Rest In Peace Captain Tom Sitsch USN

481801_10151367001287059_1003164983_n-2

Captain Tom Sitsch died by his own hand on January 6th outside a hospital Emergency Room in Littleton New Hampshire. Captain Sitsch was loved and respected by his sailors. As an Explosive Ordnance Demolition officer and expert he was deployed into harms way many times. As the commanding officer of Task Force Troy, a Joint Task Force in Iraq his expertise and leadership helped save countless lives from Improvised Explosive Devices or as they are more familiarly known “IEDs.”

He was my last Commodore at EOD Group Two in Norfolk. He took command from Captain, now Admiral Frank Morneau. Both men mean a lot to me. They were leaders of men and care for those who they commanded. When I collapsed from the effects of PTSD in June 2008 then Commodore Morneau made sure that I got the help I needed and worked with our Medical Officer to make it happen. Commodore Sitsch was one of the first men, maybe the first to ask me the hard question: “where does a chaplain go for help?”

Both were men of compassion, and Captain Sitsch’s suicide has stunned me. I learned of his death tonight on Facebook as I had lost track of him after he was retired from the Navy in 2009.

Evidently his demons were too much for him. He suffered from PTSD, which considering his vocation is not surprising. In 2009 he was relieved of his command and forced to retire after he was caught shoplifting a pair of shoes from a local Navy Exchange. Following his retirement he struggled and was in and out of trouble. He was estranged from his wife, and he was forbidden to enter the state she lived by a court order. Four weeks before he took his life he was arrested for shoplifting at a Fredericksburg Virginia Wal-Mart. When arrested he told the police that he was a kleptomaniac.

Some who do not understand will condemn him even as he lies in his grave. I cannot. I didn’t know Captain Sitsch well, but no matter what his flaws may have been, he showed me compassion when I needed it most. For that I am grateful. Many of his EOD officers and sailors, as well as the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force EOD technicians Who served alongside him will say the same thing.

The one question all of us are probably asking is “what could any of us done to prevent this?”

Truthfully I don’t know. Captain Sitsch is not the first and will not be the last legitimate American hero to fall victim to his own demons, or end his life by his own hand. The physical wounds of war, PTSD, traumatic Brian Injury as well as what is called “moral injury” not to mention the months and years away from hearth and home take a tremendous toll on our veterans and their families.

From my perspective it seems that rank, age and experience are not necessarily safeguards against any of these conditions. It is my opinion after over 30 years of service that our military bureaucracy and promotion systems contribute to tragedies like that of Captain Sitsch. As they are set up they ensure that those who admit to struggles are shunted aside even as equally damaged individuals who “suck it up” and say nothing move up.

I was able to chat with some EOD friends this evening. That was helpful. I pray for the soul of Captain Sitsch, as well as his family, friends, and shipmates during this time of inexpressible loss.

I pray that the soul of Captain Tom Sitsch and all the departed will rest in peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

About these ads

25 Comments

Filed under PTSD, shipmates and veterans, US Navy

25 responses to “Rest In Peace Captain Tom Sitsch USN

  1. Pat Pound

    Tragic. In Joseph Wambaugh’s work of non-fiction, THE ONION FIELD he describes events that led to the LAPD’s first award of disability compensation to an officer based on what we now know as PTSD. One of the behaviors exhibited by the officer who was at the center of the story was shoplifting.
    Stay well Padre Steve.

    • padresteve

      Thanks Pat and blessings, I will make note of the Wambaugh insight. I thought that there might be a connection. A couple of years ago a USMC Colonel commanding a MEU was relieved after being caught shoplifting at a Jacksonville NC Wal-Mart.

      • Karen Rodriguez

        Thank you so much for your articles that you wrote about my brother Tom.After reading the newpaper articles, I became very upset that they did not know what a great man he was. They did not even mention all that he has sacrifised for his country.When I read the articles that you wrote it reminded me of the Tom that his family and friends knew. Thank you so much…I will missmiss him everyday..Karen

  2. I see a most gallant and compassionate human being – charged with doing his best to shield us Americans – succumbing to the inner terrors that amassed after many years of indescribable service…and who was abandoned by those who sent him in harm’s way. It is not a moral weakness or a question of fortitude; it is a lack of due care. Even Chesty succumbed to psychological weight and pressure. Congress, quit sitting on your hands or padding your own pet projects. Help these military men and women.

  3. Andy Fant

    My condolences to those who knew and loved him. There’s something that really unsettles me about this story. If an officer who was frocked to flag status (if that’s still what Commodore entails), can be so damaged by their experiences and fall through the cracks of the systems meant to support returning combat veterans, then what chance does the average bluejacket sailor or infantry grunt have of getting noticed before a complete meltdown?

