ARLINGTON, Va. -- For Army Sgt. 1st Class Julio Rodriguez, the first two days of March 2015 will remain embedded in his mind forever.
“Those two days were the end of who I was, and the beginning of the person I am becoming,” he said.
Deployed to Iraq that year, Rodriguez said, he quickly found himself in a very dark place after personal demons set in.
“On March 1, I had my first suicidal thought -- a vivid mental picture of me laying on my bunk with my Beretta pistol pointed to my head,” he said. “I realized I broke at that point, but I was determined not to give in. I quickly snapped out of it and thought that I regained my composure, but I didn't.”
The next day, he said, another vivid mental picture popped into his head. “This time, I was walking towards the dining hall and I saw myself sitting against a wall with my pistol in my hand, and a bullet hole in my chest,” Rodriquez said.
“It was at that point that I realized I was beyond self-recovery and the steps I was taking on my own failed,” he added.
After confiding in a friend, Rodriguez sought the help he needed. He was diagnosed with major depression and suicidal ideation and was evacuated from combat operations. He later began therapy at the former Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
He said he was deeply in denial about his condition, but with the impending birth of his daughter, he slowly began to heal.
“Knowing she was coming into the world, I had to fight for me and my life in order to ensure I was there for her,” he said. “Over time, I learned my self-worth and realized life was worth living, but she was and will always be my ‘Why,’” Rodriguez said.
"It’s funny. … During our darkest times, God will always find a way to show you the light,” he added.
The counterintelligence agent is now sharing his story with others as a way of offering inspiration to anyone facing life challenges.
“It was a horrible experience. And, knowing personally that even resilient people can break -- I wish that on no one,” Rodriguez said. “I share my story with a lot of my soldiers in my unit as a testament of what resiliency is all about.”
Soldiers with suicidal thoughts should “see a behavioral health specialist, right away,” Rodriguez said. “It gives them hope and a positive outlook during their situation,” he explained.
No one just decides to commit suicide, Rodriguez said. “Suicide is an easy way to end pain during very difficult times when they feel nothing else is working,” he said. “It’s the end of a progressive negative process.”
As Rodriguez continues his process of healing, he’s now focused on the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games slated June 1-9 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I had to recreate myself and establish a new me. It wasn't easy,” Rodriguez said. “I struggled a lot, but I managed to create a better version of myself.”
Rodriguez said he developed new hobbies, goals, set priorities, and created a new leadership style based on his experience. “I am stronger and better than I used to be and I'm grateful for everything I have,” he said.