CAMP LEJEUNE, NC — Operations officer Maj. Greg Walsh has vivid memories of both Iraq and Afghanistan, having deployed with infantry battalions since he was a lieutenant. Haunted by memories of death at war and troubles at home, he decided to kill himself, becoming part of a tragic epidemic that has devastated the entire Department of Defense.
However, that decision came five and a half years ago. Today, Walsh's suicide remains stalled in the middle stages of the complicated and bureaucratic formal planning process that the Marine Corps taught him was essential for making important decisions in the high pressure environment of combat.
Walsh began by appointing himself in writing to every position normally found on a military staff to ensure no role's critical responsibilities were neglected. As acting commander, Walsh began to draft his commander's estimate of the situation based on a mission of "Kill myself in order to end the cyclical loop of emotional trauma and public disinterest that is my life."
"Commander's desired endstate: I am dead," concludes the first of 1,724 documents generated so far by Walsh's suicide planning. The walls of the tiny apartment Walsh moved into following his divorce are covered with assessments of his fires, maneuver, intelligence, logistics, and command and control capabilities.
After some soul searching over whether or not to include his force protection capabilities, Walsh decided to include them to help identify obstacles that he might have to overcome to successfully put himself in inescapable mortal danger. For instance, Walsh's floor is littered with meticulously drawn map overlays showing all the nearby hospitals and clinics that might reach him in time to revive him against his wishes.
"Deuce, are my CCIRs (Commanders Critical Information Requirements) published to all the sections?," asks an unshaven Walsh, looking out across his vacant kitchen table. He stands up and sullenly shuffles around to the opposite side of the table, taking a seat in a chair with an S-2 placard sitting in front of it. "Yes, sir," he continues, staring at another empty chair, "I was just getting to the final list of CCIRs. Let me put on my Information Management Officer hat and click through to the next slide."
Course of Action (COA) development alone took two years, as Walsh repeatedly sent himself back to the drawing board due to COAs that were not unique, were overly complicated, were overly vague, or which did not accomplish the mission in accordance with his visualization. The process was delayed even further when, during one of his many Operational Planning Team meetings, Walsh insisted that the name of Operation Suicide be translated into Pashto for reasons of cultural sensitivity. This required changing the operation's name in every document Walsh had written up to that point.
Complicating things even more, when he routed the documents to himself via his adjutant, Walsh discovered several minor formatting errors that he red-penned before returning the document to himself for revision.
Following these extensive changes, Walsh seems in worse shape than ever. However, military psychiatrist Lt. Cmdr. Mark Zimmerman is not worried.
"We don't advertise it, but we sometimes encourage operations officers to plan their suicide as a last ditch means of delaying them. DSTRESS has had despondent OpsOs on the line saying 'I'm going to kill myself, and I have the means to do it,' and the only way they could stop them was by saying 'okay, we believe you, but who's done the [Intel Preparation of the Battlespace]?', then telling them some stories about botched suicide attempts. It's been one of our most successful strategies. Also, going through the familiar processes of formal planning, even for something as self-destructive as suicide, is excellent therapy for these guys, and it keeps them occupied with a project."
"And to be perfectly honest with you, most OpsOs who plan their suicides using the Marine Corps Planning Process know what they're doing, and it's just a cry for help," added Zimmerman. "Otherwise, they'd use R2P2, the Rapid Response Planning Process, which would result in a suicide in just a few short months."
In support of Zimmerman's theory, Walsh's bi-weekly update briefs have gradually gotten lighter in tone, with at least one or two of the staff roles Walsh fills trying to sneak hidden jokes into their slides. Most of them reference inside jokes about delays in the planning process, or humorous mistakes made by Walsh in one of his other staff roles. However, while this raises Walsh's spirits, it only further delays his plan.
As of today, Walsh remains stuck in the COA wargaming phase, in which he plays not only his own role, but also that of a red cell that wants to keep him alive at all costs and a green cell that represents the many civil and cultural factions who may or may not care if Walsh lives or dies, yet might somehow get involved in the suicide and its aftermath. He expects to spend at least a year analyzing the results and deciding on a course of action, which will then need to be refined over yet another year. However, this will only be a prelude to the estimated six additional years Walsh will require to write an operations order with all the required annexes and appendices, even after accounting for the planning documents that can be turned directly into parts of the order.
Even if Walsh was done writing the order today, Zimmerman does not believe he would be in any real danger.
"If he's anything like the other suicidal OpsOs we've seen, he'll most likely leave some of his planning documents out where someone can see them, or accidentally mention his plans in a public place where someone can overhear him, and they'll notify the authorities, blowing the whole thing. It will probably end up leaked all over the internet."