  4. Dave Lokker

    Thanks for your article Padre.
    I knew Tom when he was an E6 at MU2. I was his Ops Oficer and remember him as a good man.
    Tragic.
    Dave L

  5. Karen Rodriguez

    Captain Thomas Sitsch was the most admarable man that i knew. he Capt. Thomas Sitsch was a good man. A great soldier that served his country for 34 years! He came back from Iraq with PTSD. Where was the military when he needed them the most?? He was my brother, my friend, my hero and i will miss him everyday…love your little sis,Karen

  6. Bill

    Goodbye Brother. I wish you called. I am toasting your ghost with the bottle of cognac you gave me the day I retired from the Corps.

  7. Jon Baum

    I had the privilege of enter the USN EOD community at MU3, a command that invigorated by the courage of its Commanding Officer, then CDR Thomas Sitsch. I was assigned to support II MEF Forward as they advanced on Fallujah in the fall of 2004. Inviting my detachment into his office just days before we would find ourselves fighting house-to-house and from street-to-street, he asked us, “Do you know what I often find is the difference between being brave and being foolish…?” Caught off-guard none of us replied, and with a fatherly smile (the way I see him now) he continued, “Weather or not it works!” How could he sense that what lay before the eight of us was the most unconventional IED/EOD support role ever accomplished?!
    Nearly a year would pass before I was surprised by him again, this time casually walking into our DET space the morning of our Naval Special Warfare physical fitness test. I remembered that he invented this grueling trial as he spoke quietly with our Chief, dressed in PT gear and apparently there to TAKE IT WITH US! After three hours the lot of us was bleeding, wet and sandy, dizzy with mild hypothermia, and humbled to watch the CO finish ahead of seven of us on 5 mile the boots-n-utes run. Only afterward did he tell us about the various surgeries holding his skeleton together, and he finished with, “Be bold. Never quit on one another. I wish I was going with you…but I will never stop fighting for you on this end.” We were stunned…how could we deserve, much less repay his deep devotion?

    CAPT Sitsch was a Lion trapped in a mans body: a warrior to the core. I have the fondest memories of him and will sorely miss him: his loved ones will remain in my prayers.

    • Karen Rodriguez

      hey jon… this is his sister and i just wanted to say that i appreciate all the kinds words that you said about my brother.He was a lion trapped in a man’s body.He was my brother, my friend, my hero.. I miss him everyday!Thanks for your prayers..karen

  8. Larry Cargill

    Thank you Padre Steve. I knew and served with Tom from the time he was a young pup. I hate that we as a community weren’t able to do a better job of reaching out from the first sign of trouble. The military, EOD in particular have to witness many sights and experience things it is hard to put away when returning to CONUS.
    Larry Cargill
    LCDR (LDO) ret

  9. Dee Jennings

    Thank you Padre for such a well written article. Karen, please know your brother was one of the finest men I have ever worked for and with. God Bless you Tom, may you rest in peace.

  10. George Cowan

    Padre,
    Thank you for this well said piece as you can tell it came from your heart. I’ve know Tom since we met in Boot Camp in 76. He was always there to aid his fellow man. I just wish we were able to help to give the same his before demons won out. Rest in heavenly peace Brother.
    Again thank you Padre.
    George Cowan
    EODCM (RET)

  11. Mike Sitsch

    Thank you to everyone for taking the time to make sure people know the man who was Tom Sitsch and not the person portrayed in the press. Tom has always been a man of integrity. He loved his country and his children more than anyone can imagine. He was a man of compassion, integrity and honor. He was willing to sacrifice anything for his country and what he believed was right. Ultimately he sacrificed his own mental and physical health to an extent I simply cannot articulate. Tom was a very special person and I am honored to be his brother. I’m devastated we won’t be able to revisit the many stories and exploits we shared as we grew up together. If our mother only knew the “adventures” on which we embarked without her knowledge! Tom lived life to its fullest and I have ultimate respect this character trait. I could go on for hours. Suffice it to say what you all are doing to honor the memory of the man we all came to know and respect is more appreciated than you can possibly imagine.

    Mike Sitsch

    • Steve

      Mike and Karen, I am very sorry for your loss, I knew your brother and respected him very much. It has been a few years since I last talked to him and it pains me I didn’t stay in contact. I am disappointed that myself and the rest of the EOD community didn’t do a better job of having his back.

      The first word out of his mouth when we met was “not another damn Marine”. That set the tone for pretty much every conversation we had, no matter how things were going for either of us there was always time for a little service rivalry. He was a great Sailor, Leader and EOD Technician, he will be missed.

      Semper Fi

  12. Any person that serves our country for 34 years has my respect and admiration. His “criminal” acts were simply a cry for help! SOMEONE should have picked up on that. These acts were totally OUT OF CHARACTER for this man. It is a shame!! My condolences and prayers go out to his family, friends and comrades. Rest in peace Captain Sitsch and thank you for your dedicated service to our great country.

