Making the USPS Irrelevant One Disastrous Decision at a Time!

The viral post office | Viral post, Post office, Postal policeBy now, it is apparent that the USPS has utterly failed in its primary job of delivering the mail.  That the US PS has been failing for my entire life is a topic the politicians do not want to discuss.  That the business model the USPS is based upon has never been a profitable one, the overhead is disastrously expensive, and the labor costs beyond exorbitant are also not topics the politicians ever want to discuss.  They prefer smoke and mirrors, purple squirrels, and Hollywood celebrity scandals to actually doing their jobs.  But, I digress; last week, the USPS announced that postal service would revert to the slowest it has been since the 1970s, and the cost for that dismal service is going to increase dramatically.

All weekend the reasons for the USPS being in this fix have been stewing in my mind, and I would like your insight as I discuss the main reasons why the USPS is in such bad shape.  Feel free to disagree.  Feel free to comment.  Feel free to ask questions and research further.  To my mind, the most damning problems to the USPS come from the following areas, too much overhead, labor union expenses, business model, and no clear political place in government.Save the US Postal Service! By a zillion dollars comics | Politics Cartoon | TOONPOOL

Labor Union Expenses

Let’s get something clear, the labor unions in government are living high on the hog of taxpayer forced taxation and mandated union dues.  Consider the following comment from Representative Dennis Ross.

“UPS (Union) – about 66% of their total operating costs are labor. FedEx (non-union) – about 45% of their total operating costs are labor. USPS – 80-82%.”

Here’s the rub in comparing UPS, FedEx, and USPS; they are not apples and apples; it’s more like apples to rocks.  Why?  Because UPS and FedEx must show a profit to shareholders at the end of the year; thus, anytime USPS runs into an unprofitable situation, they rely upon USPS to fill the gap.  FedEx operates slightly differently based on its business model. From observation from living in extreme rural areas, it does not appear to rely upon USPS as often to cover the gaps in service.

However, the labor costs at USPS continue to run extremely high, and the excuses for these labor costs continue to run thinner and thinner every year.  Looking at six specific USPS explicit labor union-negotiated labor costs:

      1. Compensation levels – What each employee under the collective bargaining agreement is paid.
      2. Work rules – How often an employee works, who they report to, uniforms, and a host of other processes and procedures, which can and do increase business operating costs.
      3. Contracting – Includes independent contractors, contracts for retail locations, pickup locations, and much more.
      4. Network differences – Differences in the network affect the labor involved in delivery, sortation, transportation, and retail portions of an end-to-end movement.
      5. Capital intensity – Differences in capital requirements affecting the amount of non-labor costs needed to provide services offered.
      6. Congressional requirements – Congressional requirements focus on the aspects of the Postal Service that add more labor costs influencing capital spending.

Hence, if we take Rep. Ross’s statement as accurate, Congress is to blame for some of the added expenses the USPS incurs and the hidden taxes the taxpayer pays to interact with the USPS.  This is why the place in government is such an influential portion of this discussion.  Congress has been pushing the costs of regulating the USPS onto the taxpayer as a hidden tax since the USPS was started. This is unacceptable, especially since the taxpayers did not have a voice in allowing the USPS to become unionized, tripling labor costs year-over-year.P.S.E Context of PA: SWOT Analysis of the United States Postal Service

Please note, when discussing labor costs tripling, we are not just discussing wage earners’ take-home pay.  Labor costs, as shown above, include those six items, plus a host of labor union contracted benefits, plus retirement benefits, plus administrative staff to handle these benefit packages, the regulatory burdens, the reporting burdens, and much more.  Thus, while comparing UPS, FedEx, and USPS is unfair and illogical, the labor costs are pretty close to accurate even though they cannot be compared due to business model, Congressional reporting, and quasi-governmental meddling by politicians.  Any company with 80-82% labor costs will be struggling with labor problems and turning a profit.  Labor costs, fed by a labor union, are a reality that needs rectification and addressing.USPS 2011

Outdated Business Model

2009 the USPS paid a lot of money to have their business model reviewed, and the result was an excellently written document that outlined two potential steps for the USPS to take.  Where is the USPS in adopting either of these actions in 2021; nowhere!  Why has the USPS not taken any action on this document since 2009; Congress!  Item number six in labor costs continues to rear its ugly and monstrous head, and the problem is not so much on USPS; although they indeed share the blame, Congress continues to drag its feet and refuses to scrutinize the government appropriately.Several logos, mottos have represented USPS through the years | PostalReporter.com

When discussing the USPS business model, the industry is discussing “optimizing the last mile” in the supply chain.  That last mile is where the USPS has traditionally filled in the gap and made the final customer delivery.  However, USPS is inefficient, costly, and labor-intensive.  Yet, until science fiction realizes a Star Trek-like replicator in every home, optimizing the last mile is the discussion we need to be having, and solutions are available!

