Maj. George Corbari, who struggled with depression and now works to help soldiers who face similiar issues, said there's no simple solution to the Army's suicide epidemic. (Courtesry Maj. George Corbari)
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Last year, Maj. George Corbari's life seemed to be falling apart. One tragedy followed another and yet another, leaving the 19-year soldier depressed, hopeless and on the verge of committing suicide.
"It's like having someone have their foot on your neck and you can't get it off," Corbari said. "The helplessness, I equate it to … being tossed in a powerful surf and you're just powerless. It just felt like, if one more thing happens, that's it, I just can't take it anymore. Then one more thing just kept happening."
It took two fellow officers he met at Intermediate Level Education who cared enough to reach out, and his survival instincts, to pull him out of the hole he was in, Corbari said. Now he wants to share his story with other soldiers who may be struggling.
"I just think that folks don't understand how people feel as they contemplate something like this, and when you get to a place where [suicide] becomes an option, you lose the ability, in my experience, to make sense of everything else," Corbari said. "You think it's so desperate that there isn't help. When you get to that point, if you can't reach out or you don't have people to reach out to or people don't recognize that in you to reach out, that's when we start to lose people."
Corbari, a prior-enlisted soldier commissioned in 1997, said there is no simple solution to the suicide epidemic the Army is facing.
"I teach performance enhancement. I teach sports psychology. So I understand about motivating people, and I understand how to make good choices," he said. "And … I lost my way. That numbness, that place where you get where you lose the ability to rationalize and make good decisions."
Corbari's mother attempted suicide a few times when he was growing up, he said. And when Corbari was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, his son made his first of many suicide attempts, he said.
But some of the darkest moments of his life wouldn't hit him until last year, he said.
Corbari was sent on short notice to ILE while the rest of his brigade, which included his oldest daughter and son-in-law, prepared to deploy. After arriving at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Corbari's son carried out his third suicide attempt, cutting his neck with a broken beer bottle and nicking his carotid artery. A few weeks later, his son attempted suicide again.
At the same time, Corbari and his wife's plans to wrap up the yearlong adoption process for their little girl in China almost fell apart, and "it seemed that we would not be able to travel … and bring the little girl home we had come to believe was our daughter," he said.
Shortly afterward, Corbari's son, who was "doing much better and back on track," got into a serious car crash when a woman ran a stop sign and slammed into the side of his car.
Four days later, Corbari's daughter called from Afghanistan.
"Our son-in-law had stepped on an [improvised explosive device] and lost both his lower legs," he said.
As he sank deeper into depression, Corbari said he couldn't turn to his wife of 28 years. It wasn't until his friends at ILE reached out to him that he began to get better.
"I found strength and hope in friends that I could go places with that I couldn't even go with my wife," he said. "They saw things in me that caused concern and approached me because they genuinely cared. I think they were able to break away some of the ice that was building up, so to speak. I realized I had a lot to live for, and I still had a family that was depending on me."
When he was depressed, Corbari said, he couldn't see all the good things he had in his life.
"Before I got caught, as I was falling over the edge, all those things just didn't resonate with me," he said. "When I started to look at what the impact would be on everyone around me if I weren't around."
Corbari was finally able to share what he was going through with his wife, he said.
"I had really underestimated how important I was to her," he said. "When you convince yourself that people are going to be better off without you, it's pretty easy to gloss over that until they express to you what their life would be like without you."
These days, after counseling and medication, Corbari said he — and his family — are doing much better.
"It's a lot easier to talk to my wife, [and] I talk to my son a lot more about some of the things only he and I can understand, and I think that's good for both of us."
Corbari said he is concerned that some people will judge him and consider him a loser or someone who isn't fit to be in the Army.
"So many times, we categorize people as dirtbags or misfits or the unwanted, and I've seen that it happens to good people," he said. "The place I am in my career, I'm OK with that. But when we do that to the young kids, that contributes to why we're losing people at an astronomic rate."