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After brother's suicide, a helicopter pilot moves into chaplaincy

Sep. 25, 2012 - 02:45PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 25, 2012 - 02:45PM  |  
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Almost as soon as Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Cover enlisted in the Army 10 years ago, suicide was front and center.

"One of the guys in my class had mentioned he wanted to hurt himself," Cover said. "I was assigned as his battle buddy, so I went with him all day to his [behavioral health] visits."

As a young soldier, he was a little irritated that he'd been called to take time out of his few free hours a day to babysit a fellow private. They didn't say a lot to each other at the time, but Cover blames that on his inexperience.

"One of the misconceptions about suicide is that you don't want to talk to the guy about it, because if you talk about it, you'll give him ideas," he said.

Now he finds that talking about it is the best treatment, because if they can talk about it, they're less likely to actually do it.

Cover supervised half a dozen more guys in the following years. In his last combat mission before returning home from Iraq in March 2011, he flew a Blackhawk helicopter transporting the remains of a soldier who had committed suicide downrange.

Still, nothing prepared him for June 11, 2011, when his youngest brother, 20-year-old Airman 1st Class Timothy Cover, took his own life.

The younger Cover joined the Air Force in 2010 as an aircraft mechanic, but the unraveling of his young marriage, coupled with financial stress and his first experience away from home, became overwhelming. Jeremy knew his brother wasn't doing well, so he offered to buy Tim a plane ticket to come visit.

Tim sent Jeremy's wife a Facebook message on June 10, saying he was excited to come visit them at Fort Riley, Kan. Cover's wife didn't see the message until it was too late.

"My mom called and said he was gone," Cover said. "I thought he went AWOL. Then she said, ‘No, he's gone.' "

Immediately Cover called up his brother's commander at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. to find out what had happened. His sergeant told Cover that in the days leading up to his suicide, Tim had been looking a lot better.

Jeremy had already started studying to become a chaplain before his brother's passing; he said the event only motivated him more to move into a support role.

"As a warrant officer, I don't get the opportunity to have young soldiers, to take care of them," he said. "I would get to do that as a chaplain."

Though he would encourage soldiers to seek out a chaplain if they're not doing well, he points out that junior noncommissioned officers should be the first to know when one of their guys isn't doing well.

"When I was a first-line, that was something I never grasped," he said. "A lot of NCOs are young and don't understand the position that they're truly in or the responsibility they have for their soldiers.

"You learn what you were supposed to learn after you were supposed to have learned it."

He added that a lot of young soldiers see their sergeants more as disciplinarians and much less as people they can talk to about their problems. However, he stresses that NCOs have a duty to teach their soldiers how to find the work-life balance in a lifestyle as stressful as the one inherent in the Army.

"We need to give Private So-and-So just a little extra time, be realistic in our expectations," he said. "They say that if you took that time in the civilian world, they would fire you, but the civilian world doesn't have our experience."

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