Ignorant General

While looking for answers about mental health and suicide amongst the men and women serving and who have served in the military I read this quote that caught me by surprise.
On his Jan. 19 blog, the commanding general of Fort Bliss (Texas), Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard wrote, regarding members of the military who commit suicide: “I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act. I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”
The next quote was even more surprising and made me sick and furious.
“Thanks to many of you and your feedback, I have learned that this was a hurtful statement. I also realize that my statement was not in line with the Army’s guidance regarding sensitivity to suicide. With my deepest sincerity and respect towards those whom I have offended, I retract that statement.”
I wrote the below statement immediately following (I am not a writer by any means) and then asked a friend what she thought. Strange enough, the next day, an article was published in the local paper with the same quote discussing mental health in the military, especially among combat veterans, and she showed it to me. I thought, “Great something will be done to put this idiot in his place.” Nothing, I did not see any outrage or even support, just indifference. So, are we going to treat this problem the same way as we treat the problem at hand? Ignore it long enough and maybe it will just go away.
It seems strange, that Pittard is being selfish and pouting like a child over an issue that I ASSUME, just as he ASSUMES, he thinks he knows something about. I suggest he made these comments only because suicides are occurring on his watch, in his command, which he thinks will affect his career, regardless of the spin he chooses to give it.
Who is really being selfish? Who is really acting like a child?
I am reminded of the adage about those who assume and what it does to U and ME but, for the sake of continued discussion, I am going to follow the example he has set.
He has yet to acknowledge he was wrong and wrote an ignorant statement. Rather, he acknowledges it was hurtful and not in line with Army sensitivity on the issue, again portraying those directly affected and those offended by the statement as less than tough or soldierly for disagreeing with his statement to begin with. I can only believe that, behind closed doors, Pittard is still pouting like a child and, unlike an adult who would truly use this opportunity to learn and put forth an effort out of genuine concern to fix a problem, he is still standing behind his original comment. Otherwise, would this adult not have offered a real apology? He may hide behind false pretenses under the belief that leaders don’t apologize, or some other vague excuse. When truly sorry or faced with your own errors in judgment that have profoundly and negatively affected people, you apologize. If I, out of frustration, call someone an awful person and, in hindsight, realize I was wrong and the statement was hurtful I would apologize. If I were the person who had been called the awful name publicly, it would give me little to no satisfaction if the offender simply said I retract that statement. Let’s give it a shot. Pittard, with all due respect, is an ignorant moron because he has no understanding of mental health issues and suicide. I retract my previous statement but, make no apology for having said it. Maybe, I am just frustrated. There, everything is okay.
I am reminded of my time at Ft. Bliss and the many funeral services I witnessed as Officer in Charge at the national cemetery outside of its gates as well as a service for a young Soldier who, without ever deploying, took his life while serving in my battalion. When I handed the tightly folded U.S. flag to those soldier’s next of kin, I followed Army protocol and told them, while looking into their eyes, my hands often slightly shaking as a result of the intensity of the moment, “I am sorry for your loss.”
I meant it. I was not just going through the motions or doing it because the Army told me to be sensitive. I made no assumptions of how or why the Veteran had died. I made no assumptions, even while knowing some of the young Soldier’s problems, whether he was acting out of selfishness or not. All I knew was that his family was mourning and I was allowed to say I am sorry. I think it meant more because I actually was. Should we assume these individuals are being selfish? Pittard was not assuming, he was making a statement of damnation and judgment on the heartfelt emotions of those who take their lives. Personally, I believe there is only One who can judge the heart and soul. Pittard is not the one, even if he thinks he may be after years of having his ass kissed.
Granted, I am not a West Point graduate and have never studied at Harvard, like Pittard has, but I do understand a little about syntax and the intent of a message, based on the way something is said. Maybe Pittard does not, but I find it hard to believe someone with his education who has risen to the rank of major general in the greatest Army in the world doesn’t.
I think he knew and meant to say exactly what he said, both originally and in his weak, immature retraction. Absolutely is a word that is not confusing to most Americans. We, maybe even part of the rest of us, understand in this quote of Pittard’s, absolutely is used to denote in all conditions, regardless of circumstances, and never varying. He would not have used the word if he did not intend for it relay this meaning.
So, Pittard is, literally, saying that in all conditions, regardless of circumstances, suicide is a selfish act. Many people hold this belief. What makes this different is, as a leader in the Army, Pittard is expected to be less ignorant on an issue that is, supposedly, very important to Army leadership. If he does not understand something, he should absolutely defer to someone who does, research the topic, or keep his mouth shut…absolutely.
Understanding that many religions condemn suicide, it is not surprising many people disagree with the act. This is a religious stand and not an issue of ignorance. The issue is that Pittard made no mention of religion or any justification for the statement other than his opinion and then, like a child, ridiculed service men and women who have no ability to defend their actions as a result of being no longer with the rest of us due to suicide.
Again, who has the authority to judge the hearts of man? Where is that authority derived? Hmmm…is it generals in the Army and the authority is given, unbeknownst to the rest of us when they get a star on their chest?
His words and opinion are in no way confusing. He meant what he said and carefully thought out his poor, weak, and childish retraction. How can a person with such high standards of education, in such a high rank and in such a critical leadership role, with the ability to have his words heard by and absorbed by so many, make such a foolish and ignorant statement and still be in his leadership position?
