Photo of ALlen West, Chad Robichaux and Carlton Kent in an article by ALlen West on the Old School Patriot website.

Walking the Razor’s Edge: This One is Personal

In Front Page, Mental Health, Military by Allen West

This past Friday I had the distinct pleasure and honor to spend the afternoon and have dinner with two great Americans. They were the 16th Sergeant Major of the United States Marine Corps, SGM Carlton Kent, and my good friend, former MMA Champion and former Marine Force Reconnaissance Staff Sergeant Chad Robichaux. We went shooting at my hangout, Crossfire Defense Academy where SGM Kent took us to the woodshed with a Colt 1911 .45 pistol, but I redeemed the Army honor with my 300 Blackout and F1 .223 Carbine.

Both men had been in Huntsville, Texas, speaking up and advocating for Chad’s organization, the Mighty Oaks Foundation, of which, along with SGM Kent, I serve on the advisory board. I have shared with you previously the important work of the Mighty Oaks Foundation as recently as last month. I was humbled to be the speaker at the Eighth Anniversary Gala for Mighty Oaks Foundation in The Woodlands, Texas in December. That same month, December, Chad shared with me the horrible story about a Marine Corps fighter pilot, Colonel Jim Turner, who donned his dress blue uniform, drove to the VA Hospital in Tampa, sat upon his records, and took his life. And we addressed that issue here at The Old School Patriot.

And sadly, the news does not get any better. As reported by CNN:

“The number of confirmed and suspected suicides in the active-duty Marine Corps reached a 10-year high in 2018 with 57 cases, according to new Marine Corps data obtained by CNN. 

Another 18 Marines in the Reserve forces either are confirmed to have committed suicide or their deaths are being investigated as suspected suicides. 

Marine Corps sources say the service is concerned that 2018 may have seen 75 suicides even with the extensive mental health programs available. Many of the cases are young Marines who have not deployed overseas and have not been in combat — a situation that has been seen in other branches of the military as well. 

“Don’t make them just numbers,” one Marine Corps official pleaded when making the data available to CNN. T

he information came on the same day that the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, released a four-page message to the corps detailing new advances and developments. But near the end he spoke in detail about Marines taking their own lives and implored troubled troops to reconsider any drastic actions. 

“I am personally compelled to say something about suicide and mental health,” Neller said in the message. “If you need help, please ask/speak up … we will be there for you. Consider the lasting impact on your family, friends, and unit — none of whom will ever truly recover. Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem that can be resolved with the help of your teammates.” 

And suicide continues to touch all ranks in the military. Late last year, Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, the top admiral overseeing US naval forces in the Middle East, died of an apparent suicide.

“While there is no dishonor in coming up short, or needing help, there is no honor in quitting,” Neller said in his message. “For those who are struggling … our Marine Corps, our families, and our Nation need you; we can’t afford to lose you.”

I served with Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Neller, when he was Colonel Neller and the Operations Officer of the 2d Marine Division in Camp Lejeune. I was on the floor above on the operations staff of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF). General Neller is correct, we need our Marines, and all our members of the Armed Forces, in the fight. As the 1989 song, “The Pass,” by my favorite rock group Rush goes:

It’s not as if this barricade
Blocks the only road
It’s not as if you’re all alone
In wanting to explode

Someone set a bad example
Made surrender seem all right
The act of a noble warrior
Who lost the will to fight

And now you’re trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Done with life on a razor’s edge
Nothing’s what you thought it would be

No hero in your tragedy
No daring in your escape
No salutes for your surrender
Nothing noble in your fate

Christ, what have you done?

The issue of suicide in the military is very close to me. Because it was in 1990 that I stood at a Memorial Service in Ft. Riley Kansas and read the entire lyrics of that entire song for my former Artillery Battery Executive Officer, Army 1LT James McCoy, who had sadly shot his wife and himself one fateful night in late March. I will never forget because I was watching the NCAA Final Four game between my hometown Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Dennis Scott of Tech was lighting it up, but in the end, UNLV outlasted them . . . and then the phone rang.

We had learned of a family issue that 1LT McCoy was facing and we all gave him guidance, direction, and counseling . . . but it was not enough. Sadly, that night, James made a decision, a permanent end to a temporary problem that would affect so many who loved, admired, and respected him immensely. That night he took the life of his wife, fled the scene, and I remember listening on the police radio as they found him, and then he took his own life. That night, as his Commander, I was asked to do one of the hardest things that I have ever done in my life, identify the bodies of Cheryl and James McCoy. He was rated as the best Lieutenant in all of the First Infantry Division Artillery. He was an exceptional and highly intelligent proven leader . . . Then, he was gone. He decided not to walk the razor’s edge and instead turned his back.

I cried for days on end and Angela along with me. I was referred to counseling, also, along with others in our unit. It was a gut-wrenching period in my life, James was not just my second in command of 131 Soldiers, he had become a friend.

That was my most direct and personal instance of dealing with suicide in the military. I also lost my cousin, US Army Infantry Captain, Ranger, Arthur Thomas, to the same while he was stationed at Ft. Stewart Georgia while I was a Cadet at the University of Tennessee. I looked up to Arthur, a strong, strapping Airborne Ranger, who did not walk the razor’s edge.

This is why I am so passionate about helping Chad and his organization, The Mighty Oaks Foundation: it is personal. What I know, and will greatly support, is that the greatest Healer, the real cure for this thing called suicide is not some human counselor, but the great Counselor, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because it is through Him that we can do all things, and that means we can overcome all things. God in our hearts and filling our Spirits is the only way to turn around and walk the razor’s edge. That is what Chad, SGM Kent, and I realize, and seek to share with others.

Yes, I had my own personal struggles, back in 2003 as a Battalion Commander in Iraq. You know my story. Because of an action that I took, the Army relieved me of my command, charged me, and was seeking my imprisonment. There was a dark voice that pushed me towards the rocky ledge to stare into the heartless sea. However, as I entered the Article 32 hearing in Tikrit, I had the Bible given to me by my wife Angela in my right hand. A stronger voice told me to step away, and walk the razor’s edge, and that He would be there with me. That voice told me that my faith through this present trial and tribulation would produce perseverance, character, and hope . . . hope in Him. He let me know that I was now stronger because of this situation, and better able to depend and trust in Him, and that He was preparing me for something far greater.

My message to all the Warriors — and anyone reading this missive — who are struggling: turn around and walk the razor’s edge. You can do it with God, and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not listen to the dark voice. Do not stare into the heartless sea. Know that the real cure, that heals all of our ailments in our heart is Him.

We need y’all in this present fight to restore the light and promise of our Constitutional Republic. Never forget, steel is purified through intense heat. A diamond is just a black rock — a lump of coal almost — until it undergoes pressure to make it the most precious of all stones!

Warriors, you are diamonds in the rough, God is the cure, and He will make you into a beautiful and precious diamond, His gift to us all.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you, or a loved one, are in crisis, please call:

Military: 800-342-9647

Military & Non-military Deaf/Hard of hearing: 800-799-4889

Non-military: 800-273-8255]