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Medal of Honor Recipient Brings Fight Against Suicide to Marine Athletes

Retired Col. Jay Vargas urges 316 from nine nations to do their best in Trials in seven sports.

In her invocation Thursday at opening ceremonies of the third annual Marine Corps Trials, chaplain Lt. Laura Bender wished 318 athletes “victories, victories, victories.”

It was the job of Medal of Honor winner Jay Vargas to identify the opponent.

Suicide.

Wearing his medal for 1968 Vietnam heroism, retired Marine Col. Vargas didn’t say the word out loud at a Camp Pendleton trackside ceremony under sunny skies.

But nobody missed the dark subtext.

“Promise me that the future you’re going to go to … is truly going to be best of your lives,” he told men and women wounded in combat, suffering illnesses including cancer and those injured outside of war.

“In your healing, you be patient—because if you’re not patient, you’ll start thinking silly things,” Vargas said. “And you don’t want to do that. Life is too precious.”

He urged his fellow Devil Dogs and athletes from eight allied nations to “always remember that those who gave up their lives—that fought with you—want you to continue.”

He underscored the message.

“Any time you have a down time, just remember that Fred or Bob—who got killed next to you or near you—would want you to continue.”

Vargas said the past two years, in which he’s visited Marines in association with a TriWest suicide-prevention program, have been the “best two years in my life.”

He called attention to a Marine Corps hotline—advertised on nearby banners—that has gotten 400 to 500 calls a month. Some just need to talk, he said.

He recalled his own recovery from a combat injury, when he was counseled by an Army nurse in Okinawa.

“She was the first one who told me: ‘You’re going to curse God in your healing process—but that’s OK. He can take it.’”

Speaking to spectators as well as contingents from Britain, France, Australia, Colombia, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and New Zealand, he told athletes in seven sports:

“You’re a nation’s pride. Devil Dogs, I look at you and all I see is determination. You’re my heroes. I’m totally humbled to even be in your presence.”

After five days of competition, starting Friday, 50 Marines from the Trials will be chosen to represent the Corps at the 2013 Warrior Games in mid-May at the Olympic Training Center and Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO.

All athletes taking part at Camp Pendleton have completed the Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program, said Jennifer Sullivan, its program manager.

“The athletes will learn skills that will enable them to be highly successful not only at the Trials and Games but in their future endeavors,” Sullivan said.

The Warrior Games are hosted and sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympics Military Program—whose Chairman’s Cup has been won all three years by the Marine Corps team.

The Marines’ Wounded Warrior Regiment—competing in archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, volleyball, swimming, cycling and track and field—expects to be victorious again, the crowd was told.

“Yes, you’re gonna sweat, you’re gonna cry. You’re even gonna curse God,” Vargas told the seated athletes. “But that’s OK. He can take it. What we want out of you is to be yourself, to believe in yourself, and to give it your best.

“And I know you will.”

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