Sergeant First Class (SFC) Randy Abrams was known by many of the men he led in the military as the best N.C.O. (non-commissioned officer) that they ever had. He was known as a brother to his siblings, and he was known as a friend to many others. To America, having served multiple tours in Iraq, SFC Randy Abrams is a hero.
To Roxann Abrams, his mother, he will always be remembered as her little boy.
SFC Randy Abrams joined the Marines right out of high school and served for six years. He took a two year break after honorably discharging, and then, having missed the military so much, he enlisted in the Army, with whom he deployed to Iraq three times.
Randy first deployed to Iraq in early 2003 with the 3rd ID (infantry division) out of Fort Stewart, Georgia, as part of the initial invasion forces. In the first days of fighting Randy was part of a unit that was pinned down on a bridge entering Baghdad, and he took part in a thirty hour fire fight.
During his time in the Army, Randy served as a sniper and a weapons trainer, and by the time he returned from his third deployment to Iraq in 2008 he’d been personally involved with training half of the fighting force in Iraq. He was also instrumental in getting the eye scan technology used to identify known terrorists in Iraq implemented in theater. It is not farfetched to say that SFC Randy Abrams did the work of ten men during his time in service.
After his deployments, and after having taken a long break to ride his Harley Davidson motorcycle from the east coast to California to visit with friends and family, riding being his true passion, he packed his things and prepared for a stateside mission; to serve as a basic training drill instructor. Being asked by the U.S. Army to be a drill instructor is one of the highest compliments any N.C.O. can be paid, as it is an implication, in essence, that you are among the best of the best, and the Army wishes to cookie cut you, and short of genetic cloning, having you be a drill instructor for a basic training cycle is the best way to do that.
SFC Abrams did not show up for drill sergeant school, and strangely, no one called his unit to report him missing. The cycle started without him, but no questions of his whereabouts were asked until the following month when his landlord called his chain of command because the rent was due. Then, and only then, did anyone begin searching for SFC Randy Abrams, a highly decorated, skilled and experienced combat war veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq, and a valuable senior N.C.O. in the U.S. Army.
“I knew that when I got the call that my son was dead,” Randy’s mother Roxann says, recalling the most tragic experience of her life. “Randy had always told me that no news was good news, and that if they ever called and said they were coming to the house, that he was dead.”
When Roxann was contacted after the search for her son finally began, she asked if Randy’s car and motorcycle were at his house after she was told that he was not answering his door. When she was told that yes, they were, she gave some identifying marks of her son, like his tattoos, and told the callers to check inside. When they did, they found U.S. Army SFC Randy Abrams, dead.
And he’d been dead for over a month!
During a P.T.S.D. flashback, Randy had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Roxann feels that Randy’s death definitely happened during a P.T.S.D. flashback and was not a planned suicide, because when the police entered Randy’s house they discovered he had clothes in the washer and dryer, a duffel bag 3/4 packed to go to school in the living room, and he had $75.00 in his wallet along with a bank withdraw receipt and a receipt for gas. Randy had prepared his things to leave for drill sergeant school the next day and had crawled into bed. The TV remote, his computer, and an ashtray were on the bed as if he had been watching TV and had gone to sleep. He still had the gun in his hand, against his head, even though he had been deceased for more than four weeks.
“My son should not have died,” Roxann says. “I fully understand that my son died because he did not get the help he needed and deserved when he came home.”
Roxann told me, through tears, what that day was like when she found out her son, Randy, was dead. “When they called and told me they were coming to the house, I collapsed,” she said. “I knew he was dead, and part of me died that day, too. I couldn’t begin to imagine what had happened to him. Your kids are supposed to outlive you.
“This is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to anybody,” she continues. “I could be raped and beaten, and it wouldn’t be as bad as this.”
Roxann and her daughter flew from California to Georgia to recover Randy’s body. “Most of the time they ship the body to you,” Roxann told me. “But I had to go get him. I’m his mother.”
