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In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans Try to Save One Another.

Members of a Marine battalion that served in a restive region in Afghanistan
have been devastated by the deaths of comrades and frustrated by the V.A.

By DAVE PHILIPPS  

After the sixth suicide in his old battalion, Manny Bojorquez sank onto his bed. With a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam beside him and a pistol in his hand, he began to cry.

He had gone to Afghanistan at 19 as a machine-gunner in the Marine Corps. In the 18 months since leaving the military, he had grown long hair and a bushy mustache. It was 2012. He was working part time in a store selling baseball caps and going to community college while living with his parents in the suburbs of Phoenix. He rarely mentioned the war to friends and family, and he never mentioned his nightmares.

He thought he was getting used to suicides in his old infantry unit, but the latest one had hit him like a brick: Joshua Markel, a mentor from his fire team, who had seemed unshakable. In Afghanistan, Corporal Markel volunteered for extra patrols and joked during firefights. Back home Mr. Markel appeared solid: a job with a sheriff’s office, a new truck, a wife and time to hunt deer with his father. But that week, while watching football on TV with friends, he had wordlessly gone into his room, picked up a pistol and killed himself. He was 25.

Still reeling from the news, Mr. Bojorquez surveyed the old baseball posters on the walls of his childhood bedroom and the sun-bleached body armor hanging on his bedpost. Then he took a long pull from the bottle.

“If he couldn’t make it,” he recalled thinking to himself, “what chance do I have?”

He pressed the loaded pistol to his brow and pulled the trigger.

Mr. Bojorquez, 27, served in one of the hardest hit military units in Afghanistan, the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment. In 2008, the 2/7 deployed to a wild swath of Helmand Province. Well beyond reliable supply lines, the battalion regularly ran low on water and ammunition while coming under fire almost daily. During eight months of combat, the unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters and suffered more casualties than any other Marine battalion that year.

When its members returned, most left the military and melted back into the civilian landscape. They had families and played softball, taught high school and attended Ivy League universities. But many also struggled, unable to find solace. And for some, the agonies of war never ended.

Almost seven years after the deployment, suicide is spreading through the old unit like a virus. Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.

Photo

 

Photos of Manny Bojorquez, which his mother keeps at home, as a child and with members of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment in Afghanistan. CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

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