The 2009 business model review offered franchisee options as a business model — what a novel idea.  Imagine getting your mail on your commute route, no more having it delivered to an apartment box, packages waiting on a doorstep for thieves, stop by a convenient place on your regular commute route, and get all your mail.  Why not have your mail delivered to your office?  Then your office mailroom becomes an arm of the post office; it can sell stamps, handling packages, and then you do not have an extra stop at all.  Talk about an employer-based incentive!  Better still, for a fee turning over retail establishments to non-profit groups for work programs.  Guess what; that has the benefit of increasing public outreach and building communities.  Yet, the USPS languishes because Congress refuses to take up serious topics, and our tax dollars are squandered!

Place in Government

Engineering Professor Calculates How Fast The Eagle In The USPS Logo is GoingRead the US Constitution, the US Bill of Rights, other founding documents, wherein is a postal service discussed?  Find me the article claiming we need a Federal Postal Service.  Name me the reason why the Postal Service is required.  Selling stamps, that can be done using a myriad of different methods.  Sending packages, mailing letters, again, many other options are available.  Passports, hundreds of other options are available; why not put that into DMV’s across the US?  Why not simplify the Passport process entirely?

What is the reason for the USPS?  Give me the why and justify the existence for the next 20-years for the USPS.  My entire life, I have been asking why the USPS is needed, and I have been asking this since before email, fax machines, and other technological leaps.

Overhead

USPS TESSWhen was the last time the USPS had personnel layoffs to balance their accounts?  1970, under President Richard Nixon, USPS had a strike, got a unionized workforce, and, as they call it, “a living wage.”  From 1970 to 2021, there has been nothing but problems in the USPS; from retirement benefits costing too much, to labor expenses, to Congressional expenses increasing year-over-year, the overhead does nothing but balloon.  I was recently in a flagship USPS for Phoenix, AZ.  The building is a disgrace, the parking lot is neglected, the lobby is dark and missing half the materials, no forms, no boxes, everything is behind the barred and locked counter, and the retail associates are criminally negligent in their duties.  What’s worse, this was a good USPS office to visit in Phoenix, AZ.

Take an honest appraisal of your local USPS and ask yourself, are your taxpayer dollars represented in your USPS in a manner acceptable to you?  I visited a USPS in Las Cruces, NM.  The design of the building lends a bright feeling to the building atmosphere; the retail area is small and naturally illuminated.  Same problem with retail associates, but not as noticeable.  However, this was also before the latest changes from Washington, where the employees were told it was okay to work slower and charge more.More is Less at the USPS | Freeport Press

It is my personal opinion that the USPS has outlived its usefulness, and it is time for the USPS to be eliminated from quasi-government offices of the United States.  Nothing fruitful can be gained from continuing the charade of the USPS.  Congress needs to return to the states the ability to issue addresses and organize their communities and end the USPS debacle!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Working Man’s Ph.D.

cropped-tools.jpgIn 1993 one of the biggest hits was a song called “Working Man’s Ph.D.” sung by Aaron Tippin.  Aaron Tippin has the most colorful biography of all the country-western singers I know, including a commercial airline pilot, pipefitter, truck driver, welder, farmhand, and songwriter and singer.  The lyrics for the song “Working Man’s Ph.D.” form the backbone to the point of this article and as a means of honoring those who have well-earned their working man’s Ph.D.

