Never Walk Alone (Part 2)
"The intervention didn't save his life. What saved him was his admission that he needed help."
This is the second article in a four-part series about a Navy petty officer who came close to taking his own life but did not do so, thanks to the intervention of his leadership and the use of support networks, and how he continues to brave his battle with alcoholism and depression.
His supervisor and mentor of 11 years said he was a superior performer, but would slip up now and again.
"He was always a phenomenal worker," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Misty Hubbard, the Navy element senior enlisted advisor at the joint command, who has known Thompson for 11 years. "Anything that needed to be done well and quickly went to him, because he could perform like a champ in a pinch. He was always an incredible worker. Ninety-five percent of the time, he was No. 1, on fire... just an incredible Sailor [and] worker. But you could guarantee that about once a quarter, Thompson was going to do something stupid."
In 2012, while Thompson was working at the same joint command as an instructor, Hubbard said three events in Thompson's life were the warning signs for her: he wasn't selected for promotion to chief petty officer, he broke up with his girlfriend, and he missed a duty day.
Another chief, who was an instructor and the drug and alcohol prevention advisor (DAPA) at the joint command in 2012, also noticed signs.
"My first impression of him was that he always displayed himself as an extremely professional, intelligent, charismatic guy, but he started habitually coming to work late," said Chief Petty Officer Herb Banks, now the leading chief for USS Theodore Roosevelt's media department. "I knew something was wrong."
Banks said he pulled Thompson into his office to ask him what was going on and used his training to ask certain questions to make an assessment.
During this time, Thompson, at age 32, had every intention of taking his life.
After Banks' conversation with Thompson and after Thompson had missed the duty day, seven Navy chiefs assigned to the joint command discussed during their weekly meeting how best to handle the situation.
"We were hesitant to bring him in, fearing that we didn't want to do anything that could negatively impact his career," he said. "But at the end of the day, us being chiefs, we put our personal feelings to the side, and we did what we had to do. It wasn't an easy conversation to have with each other, let alone with the individual, but when we say, 'Chief up,' we did, and did what we did for the sake of the Sailor. We were going to do whatever we could to keep this guy alive."
"We could have handled it strictly from a discipline standpoint, but we would not have resolved this issue," Hubbard said. "We wouldn't have figured out what was causing him to behave this way if we just handled it with paperwork and consequences. So we found a conference room where we could talk with him and not be interrupted."
On Dec. 7, 2012, the seven chiefs sat on one side of a long oval-shaped wooden table and had Thompson report in on the other side to what they had called a professional development board. Thompson called it an intervention.
"I didn't want an intervention; I wanted to die," he said. "I had every intention of saying whatever I had to say to leave that room, because that night, I was going to kill myself."
Hubbard said the setup was intentional, because "Thompson is ridiculously intelligent, and usually the smartest person in the room. One-on-one, he can fool you. If he's talking to two people, he can still do a good job of selling you whatever he thinks you want to hear. But there were seven chiefs in that room...'"
Breaking through the wall
Thompson held his own in the beginning, Hubbard said, and started with apologies and accepting responsibility for his actions, but then the chiefs broke through his wall.
"The end of it happened very quickly," Hubbard said with tears running down her cheeks. "You could see him starting to get frustrated. One chief asked him, 'Petty Officer Thompson, is there anything you actually do care about?' and another chief asked him, 'Are you thinking about hurting yourself?'
Thompson said he cried and finally admitted he needed help.
"The chiefs gave me my life back, and I'm just now learning how to live it, really live it, with purpose and clarity, possibility and hope," he said.
"The intervention didn't save Thompson's life," Banks said. "What saved him," he added, "was his admission that he needed help."
"I'm thankful that Thompson was courageous enough on the day of that conversation that he had with us chiefs to admit that he really did have a problem," Banks said. "That is what saved his life. It wasn't what any of us did. He let his wall down at that moment and said, 'Yes, I need some help.' That was one hell of a display of courage, in my opinion. As sharp as he was, as professional as he was, as smart as he was, and as squared-away as he was on the job, at that moment, he needed to take that wall down and ask for help, and he stepped up. And for that, he will have my respect [forever]."
Thompson agreed. "I saved my life that day," he said. "I had a ride to Bethesda, and that's when it really started. I was relieved. There was no reason to lie to myself or anybody else anymore."
(This is the second article in a four part series, adapted from DoD News for All Hands Magazine).
Help is always available. Contact the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (option 1), visit www.veteranscrisisline.net, or text 838255. It's free, easy and confidential, and trained professionals are there for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
For service members and their family members seeking non-crisis support, call Vets 4 Warriors at 1-855-838-8255 or visit http://www.Vets4Warriors.com.
Support for families of service members who have lost their lives to suicide, contact the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a 24/7 tragedy assistance resource, at 1-800-959-8277.
Defense Department Suicide Prevention YouTube Page
Navy Suicide Prevention Month: It's About Being there for Every Sailor, Every Day
Your Navy Chaplain, Focused on Every Sailor, Every Day