“Death, O Death come now and visit me. But I shall miss the light of day and the sacred fields of Salamis, where I played as a boy, and great Athens, and all my friends. These are the last words you will hear Ajax speak.” Ajax, once a great Greek Warrior and friend of Achilles, speaks through the void, tears trickling down his chin. He then plunges the sharpened tip of his sword into his chest.
This is a scene from Sophocles’s play “Ajax” performed at the Camp Henry Theater on May 11. The play was sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment and Theater of War, an independent production company that presents readings of ancient Greek war plays, as a catalyst for town hall discussions about the challenges faced by service members, Veterans, their caregivers and Families today. The company is currently visiting U.S. military bases all around the globe to stimulate an innovative public health project.
“Theater of War was a great opportunity to bring our community together to address suicidal problem that is plaguing our Army and society.” said Larry D. Smith, Acting Deputy to the Garrison Commander USAG Daegu and the senior leader for the Theater of War morning session.
Ajax, played by Reg. E. Cathey, was a great Greek warrior filled with guilt, madness, and suicidal rage during the ninth year of the Trojan War. In a blind fury, Ajax slays all the cows and sheep around him, believing they were the commanders who had betrayed him. When he finally comes to his senses, Ajax is shocked and ashamed over his actions and pities himself over his disgrace. The Chorus of sailors, played by Chris Henry Coffey, emphasizes how low this great warrior has been brought by fate and the actions of the gods.
Ajax’s wife, Tecmessa, played by Linda Powell, after explaining to the Chorus how Ajax is filled with remorse on discovering what he has done, expresses her fear that he may do something even more dreadful, and pleads with him not to leave her and her child unprotected. He pretends that he is moved by her speech, but finally commits suicide by a sword given to him by Hector.
After the readings of the play, panel of Soldiers, officers, and noncommissioned officers appeared onstage to speak about their take on Ajax and their experiences related to the play. A round of discussion took place between the panel and the audience. The discussion focused on Ajax’s suicide, and how he could fall so drastically.
“We need to recognize suicide as a problem, all of us, and we need to talk about the problem,” said Mr. Smith. “To tackle this problem, we need know people around us. What I mean by knowing is knowing the signs of trouble, knowing when they are facing trouble. Let’s get back to getting together.”
The audience agreed that anyone can fall, and it must be the families, friends, and people close to notice the danger signs and help him or her out. The panel concluded that positive action, more conversation, and feeling that you are not alone will prevent Soldiers from committing suicide.
“It is more heroic to ask for help,” said Lt. Col. Mark D. Rea II, Commander, Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade. “Sophocles understood that it doesn’t matter what your rank or level is. I am an officer but I might need E-1’s help. We all need help, so ask for help.”
Suicides in the U.S. military remains at record-high levels for the eighth consecutive year since 2008.