You get up every morning ‘fore the sun comes up
Toss a lunchbox into a pickup truck
A long, hard day, sure ain’t much fun
But you’ve gotta get it started if you wanna get it done
You set your mind and roll up your sleeves
You’re workin’ on a working man’s Ph.D

Consider the following line especially, “you’ve gotta get it started if you wanna get it done; You set your mind and roll up your sleeves.”  How many times has grit been the only determining factor between starting and finishing a project?  Starters are many, but enders are few.  Those are the two elements for success, and every working man knows the recipe.  Get your mindset and start by rolling up your sleeves.  Preparation is key to finishing strong.20th Maine

Now, cast your mind to those who have never learned how to be a working man.  They have no grit, no ability to make up their minds, and cannot stand up to adversity and spit in adversity’s eyes.  Yet, they talk a good line.  They want you to think they know.  But the lines on their brow and the lack of callouses on their hands tell another story entirely.

Take a moment and consider your first blister.  Do you remember how you earned it?  Do you remember what you were doing the first time you felt that sting?  I do.  My first blister turned into my first and most lasting callous.  I was hoeing a row of peas in a garden; I was six.  I was told that a blister from working is the mark of a man learning how to work.  I earned that blister on a hoe handled that had been wrapped in duct tape to prevent splinters.  After that row of peas, there was a row of corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and lawns to mow.  By the end of the day, I was exhausted and sore, the blister was bloody, and I learned how to treat blisters so you could go to work the next day.Rocks

Let me tell you a secret; I love that blister and callous!  I have burned that callous on many a stove and pan.  I have cut that callous on several knives and received no injury.  I have softened that callous while wrestling sheep in a shearing pen.  I have milked cows and goats to the cows and goats’ misfortune with that callous.  That callous has taught me many a lesson, including how to get a blister under a callous.  In the middle of a cold winter, while splitting wood, that callous kept my hands sticking to the steel of the handle on the splitting maul.  That maul handle had been replaced so many times that my father had taken the splitting maul to work and replaced the wood with ½” steel tubing.  It heaviest splitting maul I ever used, but I never broke that handle off!

With your heart in your hands and the sweat on your brow
You build the things that really make the world go around
If it works, if it runs, if it lasts, for years
You bet your bottom dollar; it was made right here
With pride, honor, and dignity
From a man with a working man’s Ph.D

Consider something with me, think about your hardest task completed; what did you learn about “pride, honor, and dignity” about accomplishing that task?  Hard work taught you a lesson that ease and prosperity could never teach.  Lessons that you cannot pass along to another person except by teaching them the joys and pleasures of task accomplishment and hard work.  Yet, in the world today, so many want to look down on hard work, and this is a thought process that needs reversing.Good Timber

I screwed up.  I admit this freely.  I took some money for raking my neighbor’s lawn and did a poor job.  My neighbor fired me; she was right to do so.  I felt so disgusted with myself for taking money and not delivering a good job, I went over and finished that job over my neighbors’ objections.  I shoveled her snow for free that year.  I did everything I could to discharge the debt I owed to this woman for teaching me that there is no honor, dignity, and pride in a job not done well.

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgMy wife the other day asked me why I don’t quit jobs I have undertaken.  She doesn’t understand the lessons I have learned; I cannot do a poor job.  I cannot commit to doing a job and give less than my full potential and all of my talents, skills, and abilities.  Even when it means I am surrounded by enemies in a hostile environment where my life is constantly threatened.  I have to give it everything I have; I owe this debt to my neighbor that must be serviced.  I have earned a working man’s Ph.D. as well as a couple of master’s degrees from the school of hard knocks; I owe too much to those who have taught me to forget these lessons.

Now there ain’t no shame in a job well done
From driving a nail to driving a truck
As a matter of fact, I’d like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin’ their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man’s Ph.D

There is a truth in these simple words, I wish to convey in the soberest words possible, “there ain’t no shame in a job well done.”  There is no end of shame to a job poorly done.  Consider the current president; why does the common person, those of us carrying working man Ph.D.’s, scorn the president?  Why did the common person, those carrying working man Ph.D.’s, heap praise on President Trump?  The simple truth and reality in the sentiment, “there ain’t no shame in a job well done,” but there is no end of shame in a job poorly done.  Use any other person you care to name, John Wayne and Kim Kardashian, who gets the stain and who gets the praise of a job well and poorly done?  President Reagan and Nancy Pelosi?  Michael Jackson and Mother Teresa?Leadership Cartoon

The job doesn’t matter, driving nails, driving trucks, nursing babies, keeping a house, accountant, pipefitting, welder, buyer, etc., what matters is how well the job is completed.  Do you take the job and do it well or poorly?  For if you do it poorly, there is nothing but eternal shame, the work itself will always testify of your performance, and people will speak of your incompetence.  Do it well, to the best of your abilities; even if a scoreboard might proclaim you are a loser, you have won victory and honor, pride, and dignity that can never be taken from you.  How you perform the task is the deciding factor, not the job, not the task, not the scores and the statistics, your performance of the task’s duties.

