By Katie Kieffer
Raechel Richards walked into her Jacksonville, FL home on August 13 to find the love of her life, retired Marine sniper, Sgt. Robert Richards, lying dead on their floor. He was only 28 years old.
Rob Richards was too young to die. Strong, smart and kind—he had enormous talent and potential. He gave everything he had during his repeat deployments to Afghanistan during which he suffered severe IED-inflicted wounds and incurred TBI. Tragically, the cause of his death appears to be an adverse reaction to the drugs treating his pain and PTSD.
Most Americans have never heard Rob’s full story. I wish to honor him by fulfilling a wish he expressed while he was alive: that his story be widely shared for the sake of improving the lives of his fellow Marines and all our troops and veterans.
Rob gained undeserved notoriety when a coward and traitor leaked a private video to the media in January of 2012. The video clip showed Rob and three other Marines urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban thugs. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the current administration immediately condemned Rob without taking the time to learn his full story.
Over a year ago, in May of 2013, I had the honor of getting to know Rob and his family and was privileged to be entrusted with telling his story in written form. Over the next several months, I interviewed the Richards’ family, friends and counsel (Guy Womack and Geoff Womack) many times.
I distinctly remember one beautiful fall day: September 26, 2013. The warm afternoon sun darted among leaves rustling in the breeze and dazzling in hues of orange, red and gold. I was outside enjoying a run after writing for most of the day. My iPhone buzzed, alerting me to a new email from Rob Richards. I had been waiting for this; I needed Rob’s approval before I could publish his story. Though I’d spent months researching and fine-tuning, I was a bit nervous to read his feedback because it was challenging to do Rob’s character justice with mere words.
Rob’s response revealed the strength of his moral fiber. He could have requested any sort of change to the story. After all, it was his story. Yet, he only expressed appreciation and humility. He wrote: “…your chapter is outstanding! Thank you again for just getting the story out there and let me know if you need anything else from me and I’ll gladly assist you in anyway I can. Thank you.”
Fighting a war in the real world is far different from playing Call of Duty Black Ops II or watching Saving Private Ryan from the comfort of a leather couch. War—as only our troops and veterans know firsthand—is a gruesome, messy state of affairs. None of us who have not served (think wannabe President of the United States Hillary Clinton) are fit to judge the actions of Marines when they make a mistake in the heat of battle.
Rob had the build of a bodybuilder. His voice was confident and upbeat. But when a Marine Corps Times reporter asked him to describe his mindset on the day leading up to the event depicted on the video, his legs visibly shook as he described what he had witnessed. Before urinating on the deceased terrorists, he had seen them strewing his buddies’ appendages in tree branches.
Rob suffered from PTSD as well as intense physical pain from his combat wounds. He was treated with a cocktail of drugs, including some that for a time intensified his TBI.
Before we send our brave troops into repeat foreign engagements with nebulous rules of engagement, we must allow our troops a healing respite. On August 8, scientists Dr. William Schlenger, Dr. Nida Corry, and Dr. Norah Mulvaney-Day presented their preliminary findings for the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study. After following Vietnam veterans for the past 25 years, these scientists found that the symptoms of PTSD can linger for more than two decades after a soldier returns home; that PTSD nearly doubles a soldier’s risk of death; and that PTSD increases a soldier’s risk for cancer.
“The study’s key takeaway is that for some, PTSD is not going away. It is chronic and prolonged, and for veterans with PTSD, the war is not over,” said Dr. Schlenger.
Prolific poet Thomas Campbell once wrote, “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Indeed, Rob did not die. His courage, example and story live on in our hearts and will improve our world.
Rob’s friend and attorney, retired Lieutenant Colonel of Marines Guy Womack, shared with me that after Rob’s August 22 funeral service and cremation at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, “Rob’s ashes will be placed in a 7.62mm Ammo can, as befits a Scout Sniper! Raechel will take the ashes home and keep them until the interment at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.”
If you wish to contribute to Rob’s legacy and support his wife Raechel, please visit the Sgt. Rob Richards Memorial Fund. I also encourage you to read and tell your friends the full story of Rob Richards. He wanted his story to be shared in hopes that his suffering could help improve the lives of our troops, veterans and their families. His story is in Ch. 7 of the new book, Let Me Be Clear.
Semper Fi, Sgt. Robert Richards. Thank you for your service. May you rest in peace.