Updated: Jun 1
From ARMY magazine, May 2022, Vol. 72, No. 5. Copyright 2022 by the Association of the U.S. Army, all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.
Retired Col. Ralph Kauzlarich and retired Command Sgt. Maj. James Pippin met as young soldiers in the 75th Ranger Regiment. With more than 50 years of service and 18 deployments between them, they’ve known war, but nothing prepared them for their new post-service mission. The old friends are going to battle again, this time to help stop suicides among service members and veterans. It’s a new partnership that “we should have started yesterday,” Kauzlarich said. Their answers below have been condensed for space and edited.
1. How did you team up?
In September, I was driving home from the nonprofit Young County Warrior Ranch in Graham, Texas, with our board president when I get a phone call from Ralph, and he says, “Hey, Ranger Pippin, the Warrior Connection [nonprofit in Brattleboro, Vermont,] needs a place to conduct our retreats. Do you know of such a place?” Of course, Ralph already knew that I had a place, but now our board president happens to be in the truck listening, and that’s how we got married up.
2. When had you last talked to one another?
Ten years or more. I believe with all my heart that God introduced me and Ralph in 1995 to do this thing today. There’s just too many stars that have aligned.
3. Have you dealt with many suicides?
I don’t have enough fingers and toes to give you that number. Yeah, lots. My old platoon, the platoon that I grew up in at 2nd Ranger Battalion, has had five suicides over the course of the last 20 years. I’ve had two close friends commit suicide. When I was a battalion command sergeant major, we had two in the battalion. We had about 15 in the brigade when I later became a brigade command sergeant major. Ralph can probably tell you the exact same story.
4. Do you feel like you understand suicide, James?
I don’t have a clue. Of the guys who came through my platoon over the nine years I was there, I can give you examples from one extreme to the other. [One of them] was like my son. I was his platoon sergeant when he was my platoon leader. Later, he was my company commander, and I was his first sergeant. I loved him like a son. There’s no way in hell the day before he committed suicide that anybody would ever convince me that he’d do that. I’m a little emotional. It just crushes my soul.
5. Does it help to check on old buddies?
If you do reach out to the guy, more than likely they’re not going to commit suicide. If you don’t reach out and he commits suicide, now you’re like, well, I should have reached out. So, I don’t know. The only reason I [Kauzlarich] am on Facebook is so that I can monitor the net and hear the jibber-jabber between my soldiers. My battalion’s close. Given what we went through, everybody takes care of everybody. We have had guys come up on the net saying, “Hey, I feel like I’m in a really bad place. I need help,” and before you know it, somebody shows up on their doorstep, and we work through it.
6. Are you helping at-risk veterans now, Ralph?
Many of the veterans the Warrior Connection has helped have gone through the various outpatient, inpatient, [government]-sponsored, privately sponsored retreats to help them get out of where their head is, to get it in a better place. We get referrals from organizations, from people. James and I both know guys that we think need to go through the retreat, which is a mental health and wellness program guided by professionals who have worked with us for more than 10 years. Eight retreats are planned for this year at the ranch in Texas.
7. Does this mission feel urgent?
I am chomping at the bit. I love Ralph. We’ve served together through the years, so it means a lot that this came to be through our friendship. I [Kauzlarich] agree, James, we should have started yesterday, but we’ve got to set the conditions. James trusts me, and I trust him, and we’ll have challenges, but it’s going to work.
If you or anyone you know is in crisis, help is available. Service members and their families can contact the Veterans/Military Crisis Line by calling 800-273-8255 and pressing 1, chatting online at www.veteranscrisisline.net/ get-help/chat or sending a text message to 838255.