The unforgettable story of a military family that lost two sons—one to suicide and one in combat—and channeled their grief into fighting the armed forces’ suicide epidemic.
Major General Mark Graham was a decorated two-star officer whose integrity and patriotism inspired his sons, Jeff and Kevin, to pursue military careers of their own. His wife Carol was a teacher who held the family together while Mark's career took them to bases around the world. When Kevin and Jeff die within nine months of each other—Kevin commits suicide and Jeff is killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq—Mark and Carol are astonished by the drastically different responses their sons’ deaths receive from the Army. While Jeff is lauded as a hero, Kevin’s death is met with silence, evidence of the terrible stigma that surrounds suicide and mental illness in the military. Convinced that their sons died fighting different battles, Mark and Carol commit themselves to transforming the institution that is the cornerstone of their lives.
The Invisible Front is the story of how one family tries to set aside their grief and find purpose in almost unimaginable loss. The Grahams work to change how the Army treats those with PTSD and to erase the stigma that prevents suicidal troops from getting the help they need before making the darkest of choices. Their fight offers a window into the military’s institutional shortcomings and its resistance to change – failures that have allowed more than 3,000 troops to take their own lives since 2001. Yochi Dreazen, an award-winning journalist who has covered the military since 2003, has been granted remarkable access to the Graham family and tells their story in the full context of two of America’s longest wars. Dreazen places Mark and Carol’s personal journey, which begins when they fall in love in college and continues through the end of Mark's thirty-four year career in the Army, against the backdrop of the military’s ongoing suicide spike, which shows no signs of slowing. With great sympathy and profound insight, The Invisible Front details America's problematic treatment of the troops who return from war far different than when they'd left and uses the Graham family’s work as a new way of understanding the human cost of war and its lingering effects off the battlefield.
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2014: If I were to tell you that this fascinating book chronicles the life of a war hero, you’d likely expect to be reading about a Patton-like figure barking out orders or a “Mark Owen” telling of the capture of Osama Bin Laden. But while Mark Graham was a lifelong soldier who saw more than his share of fighting, it is his actions off the traditional battlefield that make him impressive. (I say “traditional” battlefield, because the way author Yochi Dreazen depicts the complicated, violent life of soldiers pre and post deployment, you get the feeling an American army base is almost as horrific a theater of war—just one that’s more local.) Churchgoing Mark and Carol Graham were a typical lifelong Army couple: they lived on bases and had two sons and one daughter, all of whom were friendly, popular, patriotic kids who roomed together while students at the University of Kentucky; Kevin and Mark were both in ROTC and both planned to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. Kevin never made it: he committed suicide a few weeks after his graduation from officer training school; Jeff was blown to bits soon after his arrival overseas. What surely would have destroyed most families strangely fortified theirs; instead of quitting the army, which Mark briefly considered, he vowed to devote the rest of his career to “fixing” it. Realizing that some troops suffered wounds you could not see, he launched programs to remove the stigma of suicide and to educate leaders about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Along the way he met with extraordinary resistance—from bosses and underlings (some of them women)—for being too “soft”; one particularly disturbing incident involved a fake “Hurt Feelings” questionnaire, devised by soldiers themselves, in which respondents were asked to declare themselves either a “pussy” or a “queer” or “a little bitch” for seeking help. Eventually, some of Graham’s ideas were implemented, but it was a case of too little too late; suicides and PTSD violent incidents continued to increase and eventually, he was forced out of the service. Still, the Grahams persevere, rejecting high paying consultancies in the private sector in favor of giving speeches and seminars around the country so that other families won’t suffer as they have. And if that doesn’t make them heroes, it’s hard to say what would. – Sara NelsonAbout the Author:
YOCHI DREAZEN, the managing editor of Foreign Policy, is one of the most respected military journalists in the country. He covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for The Wall Street Journal and has reported from more than 30 countries. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and other publications. The Invisible Front is his first book and was a finalist for the 2014 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. He lives in Washington, DC.
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