Well, here goes…this may get lengthy, but I hope it will help someone, somewhere. I will preface this all by saying I have never seen combat, and don’t claim to have any form of PTS. I’ll try to keep this somewhat organized and not too scatter brained. I have lots I could write but I don’t want to make it too long so if you have any questions or want to talk more, I’m here, just send me a message.
I enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 2004. I served for 6 years as an MP, and had one deployment of 7 months in 2008-2009 to Djibouti, Africa. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the typical deployment for the times we were in. There was no combat zone of any kind there. Some people viewed it more as a vacation.
After I got out of the Corps in 2010, while I never hid the fact that I was a veteran, I never really fully embraced it either. When talking with fellow veterans, I always just kind of took a quiet back seat. I almost felt ashamed that I never did a “real deployment” to Iraq or Afghanistan. I felt like that was my first strike against me. My second strike, in my eyes, was that I was only in the reserves and not active duty.
Adding to all of this was the fact I was a Marine, and that’s a heavy title to live up to. I had friends, family, and coworkers saying, “Oh he can do it, he’s a Marine”, or “Let’s have the Marine do it”, etc. I felt like I didn’t live up to that title since I was only in the reserves and hadn’t actually “fought” for our country.
Fast forward to just a year or so ago. In working with fellow veterans and seeing their own struggles they’ve dealt with, and their willingness to open up, it made me realize something. I am a veteran, and a Marine. I did sign that dotted line, and I did serve my country. And to most veterans, it doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t do, or if or where you deployed to. All that matters is you’re part of a brotherhood/sisterhood that not many people can say they belong to as well. That’s especially true with the Marine Corps. Once a Marine, Always a Marine.
So, I hope I still have your attention. I’m just about finished. No matter when or where you served, be proud of it. Don’t be afraid to share your own experiences with others. There could be someone out there with a similar story, but are afraid to share it because they feel ashamed, or feel they’ll be ridiculed because it. Don’t worry, we won’t judge you. We’ll welcome you in to the family with arms wide open. You just have to be willing to open up and reach out. Find an organization that you can be a part of and help your fellow brothers and sisters. We’re all alone, together.
Semper Fidelis Marines.
A lot of reflecting this week. Watching the numbers grow day by day made a lasting impression. I have been following the statistics for quite some time now, but it really hit home this week, especially with a personal connection. 23 is too many, 115 is shocking, and the week isn't even over yet. Veteran suicide is a real issue that does not discriminate. We all can help stop this epidemic though. If you know a service member, or veteran, check up on them, let them know of you're there. If you are on the other side of the coin, know there is someone there who cares for you and loves you willing to help. I witnessed this this week first hand while 2 men stood tall with empty boots in some of the worst weather imaginable. Rain, snow, and extreme wind, and they toughed it out to lend an ear, educate people, and provide help to eliminate veteran suicide. This epidemic can be stopped. We need to stand tall just as these men and boots did through the wind, rain, and snow. Together we can beat this. Thank you Operation 23 to 0.
Re: Photographs taken at Boots for the 23 Event
My hope behind taking those photographs is that it will make a true impact on people will look at them. Its not necessarily that I want to put more focus on the kids left behind versus the soldier but I want people to see the truth. That picture specifically is the oldest child and the youngest out of four who lost their father. One will have memories and guilt and confusion for the rest of her days and the other one will never have an opportunity to feel his touch or hear his voice. I personally as a widow and a suicide survivor, need for people to understand that even the greatest person, the strongest man, the most devoted father can feel so low and weak in any given moment and take their life as a last resort in an effort to make the people around them better off....We are so far from better off.
So I don't really know how to start my story. I suppose I will start with where my thoughts all began.
When I was 17 living in South Dakota I watched my brother die. It was something that wasn't preventable and the inevitable was going to happen. He was destined to live a short life. That's probably where the suicidal thoughts started but I didn't think much about it or really act on them. This was in 2003. I joined the Marine Corps the following year. My goals were to be a Cop and not a field MP. I wanted the badge and to pursue a career in criminal justice. My Grandpa was a cop and my Dad was a Cop. It was only fitting for me to be one too. That's not exactly what happened. I went to Boot Camp May 2005 and graduated that August. Of course like a dumb boot, I would only get married that same year. I got orders to Camp Lejuene, where all dreams die, and was sent to Iraq March of 2006. Of course my ex wife left me then. So at this point in my life, my best friend (brother) passes away in front of my eyes, my wife leaves me because I am supposedly "cheating" but of course wasn't. She was just a nut job. AND I wasn't being a Cop. So three strikes. I took it in stride. I don't go into what we did in Iraq but I can say that I seen and did more than every regular POG. I am not a grunt and I will never ever compare myself to one. I know that they were the tip of the spear and I supported that with our own missions. Needless to say, things do change men like it or not. I came back and that when the depression started to hit. My brothers death was starting to be blamed on me from my parents and to this day I don't know why they started to blame me. I had no choice in his disease. They used me for money and I went deep into debt. I didn't have a wife any more and some how again, that was blamed on me. I didn't really enjoy what I was doing either.
