My name is Thomas Knapp. I’ve served 17 years in the United States Marine Corps (Jan 1993 – Sept 2013) and obtained the rank of Gunnery Sargent. During those years, I served two tours in Iraq, in 2003 and 2004. I have also served 11 years with my local police department holding a supervisor position and the rank of Sargent. I was a member of the department SWAT team functioning as an operator and sniper. I am proud of my service and worked hard to uphold high standards and lead those I was in charge of with dignity and respect.
I am also a father of three beautiful and awesome human beings. Two sons who were under three years old through both my deployments and a daughter who was born shortly after I started police work. These three have been pivotal in my sense of meaning and helping hold things together these past few years. Their mother was amazingly supportive of my careers and a rock for the kids to go to when my life was so volatile.
I have served our nation and my community while struggling with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and depression for over a decade. It would manifest itself every few months in a subtle way. I would feel irritable and would isolate myself by working or watching movies that would stir up strong emotions of sadness, anger, and despair. These moods, as they became known as by my family, would last for a couple of weeks. Then I would shake them off and get back to life.
The last 4 years saw the moods growing in length and frequency. It was just something that happened and we never pieced together what they actually were. The true form and severity showed itself in October of 2015. While walking to my personal vehicle after my shift at work, a thought of suicide entered my head. I don’t believe it lasted more than a second but I vividly recall thinking about climbing into my truck and shooting myself in the head with my duty weapon. I thought about the morning after where either the morning shift would find me or my wife would call wondering where I was. I shook the notion out of my head, but was surprised and even scared that such a thought had entered my mind.
The next morning I told my wife about it and this started the move toward seeking help. I began therapy early in 2016 and found a medication that seemed to be working. All appeared to be going good and getting better. As my therapy got more intense and started digging into many different areas of my life, I found it harder and harder to deal with myself. I began to see all the self-destructive behavior I had exhibited in the past. My self-loathing became stronger and I could not see how I could be forgiven. At this point, my marriage had disintegrated. My wife had left me and my depression grew deeper and darker.
In February 2017, while working as watch commander, we experienced an unusually warm day and it was beautiful out. Needing to stretch, I exited my patrol vehicle and took a walk in the woods. Surrounded by all the beauty of the woods, I was still swallowed up by grief and despair. I fell to my knees in tears and pulled my service weapon out of its holster almost in a dare to see if I would go that far. I hesitated for a long minute before putting it back into its holster and returning to work.
In March 2017 while preparing for work, after getting dressed and putting my belt on, I began to put my tools into their pouches. Flashlight from charger, recording system microphone, Taser and lastly, my service weapon. As I pulled it out of the gun safe, the thoughts returned to me. Again, almost as if a dare, like in slow motion, I put the weapon to my head. It was loaded, in condition 1 and ready for service. I hovered there, for what felt like minutes as I contemplated the result of one more action. Scared to leave my children without a father, I holstered my weapon and went to work, only to leave early that evening. Throughout 2017, I have also been overwhelmed with the thoughts of driving into a pole, off a bridge or hoping to get hit by a truck or drunk driver. I just wanted the pain to end.
At this time, I recognized, and finally admitted, that I did not have this under control and I needed to take some time off work. I took family medical leave to take care of myself and my children during the divorce. Until then, I had not mentioned my incidents or thoughts to anyone other than my therapist. I was hoping more therapy, medication and time away from the stresses of the job would help me get straight. I have always enjoyed my job but I was scared to go to work and carry my weapon.
I made a decision to file for retirement from law enforcement and I no longer felt I could return to the military. I worked hard not to let these two things define me, I preferred to be defined as a family man, a good husband, and father. Now, however, everything I was, Marine, police officer, family man, they were all being stripped from me. I was trapped in the tunnel and I could not see the light. I wasn’t even sure if I was going in the right direction.
Finally, in July 2017, I hit an even more critical point than I had previously. Under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol and conversation of my divorce and life falling apart, I was ready to go. After trashing parts of my house, I pulled one of my handguns out of the safe and was trying to build up the courage to take my life. I ended up firing off a round in my house. A friend and comrade saved me from going too far that night. Most of the night is a blackout to me.
I still have dark thoughts here and there, hoping to die, but the really dark ones have subsided. With the help of friends, family, and programs, I recognize my triggers and work hard to stay away from them. I also practice good Preventive Maintenance (PM) with yoga, meditation, and exercise, both physical and mental. My faith in God has allowed me to begin to forgive myself and see more beauty in the world. I am not 100% out of the woods yet, but I now have a map, a compass, and azimuth, so I know I am moving in the right direction.
This has all lead me to where I am today and my plans for the future.
I am planning an overland expedition of the 49 states. I will be driving a 4×4 vehicle and towing a small expedition trailer. During this journey, I hope to find out more about myself and my place in this world. I also hope to bring awareness to the people of this country that our service members and first responders are still fighting. The war may have been left overseas or on the streets after the shift but the battle still rages on in our heads and our hearts. By partnering with 3 outstanding nonprofits I hope to contribute to reducing the number of suicides. Our nation’s warriors need to know they are not alone and that they are loved, needed and worthy.
Gny Sgt. USMC,