Community reintegration, like boot camp in reverse, proposed for soldiers leaving service
The family of a Marine Corps veteran who died by suicide last fall wants soldiers to go through a reintegration program when they leave the service, the way they go to boot camp when they join military.
Tyler Michael Reeb, a decorated Marine who did three combat tours overseas, died on Oct. 14, 2019 at his home in Richard, Va. He was 34.
Reeb grew up in New Canaan, and was active in sports including baseball, wrestling, lacrosse, and football. He loved being outdoors. His obituary describes him as having a contagious sense of humor, a sincere sensitivity toward others, and a strong work ethic. During and after college, he worked with under-privileged youth in Pennsylvania, before enlisting in the Marines in November 2007.
"My nephew's death buckled my knees," his uncle Chris Reeb, of Weston, said during a phone interview Friday.
Reeb was the guest of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., at the State of the Union address earlier this month.
"It was the experience of a lifetime that I wish I didn't have," he said. "I would rather not have been there."
Reeb and other members of Tyler's family, including his parents, Jaymie and Michael C. Reeb, have been talking with state and federal lawmakers about developing a standardized reentry program for all soldiers returning from combat before they get out of the military. It would be the analogous counterpart to basic training and would last just as long. Marine Boot Camp spans 13 weeks. The military does provide guidance to service members getting out, but it's not enough, Reeb said.
"We transform civilians into soldiers," he said. "We have to transform these soldiers back to civilians."
Reeb said the family doesn't have all the answers, but they know they must do something. They are soliciting input on how the reintegration program would be structured and what would be included. They know they want service members to be provided with resources and strategies to cope with and address post-traumatic stress. The family does not use the "D," for disorder, because, they say, post-traumatic stress is a normal response to a traumatic event or series of events.
In 2009, Tyler deployed to Iraq as a radio telephone operator and point man. While there, Tyler and his platoon conducted numerous security, counter improvise explosive device or IED, and reconnaissance and surveillance missions in and around Al Assad Air Base.
He later undertook the arduous process of becoming a Scout Sniper, who are highly skilled in marksmanship, and move about undetected in support of combat operations, serving as a commander's eyes and ears on the battlefield.
Tyler deployed to Afghanistan twice, first from September of 2010 to March 2011 during which time he conducted over 100 Scout Sniper missions in the Helmand province, directly engaging with Taliban daily. He deployed again from January 2012 to July 2012 leading fellow Marines in over 100 combat missions including four battalion-level and two regimental-level operations.
Tyler was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant just before he was honorably discharged from the Marines in December of 2015.
After he got out of the Marines, Tyler had a job lined up with the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, helping develop, coordinate, implement and revise tactical training for protective forces.
While he waited for the job to start, his uncle suggested he come and live and work with him in Connecticut. Reeb said during the six or so months that Tyler lived with him, they talked about whether Tyler had suicidal thoughts.
"He called me "UC," short for Uncle Chris. He said 'UC, that's not my thing.' He said, 'I have talked my friends off the ledge from that but that is just not my thing,'" Reeb said. "And yet I could tell you that he slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow every night. They never turn off. They're always on, always prepared."
In hindsight, Reeb said there were other signs that Tyler maybe was not doing as well as he said he was. He drank heavily. But at the same time, he never missed a day of work and was never late and kept up with his responsibilities.
"He was an adult and I gave him space when he lived with me," Reeb said. "We all missed this and the reality of it is, there's got to be a ton of other people out there like this."
After Tyler's death, Reeb began doing research and learned that an average of 20 veterans die by suicide each day. The Department of Veterans recently revised the veteran suicide rate to 17 per day. In Connecticut, recent VA data shows that about 40 veterans commit suicide annually.
Reeb said the numbers alone show that more must be done.
"I think we have people's ears," he said, of the family's effort to create the reentry program. "We have to stay in their ears."
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