Literally dying to get some sleep: The accidental death of a US Marine

Literally dying to get some sleep: The accidental death of a US Marine

July 8, 2011 ~ Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of LCPL Adam Thomas Puckett.  At the time of his death, just 25 years old, Adam had just returned from his second combat deployment with the United States Marine Corps.  He was home on leave.

For the past year, the lives of countless people have been affected because LCPL Puckett died an unexpected death.  Our lives will never be the same because he is no longer with us, but the difficult part to come to terms with is how he died.

It’s normal to worry, and we almost come to expect our troops to die in the war zone, but it’s not within the realm of our understanding to get our loved one home from war only to find them dead a few days later.  According to the coroner, the cause of death would likely be “overdose”, but the true cause of this combat related death is Post Traumatic Stress.

We all knew something wasn’t right.  After his return from his first deployment to Iraq, his parents were concerned about him, but as all Marines do, Adam insisted that he was fine.  He returned to his base to train and prepare for the next deployment just a few short months away.

During the second deployment, this time to Afghanistan, Adam’s unit was in the middle of the nightmare.  Fourteen men from Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment lost their lives in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, including one of LCPL Adam Puckett’s good friends, LCPL Timothy J. Poole.  Needless to say, many more Marines were physically wounded, and it may be years before the baggage of invisible wounds carried home by this unit can be ascertained.

As you can imagine, all of us here at home were extremely concerned about how Adam might be handling things when we realized his unit was dealing with such atrocities.  The communication during this deployment was infrequent and it was apparent that Adam was indeed profoundly affected by the second tour of duty.

When he returned from deployment, Adam told his parents that he did not want the big fanfare again this year.  The prior year, a limo was rented and we were all there to welcome him home from war.  This year, Adam preferred to arrive home quietly.  He was withdrawn and it wasn’t long before his parents urged him to get treatment.

Could Adam have reached out and asked for help?  Marines are supposed to be tough. They know they need to exercise the “suck it up” mentality.  Though the Marine Corps will tell you that there is no stigma, and leadership insists they want their Marines to step forward and ask for help, Adam knew better.  He knew enough about what other Marines had been through and he wasn’t about to go anywhere near that dark place.

Just like everyone else, Adam figured he could handle it himself.

Less than two weeks after he returned to his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, Adam was dead.

The nightmares were keeping him up.  He couldn’t sleep. He just wanted to get some rest.  He just needed some way to fall asleep.  One night when he was dying to get some sleep, he took something to help him escape the nightmares.  Adam never woke up.

You know how it feels to be so exhausted you can’t even think.  We can all relate to the feeling of desperation when we must get our rest.  We can all relate to the horror of a nightmare, but do we know what it’s like to be unable to sleep because we have to live with the baggage we have brought home from war?

Thousands of troops are coming home from this ten year war bringing the baggage of Post Traumatic Stress.  Most of these souls are not receiving any help because the system currently in place is failing them. For those who do ask for help, they find their careers coming to an end. They are sent home, from the few and far between appointments, with grocery bags full of medication that only aggravate their problems.

And what happens to the family members of these men and women suffering with PTSD?  Most will tell you that they live in a crisis that never seems to end until death knocks at their door, and then the crisis becomes even worse.

When war takes the life of one on the front lines, we all grieve. We must live with the emptiness that accompanies the loss of that life cut short, but we honor that hero for his courage and we carry the burden with pride and dignity.

This is not so when the warrior makes it safely back to the homefront and then dies by his own hand or accidentally while attempting to survive the horrors of war. The lack of understanding and compassion, accompanied by the judgment and stigma is overwhelming.

There is guilt felt by the family members left behind as they wonder if they could have done something to change the outcome.  The band of brothers must now add another death to their already insurmountable baggage being carried day by day. Survivors guilt is felt by those who still have living breathing family members.  Everyone is at a loss as to how to comfort the family.  There is simply no way to take away the pain.

I have personally watched the Puckett family try to put their lives back together now that their only son is gone. Life as they knew it ended on July 8, 2010.  Their smiles have been replaced with tears.  Their purpose in life, as parents, came to a screeching halt.  Our time spent together is now centered around the loss of Adam and visits to his grave site.  Try as hard as we might to remember the happy days of Adam’s life, we always come back to the sobering fact that he is no longer here.

