Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reflections on Nick's Death

Picking up Patterns in Military “Investigations” of Non-combat Deaths: Part 4:

Nick was a little above average in basic training in that he was the youngest in his platoon and he was very athletic. He thrived in basic training. When I went through 20 years ago, I was in agony and couldn’t wait for it to be over. It wasn’t like that for Nick; he wrote to me telling me he felt that God had him there for a reason. At that time in his life, his future looked very bright. The disciplined military life agreed with him.

Even after his injury in jump school, he was still excited about his future. He had no intentions of quitting or delaying his career. It is at this point that his innocence and our ignorance allowed the downward spiral.

In retrospect, I should have demanded to speak to someone about his orders to Alaska and Nick’s physical welfare concerning his foot. But I did not because my son wanted to go. He wanted to handle his own affairs. It was a transitioning time for him, changing from boy to man but it was not a time for him to deal with such affairs on his own. This is where we ran into the Feres Doctrine.

When Nicholas was in Alaska, we (his father, stepmother and myself) tried very hard to be involved in his medical care and decisions. We called his doctor’s office several times and were told (of course) that Nick would need to sign paperwork for information to be released to us, his parents. We asked Nick about it almost continually, and I don’t know who was responsible, but the papers were never signed.

Life was totally different for Nick when he arrived in Alaska. Prior to his injury, he experienced the brotherhood of the military; he was part of the whole, had a plan and a purpose. When he arrived in Alaska he was immediately ostracized; he was vulnerable and made more work for some in his unit who were assigned to assist him. From what I understand, his unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq and their new recruit was damaged goods. They took him out “with the guys” and left him, abandoned him, with no ride and he was unable to walk far because he was on crutches. And for goodness sake, it was Alaska!!

He was assigned to various detail work, which he really didn’t mind because he felt he was at least contributing. But it was in this time period that his fellow soldiers turned against him and he became an object of contempt and abuse. The brotherhood was no longer looking after him. Please remember that he was still only 18 years old.

I have read several cases where the details and circumstances are the same as my son’s; same story, different man. In synopsis, here is what I mean: Young serviceman is injured and placed in a medical hold facility where he is treated like a new recruit who has done something wrong. His basic privileges are limited; it is more like prison or a detention home rather than a place to heal. I had the feeling the people assigned to run these facilities did not like their assignments. They viewed the injured as weak. There were bizarre discipline procedures designed to humiliate and belittle the service member.

My son’s medical records show that they were habitually inconsistent in administering his medications. Records also show he was given drugs that were known to promote suicidal thoughts and they changed the type of medicine they gave to him almost daily. His body had no time to adjust, as there was no consistent care. Injury, depression, isolation, ridicule, physical and mental abuse, and a variety of medications would leave any person in a state of confusion and degradation. They take strong, viable young men and kick them when they’re down. It is not unlike a woman in an abusive relationship: it is a gradual breakdown of body and spirit, an atmosphere of control and abuse.

I have read multiple times of the patterns of abuse in these hold units, like wardens who abuse prisoners. But the soldiers in medical hold were not criminals, they were just injured, and most of them, young.

Another common thread is death by suicide. Suicide almost always came within days or hours of them being released to go home…they were so close to leaving the hell they were in. Although suicide rarely makes sense to the survivors, it is almost inconceivable that in a few hours my son was going to be home but he decided to kill himself?? His freedom was right there, and it is the same with so many young men who withstood ridicule and heart wrenching abuse, only to end their fight by hanging themselves in the latrine?? Again, my son is not the only one who “hung himself with his shoelace in the latrine”. COME ON!!!

Here is another thing: my son was an easy target because he was depressed. Near the end of his life, he was a mess because of the environment he was held in and the circumstances regarding his medical care. So it was easy to say “Look, he couldn’t take it anymore and took his life.” But I say no, he didn’t take his life, his life was just about to begin again. He was getting ready to start over. Remember the beginning of the story? He was thriving, strong and full of purpose.

These events took place over the period of 19 months. He was a young 19 year old boy when he died.

Kim Smith
Mother of Pvt Nicholas A. Davis
United States Army

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