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Mission: Family: Army officer says support programs saved his life

Oct. 30, 2011 - 12:22PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 30, 2011 - 12:22PM  |  
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If family support groups and behavioral health programs had not been available, said Army Lt. Col. Matt Reed, "I wouldn't be here."

Reed's powerful message should echo throughout the military community. His courage in telling his story will undoubtedly save lives.

Reed was in the audience with hundreds of other soldiers and family members at a forum during the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army.

Army National Guard and Reserve leaders were speaking about their commitment to providing needed services to families, even in the face of looming budget cuts.

During a question-and-answer period, Reed brought it all home.

"A year ago, my life was not so good. My marriage of 20 years was on the rocks, and I was about to get kicked out of the Army for self-destructive behavior," said Reed, who has served in the Guard for almost 29 years.

While he was deployed in 2006 and early 2007 to Afghanistan from Fort Lee, Va., he was the expert on moving people and equipment all over the theater.

On Jan. 17, 2007, he was sitting with his boss, Lt. Col. David Canegata, and his roommate, Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Haller, discussing logistics planning for an upcoming trip to Iraq.

He called his wife to discuss the possibility of him tagging along on the trip — one last visit to Iraq — even though he was scheduled to come home from his deployment in a few days.

"She said, ‘Is it mission-related, or for you? You know the rule: If it's not mission-related for you, don't do it,'" Reed said.

His decision was made — he would go home. So he arranged for Canegata, Haller and 10 other soldiers to fly to Iraq on Jan. 20, 2007, then boarded a plane back to the U.S.

Reed arrived home two days later to find his former boss from earlier in his deployment waiting to pick him up at the airport, which he found odd.

That's when he learned the crushing news: After completing their business in Iraq and lifting off to return to Afghanistan, Canegata, Haller and the 10 other soldiers had died when their Black Hawk helicopter was shot down near Baghdad.

"I got them where they were going to go, but no one came back," Reed said, fighting back tears. "So over the last three years, I've been fighting that internal fight. It almost ruined my marriage, and it almost got me out of the Army.

"Fortunately, someone in family support at Fort Lee recognized it, and fortunately someone in behavioral health at Fort Lee said, ‘I can help,' " he said.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, thanked Reed for his service, and for sharing his story.

"We absolutely have to have soldiers who have had the experiences like you've had, who have behavioral health issues. … We want them to seek help," Carpenter said.

As courageous troops like Reed get the word out, more lives will be changed — and saved.

"Sometimes you can't suck it up," Reed said, "You just need help."

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