When the quittin’ whistle blows and the dust settles down
There ain’t no trophies or cheering crowds
You’ll face yourself at the end of the day
And be damn proud of whatever you’ve made
Can’t hang it on the wall for the world to see
But you’ve got yourself a working man’s Ph.D

The hardest lesson I learned in the US Army was how to shave without looking at myself in the mirror.  Then I had to learn how to live with my mistakes to shave and look myself in the eye.  Right there and then, I learned the lesson contained in the following lines, “You’ll face yourself at the end of the day; And be damn proud of whatever you’ve made.”  In junior high school, I read Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary,” and the following quote stuck in my mental craw.  It comes out often to teach me more lessons.

The soil of a man’s heart is stony ground. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. ’Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own… always comes home.”

Thank you!Hard work teaches hard lessons, but the lessons learned are worth more than gold and diamonds, and I wouldn’t trade a single lesson learned for all the money in the world and all the fame in Hollywood.  Of all the degrees and titles I have acquired in this world, or will acquire, the only one I ever want is that of “Hard worker,” for that single title says it all.  When the chips and markers are counted at the end of life, I want to be found pulling my weight.  I might be disabled, I might be stubborn as a Missouri Mule with a mean streak a mile wide, but I want to be found pulling my weight.

Now there ain’t no shame in a job well done
From driving a nail to driving a truck
As a matter of fact, I’d like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin’ their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man’s Ph.D

Bobblehead DollMy deepest thanks to Aaron Tippin for his example and his incredible talent as a singer and person.  I have met many military people who sing Aaron Tippin’s praises, and I am very grateful for the talent shared.  May I encourage you to consider how well your studies are progressing on your “Working Man’s Ph.D.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Do You Feel Represented? – Your Government In Action!

Detective 4I have received feedback that I write about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) too much.  Please allow me to explain why.  As a veteran, I am duty-bound to help my fellow brothers and sisters in arms.  As the son of veterans, mother (USN), and father (USN, USARNG), I know the hardships of being dependents of active duty, reserve, and National Guard members of the military.  The enlistment contract doesn’t end when the contract says so for the military member; the families and spouses contract is forever.

The final two reasons I write about the VA are most critical; NO body should be treated like the VA treats the veterans; the actions of the bureaucrats in the VA are not representing me and what I stand for in a representative government.  As I can easily have the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General Reports (VA-OIG) delivered to my inbox, it makes writing about the VA much easier, benchmarking how the government has insulated themselves and forgotten who holds the reigns of power in a representative government.  While not a reason to write about the VA, this final explanation should help you judge whether your representative government appropriately represents you and what you stand for.Why

The VA-OIG reports today begin with behavior that is intolerable and worthy of public shaming.  While the defendant remains innocent until proven guilty, the criminal complaint represents behavior inexcusable!  “Daniel Devaty of Elyria, Ohio, was charged with influencing a federal official by threatening a family member. Devaty allegedly sent a text message to the cell phone of a VA social worker threatening to kill his daughters.”

Angry Grizzly BearAnytime anyone threatens the family members, their behavior is beyond the pale and deserves public shaming and the harshest of criminal penalties.  I do not care if the perpetrator is a politician, a judge, the media, or a private citizen.  Leave the families out of any business dealings!  Hollywood, take note, I am sick to death of you threatening family members in movies, TV shows, or simply as private citizens/influencers.  For too long, you have shirked your public responsibility, and families are OFF LIMITS!  Learn this lesson well!

On the topic of conduct reprehensible, the following VA-OIG report leaves me running out of adjectives to describe the behavior of this VA Employee.  “Robert Sampson of Gulf Breeze, Florida, pleaded guilty to charges of video voyeurism and disorderly conduct. Sampson secretly recorded eight fellow VA employees using a hidden camera, disguised to look like a cell phone charger power adapter, that he placed in a restroom at the VA Joint Ambulatory Care Center in Pensacola on multiple occasions from August 2019 to June 2020.”  May the judge throw the book at him and his punishment be creative and sentence well earned!

