Through the lens of a soldier

Published 5:18 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

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Consider this: 125,000 veterans have tragically lost their lives to suicide since 2001, making it the second leading cause of death among veterans under the age of 45. The transition to civilian life, a journey that should mark a new beginning, often becomes a battleground of its own. The statistics weigh heavy on my heart as transitioning service members are five times more likely to experience suicidal ideations, and the rate of suicide among women veterans is 2.5 times higher than non-veteran adult women.

Yet, among these staggering numbers, there is hope. Stop Soldier Suicide, a steadfast ally in this fight deeply committed to preventing military and veteran suicide, provides essential support 24/7, 365 days a year, regardless of discharge status. They envision a future where military suicide is reduced by 40% by 2030, a future where every veteran finds the solace and support they deserve. In 2022 alone, they offered 17,500 hours of care, embodying their commitment to the cause.

As I transitioned from military life into the civilian world in 2020, the shift from the structured life of a soldier to the uncertain terrain of civilian existence – amidst a global pandemic! – became overwhelming. It was during my own struggle to find footing in this new reality that I discovered that this journey, albeit deeply personal, resonates with countless others.

In the past couple of years, I committed myself to the Stop Soldier Suicide 100-mile challenge, a meaningful initiative where participants pledge to running 100 miles in 30 days to raise both funds and awareness for the cause. This year, I aimed to approach my fundraising efforts in a distinctive way, one that would allow me to engage with my community on a deeper level.

One of my long-standing dreams was to host a gallery showcasing my photography. This aspiration led to a unique idea: leveraging the work I did as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army. Through my experiences in photojournalism, I wanted to use my images to bridge the gap between the soldier’s reality and the local community, offering a humanizing glimpse into the soldier’s narrative that I had the privilege to capture.

And so, Through the Lens of a Soldier was born and a collaboration with the Beaufort County Arts Council took shape to bring the vision to life. Choosing September for the exhibition seemed fitting, aligning our cause with Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Over the course of the month, several images were featured in a silent auction, while others were available for direct purchase at a set price.

My purpose in curating this exhibition was not only to showcase the essence of the soldier but also to shed light on the challenges faced by our veterans during their transition. I believe the photographs selected are not just snapshots; they are windows into the soul of service and sacrifice each telling a story of courage and camaraderie.

Transitioning from the service is a challenging endeavor, and one that’s often compounded by the fact that those serving alongside you might not fully understand your needs, having not experienced the transition themselves. It is in our collective hands to ensure that the brave souls who protected us find the support they need as they navigate the intricate paths of civilian life.

In total, $1,662.76 was collected from the silent auction, photo sales, and generous donations. This heartfelt contribution, fueled by the community’s support, will be donated entirely to Stop Soldier Suicide. Those interested in making a direct donation can do so at Your support can transform statistics into stories of survival, despair into determination, and isolation into a sense of belonging.

Ellen Brabo is a Washington resident and owner of The Ell Hotel. She served as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army from 2015-2020.