Jeremiah Workman, author of Shadow of the Sword, is a retired Marine, disabled by PTSD. While speaking at the Visible Honor for Invisible Wounds event in Washington, DC, he recently stated the following: “PTSD doesn’t discriminate against age, rank, color, sex, or valor awards.  I don’t care who you are, PTSD is out there and it’s alive and well. The elephant has been sitting in the living room for way too long.  It’s right in front of the TV and everyone is afraid to say something to it, to move it out of the way. It’s right there in front of our faces.”

For many of us who have a loved one who has gone to war, we live with the elephant as well as the ghosts.  We are scared to speak up because we know that society just won’t understand.  We hide the problem and we make it worse by doing so.

For those of us who have stood up to fight the problem, we have grown weary with the uphill battle that seems to get steeper and steeper with every step.  We are exhausted, but we know we can’t give up. We must join together, with others who walk this path, so we can make a louder noise and prevent any further combat related deaths from taking place here on our home soil.

We can’t bring Adam back, but we can make sure that he did not die in vain.  Let’s all become more educated so that we can offer the understanding and compassion needed to help our returning combat veterans as they readjust to life back in the states.

If you are one who suffers with PTSD, or if you have a family member or a friend who lives with this combat injury, please reach out for help. There are resources out there and people who honestly care about you and want to help.  You have served and sacrificed on our behalf and we want to help you move forward and live the life of freedom that your service has guaranteed for all of us.

For more information about support services for combat veterans, please visit our websites at www.military-missions.org and http://fellednot.com.  We don’t have all the answers, but we will do our best to help you find the support you need.

Originally published by the author at Military Missions Inc.

Comments

  1. Melissa Brown says:

    This was the most heartfelt story I have ever read. I did not know Adam, but I worked with his mother and I felt like I had knpwn him from all the stories she told everyday. I haven’t talked to her since his passing and I miss her dearly. I’ve tried to reach out to her, but have not been able to. I think of her and him often and I know she is going through so much. I can’t imagine losing a child in any matter and I know she worried so much about him while he was away and couldn’t wait till he got home so she could have peace.

    I myself do not have anyone in my family that is in the military, but I pray for every single one of those men and women everyday. I can not imagine the things these men and women are going through and have gone through.

    To the editor thank you so much for this wonderful article and to make awareness of PTSD and that it is real and no man or woman should have to go through it alone.

    Thank you

    • Ernie Laughlin says:

      Melissa, please go see her, even if she does not want you to. Don’t wait for a return call. She needs someone to listen to her and not argue but just be there. She may need a gentle prod to get started, and her thoughts may seem foreign, but please, for now, just be there and listen and console. And please encourage other friends to do the same. Don’t let her turn you down. PLEASE!

    • beth says:

      Melissa, I agree with Ernie. Reach out to Karen. She needs to know people care and miss her. And like Ernie said, don’t let her turn you down! If she does, just persist. She has good days and bad. When I reach out, sometimes she accepts, sometimes not. The important thing is for her to know is that you are there when she is ready.

  2. Ernie Laughlin says:

    Beth, you are so right in what you have said. Adam’s mother and father worried while he was gone. Then when he is home, safe, they lost him. I know my mother worried about me while I was just 20 and in Vietnam. While I have had no children in the Services, I can identify with Mrs. Puckett. My two adult daughters came home about five years ago to tell us they were addicted to heroin. From then until 9/20/2009, it was like they were in a war zone. On that day, Mel died. Shortly afterwards, Jenn came home to live with us. We knew she wasn’t safe, no heroin addict ever is. But we had hope for her. She died on 7/16/2011. Mrs. Puckett must have felt much like us – our baby is home and now he can get better. To lose our children when they come home, after years in the drug war, Iraq and Afghanistan – it hurts so much and it turns everything upside down. And as much as Adam and all the other returning service members need help with their afflictions, she needs help too. I think she needs about a hundred friends to descend on her, with love and understanding (as much as that is possible for someone who has NOT lost a child), and with patience, to just stay and listen. Reasoning and platitudes are not options right now for her. She desperately needs love and patience from those who care for her, even if she refuses it. Please don’t leave it to chance, because alone, I don’t think she has a chance.

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