FORT BRAGG, N.C., Aug. 31, 2011 — On the outside, Army Spc. Josh Brown looks and acts like an average 22-year-old paratrooper serving in the 82nd Airborne Division here.
Brown’s dark hair is close-cropped against his skull, and he prides himself in the jump wings he’d earned. He also smiles often, revealing the sense of humor he’d often used to mask the growing, gnawing pain in his life.
Yet, no one knew what Brown, whose name is fictitious to protect his privacy, was feeling on the inside. Brown said that a multitude of things led him to want to kill himself. For the past six months, Brown said he was feeling unhappy with himself and the path his life was taking.
He suffered from family and financial issues, relationship problems, constant physical pain from a jump accident, insomnia and poor adjustment after arriving at a new duty station.
If that was not enough, Brown’s 1980 Chevrolet Camaro — his most-prized possession — had been vandalized and the process to get it fixed through his insurance company was not going well.
When Brown quit calling and making plans to socialize with his close friend, Army Spc. Christy Sawyer, she’d thought nothing of it and figured he just wanted to spend more time with his other friends.
Sawyer, a medic in 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, had no idea until the morning of Aug. 7 that Brown, also a medic in the 82nd Division, had been withdrawing and for the past two weeks was planning to commit suicide.
Brown said his issues caused him to become overwhelmed and feel like his world was caving in on him.
The night he decided to end his life had started out like many previous nights, Brown said.
“I went to the club and started drinking,” he recalled. “Part of my plan was to take the $100 I had, and drink as much as I could and then go wreck my car to make it look like an accident.”
After leaving the club and going to another bar, Brown ran into a friend who knew something was not right with him. After some time, she persuaded him to talk.
“I have things I need to do tonight and you’re not going to stop me,” Brown told the friend.
The friend then contacted Sawyer, a coworker and mutual friend, for help.
The eight missed phone calls and two text messages that night from Brown, and her conversation with their mutual friend told Sawyer that something was very wrong with Brown.
“I had just got back from block leave and had forgotten my phone in the barracks when I went to pick up some friends who were having car trouble,” Sawyer said. “He actually left me a message telling me goodbye. I still have not listened to it. I can’t do it.”
After speaking with her friend, Sawyer drove to the bar to get Brown. When she arrived, Brown was sitting in his car, distraught and unreasonable. Sawyer said she reached in and took the keys out of his ignition. They talked for a long time; Brown continued to tell her he was sticking to his plan to end his life that evening.
Sawyer said she tried to talk Brown out of taking his life.
“I tried to explain to him that I can’t live with that kind of guilt,” she said. “I just kept telling him, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ I was trying to wake him up.”
At one point during the evening, Brown decided to run. He threw himself over the hood of the car, but his friends caught him before he got very far. After the chase and multiple failed attempts to get Brown to calm down and listen to reason, his friends decided to contact the unit chaplain.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team chaplain called Brown’s unit, which then sent staff duty personnel to get him. Sawyer met the staff duty members at an elementary school parking lot in Fayetteville near here, where Brown once again tried to run away.
After being caught a second time, Brown was taken to the barracks and placed on a 24-hour, three-day suicide watch. He was referred to Womack Army Medical Center here for mental health evaluations.
Sawyer credits her concern for Brown for taking action to save him.
“I think mostly, for me, it was the fact that I care about him so much. He is like my baby brother,” she said. “There was no way I was leaving him. I would not have let him go regardless. I was ready to do whatever it took.”
Sawyer said she’d applied her suicide prevention training to save her friend.
“I see [suicide] a lot differently now,” she said. “I think suicide training is something soldiers need to have and it needs to be emphasized.”
Yet, Brown had attended suicide prevention training at his unit just three days before he’d threatened to kill himself.
“I understood the point of it and I saw the briefing, but I guess I just did not want anyone to stop me,” Brown said. “I was not looking for help.”
Brown said his turning point came the next night when the adrenaline wore off and he realized he was still alive.
“Once I got some sleep and woke up the next day, I felt depressed and empty,” Brown said. “Knowing I wasn’t supposed to be here felt weird. For about two days afterwards, everything felt so unnatural. I honestly didn’t expect to be where I was. It was like everything just hit restart.”
Today, Brown is receiving treatment as he continues to serve in the 82nd Division. Brown is thankful, he said, for the help and support he’s received from his fellow soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers in his unit.
Sawyer said she finds herself getting upset whenever she thinks about the night Brown wanted to take his life and worries about what could have happened if she hadn’t been there.
“I want him and other people who are thinking about doing this to understand what you are doing to the people in your life — your friends, your family and your spouses and your relationships,” Sawyer said. “This devastates people. I am still so upset.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)