VA 3In another VA-OIG report, we have more leadership missing problems, where a fraud scheme existed for 11 years without discovery.  “Erik Santos of Georgia was sentenced to over 11 years in federal prison for defrauding Tricare of approximately $12 million through a compounding pharmacy fraud scheme. In January 2021, Santos pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud.”  While the US Attorney beats his chest and proclaims they will catch everyone involved in the fraud, how many managers and supervisors inside Federal Government employ will lose their jobs, pensions, and freedom over allowing this fraud to occur?  What processes and procedures will be changed to protect against another fraud scheme?  Who is personally accountable for contracting that permitted this scheme to bloom for more than a decade?

VA 3The following VA-OIG report details how clowns and asylum patients run the IT program for the VA and not professionals!  The VA was tasked explicitly by legislation to meet several IT deadlines on a program for family caregivers as part of the VA MISSION Act of 2018. Unfortunately, not only did the VA fail to get the IT program up and running on time, missed mandatory reporting deadlines, and delivered a software solution 2-years past due, but the “VA did not establish the appropriate security risk category and fully assessed the system’s privacy vulnerabilities.”  Amazing, with all the IT problems the VA suffers from, with all the IS problems the VA suffers from, one would think that, where new technology was concerned, the VA would be practicing better security and using the lessons learned previously.

VA 3Would someone please tell me why private industries would be sued to the Nth degree criminally and civilly for these IT failures, but the government can evade accountability and responsibility; why?  In a representative government, the citizens can, and should, hold the elected representatives and their minions accountable for failing to uphold basic security protocols. So how did the government vote themselves a “Get out of Jail Free” card?

While writing this article, three additional VA-OIG reports have been delivered to my inbox.  The newest VA-OIG report discusses a topic that the VA continues to struggle with, namely transparency.  Apparently, the goblins in Goblin Town still cannot stomach sunlight and prefer to keep their nefarious deeds hidden.  Unfortunately, the lack of transparency in hiring practices leads to more VA-OIG investigations into employee wrongdoing, cost the taxpayers phenomenal fees to rid the government of poor hiring decisions, and all this before the union becomes involved.  From the report, we find the following:

“… VHA delegated much of its data reconciliation to its local facilities, which introduced variability in the process and did not allow for consistent creation, maintenance, and verification of information. VHA also had inadequate business processes to ensure quality data were available to support effective medical facility staffing oversight. Without consistent methods and reliable source documents for managing information, VHA cannot be sure HR Smart data accurately reflect VA’s budget and workload requirements.”VA 3

Did you catch that local facilities were given authority, which increased risks in hiring, all while management cannot perform their functions properly?  I remain convinced that the VA built designed incompetence into every action to protect themselves from ever being forced to take action. But, unfortunately, like always, the news only gets worse!Plato 2

A little background is needed to appreciate the problem in the following VA-OIG report fully.  Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act required the VA to report to the OMB how they spent money appropriated for America’s Veterans and the VA during the pandemic.  The following is what the VA-OIG found:

VA met monthly reporting requirements to OMB and Congress on supplemental fund obligations and expenditures. VA also submitted required weekly obligations and expenditures from supplemental funding to OMB by program activity. Of approximately $17.3 billion in medical care supplemental funds, VA reported it had obligated about $7.11 billion and had spent about $5.67 billion by December 29, 2020. The VA-OIG team noted three concerns where VA’s reporting was not complete and accurate: • Obligations were at risk of not being included in VA’s reports. • VA initially delayed the reporting of reimbursable obligated amounts for two months. • VA’s reports contained negative dollar amounts in data fields that should have only positive amounts, which misstated VA’s overall reported obligations. Those concerns indicate weaknesses in how VA and VHA internal controls are structured to meet reporting requirements. Despite the risks identified, VA performed only a limited review at the summary fund level of its COVID-19 obligations and expenditures before reporting. A review of summary funds is not detailed enough to identify potential anomalies and ensure the reliability of externally reported information” [emphasis mine].VA 3

I did not find this in the VA-OIG report. Did anyone ask why the VA failed to meet the reporting for the first two months?  After the FISMA Congressional hearings, everyone knows the VA sucks at information technology and information security (IT/IS). So why was the VA given more money and told to budget it using existing failed software, processes, and procedures?  My work in the finance field is limited; however, when a company cannot handle its finances properly and meet legal obligations, a third-party accounting firm can be hired to handle this for the organization.  OMB, why are we not using this solution at the VA?  OMB, why is a third-party auditing company not conducting in-depth analysis and audits of the VA?  With all the missing taxpayer dollars at the VA and Department of Defense, it seems that you are just as negligent as the agencies you are supposed to monitor.

