On the Regarding War blog, soldiers, veterans, and journalists will share their stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones. It will feature personal stories and opinions from those who have first-hand knowledge of past and current conflicts. Those at home directly affected by a family member serving in the military will also contribute. The blog is meant to be a place where ideas are exchanged and experiences are related in an effort to gain a better understanding of the realities and effects of war. Share your thoughts, raise a question, and join the conversation by leaving comments on the posts.
Sometimes you can do everything right, and it still won't be enough. Will never be enough. Some combat injuries are beyond repair. Such was the case for Kortney Jensen, an Army Reserve Sergeant and a decorated Iraq War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star for valor and two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained while serving two combat tours. By all accounts, Jensen did everything right, as did his family, friends and the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs hospital that was providing his mental health treatment. According to reporter Matthew D. LaPlante, who was invited by the Jensen family to tell their story, Kortney Jensen "was looking forward to the future."
But the past — the years of war and the post-traumatic stress that followed — pulled him back, tugged him under and, finally, refused to let go. On July 31, Kortney Jensen ended his life. Kort served his first tour at Balad, Iraq, then the most-attacked base in the country, from 2004-05. My husband was stationed at Balad then, too. So was Laura Becherini, who trained and deployed with Kort. The two began dating after coming home, and Laura would eventually marry Kort, carry his child, and pay tribute at his funeral while tears rolled down her face.
I used to keep a list of the names of soldiers and veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom who had committed suicide. I started it in 2006, long before it was tagged a crisis, and caught the media's attention, years before it became a pressing political problem for the Department for Veterans Affairs, and military posts issued orders for a Suicide Stand Down. The first name on the list was Jeffrey Lucey. He wasn't the first OIF/OEF vet to kill himself, but I knew his parents, Kevin and Joyce Lucey, and I saw what it was doing to them. His death didn't register as an OIF/OEF combat casualty, but it was, and I wanted it to count somewhere.
I heard from parents, wives, brothers and sisters, and added more names to the list: Doug Barber, Jonathan Schulze, Chris Dana, Tim Bowman and Joshua Omvig. Virtually overnight, the list went from a dozen to more than a hundred, and in less than a week it grew to over 300 names. I began receiving e-mails from military family members I had never met, but who had heard about what I was doing and had also lost a loved one to suicide. The litany ballooned to more than a thousand. Then I had to add an "s" to thousand. I stopped the suicide roll call when I found myself formatting a new spreadsheet to hold the names of the military family members who took their own lives during or after their soldier's deployment or combat-related death.
Now I leave it to the Pentagon and the VA to keep track of the numbers — 32 active duty soldier suicides in June, 18 veteran suicides per day, 6,500 veteran suicides a year — because I realize that for Kortney Jensen's family and all of the other families of veterans who died from battle wounds that couldn't be closed, the only number that really matters is one.
Author's note: To the friends and family of Kortney, especially his wife, my deepest sympathy to you and profound appreciation for Kort's service and sacrifice, as well as yours. I include in that your incredible courage and selflessness in allowing your story — this hardest part of it — to be told. May you and your beloved be held by grace firmly and forever.
The Kort Jensen Memorial account has been set up to assist Kort's wife, Laura, his daughter, Autumn, and the upcoming birth of baby girl Raven Kort Jensen at America First Credit Union. 1-800-999-3961
Donations can be mailed to:
America First Credit Union
PO Box 9199Ogden, Utah 84409
Attn: Kort Jensen Memorial Account
To make online banking donations/direct deposits:
Routing & Transit Number: 324377516
Account Number: 9042631
Author, professor, and advocate for veterans and their families