Roxann had two years left in law school at the time of Randy’s death, and she realized that flunking out of law school would be the worst thing she could do in this situation. She prayed and asked God for the strength to repress her full emotions until she finished school. She was attending school three hours away from where Randy was buried in a different part of California, and she’d been very private with her personal life while a law student, so there were no questions being asked, which made it easier for her to accomplish her goal and finish law school in spite of the loss of her son.
Roxann feels an ‘old guard’ culture within the military, a culture that can only be replaced through successive generations of leadership reaching maturity and replacing the ‘old guard,’ is to blame for Randy’s death.
“In the military, it is viewed as a weakness to ask for help. And if you do ask for help, it’s looked upon as a blemish on an otherwise immaculate military record,” Roxann says. “It’s a culture of ‘suck it up and drive on.'”
Many veterans, such as Randy Abrams, have been returning from war for years, many of them from multiple deployments, which Roxann also feels is strongly leading to many of the suicide and P.T.S.D. deaths within our military, and they are facing a slew of problems. Roxann feels that few people in the civilian sector can even begin to understand why so many of them are so troubled and can’t just ‘get over it.’
“Think of Sandy Hook,” she says, referring to the shooting tragedy that took place recently at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “We see in the media about how the first responders have been struggling to cope with what they walked in on that day. It’s terrible they had to go through that, but this is what our soldiers walk in on every day while they are in combat zone, and they have to also look at the fact that they caused it. When they bomb a building to take out terrorists, they can’t help the fact that there may have been women and children also in that building, and they have to walk in and do assessments and see the women and children that were there. And it isn’t just one day. It’s every day.”
Recent events in Boston at the finish line of the Boston Marathon bring this point home. Comments from witnesses of the Boston Bombings such as “It was like a war zone,” have been touted in the media. The Boston Bombings are tragic, and no one should ever have to experience such events, but it was nothing like being in a war zone where the bombings are constant and daily. The aftermath of how the bombings have affected the general public will no doubt be talked about for years, yet still, few seem to be able to grasp why returning combat veterans can’t just ‘get over it,’ upon returning from war, after having lived a life in which bombings happen daily, for an entire year or longer.
“Only one percent of the U.S. population serves in the armed forces,” Roxann points out. “The other ninety nine percent has no clue what they go through. You aren’t trained to kill and deal with the emotional repercussions of killing. You are trained to shoot a gun. During a deployment, you lose all sense of security, because you have people trying to kill you every day. Your emotional wires get all scrambled, and then you are supposed to unscramble them the day you get back. It isn’t possible.”
Roxann, whose emphasis was on business law while she was in law school, compares the reasons why the military industrial establishment has not addressed the P.T.S.D. issue and the resulting suicide epidemic that’s stemmed from it to the business sector. “It’s a worker’s compensation issue,” she says. “They believe it would be too costly to deal with P.T.S.D. and to treat the soldiers who suffer from it, because they haven’t a clue how to do it.” Roxann also feels that the payouts in VA disability or military disability awards to the troops and veterans suffering from P.T.S.D., like worker’s compensation being paid out by a corporation, are simply seen as too costly for the organization, so they’ve chosen to ignore the issue, though doing so has become similar to trying to ignore an elephant in your living room that is hiding under a rug.
Like many in the veteran’s community who have gotten tired of unkept promises from their government, Roxann Abrams has taken action into her own hands in an attempt to stem future P.T.S.D. related deaths among our veteran population. She’s done so by founding a nonprofit organization, Operation: I.V., which provides specialized treatment for P.T.S.D. combat veterans and referrals of help for their family members. There is no long approval period required, such as the case is with the V.A., where many of our veterans are literally dying before being seen. You can get in touch with Operation: I.V. to make a donation or to seek treatment through their website at:
They also have a supporting Facebook page at:
Aside from having lost a son to P.T.S.D., and having finished law school, and having chosen to focus on business law while there so that she can better weave her way in and out of the many webs and snares of running a 501 ( c ) 3 with efficiency, Roxann is highly qualified for her endeavors with Operation: IV, because she has P.T.S.D. herself.
