathize with him and told him that if he needed anything at all, to reach out. At the time, I did not think how superficial that must have felt to him and how surface-level of a response it was from me. During my time, while mental health and PTSD was widely recognized (we even had hours-long powerpoint presentation and “ACE” (Ask, Care, Escort) cards to encourage speaking up,) talking about your struggles still was not culturally accepted.
The week before Veteran’s Day, we had a Halloween party. Shayne was there and subsequently left the party abruptly; those there recalled him being upset about something. I remember his last Facebook post that night: “Well, this has been a long time coming…” I remember thinking that was odd and then going back to sleep. The weekend came and went, and on November 6th, 2011, we, his friends who became concerned after not hearing from him for days, would call for a welfare check. Shayne, at the age of 24, was found in his apartment with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
So, as I sit here and reflect on Veteran’s Day, I want to encourage my fellow brothers and sisters in arms to be there for one another. This day, designed to recognize our service to this nation, should also enable us to acknowledge our struggles and find the courage to speak about them and take action to improve them. I also want to say that if you are a Veteran and see me around campus or the area at large, introduce yourself and say hello—we are simply family that has yet to meet.
Jeremy M Albert, NRP
Jeremy is a current senior in the Healthcare Management program at Carlow University, and a nationally registered Paramedic in the Pittsburgh region.