Theres moreAs they say on the Home Shopping Network, “But wait!  There’s more!”  Unfortunately, the same holds of the VA, just without the enthusiasm!  Each VA Medical Center in the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is expected to have supplies, also referred to as caches, on hand at all times to handle local emergencies and national health care incidents.  For example, a pandemic!  The VA-OIG investigated these prepared caches and found that only 9 of 144 supply stockpiles were ever mobilized.  The excuses, oh these excuses, are like butt holes, everyone has one, and they stink!

      1. “Medical facility directors reporting supplies were not needed or caches lacked sufficient quantity for meeting pandemic demands.”
      2. “The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) changed the process for mobilizing caches during the pandemic, but without clearly communicating it to medical facility directors” [emphasis mine]. – We have the blind leading the blind, in a darkened room, in a London fog!
      3. The VA-OIG, not the VHA, not the local VAMC, but the inspectors “identified problems with cache maintenance and monitoring.” – Never forget, this is a job of several people, overseen by a director, who reports to facility leaders, and inspectors had to find the maintenance and monitoring problems. Just let that sink in for a minute!
      4. Most caches contained some expired or missing personal protective equipment, diminishing their ability to support pandemic preparedness.” – This is an example of how the VHA is “Defining Excellence in Healthcare!”
      5. The “VHA had incomplete documentation on cache activations, making it difficult to know which caches would need to be restocked.” – See item number 3 above.
      6. Medical facility leaders were not always able to accurately report if their facility’s cache was activated during the pandemic.” – Is the proof sufficient that the VA leadership IS the problem with the VA; yet?VA 3

In the US Navy, a significant part of my job was to maintain and monitor emergency supplies. Additionally, to use and cycle through reserves during drills and replenish those supplies quickly and efficiently not to impair the ship’s ability to protect itself 24/7.  I did my job well enough to earn three people Navy Accommodation Medals.  I took over the emergency stores, and all consumable supplies were expired or consumed.  Within 3-months, I was winning accolades and awards.  Yet, 144 caches of emergency supplies for the VHA need more procedures, more documentation, and more oversight to fulfill the mission correctly.

Knowledge Check!I beg to differ!!!  We need leadership, active, engaged, enthused, leadership!  We need the medical facility leader to stop designing incompetence and do the job they have been hired to perform.  We, the taxpayers, need the oversight instruments of the Federal Government to become a lot more effective at demanding results.  We desperately need the elected officials we have hired to scrutinize the government!  Just imagine if you hired someone to perform a mission-critical job, and in the middle of needing emergency support, the person hired reveals, “Oops, I might not have done my job properly.”  How fast would that person be fired?  Now, why can we not do the same to the government employees?

So, ask yourself, do you feel represented by your government?

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Suicide

LookAmerica lost a soldier last week.  For the second time in my sister’s life, suicide has deeply affected her.  Maybe this article is being written for me; perhaps, this article might help someone struggling, I do not know.  I know that suicide deeply affects everyone involved, some carry guilt over another person’s suicide to the grave, and others will always feel sad and empty.  Suicide hurts!

When I served Active-Duty US Army, I was a Chaplain’s Assistant.  My duties were mostly clerical in nature, but I supported every soldier’s beliefs, regardless of their religious belief or flavor.  I loved that job; I sat on the front lines between religion and personal faith, and often my duties were most impactful as I held the hands of grieving people.  I held up the weak knees, lifted hands that hung down, and tried to help people.  I was not perfect then, I am not perfect now, but I can say I did the job.  Like all of life, there is a cost to be paid, and many times that cost is very high!

As a Chaplain’s Assistant, my education included psychology, trauma, hidden wounds, and spotting and helping people seek professional help.  I was often a resource to community support, options, and many times just a listening ear.  Frequently, my day began after I closed the chapel and went downrange, off base, and walked among my fellow soldiers in various bars throughout Dongducheon, S. Korea.  Where I heard about love life’s, extra-marital affairs, affairs gone sour, divorces, pay problems, and every stress known to deployed soldiers.

