It’s almost 7,000 miles from Dickinson to the Zamindawar district in Afghanistan.
It was there, in the Northern Province near Zamindawar, where two Marines from Dickinson were involved in Operation Helmand Viper just four years ago.
While their time fighting Taliban insurgents may be over, others in their battalions have been battling something far more dangerous.
Cpl. Cutler Brost, 23, said he has known 12 people he served with who have committed suicide. They were men he called his brothers who he fought beside.
Brost, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Second Battalion, noted that his battalion has been given the nickname “the Forgotten Battalion.” A story in The New York Times in September 2015 focused on the battalion’s high suicide rate.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 military veterans commit suicide every day.
Veterans Affairs says Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects as many as 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans each year, as well as 12 percent of Gulf War veterans and 15 percent of Vietnam War veterans.
Lance Cpl. Bob Crumpton, 24, has a shirt to remember two of his friends who committed suicide after returning from Afghanistan.
“I had two guys within a month of each other (commit suicide),” Crumpton said. “It’s really sad. One of them, the day before, they had a big party during spring break and somebody went by with a camera and said, ‘Hey Comski, what’s the secret to life?’ And he said, ‘The secret to life is to do what you love and be happy doing it,’ and that night he killed himself.”
To bring awareness to veterans who take their own lives after serving, Brost and Crumpton decided to create an event.
The duo started brainstorming two months ago and began organizing the Veteran Suicide Awareness 22K Hike in Dickinson. The event starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at the West River Community Center.
Brost and Crumpton initially connected through a Facebook group after noticing that they both had a profile picture wearing their Marine uniforms. Even though they didn’t know it, the two had served in Afghanistan at the same time.
Brost was a machine gunner with the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, First Marine Division. Crumpton was an improvised-explosive device (IED) detection dog handler with the Second Marine Regiment, Second Combat Engineer Battalion, Mobile Assault Company.
Neither lost a Marine from their units on the battlefield.
“We were fortunate to not lose anybody,” said Brost, a Trinity High School graduate who works for Martin Construction. “It wasn’t until we got back that people started taking their own lives.”
Brost said he lost his friend, Cpl. Bradley Coy, who he had spent time with in boot camp and who was stationed in the same platoon. They were even roommates until Coy got married and moved out of the barracks.
“I talked to him every couple of days and everything seemed fine,” Brost said. “All of a sudden, his wife called me one day while I was working on my car and told me Brad killed himself last night.”
Brost has a tattoo on his forearm to remember his friend that reads, “Someday I will have wings like yours.”
Crumpton said he believes part of the reason why Marines and other servicemen and women have a hard time adjusting back into civilian life is the lack of available counseling and therapy.
“They train you to kill. They train you to do your job,” said Crumpton, who is originally from Virginia and works for Black Hills Trucking. “And then, as you’re getting out, you have a quick two or three days where you learn to write resumes and that’s it. They aren’t really open about offering any type of counseling.”
Kassidy Fields’ brother-in-law, Josh Fields, committed suicide in 2005. He was 27 years old.
Fields said she feels like Josh’s death could have been avoided. She said he was never given the opportunity to be evaluated or receive counseling.
Fields and her husband, Jim, will be hiking the 22K alongside Brost and Crumpton to help raise awareness in memory of Josh.
Crumpton and Brost said they aren’t only doing the hike to raise awareness, but also to get a lot of veterans together to build a support system.
“The best thing for me, and probably for a lot of other guys, is other veterans and talking to other guys that have issues,” Crumpton said.