SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) – Death by suicide is a problem plaguing those serving our nation and from year to year the figures are getting worse.
The Department of Defense Quarterly Suicide Report showed 689 active and reserve personnel took their own lives last year.
Smyrna mom, Christina Romero, and her children, feel the loss of Major Benny Romero with no conditions, despite the reaction some give when they learn Romero died by suicide.
“To make them feel less than, they still lost their dad; I still lost my husband,” Romero said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
And, the nation lost a decorated war veteran who was a member of the Army’s Special Forces.
“My husband was the warrior. He was the one, if someone asked him something, then he did it. He never hesitated. He didn’t stop,” she said.
Frequent deployments kept Romero on the move. In 8 years, he deployed six times.
“I never really got to see him a lot, but with the time we did have, we spent a lot together,” said 12-year-old Liam Romero.
Liam was 6-years-old and his sister Gracie was two, when Major Romero returned home from another round of intense missions.
“To see the aftermath after a firefight, to see that he had shot maybe a 14-year-old boy or 15-year-old boy who was shooting at him -in the midst of things, you don’t know – but that weighed heavy on him,” recalled Romero.
He started drinking to fall asleep, and his typically enthusiastic smile faded.
“My husband was a go-getter. This time he kept saying, I’m really tired. I’m just really tired.”
She said, like many officers fearful seeking mental health help will affect promotions, Major Romero kept his silent wounds of war hidden.
“I get this email, and it’s a suicide note for me and the kids. It just says ‘he loves us, and he’s very sorry,'” Romero paused to wipe her tears and take a deep breath, “My heart broke because it was just out the blue. It was not him.”
In the 5 years since Romero’s been gone, the family has learned to adjust.
“She’s an amazing mom. She’s raised us so well,” said Liam.
The trio finds strength in sharing the struggles they’ve endured.
“I know that there’s a stigma with suicide, that’s why I like to talk about it. It matters to me, and it matters because it’s our life now,” Romero said.
They urged other service members to speak up without feeling shame.
“It’s going to get better,” if Liam said, you take the first step and seek help.