Riding to Recovery

On the last day of March, Clay Hunt killed himself in Sugar Land.

He was a 28-year-old Marine veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, where a sniper’s bullet to the wrist led to a Purple Heart.  He lost two friends in Afghanistan, and two more in Iraq.  His own survival haunted him, but he fought back, and went the extra mile to help other soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In fact, he covered that extra mile on a bicycle, joining Ride 2 Recovery, a “partnership with the Military and VA Volunteer Service Office to benefit mental and physical rehabilitation programs for our country’s wounded veterans that feature cycling as the core activity,” as they introduce themselves on their website.  They send soldiers with missing limbs whirling down the road on specially constructed bikes.  They are riding toward the future, not running away from the past.

Hunt became a prominent spokesman and advocate for soldiers battling PTSD.  He appeared in a public service ad for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-profit group “dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the civilian supporters of these Troops and Veterans.”

Hunt was also a devoted humanitarian.  He was a co-founder of Team Rubicon, a rapid response team for disaster relief, and did humanitarian work in Haiti and Chile.  He moved to the Houston area to be near his family, and reportedly considered re-enlisting in the Marines.  A man of great humor and energy, he seemed to be doing everything right.

A Fox News report on his suicide says Hunt was “frustrated by the Veterans Affairs Department’s handling of his disability claim.  He also piled up thousands of dollars in credit card debt as he waited for his GI Bill payments.” His marriage ended, and he dropped out of school.  No one knows the precise mixture of despair and grief that led Marine Corporal Clay Hunt to lock himself in his Sugar Land, Texas apartment and take his own life.

His death rocked a community of veterans that is already dealing with dramatically elevated suicide rates.  Fox News reports that “suicide rates are up across all branches of the military, even the National Guard, where the rate has increased 82 percent since 2009.”  Among the reasons is “survivor’s guilt,” a syndrome in which “someone believes he has done wrong by surviving a traumatic situation that claimed the lives of others.”

May every man and woman returning from combat know that the lives they bring home are as treasured as the lives lost on the battlefield.  May their eyes never travel over a desolate patrol route, or lonely apartment, without seeing the massed ranks of a loving and grateful nation beside them.  May we never hesitate to give them all they require, both physically and spiritually, after they have given us everything they had.

It is difficult to accept the loss of a man as complete as Clay Hunt.  It’s a mournful reminder that heroes are not supermen.  If only eternal fidelity granted an eternally beating heart, and every Marine won every single battle he fought! But they bleed, and they grieve.  They know loss, and they die.  It’s why we should cherish them, as well as relying upon them.

Hunt’s last and greatest battle is still ongoing.  It will be fought in homes and hospitals, on the backs of speeding bicycles, and in the deepest reaches of the human heart.  I wish him victory.