Recently three members of our Operation Enduring Warrior team were selected for the Department of Veteran Affairs Suicide Prevention Outreach Program 2017 Campaign: Be There. Each of them wanted to share their personal stories of loss, struggle, and ultimately, strength and resilience in the face of adversity. OEW applauds their continual efforts within their communities to be the voice of strength and empowerment for those who have lost hope. September is Suicide Prevention Month. If you are, or know, someone who is struggling with hopelessness and despair, please reach out today and ask for the help that is there at the Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255.
Meet Rick Kolberg
Why I am so invested in Veteran Suicide Prevention, and why OEW and other Veteran Service organizations have aided in not only my recovery from physical injuries, but also the hidden wounds of an abusive, neglectful childhood, and combat experiences.
I grew up in a broken home. My particular broken home was more than just the separation of mother and father. It was a culmination of mental, physical, verbal and sexual abuse of both my sister and myself. Early in life, I realized that athletics would be the catalyst that I needed to cope with my troubled home life.
Well as fate would have it, at the age of 14 not even my catalyst could help me cope with the loss of my father. Rick Kolberg Sr. took his own life. No one EVER once asked me, at the age of 14, and losing my father in this way “Do you want to speak to a counselor?” They only tried to comfort me by saying “He’s in a better place.”
This idea permeated my mind, and as a result, I attempted to commit suicide when I was 14. (I have never really openly spoken about this…). The hidden wound that my father’s death left behind is still very much open. But, the coping mechanisms, along with the brotherhood that I will highlight next, are how I manage day to day.
Fast forward to 2007, June 3rd to be exact. At about midnight, I watched in horror as one of my very best Army friends, SGT Kimel Watt, was killed in action by a victim-operated improvised explosive device (IED). Kimel, or “Mel” as he liked to be called, was the gel that held our platoon together. This was my second of four deployments and by far the most impactful moment of all of them was losing my friend.
2014 once again brought dramatic change to my life. In a fall from nearly 50 feet, I suffered two broken legs, a broken back, and a moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury. As a result of my injuries, I was Medically Evacuated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. I was a senior Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army, and went from leading 30-40 Soldiers in both garrison and combat, to leading NO ONE. And I mean NO ONE, not even myself.
In the course of roughly 10 months, I found myself once again feeling like I could be in a “better place”. My purpose was missing. I was literally hours away from ending my life. My plan was to open the bottle of the prescription opiates, followed by a fresh bottle of whiskey, and just go to sleep. I felt I had nothing left to live for. I was lying in bed feeling sorry for myself when Brian Ugalde emailed then followed up with a phone call. He had exciting news about this organization called Operation Enduring Warrior…the details of the last year and a half can be summed up with this:
When I felt like all was lost, no hope, and no light at the end of the tunnel…I found Operation Enduring Warrior. OEW showed me a brotherhood and without the men and women of this organization, I would surely be gone. The character, love, and compassion of each team member has strengthened my resolve to NEVER let a fellow service member fall to their own hand if I can help it.