Standing by my husband

September 7, 2011

Staff Sgt. Jared August Hagemann of the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment served seven years in the U.S. military, including eight deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was about to be deployed a ninth time when he committed suicide on June 28.

On August 23, GI Voice, an organization made up of the community of soldiers, veterans and military families adversely affected by military service, hosted the first "State of the Soldier" at King's Books in Tacoma, Wash. In the tradition of the Winter Soldier investigation during the Vietnam War era, the event provided a forum for voices that are often intimidated into silence for fear of retribution.

Here, we reprint an edited transcript of a speech by Jared's wife Ashley Joppa-Hagemann at the State of the Soldier event, in which she described her husband's struggle with PTSD--and an Army Ranger chain of command that refused to give him the medical help he needed.

HELLO EVERYONE, my name is Ashley Joppa-Hagemann. I don't know if any of you have heard about my husband and our story about the past few years, our struggle. My husband is Jared August Hagemann. He was a staff sergeant in the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He was in A Company before he took his life on June 28.

I know that the military is saying there's a pending investigation into his death. I don't understand why it's still pending. Clearly, it is the Rangers' fault, the command's fault, that my husband chose to free himself from the pain and from the Rangers. That is why he took his life.

To give you some information about my husband: He was going on his seventh year in the military. This would have been about the eighth or ninth deployment for him. With the Rangers, they usually redeploy about every six months. There were a few times where my husband went for a short period of time. Then, the next time, they'd stay longer than the usual time. The usual time is anywhere between four to six months.

Ashley Joppa-Hageman speaking at the State of the Soldier event in Tacoma
Ashley Joppa-Hageman speaking at the State of the Soldier event in Tacoma

It all started in 2009 when he was diagnosed with PTSD. He came home from that deployment, and the day he was supposed to return back to work, all he did was drink himself senseless, which is what he always did before and after a deployment. He said the reason he drank before was to distance himself, numb himself, from what he was getting ready to do. And afterward, it was to forget and numb himself from what he had to do.

THE DAY that he was supposed to return to work, he had called the Rangers and told them, "I quit. I'm done." He called me up after that and told me he was thinking about taking his life. So I rushed over there. I stood by his side, like I always did.

And, of course, Rangers showed up, and tried to talk him into staying longer in the Rangers. All he said was, "Get away from me. F you. I quit. Don't you hear me? I quit. I can quit." A lot of people aren't aware that with the Rangers, it's a voluntary unit. You're able to leave whenever you want.

My husband was telling them he quit. After a few hours of that, I took him to the ER to sober up. Then, he admitted himself into 5 North in Madigan. It's also known as the "Mental Ward." There, he received some counseling. They held him for about three days--I believe it was Friday all the way up to Monday. They let him out Monday morning.

They told him that as long as he continued his counseling and his alcoholics' class, he'd be okay. He didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay as long as he could to get the help that he wanted. He admitted himself.

About that time, they moved him to HHC [Headquarters and Headquarters Company]. They put him in the S5 shop. According to everybody in the Rangers, the S5 shop is where they put the troublemakers, the problems, so they could hide you away, sit you in an office and forget about you.

That was the choice that they gave my husband--either we can hide you away so you can get the help, or you can go to the regular army, and we'll make sure that you get a shitty job, and we'll make sure that they deploy you overseas for the normal period of time, which is usually, I think, 12 to 14 months. I'm not sure what it was at the time.

My husband chose to get the help because that's what he wanted. So they bullied him into staying in the Rangers when he wanted out. About a month or so later, they actually told him that the counseling and the Alcoholics Anonymous program he was in was taking up his work time. They said they needed him doing more important things, and he needed to take time from his personal life to seek the help that he wanted, which was not the deal in the beginning.

So we went and sought out our own help. We tried so many times. But every time Jared would start to talk about overseas, the counselor would try and force him to give details and just kind of push him. I don't know, but from my experience, when someone says no, they mean no. That would just set him back for about two weeks. He wouldn't talk to anybody. He'd start drinking again, become aggressive.

THE ONLY time I felt that the Rangers would listen was when I would call local law enforcement, but after a few times, that no longer seemed to help. All they would do is tell my husband, "Stay in your barracks. Don't talk to your wife," like I was the problem. It wasn't me. It was them. They did not take any responsibility for my husband.

Even that last month of his life when they knew, when the police had called them and told them that they had responded to a call at our house where he had a gun to his head--those two incidents were probably two months before his death. In the last month, he held a gun to his head three times. By that time, he had this look of despair in his eyes.

I haven't told anybody this, but the last time he had that gun to his head and he was yelling, "Should I do it? Would this make everybody happy?" it's as if he was asking me, "Please, let me go." And the worst part is that I love him so much. That's what keeps me going right now--talking, getting in front of people, letting everyone know about my husband.

I didn't want him to suffer anymore. At that moment, I was thinking, if that's the only way that you will be at peace, do what you need to do. I hate myself for thinking that, but to see someone in pain every single day, waking up and telling me, "I hate myself. I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate what I've become."

The last day that I had heard from him, I hadn't talked to him directly, but he did say he was going to kill himself. Local law enforcement knew; they said they were going to contact his chain of command. I tried calling his cell phone. He didn't pick up. Tuesday rolled around. They said he went AWOL. That's not my husband. My husband has pride. He has responsibilities. He's a strong man. They took that from him. And now they are refusing to give my husband, who gave his life for the Rangers, a memorial.

At first, they told me it was because they didn't want media around to get the story because they've learned that from me over the years that you can't keep me quiet. I'm a fighter. I always stood by my husband. And now that I no longer have him, I have to stand up for him and everybody else who wants help, because nobody else will. That's what my husband wanted to do.

All I'm asking is that, as a community, everybody gets together and stands up for these men because the military's not going to do it. They took what they could from these men, and they won't let them go. Thank you.

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