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Vets to fight soldier suicide

POSTED October 20, 2009 11:48 p.m.
According to U.S. Army statistics, 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2007, with another 15 cases suspected. Army officials have stated that suicide rates are at their highest in nearly 30 years. More soldiers died from suicide than terrorist attacks in January 2008.
For Turlock’s Dale Trujillo, a Vietnam veteran himself, these are troubling statistics. As someone who knows first hand the challenges that face a soldier returning home, Trujillo felt like he had to do something to stop the epidemic of soldier suicides.
That’s why Trujillo founded Veterans For Christ, a monthly encouragement group to help veterans know they have someone to turn to in their time of need.
“We’re making a stand for all vets in this area,” Trujillo said.
The group, which has only met once so far, already claims more than 20 members. Trujillo attributes the early success to the program’s unique nature, offering a mixture of veteran camaraderie and Christian teachings.
Trujillo admits he’s been “kinda surprised” at the demand for a religious-centered veteran program. But, as a veteran, he understands the feeling of aloneness that comes upon returning home, the need to be understood and the fear that no one can ever quite know what you’re going through.
“The idea is to get them talking… you have to let them know someone cares,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo tells the story of a neighbor’s cousin who came home from Iraq recently. He sat alone for two weeks, and refused to talk to anyone. Then he shot and killed himself.
Trujillo says he’s seen it before. The soldier simply doesn’t want to hurt anymore. He or she simply doesn’t want to hurt anyone else by telling about the horrible things that happened. So the soldier just shuts up.
Veterans refer to the phenomenon as “the black box.” A soldier will oftentimes surround him or herself with walls and refuse to come out — or let anyone else in.
The best thing anyone can say to a returning soldier, according to Trujillo, is simply, “Welcome home. I don’t understand what you’re going through, but thanks.”
No one can understand the veteran but him or herself and Jesus Christ, Trujillo said.
Trujillo remains thankful of veterans. He still is proud of what he did in Vietnam, securing our country and the prosperity we all enjoy today.
But he clearly remembers how hard it was to leave his family as a young man, to fly 18,000 miles across the world, and to go to war. And then, after all that, to return home to a world that suddenly seems foreign.
“If we can save one veteran from committing suicide, going down that wrong path, we’re going to do it,” Trujillo said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to do it.”
The Veterans For Christ encouragement group meets from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the Family Life Center at the Northside Assembly of God, 200 North Ave. in Turlock. Attendees are requested to call 667-1749 in advance to ensure there are enough snacks.
The next meeting is Nov. 9. All are welcome.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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