“At 3:30 on a Friday afternoon,” she told me last week during our skype call, “I was held up at gun point in my retail store, locked in a closet, and robbed. When I talked to the 9-11 dispatchers later, they asked me if I wanted counseling. I asked them for what, and they couldn’t tell me. There was no P.T.S.D. awareness.”
Also, five months after this incident, Roxann was visiting friends and found a nine year old boy who had nearly died in a hanging accident. Roxann administered lifesaving C.P.R. and called for help. Though she saved the young boy’s life, he suffers from traumatic brain injury (T.B.I.), and has a very low quality of life. Roxann feels that this event pushed her over the edge with her own case of P.T.S.D. which originated from having been held up, and in the aftermath of this experience, she has learned that awareness of T.B.I. is as lacking as that for P.T.S.D. in many ways.
After these events, and before she lost her son, Roxann experienced typical P.T.S.D. symptoms; night terrors, sweats, anxiety attacks, etc. “I’d pull over when I’d hear sirens for the emergency vehicles to pass,” she says, “and fifteen minutes after they’d gone by I’d still be sitting there.”
Roxann went through five different counselors before finally finding an effective life coach, but she is quick in giving praise to Christ as the real answer. “If not for the love of Jesus Christ, I would not be here today,” she says.
Through combining her own experiences with treatment for P.T.S.D., the loss of her son to P.T.S.D., and her commitment to her savior Jesus Christ and the veteran community, Roxann has developed what she calls her VIP program inside of Operation: I.V.
“We need about one year, and sixty five thousand dollars to get a combat veteran with P.T.S.D. back on his feet and back to being a productive member of society,” she says. “It will take three to six months to get the vet emotionally stable. Then we can find out, through tests that match the individual’s skills and interests to different forms of employment, what type of job they are best suited for in the civilian world.
“During the VIP treatment, they’ll see a psychologist once a week. They’ll see a psychiatrist once a month. They will get alternative medical treatments (which can include acupuncture or oxygen treatments) once every two weeks. Every combat vet will receive hypobaric therapy once a day for eighty days, because P.T.S.D. and T.B.I. usually go together, and there is no downside to oxygen therapy.”
Roxann foresees Operation: I.V. as being in every city in the U.S. She intends for it to be the main outsource program for both the VA and the military. She believes that it will take up to five to seven years to accomplish this, after which time she plans to go to Washington and make her voice and story heard. She believes she will be able to gather enough statistics over this period of time to prove that Operation: I.V. is an effective organization in treating P.T.S.D.
Operation: I.V. needs volunteers! Roxann knows there is money out there for her program in the form of grants, but grant writing is tedious work and grant writers are costly, unless they volunteer. They need help with virtual admin tasks as well.
There’s much work to do, but Roxann, with her energetic drive and her fiery red hair, is just the one to get it done. Her son Randy did the work of ten men during his time in the military, and now, in his honor, and so that fewer parents will have to go through what she’s gone through with Randy’s death, Roxann exhibits that same work ethic she instilled in her son to get the job done.
If you cherish your freedoms- freedoms secured by those such as SFC Randy Abrams who have made the ultimate sacrifice for those freedoms- please consider getting involved with Operation: I.V., even if it is only in a small way. Just because our soldiers make it home from war, does not mean the battle is over for them. For many, a new battle is just beginning, and no mother should have to experience what Roxann has been through with the loss of her son Randy; a great man and a true American hero.
Unfortunately, according to the latest numbers released by the VA, we’re losing twenty two veterans a day in the U.S. to suicide after they’ve made it home from war. This is twenty two too many. For many people, the veteran’s we’re losing to this senseless tragedy are viewed as brave soldiers who served proudly but couldn’t overcome their personal demons. To many others who knew them personally, they are viewed as friends, or brothers and sisters, or cousins, to whom a last goodbye was never said. To mothers, like Roxann Abrams, they will always be viewed as their little boys, and their little boys are gone forever.
*Kevin E Lake is an Iraq War Veteran and author of the book “Off Switch,” which was written to raise awareness of the veteran/soldier suicide epidemic in the U.S. It is available on Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Off-Switch-ebook/dp/B009Q3MSK2