SO now I have debt and misplaced guilt put on my shoulders. I was young and didn't have any where to turn to. The job was stressful, and there was no happiness in my life. THATS when I started to drink heavily and I mean heavily. My "friends" encouraged my drinking habits and did even bother to listen. As the years grew on I just kept drinking and trying new things to kill the pain. I have always believed that I always did wrong by others so I kept to myself in a deep dark hole. I started to use pills (ecstasy, vicodin, you name it I did it) regularly. Now mind you, at this time in my life I feel like I HAVE THE WORST LIFE IN THE WORLD! All I wanted was death. I became reckless, didn't care about my life, my career or anything. I remember sitting down with myself one night and attempting to eat pills and drink as much as I could. I was determined to let some one find me dead It didn't matter who found me but I wanted the world to know that I was done and that they could finally see my pain. I was having nightmares and I was unable to function at work, but of course being the stubborn selfish asshole I was, I kept it all to myself.
I met my new wife in 2010. I was still in my deep hole and honestly didn't give a shit about her at all. Don't get me wrong I loved her but I felt it would be easier to push her away so she wouldn't have to share my pain. It took a long time for her to understand. She would say things about getting me help, she would push me towards groups, new friends, any one. She tried to help me reconnect with my family who shunned me. Eventually she just pissed me off enough where I finally stood on my own. That was the hardest part. This is when I knew I needed help and I needed support. I know knew I wasn't the only one out there who feels like I do. Before I got out, I went to see a shrink. He pretty laid it on the line saying that I had some depression bullshit. I didn't want to hear it. I hated hearing it. But I accepted it. I had to. The only way away from it was to eat it. So I did. I got rid of old friends and I started to make new ones. Ones that would listen to me day or night. Ones that would not only give me love but kick me in my ass too. I used my wife and kids constantly to help me ease through days that I would have trouble with. I got out in January 2015 and the depression hit again. Being a Marine for 10 years and suddenly having to adjust to civilian life was tough. I hit another depression this year, but fortunately this time I already knew what to do.
When you are told all your life that everything is your fault (brothers death, wrong career choice, going to Iraq, divorces, childrens mental health issues, pretty much everything) its hard not to feel that way. I used to have suicidal thoughts daily. but now its down to once a week or less. I gave up drinking for the most part. I only drink with my wife in my own controlled environment and i enjoy that way better. I have a great job with great benefits. I had to get ahold of myself before i could move further. Yeah it will always stay with you no matter what but you can fight it and be bigger than suicide. There's a lot more personal stuff that happened to me through out this story but I don't like to bring them up because those are demons i defeated. I have had to cope with myself and i had to understand that not everything is my fault. People around you make choices that will effect you. Its your decision on making them positive or not. There is help every where, but to me the biggest help was myself. It took years for me to understand that I AM BIGGER AND BETTER than what anyone has ever said to me or about me.
Life gets better. Life is better. Life is great, but you have to accept it and make it your own greatness. Once you get to there, its all an easy coast and a great ride. I will never say i have it worse then any one else. I will admit that i have depression issues and suicidal thoughts, but to me, its about enjoying the win over those demons every day that counts.
To all my Hero’s (Military and Veterans) at Operation: 23 to Zero,
Greetings! My name is Mary Bergerson; I am the disabled widow of Sgt. Douglas Bergerson. Operation: 23 to Zero asked me to share my story with you.
Doug took great pride in his military service and the men and women he served with. Whenever someone asks me to share my story I try my best to honor both his memory and his service, while hoping that sharing my story will stop others from following in Doug’s footsteps. On September 15, 2005, my husband took his life, and changed the course of my life forever.
I struggle when I try to speak of Doug’s suicide. I don’t want to spend much time talking about what haunted him following his service that may have lead him to end his life. I also don’t wish to talk about the horrors of that awful day, as it is not my intent to spread my pain around. I feel stuck because sharing these details feels like I am dishonoring his memory. He was so much more then the “demons” that haunted him. He was an amazing man, a great husband and a devoted father. I am sure everyone reading this coping with the horror of war and PTSD understands my dilemma.
In the months prior to Doug’s suicide, our lives were filled with great hope for our future. He had graduated with honors from college with a degree in graphic arts and design. We were in the process of relocating to the twin cities. He was starting a new job as a press operator. He was in counseling and was working with a medical doctor to taper off oxycontin that he had been taking for his back injury.
I had already found work in the cities, and was staying with my parents and commuted back and forth to northern MN on the weekends. We were trying so hard to get all of our ducks in a row so we could start anew, but obstacles kept getting in our way. First his medical doctor went on leave and none of the doctors in the practice would prescribe Oxycontin since Doug was not their patient, therefore he was forced to quit cold turkey. Second our home had been on the market for nearly a year and there was little or no interest from buyers, and we had difficulty finding an apartment in the cities we could afford in addition to our mortgage payment that would allow 2 large dogs. I ended up staying at my folks with our dogs while he and the boys rented an apartment. Then, in the midst of it all, mom lost her battle with cancer and passed away and my world was turned upside down.
