A Message from Bob McLaughlin, Executive Director, Mt. Carmel Veteran’s Service Center
On September 11, 2001, I was stationed in Fort Hood Texas with the 1st Cavalry Division. When the second tower was hit, I remember thinking, “we are going to war with terrorists.” Three years later I found myself doing just that. I was stationed in Iraq with my childhood friend and hero, Marine Major John Ruocco. We were two proud patriots from Lexington, Massachusetts, serving and protecting our country.
This photo was taken in October 2004 right after the Red Sox won the World Series. John and I were together at Al Asad Air Force Base in the Al Anbar province prior to the battle of Fallujah. At the time I was serving as the 2nd Marine Division Fire Support Officer. John and I were both proud of our service and honored to be serving in Iraq together. On the night this picture was taken, John and I reflected together on the events of 9/11 and spoke about how those events changed our lives. Four months later, I remained in Iraq, but John had returned home. I received word that he had died by suicide. John’s suicide was a direct result of his combat experience flying close air support as a combat pilot.
I am driven today to honor John’s memory by doing everything I can to prevent veteran suicide. Tragedy can strike at any time and takes on many forms – with no tragedy lesser than another.
El Paso County has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country, with of CDC ranking of seventh highest in the nation (1). Looking at the demographics of El Paso County, home of five military installations, we know that most active service personnel and their families live in communities outside these military bases. In fact, 58% of Colorado’s military retiree population lives in the local community (2). El Paso County residents already know this to be true – we are a community with a significant military presence. We also understand that there is a correlation between El Paso County’s high rates of suicide and the higher-than-average percentage of military and veterans in our community (3).
And that is why we are here. We are here, working diligently, to better the lives of those who served so selflessly in any way we can. With the help of partners, including UCHealth, NAMI Colorado Springs, the UCCS Veterans Health and Trauma Clinic, the El Paso County Public Health Department, the El Paso County Coroner’s office, and law enforcement agencies across the county, Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center is proud to support and be a part of the gateway to a better path – NEXT CHAPTER.
NEXT CHAPTER is the promise of a fresh start, of a community coming together to uplift and serve those who have served for us – of working together to begin again. Next Chapter is a combination of resources and people to help military personnel and veterans start the next chapter of their lives. To aid veterans as they write their next chapter and transition into a space where they can move forward with confidence. I’m proud to be leading Mt. Carmel in this partnership that will last for years and hopefully reach people like my friend John. Next Chapter is set to support our military neighbors and we are proud to support!