ToolsBecause I was frequently downrange, I heard about unit problems, offered suggestions, and tried to help the people that make up an Army.  I was handling a situation in my own unit the night a soldier drank himself into alcohol poisoning and died; only later was it discovered the soldier wanted to commit suicide and did not know how except through drinking.  I was not downrange the night a young soldier walked in front of a very large truck; he survived his suicide attempt and received the help he needed.  I hope he is better!

I was supposed to be getting a vehicle ready to take the chaplain to see a training exercise.  Instead, I was in a Quonset Hut, sitting beside some medics who were trying to help their buddy not step in front of a tank.  They found his note, found me, grabbed hold of that soldier, and saved a life.  I was proud to take the Article 15 UCMJ action my chaplain ordered, my friend the medic got the help he needed from a friendlier chaplain and our Battalion Commander.  I am not bragging in relating these episodes, and I do not have aspirations of grandeur that I could have helped.  I describe them because problems with suicide lurk just beneath the calm waters that surround each of us.

I was not in the country of S. Korea when my mechanic friend accidentally hit a little girl who darted out into traffic, and my friend could not stop the truck he was driving in convoy in time.  Unfortunately, I lost track of my friend, but I grieve with him over this event in his life.  The calm waters always hide problems, rocky shoals, traumatic events, and much more.  This brings up the first and most principal point; suicide has long been portrayed poorly by media, Hollywood, and popular culture.

Thin Blue LineUnfortunately, the media, Hollywood, and popular culture get paid to get suicide wrong, and will not change.  As a kid, I was expected to be like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Marlon Brando.  Strong, tough, unyielding, and capable!  Then, Hollywood and the media said this was too stressful, labeled masculinity as toxic, and all men were suddenly supposed to be some mix of Pee-Wee Herman, Rudolph Valentino, and Rock Hudson.  Now, men are appendages, sex toys for women, or other men, and absolutely spineless.  How does this apply to suicide?  Where are the examples, the role models, and those people a person can look up to and see good or emulate?

When I was in Junior High School, I planned to kill myself and make it look like an accident.  I knew where, I knew how, I was not going to leave a note, and on the day of the planned event, a friend saw me walking home from school and offered me a ride.  We talked, not about anything important, but by the time we reached my house, I knew I could not commit suicide to escape my home life.  I looked for role models of who I wanted to be, there were plenty to choose from, and I slowly took the best of each of them and created a life.  I was exceedingly blessed to have such an amazing friend!  Long have I tried to be the same for others.

When counseling those who had tried or were considering suicide, one of the questions I was commonly asked usually was framed like, “Who do I look up to?”  Too often followed by a story of a broken home, abuse, failures at sports, pressures to perform, the list is endless.  Role models are essential, role models are needed, but do you steer a child to model the president, a governor, an athlete, etc.; not bloody likely!  Hence one of the foundational problems in our society is a dearth of role models.  People committed to living honorably where the media talk about them, instead of the latest athlete bashing his girlfriend’s face in an elevator.

Friends QuoteOne of the best pilots recently died.  His story was pointed out to me, his exploits became legend, and his skills were the stuff of dreams and fanciful imaginations.  Chuck Yeager could and did do things to an airplane that caught and held my imagination.  The world lost a great and talented man, I lost a person I would love to call a friend, and we never met!

Hollywood and the Media keep getting the story wrong on suicide because of the toxic culture they have invented to punish good, demean the strong, handicap the great, and dumb down the wise.  We see the results daily.  Sports figures beating up their domestic partners, drugging, or merely acting like a spoiled brat.  From politicians that cannot respect each other or their constituents, Hollywood types acting like puerile rubes off camera.  Magazines are selling sex like a new toy to America’s continuing issues with drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, and alcohol.  Every waking moment is filled with toxicity, acting like acid on the mind, detracting from the good, and creating unequal comparisons through social media that can never be matched.

CourageI talked to a depressed person, a guy who got so lost in comparing his life to his friends’ lives on Instagram and Facebook, he was contemplating suicide.  He said it started when he was 11 or 12, first with girls, then the size of his manhood, his inability to be good at sports, his mid-level grades, and the pressures just kept building.  This same person was a Force Recon Marine, had battle badges, and an amazing service record.  Because he could not raise his personal value to meet social media demands, he considered himself a failure.  I sincerely hope he is doing better now.