Doug had attempted suicide on several other occasions, but the children or I had always arrived in time to prevent it. This September day started out poorly. We had argued the night before and I was replaying the fight over and over in my mind. He had said something at the end of our argument that I didn't completely hear or understand. I was anxious to end my workday, so we could head up north to spend the weekend together as a family, and talk things over. Then a feeling of dread overwhelmed me as I realized his final words that night may have been a reference to suicide. Later when I received his death certificate the time of death matched exactly the moment that feeling of dread ran through my body. To this day, I wonder if I could have stopped him, if I had listened to that little voice in my head sooner.
In the 18 months that followed my mom’s death my life was reduced to ashes. I lost, my mom to cancer, my husband to suicide, my brother (who was also a veteran) died of alcoholism, and in among all of that, I lost our home, my kids went to live with their grandparents up north to finish school and have the support of their friends. Then I lost my job and because of the nature of Doug’s death I was asked to leave my church.
The horror of that day stays forever in my thoughts, my heart, and my spirit, and in the lives of our children, who have been profoundly changed by their father’s death. Even now, nearly 10 years later, the details and the images of that day still haunt my thoughts and live on in my nightmares. I continue to ask myself if I could have done or said anything, to change the outcome of that day. My head knows it was his choice, but my heart will never believe it.
For a long time my thoughts were consumed with joining my husband. I felt I had nothing left to live for. I didn't fit in with my family and friends. People were uncomfortable around me, because they didn't know what to say or do to help. I felt so awkward in public that I would panic to the point I avoided leave the house, and I dreaded both time with other people, and time alone with my thoughts. The only thought at this point that kept me from following in Doug’s footsteps was the memories that haunted me. I couldn't put my loved ones through another horrific loss and the lasting effects of finding someone afterwards.
To make matters worse I need a job and the only job offer was from the store where Doug purchased the gun he took his life with. The receipt lay on the van seat next to his body. Everyday I had to brace myself mentally to go into work. I’m sure the maintenance staff wondered who kept throwing up in their parking lot nearly every day for over a year.
The rest of my story is nothing less then a miracle. As I withdrew from society, family and friends, I found myself chatting on line, researching suicide prevention, visiting suicide support groups and making friends in various chat rooms. I found it easier to talk to strangers. Then I met man claiming to be of high-ranking military officer. He suggested I find a way to channel my pain and emotions into something positive. We tossed some ideas around and decided I would send care packages to soldiers overseas and share my story in hopes of stopping soldiers considering suicide from following in Doug’s footstep. The man who helped me come up with this idea was a fraud, he turned out to be a janitor in Ohio. After spending everything I had creating care packages and heart breaking hours writing my story to go in each box, I had no one to send them to. I went back into the chat room letting others know of this deception. As I explained what was going on a soldier in the chat room sent me a private message. It simply said, “You have no reason to believe me, but I really am a soldier in Afghanistan and I will take those boxes. If you email me outside of the chat room I will tell you where you can send them”.
In that year I sent all those care packages to three soldiers who shared them with their units. The number of packages increased greatly each year. On the anniversary of Doug’s death in 2013 The Mission Project as it is called today became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and in 2014 we sent packages to help meet the needs of 617 of our military.
They say, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. The truth is suicide doesn’t end the pain it just spreads it around to those left behind. It changes forms but it never goes away. It is a nightmare that just keeps on giving. It’s been 10 years since Doug’s passing, and God has been able to turn the most painful time in my life into a blessing. Doug is gone from my life and the pain of that loss will never leave me, but I feel as if he has left the entire armed forces as my extended family, and it has become my personal mission to try and save other soldiers from following in Doug’s footsteps. I share the desire to see Operation: 23 to Zero succeed. Please know if you are considering suicide, that there are those of us out here that care and want disparately to help. I hope you found hope and strength in my story.
So in closing I want to thank you for your service, and let you know from the bottom of my heart I care.
This letter came from a service member who gave his boots to his daughter to display at our Boot event at the Minnesota State Capitol:
"My darling, I hope you can use these boots. Here is a little background if you need it... I wore them while deployed to (Removed for security purposes) August 05-06. During that tour as (Removed for security purposes), I visited medical units/wounded in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and UAE. These boots flew on 53 combat sorties to places like Fallujah, Mosul, Baghdad, Balad, Kandahar, Kabul, and other places I still am not to talk about. These missions carried warriors to/from the battlefield, multi-star Generals from all branches of Service, US Senators/Representatives, critical supplies, Iraqi detainess ("persons under control"), coalition injured and most poignantly, fallen heroes on their final journey home for the wars. Mommy and I watched "American Sniper" today and so many of these memories came flooding back. While these boots took mortar and gun fire it was nothing like that taken by those who so selflessly and heroically patrolled/fought/died "outside the wire". While it is hard to give them up I know they will now serve a higher purpose. Thank you for asking! As always, I am so proud of what you've done and continue to do for our veterans!!!! Much love always, Dad"
This section of our site will be updated with messages and stories from survivors of military suicide, and family members of those who have lost the battle with their demons. This is where you can find encouragement and share with others what has been successful for you. Thank you to everyone for your support and lets work together to make things better....if you wish to have anything featured in this section, contact us through email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know if you would like the post to be anonymous or if you don't mind sharing very limited personal information.