I will tell you. Mental health does not seem to be a real, or genuine, concern or is greatly misunderstood by a great number of senior military leaders.
There is no buy-in into the programs or culture and these leaders are just going through the motions and checking a box. It is easy to say they care and, “we have this program and that program” or “I was instrumental in the construction of this facility or writing of this policy.” Pittard has proven that this all means nothing if you are doing it for show and selfish reasons (evaluation rebuttals).
Ask yourselves what good a church is with pews, a preacher, and people if God and his love are not there? What good is a mental health facility with doctors, medicine and patients if genuine belief, hope, and nonjudgmental concern for the patients to recover is not there? Both are useless structures built just for show. Both require belief, hope, and faith to achieve the desired results.
Soldiers suffering with thoughts of suicide need genuine belief, hope, and faith from those around them, not a building constructed for show. A church without God needs genuine belief, hope, and faith, not a building constructed for show.
The truth is, most see it as a nuisance to deal with Soldiers who may have mental health issues and Soldiers, as a result of comments made every day similar to Pittard’s, know a stigma is attached not only to those who take their lives, but to those who even ask for help.
Dishonor and ridicule, rather than recovery and rebounding, is the unspoken military policy a lot of service members face. How else can one describe being called a selfish child other than dishonor? Is the military and its senior leaders so archaic that it cannot adapt, genuinely adapt? Soldiers are required to be physically and mentally tough, however, during times they are unable to be one or the other, respectful care should be given regardless of the situation. If unable to recover adequately for combat, respect should still be given as the Soldier transitions. This really does not seem like it is difficult to understand.
Pittard remains in his position because, unlike the many men and women who have taken their lives for so many different reasons while serving our country, Pittard had the opportunity to explain his actions and to, half-heartedly, retract his ignorant opinion. What does leadership like this and the fact that Pittard is still in his role with his same ability to reach so many mean for our military? Are we willing to accept this?
I am reminded of a suicide I once saw in a remarkable photo and read about that occurred years before my birth. The date was June 11, 1963. A Buddhist monk by the name of Thich Quang Duc burned himself in protest of religious oppression in South Vietnam that was otherwise ignored or just seen as a not a problem issue to the rest of the world. This monk made an ultimate sacrifice by taking his life in order to help and save many more around him at that time and in the future. It would be a stretch for anyone to call this suicide “selfish.” On the contrary, this suicide seems to be an act of selflessness executed with the intent of greater good. He hurt no one but himself. He damaged no property and sought only to help his fellow man. Can we not all think of at least one similar situation?
My point is, that Sometimes we think we understand and can make a reasonably educated guess as to why someone may have taken his or her life. Other times, it is incomprehensible. Regardless, it is never absolutely understood what drives someone to such an extreme and we should never allow how someone dies, whether in the heat of battle or by his own hand, to define their entire life. Good people, even great people, have committed suicide for numerous reasons. Physical pain or suffering from disease, mental illnesses like PTSD and depression, which many combat veterans are trying to cope with; momentary lapse in judgment due to intoxication or medication side effects- the act of suicide happens for, and can be interpreted in, numerous ways.
So, Pittard, with all due respect, please quit worrying about your evaluations, what your peers may say as a result of suicides happening on your watch, and your tough guy image and get real. Instead of publicly pouting in the guise of concern for the families, step down and let an adult take your place and lead with the well-being of Soldiers in mind rather than career. After all, the “real-life problems” of an Army major general (pay-approximately 13,618.80 a month) just may be a little different from a private first class (1,981.20 maxed out) or sergeant (3,012.90 maxed out) struggling to make ends meets and dealing with issues absent of the constant yes-men and ass kissers that come with your position.
They have assumed the great, selfless, and honorable duty of serving and are willing to die for this great country, just as you have chosen to do. Money isn’t everything but, I think an extra $10,000-$12,000 a month might make some real-life problems go away or be easier to handle. Pittard your comment wasn’t even an ignorant statement; it was plain stupid and evidence you are completely out of touch with reality. You should seek help for your apparent narcissistic personality disorder. I retract, but do not apologize for the previous statements. In closing, if Pittard is allowed to make broad generalizations with no sign of real remorse or apology, I too will do the same and follow his example, since he is obviously above reproach even after having done so.
Sir, with all due respect, I have always been taught people, regardless of race, religion, or rank, who make bold and derogatory statements about people who have no way of defending themselves or their actions are called cowards, bullies, and grandstanders. Blue Falcon is a term often used to describe these individuals in service.
Sir, with all due respect, someone should shoo you off and you should fly away. You have exposed yourself. A real man, a man of conviction would have stood by his words or apologized, yet you buckled and broke.
According to the new standard you have set, I and many others will judge you based on one action and one moment of your life. I choose this one. I offer no apology and will circumvent any reaction to my words by bringing up good things I have done in the past, just like you. Thank you for setting this new standard. Well, it’s all about you anyway, isn’t it, you selfish ass. Fly away.
By the way, he is so proud that he either cannot admit that his retraction was due to pressure from above or he did not receive or respect that pressure. Either way, this is an issue in and of itself. So, which one is it general? You don’t respect your superiors or you are an arrogant, prideful idiot? Or, do other senior leaders not care enough about mental health issues in the military to even hold you accountable?
Of course, I retract but, do not apologize for this entire statement.
Please pray for our Troops and Veterans.

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