  13. Jon Ciccone

    CAPT Sitsch was my training officer at dive school. He inspired me and helped me complete my dream of becoming a EOD Officer. We shared time in the maternity ward of Tyndall AFB’s hospital as we awaited the arrival of our firstborn sons. I knew then, and it know now, the deep and undying love he had for his family. I can imagine the demons he faced…and I know that many lesser men would have crumbled under the pressure. Judge not, lest ye be judged. And rest easy Warrior…..we have the watch. Love, strength, and honor go out to his family.

  14. J. Rocky De Simone

    Dear Friends and EOD tech’s – It is with great sadness that I have learned of Tom’s passing. We were classmates at EOD school and as I walked to the picture on my wall of him as an E5 with the rest of my graduating class, I had a deep sinking feeling of his passing. I have always thought of him as a person who would always go the extra mile for a shipmate. How he came to these ends we just cannot say and/or predict or ever understand! The thing we should keep in mind, is what he accomplished in his career and the impact he left with the people he interacted with during his military tenure. He impacted me as a young JO and what I should do and keep in mind when I made/make decisions about my team personnel. He did make an impact with me. Each and every day that I walk past my doorway and view the picture of him and my shipmates – I will say a prayer for him.
    Regards
    J. Rocky De Simone, CDR/USN (Ret.)

  15. Frank Boyd

    I relieved Tom as the OIC of EODMU FIVE Det Yokosuka Japan. Tom turned over the Det to me in “Outstanding” operating condition. Morale was extremely high and the Det members were sad that he was leaving. Tom was a friend and I lost contact with him when I retired in 1997. He will be missed and I pray for his soul as he makes his journey to Eagles Peak. Rest in Peace Warrior!

  16. Darrell Sykes

    Tom was ahead of me in training. Always a smiling face and lending hand. I knew in my heart then as I do now he was a good man. My prayers to his family and friends. May this tragic loss make us aware so that we can help heal those in need. Again my prayers to all

  17. Kelly Lindquist

    Our family is saddened by such a tremendous loss to our community. May he RIP, and we are praying for your family. This breaks my heart to see another loss to PTSD. It couldhave happened to any of our families.

  18. Sharon Streb

    My name Sharon Streb. Tom was a good friend of my husband who also committed suicide. Tom gave the eulogy at Joe’s funeral. Joe also was suffering/struggling with mental illness. After Joe’s death, Tom and Barbara saved me. Barbara called me everyday and helped me through the terrible aftermath of suicide.

    Since Tom’s death, their are many who want to blame Barbara for his death related to their marriage break up and custody fight. This is wrong in so many ways. Not only did Barbara lose Tom to mental illness, but now again with a violent death. Their 30 years of shared life, full of memories gone in an instant.

    I have walked in Barbara’s shoes and am aware how Joe and Tom hid their illness. I remember Tom telling me he saw nothing wrong with Joe, but it was there. Later after Joe’s funeral, Tom apologize for instead of telling Joe to “man up” he should have instead help him get the help he needed. Mental illness is nothing to ignore. However Joe was unwilling to get the help he needed as was Tom. This is the hard part about mental illness –the person has to recognize they have a problem and be willing to get treatment.

    So, there are times when the family have to step away and try to savage their families. It is not a form of abandonment but an act of survival. When you have exhausted all avenues of help from health care, VA, family and friends—when there is no help–you have to step away. When a person with mental illness will not seek help and you have tried over and over again to have them accept help–there are times you have to step away.

    It is horrible and cruel that people want to blame Barbara. She made the biggest sacrifice. In saving her children and self, she lost her husband who she loved deeply. Sharon Streb

    • padresteve

      Sharon,

      Thank you for sharing what you experienced from Tom and Barbara. Mental illness takes a terrible toll, not only on the person suffering from it, but on their families. I am very sensitive to this and do not hold Barbara at fault. She probably did the best that she could. Few offer to come alongside and help when families go through this. You know the truth of this. Again, thank you for sharing such intimate thoughts about Tom and Barbara.

      Peace

      Padre Steve+

      • Drew Hurley

        I just heard about Tom. He and I were skydiving teammates and friends in Hawaii back in the 80s. The last time I saw him was 1986 when he took the time to come to my law school graduation. I wish I had kept in touch. May God cradle Tom in His loving arms.

  19. Rob Santiago

    He was my CO at MU3 as well and truly was one of the best COs I’ve had in my career. He and I spoke often as his father I believe was in the Army and since I had served in the Army before joining the Navy we chatted much. He was always pushing it and many of times I did his barn workout with him and the other techs. When I made first he was the first one to come and shake my hand and congratulate me. No email or relaying it but personally coming over to my desk to do so. He now is at rest and I think of him fondly. I still have a photo of him I keep it with my family photos as I think of him as one of the family. Rest in Peace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s