Words by Wes O’Donnell, Veteran U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force. Managing Editor, InMilitary.com. Connect with Wes on LinkedIn.
John Preston is at war.
As a young marine, he was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Now, he’s fighting on the front lines of a conflict much more deadly; where the stakes are all or nothing. John Preston is at war… And he’s winning.
According to the Department of Defense, in 2012 active-duty military suicides surpassed combat-related deaths for the first time. The statistics on the veteran side are not any better. As I reported in my article, “Veteran Suicide: The False Narrative of the Number 22” the number 22 was taken from Veterans Affairs data that only sampled 21 states. As a result, the number of veterans committing suicide daily in the United States is likely much higher than 22.
The fact of the matter is that combat veterans are much more likely to have suicidal ideation. In addition, they are more inclined to have PTSD and depression making it more plausible that they will act on a suicidal plan.
As an Iraq veteran, John Preston knows that it is much more dangerous to be a veteran in America than it is to be outside the wire in Iraq or Afghanistan. John is now fighting both a private and a public battle with PTSD using chords instead of bullets; songs instead of bombs.
John began getting serious about music while on active duty in the Marine Corps, although he states that “I’ve always loved music. I was writing poetry at a very young age.” He began to write more while in the military; playing harder, perfecting his sound and finding his voice. While serving in Iraq, John would write and record the song “Good Good America.” The accompanying video went viral at a time before ‘viral’ was an Internet word.
As soon as he separated from the military, he was offered a record deal. “This was my first taste of ‘the industry’.” John is referring to the music industry. However, at the time, he was still suffering from his own demons: PTSD and alcohol abuse. John says that “I was pretty immature back then. I don’t think I fully realized the opportunity that was in front of me. I would get drunk and sleep through studio appointments.”
John would continue to make music, releasing an album in 2014 called “Your War is Over.” That’s when he came on my radar. His songs “Good Good America” and “Your War is Over” struck me as powerful and timely. It was clear to me that this young man was doing more than just making music; like all great musicians, he was channeling something deeper. John was declaring war on veteran suicide.
Then in 2016, tragedy struck home. While on tour, about to go on stage in Sacramento, John got a phone call informing him that his brother, a Marine Corps veteran and police officer, committed suicide. That tragic call was captured in the video below:
John says that “my whole world came crashing down. My brother was my hero, my Superman.” John remembers thinking “What am I doing out here, singing about PTSD and suicide when I can’t even prevent it at home?” It became clear that even our heroes, the people that we worship the most on this Earth, can be silently suffering.
Despite his self-doubt, John took a page from the USMC: What do you do when you are caught in an ambush? Assault through it. Instead of quitting, he would channel this pain into a song called “Superman Falls.” The song, released on a compilation album called “Battle Cry: Songs of America’s Heroes” made the top 40 of the rock chart on its first day of release. 100% of the sales of “Battle Cry” goes to The Valkyrie Initiative- a non-profit organization benefiting veterans and first responders battling PTSD.
And John has another album releasing later this year: a personal story about the times before and after his brother’s suicide. According to John, it addresses pain but also rising above that pain. When asked where we go from here, as a society dealing with veteran suicide:
“You’re failing yourself if you let the system be the answer” John says, “You have to reach out to someone and it doesn’t have to be a professional, at least not at first. Just reach out to someone!”
Sometimes we’re afraid of what our friends and family might think of us. Will they think I’m weak? Sometimes it’s easier to reach out to a complete stranger and I think that’s the idea behind the Veterans Crisis Line.
Most importantly, John states that “Suicide has a ripple effect. It doesn’t just impact your life or your family’s lives. It affects friends of friends in all directions, potentially thousands of people. But people suffering through PTSD and depression can’t always see clearly,” John says, “that’s why we need more awareness. To let people know that, even though they might feel alone, they are not really alone, not by a long shot.”
John Preston is fighting a war against a dangerous enemy. It’s now our turn to join the fight.
Find John Preston on iTunes HERE
The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.