FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 5, 2017) -- Providing a powerful message about personal struggle and the thoughts that lead to ending one’s life, Maj. Mario Moreno was the featured speaker at a 59th Ordnance Brigade suicide prevention and awareness training luncheon here Sept. 21.
Addressing an audience of brigade and company leaders packed into the Ordnance Resiliency and Training Center community room, the former infantry Soldier now assigned to the headquarters staff at CASCOM, shared the story of his nearly life-ending decision 20 years ago while serving at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
After falling out of unit runs and failing his Army Physical Fitness Test, Moreno – then a junior enlisted Soldier – was “made the example” by unit leaders who used purposefully embarrassing tactics like “smoke sessions” (intensive exercise) to punish individuals and correct their behavior.
“It reached the point where I was so tired, I couldn’t play with my kids or hold my 3-week-old son because I was afraid I would drop him,” Moreno recalled in a story he wrote for the Traveller earlier this year.
After two failed APFT attempts in the same week, the young Soldier was told he would be tested again on Monday. While relieved to have the weekend break, he couldn’t relax with his family and fretted over details like what he should eat. When testing day came, he was putting on his freshly washed uniform in the laundry room and noticed the box cutter on the dryer.
“I grabbed it, opened it and slit my left wrist in relief,” read his story. “I felt better because I knew I would not take the APFT. Nothing else was on my mind at the moment. I just stood there, expressionless, watching the blood ooze from my wrist to form a small pool on the floor.”
Thoughts of his wife and four kids brought him out of the stupor. He called out, saying he had “messed up.” When she realized what he had done, his wife called 911 and an ambulance took him to the hospital where he was stitched up and placed in a mental ward for seven days.
“Fast forward to the present,” Moreno wrote. “I am a major with more than 27 years of military service. I have been deployed seven times. I have been to numerous countries throughout the world and experienced what many will never have the chance to. My wife of 24 years and our four children have accompanied me on many of my travels. If I had succeeded with my suicide attempt. I would have never seen or experienced what a wonderful family I have (and the successes of his children).”
Moreno said he takes suicide awareness more seriously than most because he has experienced it firsthand. His story also spoke to the theme of the training event, “I will be there,” which relates to the role of peers and leaders to recognize signs of struggle and offer help – a requirement absent from the guest speaker’s initial account.
Many hearing the message recognized the Army culture that used to be, and noted how much has changed in the fight against suicide over the past several years. Awareness has been the most powerful tool, participants agreed, in reducing these needless deaths, followed by proactivity among battle buddies and unit leaders.
The major encouraged attendees to take the proper approach when dealing with Soldiers and their hardships. “It’s what makes the most difference,” he said. “How a leader shows care for those who are struggling builds a foundation and a climate that helps them weather the storms of being a U.S. Army Soldier.”
Thanks to Moreno’s willingly shared message, 59th Ord. Brigade command teams have one more example of how a Soldier in crisis, when given the right leadership, can find the path of strength and resiliency that will make them successful for as long as they serve.
“To be there as a leader is to care,” observed Chaplain (Maj.) Randy Belcher, the brigade chaplain who helped organize the training session. “We are thankful for Maj. Moreno’s message. It’s a reminder that we need to be there for our Soldiers.”