A friend of mine in the U.S. Navy got caught in the same comparison problem, devised a method to get more money through housing allowances, and got caught.  He is in Leavenworth now, I lost track of his wife and kids, and my friend got lost.  He should be getting out of Fort Leavenworth later this year.  I wish him the best of luck!  Between toxic culture and a lack of role models, Hollywood, and the media, including social media, have a stranglehold on people, and suicides keep increasing!

Another factor in suicide rates is the increasing lack of a nuclear family.  Not to say that a nuclear family is all roses and lollipops, but every democratic society worldwide is suffering from a staggering increase in broken homes through murder/suicide, divorce, hookup culture, and friends with benefits lifestyles, add in homosexuality and gender fluidity.  It is no wonder people are confused, and single parenthood and suicide continue to climb.  When religious decline due to media attacks on religious thought and standards are added to the equation, it is not a wonder that more people are contemplating and committing suicide.  There is no wonder why depression and anxiety are rising steadily as mental diseases.

Duty 3I will offer some ideas for consideration, both to aid in reducing suicide and to aid in helping those struggling.  Of a truth for certain, I contemplated suicide in late December 2020, and had it not been for mental mechanisms installed through learning; I would not be here typing this article.  These ideas for consideration are things I daily apply to help me.  Hence, when I ask you to consider these ideas, I am in the same trenches, doing the same things, and working right alongside you.

    1. Most importantly, find a religion you can live.  There are hundreds of flavors of religious belief systems.  Experiment until you find one that works for you. Faith helps by placing a buffer between how you think and how you act while supplying a why as a motivating force towards action.  Believe it or not, even atheism is a religion; it’s just really hard to live.
    2. Unplug the TV, disconnect from social media, and spend at least one day a week technology-free. Your mind needs to rest from all the inputs of modern living.  Choose a day, any day that works for you is perfect, and put down the cellphone, walk away from the computer, turn off the TV, and plug into mental relaxation.  Make cookies; I used to pound bread dough, do something where your activity levels are up, your mind is down, and you are not plugged in.
    3. Reduce your social media commitments. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., are time sponges where you will spend a ton of time trying to compare, keep up, stay afloat, and you never will succeed!  It is okay to end social media commitments!  It is perfectly normal to have a life not posted every 20-seconds to Instagram or another social media platform.
    4. Reach out to people, real people. Use letters, emails, phone calls, or walk down the street and talk with a complete stranger.  I find that when I am reaching out, I am not as self-conscious and not as depressed.  One of my favorite activities is to go to a long-term care facility and ask people about their lives.  I have met incredible people; I have learned, laughed, cried, and celebrated lives that have reached their pinnacle.
    5. Mental toxicity feeds upon what comes into our bodies through the senses and social environments. Change music genres.  Change the authors you read.  Change the magazines to which you subscribe.  Change social settings.  If you are struggling with mental toxicity, change something small and watch how impactful that small item becomes.  A friend of mine is oft to quote, “It’s a matter of a few degrees;” there is a cool story on the internet that accompanies this quote.

Regardless, please talk to someone if you are hurting and thinking about suicide.  Please listen to your friends and close associates.  Do not be scared to ask, bluntly, baldly, openly, “Are you considering something?”  An acquaintance related to me a story where a friend saw something, asked bluntly and saved a life.  On the phone one night, I talked to a friend; he mentioned he was considering swallowing his shotgun and hung up.  I called 911 and asked for a health and welfare check, stated what I heard, and waited anxiously for the authorities to call me back.  Eventually, they did; they helped my friend.  I am exceedingly grateful for the first responders who too often are the front line when suicide happens.

Detective 4I am going to offer one other idea for consideration.  Every time you hear a siren or see flashing lights offer a prayer for the first responders and those involved.  The prayer does not have to be grand and eloquent; your religious flavor does not matter; we are all connected, and those responding can sure use the help.  When you see a medic/EMT/Paramedic, Firefighter, Police officer/Sheriff, please thank them.  The suicide rates among first responders are incredibly high and always tragic.  Nothing grand or embarrassing, just a simple word of kindness will help the first responders in your area.  Until injuries took me, I used to be a first responder as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post!  May God bless and keep you!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.