Last Thursday, I came back from my brother’s funeral at Houma, LA. Bobby Barrios, Jr. was my former teammate and helluva Senior Communications Sergeant, when we both served on Operational Detachment- Alpha (ODA) 1211. He was the type of guy who’s smile, confidence and swagger could light up any room he walked into. Bobby was incredibly smart, a fierce competitor, loyal friend, and a unwavering patriot who had the amazing ability to bring people together. And he even did so after his death on May 25th, 2019.
Bobby chose to take his own life. And though we don’t know the exact details, we know that he had recently separated from the Army after 12 years as a Green Beret. He had enrolled in college and began to start a new life, but apparently still had demons that haunted him. Despite his charisma, positive attitude, and plenty of friends in his hometown of Houma, Bobby had challenges he was unable to share.
No one knew. No one would have guessed this outcome. Not his family, friends, or military brothers. We were all shocked when we heard of the horrible news, as we knew Bobby would be the last person on earth who would even consider such actions. If he would have only reached out to someone, we could have done something.
Facing depression or death aren’t the only things that should trigger someone to reach out for a little help. There are other root causes. When feeling anxious while embarking a transition in life. When feeling confused on what to do as a profession or with family. When feeling hopeless because you can’t seem to figure out your identity. You should reach out for each of these to get a little encouragement but also some perspective from others – mentors, friends, and family. But sometimes it takes a little more professional help.
I too was in a defeated state of mind in 2017. My wife and I had relocated to Chicago a year prior, and I had just started my MBA program six months ago. I hated my new manufacturing job but knew I had to just hang tight for another year to graduate from school, to then find a better gig. Then, unexpectedly, I was fired. There was a management change from the top a few months prior, and I too was thrown in the re-organization.
And the entire ordeal hit me like a ton of bricks. I had achieved everything I wanted in the Army, but after my transition, I was inadequate. The company gave me one month severance and kicked me to the curb. I was a failure. I was ashamed. I was so angry. My wife and I were plagued with questions of our future and decisions we had to make… very quickly. She was my rock, no less, but I needed additional help. I had reached out to my friends and family, but nothing could subdue the burning rage inside. It was similar to the same feelings of hopelessness I felt, when I was in Afghanistan and serving overseas.
For years, I avoided the thought that I had PTSD. I thought I was too strong for a “post-traumatic disorder.” As an Army warrior, we had it engrained in our minds that weakness is something we had to smother, to destroy. We were the sheepdog that protected the rest of the herd. Pain is weakness leaving the body, right? There was no room for weakness in the pursuit of excellence. During our times of service this is what allows us to be lethal, but post military service, this denial is destructive.
I didn’t have the flashbacks of traumatic events nor did I wake up with cold chills. I was seemingly at peace with my wartime conquests, but I had resurfacing thoughts and feelings of guilt and anger. I felt like I was failing my team and letting them down. On the surface, I appeared to be put together and optimistic of the opportunities, but the inside I was deeply frustrated and furious. I was on an emotional roller-coaster, and I tried to ease it with alcohol. That’s when my wife and I decided to seek counseling, and I went to the VA Hospital.
During my 10 weeks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I worked with my therapist to be able to identify my triggers and negative thoughts. He helped me understand the root causes and focused on how my beliefs and thoughts affected my emotions, from my time in the service and also as a civilian. I learned how to cope with my thoughts of self-doubt and dejection, and be more aware of the positive outcomes I instilled in others. And I had people reach out. Army friends, MBA friends, and co-workers. They were there to listen to me, encourage me, and just be compassionate of my circumstance. People connected me to others and eventually helped me start my own businesses.
Now, two years later, I am renewed in my focus and clarity in the direction of my life. I know I am best equipped to serve others, not just through MilSpec Capital, but to be more compassionate with those going through their bouts of uncertainty of their careers and even self-identity. Bobby was this type of person, someone who deeply cared about others and wanted to see them succeed. He had a tremendous love for his brothers and would give his shirt off his back for us. Without him, the world is a lesser place, but he leaves us with this great lesson: we must always look after one another even more-so when we are out of uniform.
So this is your final mission: I challenge you with outreach. Go call a long-lost friend, a fellow Veteran, or someone in need. Be there for them, lend them your ear, and be your brother’s or sister’s keeper. Perhaps you can also help connect them to professional services if needed.
Let’s eliminate these fateful outcomes of our Veterans, once and for all.