KSLA Salutes: BPSO Deputy and Air Force veteran bringing attention to veteran, first responder suicides

KSLA Salutes: Rod White

BOSSIER CITY, La. (KSLA) - Deputy Rod White, born and raised in St. Rose, joined the Air Force in 1982. He says he built bombs as a member of the support system.

“I did 10 years in the Air Force,” White said. “I worked in what we call the ammo dump, the bomb dump. I was an ammo troop. I started at the Reserves then I went active duty.”

White says he made the decision to serve while attending college for film and television.

“I don’t want to say I got disenchanted with school, but I was thinking how can I get out of South Louisiana for a while,” White said. “I wanted to see the world. I said Air Force has always been a dream, something to do momentarily. It was a bridge, if you will, to start and instead of doing it first, I elected to go to school. After two years in school I was ready to get out and start a career. So that’s why I joined the Air Force. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do, but it started a life of adventure.

He says he started out at the base in Myrtle Beach, SC, where he says he met his wife of 30 years, then spent a year in Korea before being called to Barksdale, where he worked for the remainder of his service.

White says he learned values like teamwork, perseverance and integrity during his years in the Air Force.

“Things you don’t get growing up an only child,” White said. “You learned to hoard things and keep them to yourself. So I remember when I went to basic training the first day you’re looking at all these new faces and trying to figure these guys out. You’re thinking how are you going to fit in with these guys and how are we all going to mesh together. It was kind of rough, but after 4, 5 weeks you get to know people, where they’re from. You get to see the commonality of being a young man just trying to find yourself in this big world. You begin to rely on other people to do things you couldn’t do. For instance, I was good at folding shirts, but I couldn’t make my bed. So we would switch out. I remember this guy from Hawaii, Holbrook, he was real good at shining boots, but he couldn’t fold. So he would shine our boots and we would make his bed and keep his locker up to snuff. So when it came time for graduation, we all had put our skills together and we all graduated together.”

He says he has continued to carry those values, even after he left the Air Force, began working in television news and eventually began working at the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office.

“Working in television, you had to rely on each other to get the job done and get the story out,” White said. “Here at the Sheriff’s Office there are no Mavericks out here. It’s no one man by himself. No one can do this job alone. We all need help, especially in tasks that are sometimes bigger than ourselves.”

White says there are several standout moments from his service, a majority of them revolving around the friendships he made.

“One in-particular was when the Gulf War actually started,” White said. “I was stationed in Korea at that time and my base, which at that time was Myrtle Beach, I had happened to come home, my father had passed, and spend time with my wife and I got to see all my friends, all the guys I had served with, deploy. I didn’t know if I would see them again, didn’t know what was going on because we had practiced war, but none of us had actually been in war. After my tour was over and I was getting ready to move here, the squadrons came home. I was able to welcome them back after a 6-month tour. A good buddy of mine, who I actually served with, I was able to see him leave and come back. That was one good moment for me. Going over to England for TDY was one of my high points. I had never been TDY. I think I had one stripe and I was chosen to go. That was a big feather in my hat. I played a lot of basketball. When I got to Korea I was able to play on a joint-base team. I had a good friend, from California, Snedeker. We used to call him Sned. Real quiet, straight-laced guy who did his job. One day he took me up riding through the mountains and a song by Lee Greenwood came on. ‘I’m proud to be an American(God Bless the USA)‘. I had never seen him show any emotion before. He was singing and crying. We were both singing. It was one of those moments where you go ‘wow'. We talked about it. He said whenever we go oversees, we forget all the troubles that are back home. But when we are over here it’s almost like us against them thing, but we forget we are all from the same country. That was a defining moment for me in my career. We all are American and we are all serving. That taught me a valuable lesson in working with people and dealing with people.”

He says the friendships you form with fellow servicemen and women are different.

“We have a group of guys from Myrtle Beach that we had actually lost contact with,” White said. “But thanks to social media, we were able to get back in contact with them. My wife is from South Carolina and when we go back, we are going to see several friends that we had lost contact with. We’re talking 20 years. When we see them, we know we are going to pick right back up where we left off. When we got in contact on Facebook, it’s like we never missed a beat. There’s a family here that I actually met in Myrtle Beach. I ran into them a few weekends ago and we were just talking about the beach, the boys. Those friendships and those bonds, they are not easily broken. I don’t know how to explain it to you. I know a couple of guys that I work with who have served and when they talk about their buddies, people they served with, that they shared life with, that they have struggled with, made rank with and all these things, those things stick with you and you see the real side of people.”

White says he was watching a documentary when PTSD and the 22-day push up challenge was brought up. The challenge is to do 22 push ups every day for 22 days. In 2013, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes.

In 2017, the VA said veterans in Louisiana in total committed suicide at a higher rate than average.

“The documentary showed dispatchers talking about the calls they received from servicemen,” White said. “It’s real. I have a cousin that suffers from PTSD who served in the Marines. I’ve had friends tell me about their struggles. So I wanted to join in with the challenge. I haven’t seen war. I haven’t been in what they call the ‘sand box’. But I know people that have. What we are trying to tell people is that there are people out there suffering. There are some that are dealing with issues that others of us may not have to. So if we can do a little something to raise awareness, to help them, to reach out, and to let people know that there are people out there struggling, 22 push ups are minimal.”

White says since he began the 22-day challenge, he has had fellow servicemen and women reach out thanking him. He has even challenged some of his friends and fellow veterans to do it as well. He says after seeing a Chicago PD Deputy Chief was found dead in an apparent suicide, he started noticing the rising suicide rate among first responders rise as well.

Information compiled by Northwestern University shows in 2017, more firefighters and police officers died by suicide than in the line of duty, according to a report by the Ruderman Family Foundation. The report estimated that at least 103 firefighters and 140 police officers died by suicide, while 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty. And those numbers may not tell the whole story. Only 40% to 45% of firefighter suicides are reported, according to estimates by the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA).

“I want to start raising awareness to law enforcement,” White said. “I work in an office and work in public information, but those guys that are out there serving the community and going on those calls see things I will probably never see. With forensics, our guys who work in sex crimes, the detectives, they see things I hope to never see. They go home with that. A lot of that stuff you can’t unsee, unlearn. So just doing a few push ups and trying to get people to understand that folks are suffering out there from the things that they see from the way they serve, I think will help.”

He encourages those who are struggling, no matter their profession, to reach out.

“Don’t suffer in silence,” White said. “It’s easy to find a corner to hide in. I think that’s a natural cause to trauma. We want to go and process it by ourselves. We don’t need to process it by ourselves. We have friends. One of the best things we can do is learn to unload some of this mental and emotional baggage that we have and the only way to do that is to talk about it. The Bible tells us that ‘Only the put of heart shall see God'. To be pure at heart means that stuff you are carrying in your heart, the only way to get it out is to talk it out. If you don’t talk it out, it just stays there. You may not understand what someone is going through, but at least you are listening. To know that someone is listening and to know someone cares goes a long way.”

If you are a veteran who is struggling, you can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text to 838255. It is available every day, 24/7.

Copyright 2020 KSLA. All rights reserved.