When I first started working at the game store in high school, there were a couple of guys about my age who were regular customers and occasional employees. One was named Brad, and one was named G.J. Brad had a fairly sunny disposition, was smart, had a good sense of humor, and I enjoyed his company. G.J. was kind of a dick; he took a long time to grow up, occasionally treated his friends badly, and was generally obnoxious. I didn't dislike him, he could be a nice guy when he wanted to--but he was difficult. Brad went on to work at the store for a few years back when I was the assistant manager, then moved on to other things. G.J. disappeared for a while, then reappeared looking for work one Xmas; I hired him to help in our seasonal puzzle store, he helped for a week or two, and then--as I remember it--quit. Later on I heard that G.J. had joined the military. Good for him, I thought--he's the sort that will be improved by a stint of enforced respect, organization, and responsibility. That was about 10 years ago.
In January, I unexpectedly ran into Brad. It was great to see him--he's managing a restaurant now. We caught up, and I told him that a few of our older coworkers had died in the last couple years. "Wow, that sucks," he said. "Did you hear about G.J.?"
Your premonition upon reading that sentence is probably correct. G.J. suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in Iraq--but he didn't die in Iraq. It was a minor injury, he served out his deployment with increasingly bad migraine headaches. Then he came back to the states for treatment. He died in the Fort Knox "Warrior Transition Unit" in September of last year. He didn't die from his injury--the injury took place a full year before his death. He died from an accidental overdose of prescribed medications for his continuing pain and depression. He died in his bedroom at Fort Knox; no one checked on him for three days despite his failure to show up for mandatory roll-calls. He was apparently unconscious for a full day before he went into respiratory failure and died--during which 24 hours he could have been given treatment which probably would have saved him. They finally found his body because his increasingly frantic wife called the fort to find out why he wasn't returning her calls or picking up his messages. If you have a desire to read the full story of G.J.'s death and his family's fight to get answers from the military about how it happened, you can read it here.
This has been big news in the local paper. Our governor is demanding answers from Ft. Knox, Ft. Knox is blaming his doctor, his doctor is blaming the military, the military is complaining that they're shorthanded. For myself, I don't know if the military made G.J. a better person; from some things I'd heard here and there over the last decade, it probably didn't. Once a kind-of-a-dick, always a kind-of-a-dick. Still, it was his career of choice, and if he had died on a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan, I could have been glad that he'd died doing something he personally believed in and cared about. But the military--that band of brothers that promises never to leave a man behind--lied to G.J. They left him behind, when a 10 minute walk to his room by the platoon sergeant who noticed his absence at roll call could have saved his stupid life. Fuckers.