Your Marine Corps

Lance corporal awarded medal for preventing fellow Marine's suicide

Lance Cpl. Victor Padilla never saw his best friend's suicide attempt coming.

Hours before the fellow Marine tried to take his life April 11, he and Padilla were fishing together. Spirits were high despite not catching anything, said Padilla, a corrections specialist aboard Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston, South Carolina.

The other Marine seemed excited even, Padilla said, looking forward to meeting up with a longtime friend for dinner.

The pair returned to the barracks so Padilla's friend could shower and prepare for the evening. By then, though, his mood had changed, Padilla said.

"He wasn't doing too well," Padilla said. "He was moving around kinda quick, kinda upset."

Knowing his friend had a short temper, Padilla decided to let him blow off steam privately. But after a few minutes passed, he went searching through the second-floor residence.

And that's when he came across his friend, hanging from the balcony by two belts, tied together. Padilla does not remember much of what followed, but he got out beyond the railing and hauled his friend to safety.

"I asked him, 'What are you doing?'" Padilla recalled. "He was semi responsive and that's when I called my NCO, and that's when everybody was called in. That's when he went to the hospital."

The attempt is one of 100 recorded by Corps officials through April 30. At least eight deaths among active duty and reservists were ruled suicides since the start of the year, according to the Marine and Family Programs Division.

But within the armed services, the Corps is an outlier. The suicide rate dropped over the past two years and is the lowest among any branch, according to Defense Department statistics. Even so, Marine officials continually preach vigilance.

And they celebrate those who have either overcome suicidal tendencies or, as in Padilla's case, intervene in an attempt. For saving his best friend, the lance corporal earned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, an award given for heroism and meritorious achievement or service.

He received the award just 10 days after saving his friend. Officials were unable to determine whether other Marines earned awards for preventing suicides or if this is a first for the Corps.

Regardless, ask and Padilla insists on describing his actions as unremarkable.

"…I just reacted," Padilla said," as any other Marine should react."

After a brief hospital stint, Padilla's friend has returned to work, complete with a plan to keep his mental health in good condition, officials said.

Those tasked with combating suicide within the Corps push for preventative measures. Efforts to lower the branch's suicide rate include employing life counselors, distress hotlines and what are known as bystander intervention programs, which teach Marines to spot potential harbingers.

"We can't take our eye off the ball or our foot off the gas," said Dr. Adam Walsh, section head for the Community Counseling Program and Suicide Initiatives at Headquarters Marine Corps, in April. "We'll continue to focus on prevention and best practices."

Padilla's friend's suicide attempt has heightened awareness among the more than 60 Marines station at the brig, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Cripe. As Padilla's supervisor, Cripe was one of those called in immediately that night.

It was his first experience responding to a Marine's suicide attempt, though it happens among the brig's prisoners, he said.

"It's not the worst phone call you could expect — the worst being an actual death and I'm very glad that did not occur," Cripe said. "Losing a Marine is terrible in itself and, obviously, a suicide attempt is serious. We want to ensure we keep our Marines in the fight."

Suicide prevention is now "on the front burner," he said. In retrospect, signs of trouble existed.

The lance corporal's friend struggled with a money problem, Padilla said. Cripe recalled that he had been disciplined a few months earlier, which also contributed to the Marine's financial strain.

In response, leaders at the brig are promoting a more open dialogue, Cripe said.

"If you have a problem and you have something you feel you can't handle on your own, we're here to help you. We're not here to chastise you or make you embarrassed," he said. "We're here to help each other out."

Padilla said he does not discuss the suicide attempt with his friend. Despite earning praise and recognition, Padilla would rather move on from the incident.

"I'd like to put it behind me," Padilla said. "It's just a tough situation — you never want to see suicide."

Recommended for you
Around The Web