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Telling their stories: Tom Chaby

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2016

Tom Chaby, 53, leadership consultant, co-executive director of Warior-2-Warrior suicide prevention nonprofit, 26 years active duty:

I remember it like yesterday. It was a cold night. I was together with my entire team. We looked each other in our eyes and we knew at that very moment this evening would define us for the rest of our lives. Before too long the bullets started flying and I lost my first teammate minutes later. I looked down at him and I thought, ‘Good riddance, you are weak. You don’t deserve to be part of this team.’ A few hours later I lost another teammate. I thought exactly the same thing. And I would think the same thing throughout the night as teammate after teammate after teammate would be lost. They weren’t strong enough. They weren't resilient enough. They did not belong in my community or on my team. I know many of you right now are thinking, ‘How could he be so callous? How could he think these things?’

What I was just describing was a training evolution and the responses I had were exactly what I was taught. They were the values we had in the military. …. We only want the strongest in our community. Weakness must be weeded out. … It was beaten into us. It was our ethos. I could remember one deployment I kept a log of how much I slept. Over seven months I averaged just two hours and 52 minutes a night. I was pretty proud of that. I was strong. I was that guy. I was fast. I could stay awake all night. I was resilient. I was exactly what we were looking for. …. Toward the end of my career, my detailer called me and said ‘Hey, you are getting assigned to Tampa, Florida. You will be running an effort called Preservation of the Force and Family. … I was pretty disappointed. There was nothing strong about running a resilience program. I wanted to be on the battlefield.

I arrived in Tampa and …. I hear on the radio a commanding officer dies in Afghanistan. They mention his name. Job Price. Job was a teammate of mine. A friend. ... I called our headquarters, spoke with one of my teammates and he explained Job fell victim to suicide. …This revelation turned every assumption I ever had upside down. You had to be weak to commit suicide and here was Job, a teammate I respected. Job was significantly stronger than I was, more resilient, and he fell victim to suicide.

The reason I am sharing this with you tonight is to share the journey where I went from thinking strength came from being all about you, being able to stand up to anything, when reality is strength is knowing when you need help. I am committed now to helping my teammates in the future find help. Find the resources they need so they can be strong throughout the rest of their fine lives.

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