Soldier Saves Friend from Committing Suicide

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)