Friday, July 12, 2013--6:15p.m.
MADISON--Transitioning from a theater of war back to everyday life is a major battle for some returning soldiers. "You're taught how to put the uniform on and how to wear the uniform correctly," said Andrew O'Brien, a former soldier. "But you never figure out how to take it off and so you know, you feel like you're always in war it's just permanent and you feel like you're never going to get better."
O'Brien joined the Army shortly after high school, then deployed to Iraq for a year. "At first it wasn't too bad," he said. "The first three months I was a driver and the last nine months of my deployment I actually became the lead gunner of all convoys," he said. "And so I started to see a little more and a lot more started happening."
Those memories ate at him when he returned--so much so that he decided to down four bottles of pills to try and make them stop. "I decided I was done," he said. "I didn't want to hurt myself, I just wanted the pain to end."
But inching closer to death, he chose to make a grasp back at life. "I could feel my soul leaving and so immediately I called 911 and all I remember saying is 'help' and then I black out," he said.
He survived his suicide attempt, but plenty of soldiers do not: Last year, 349 military members took their own lives. 295 died in Afghanistan combat.
"The report came out from the VA about 22 veterans and one active duty soldier a day taking their own lives and as soon as I saw that something just clicked and I said 'this is it, this is what I was left here for, this is what I'm supposed to do," he said.
He now spends his days traveling the country, sharing his story in an attempt to help others. This weekend he's in Madison, and will be making stops at places like Dry Hootch--a coffee shop dedicated to helping military members make the transition to normal life.
Reaching as many ears as possible is O'Brien's goal. "I up and quit my job and moved out of my house and got on a tour bus because it's serious," he said. "Everyday that I wasn't on the road, more people were dying."
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