By: Paul Gattis
Alabama Media Group / Huntsville Times
November 12, 2013 at 10:41 AM
He counts eight friends who have served in the military who have committed suicide. The parent of a ninth military friend also committed suicide.
View full sizeMike Little (submitted photo)
And if not for a compassionate group of veterans, the 30-year-old Little might have become suicide No. 10.
"There was a group of guys at the American Legion who realized what I was going through and they grabbed me and they took me down to the VA and got me help," Little said. "That's because I was going down to the Legion every day and drinking every day. If I had been going down to the Eagles and drinking every day, I don't think I would have gotten the help I needed and I probably would have gone home and shot myself in the head.
"Instead, I was going down to the Legion and those guys were Vietnam (War) veterans and Korean (War) veterans and they took me and got me help. It was that choice I made to go to that bar that night that helped me realize I was sick."
Little has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and said he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He's contemplated suicide himself. He's now a petty officer 2nd class in the Naval Reserves in Buffalo, N.Y., where he also serves as veterans liaison for New York state Sen. Mark Grisanti.
But in an interview with AL.com last week, Little stressed that the story isn't about him. It's about his friends who felt they faced obstacles they couldn't overcome and took their own lives.
The only role Little said he wants to play is to help those who are facing the same obstacles. He said he's not speaking for the Navy, he just wants to speak and be heard.
"Sailors are falling through the cracks and I was one of them," Little said. "Nine of my friends have been a part of it. Some of that could have been avoided if we could have reached out and done a little bit more."
He's co-written two papers with Navy buddy Terrance Pinkney addressing how to combat suicide in the military. The papers focus on "common sense" ideas, Little said, that include nurturing the mental health of every service member from the day they first put on a uniform.
That approach would counter the macho stereotype of military personnel being immune to mental issues.
"It's stupid," Little said. "It's stupid because you know what, this wouldn't be a problem if 40 years ago or 60 years ago, they would have done what I'm saying now. Start the mental health at the beginning and by the time it's an issue, it's not an issue.
"When I was coming in the Navy, they told me if you've got mental health problems, you drink it off or you think it off. You don't talk to anybody about it."
He's also a believer that veterans can help other veterans even more than trained mental health professionals. In particular, he points to the Vet to Vet program.
"You talk to another veteran who's had the same situation you have," Little said.
Little's life would seem to be the epitome of happiness. He got married last month, he's got the job with Grisanti and Little is working to complete his degree through an online program at the University of Maryland.
His present, however, can't bury his past. There are the friends dead of their own hand, the points in life when he considered suicide himself, the emotional scars from his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the post-traumatic stress disorder he's been diagnosed with.
During an hour-long interview last week with AL.com, Little joked that a reporter was getting a G-rated version of his thoughts and concerns.
"It takes a lot for me to talk about this," he said. "Every time I talk about this, I bet I set myself back a good two months from my getting better. But I want to; I'm willing to do it. But it's so disheartening when you bring it up and somebody tells you not to talk about it."
Little told his story in a gripping narrative to Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that covers the military. That story published in September and since then, he said no one has contacted him to discuss his ideas, his concerns or even pick his brain on the issue of military suicide - an issue so serious that the Department of Defense has invested $100 million to combat.
"I'm just a guy in the Navy who has lived through this and here are some of my suggestions," Little said. "I think people just see it as that. They see it as a 2nd class petty officer in the United States Navy Reserves. Maybe if I was a captain in the Navy, it would be different."
Sometimes Little said he doesn't sense his passion and concern over the issue of military suicide being reciprocated by those who can influence policy. Still, he remains undeterred.
He described a gut-wrenching awakening from sleep one morning last week that might seem best forgotten.
"I woke up and I had a horrible migraine and my nose was bleeding and all night I was dreaming about being back overseas," he said. "When I woke up, there was blood on my pillow. I don't know why but I get bloody noses when I have horrible nightmares about this stuff.
"It kind of sends me into shock at first because you wake up and there's blood and you're like, 'What the hell?' and I haven't been overseas on three years."
By 9 a.m., though, he picked up the phone to talk to a reporter who had requested an interview - eager to tell his story again.