Marine Colonel Scolded for Demeaning Suicide, “Godless Age”

The Marine Times reports that Col Dom Ford, commander of Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School at Twentynine Palms, California, wrote an email to his staff recently in which he called suicide “shameful” and encouraged his Marines to “read some scripture.” According to the article, which does not include the body of the email, Col Ford

…called on Marines to read some scripture to boost their religious and spiritual wellness and help combat the suicide epidemic.

Suicide is a shameful act. Period. Getting help is not,” Ford wrote to Marines under his command. “Life isn’t fair, and every day won’t be rainbows and sunshine.”

The colonel explained in the email that increased mental health issues may be a “byproduct” of a “godless age” amid a “rapid cultural and technological shift” that has resulted in a “less spiritually fit” populace.

To address the problem, Ford says, people should “spend less time in front of a screen,” put down their smartphones, “send flowers instead of an emoji,” go out more, “attend a religious service — more than once” and to read scripture.

Without the context of the email, it is speculative to claim what Col Ford was actually saying. The Marine Times was fairly artful in their quotations, particularly around the “byproduct” of a “godless age.”

It is noteworthy that encouraging religiosity as one option to support spiritual fitness is entirely consistent with the military’s view on overall wellness. On the other hand, because the military officially considers atheism to be as valid as religion, exclusively encouraging religiosity and demeaning non-religiosity could be problematic. It’s difficult to say, without context, what nuance (if any) was in Col Ford’s email — though that didn’t stop the Marine Times from publishing it sensationally or his critics from lambasting him.

Assuming the presentation of his email is accurate, it first goes without saying that Col Ford is right. The military has done a poor job of handling suicides, nearly glorifying it in their attempts not to offend anyone or hurt their feelings. Failing to stigmatize suicide as undesirable behavior — some have said selfish and cowardly — has made it seem an honorable option to others who are suffering. The idea that glorifying suicide can make it virtually “contagious” is not new.

Further, it does appear Col Ford was emulating a recent message from Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen Robert Neller, who said much the same thing [emphasis added]:

while Ford’s message leaned harder on religion, his message was not too far removed from Neller’s wellness letter, as both derided the scourge of social media and its impact on mental health, among other complex issues at the root of the suicide crisis.

Perhaps our culture is shifting away from a time when faith was a more central part of out lives — religious-based faith, a commitment to a greater cause, or just believing in each other, certainly a faith in something great than “me,” Neller, wrote in his letter.

That quote from Gen Neller is a lamentation on the “godless age,” if somewhat more subtly than Col Ford’s quote as presented by the Marine Times.

Feeding on their sensational reporting — and apparently nothing else — Michael “Mikey” Weinstein proceeded to claim Col Ford was

unequivocally attempting to establish a State religion

And that quote isn’t out of context. Unequivocally.  Weinstein is apparently just a moron. Weinstein further called for Ford to be “aggressively” disciplined, and in so doing undermined his prior claims the MRFF only acts on “client” complaints. It appears in this instance Weinstein is acting solely on the Marine Times news report, not any specific complaint from a service member under his command.

Col Ford certainly can and should encourage spirituality as one option in a fight against suicide, as does Gen Neller and the rest of the US military.

The shocking part, of course, is those who would disdain to “stigmatize” suicide while going out of their way to stigmatize religion.

While it is often portrayed simplistically, suicide is a complex problem that is a scourge on veterans in particular. However, it is important to remember that, ultimately, there is only one true Hope.



  • Well written! Thanks.

  • This man has it right. I have historical video of military on the USS Enterprise attending worship service after Dec 7th, 1941 and the deck of the ship was FULL. None wanted a war, all were frightened, but they drew strength to defend our country and help each other through the horrible time of war. Today, the men and women in the forces do not know if they can truly depend on the fighter next to them. Least ways this is the way it seems to me.

  • I think you captured the gist of what Col Ford was getting at in his internal staff email, which was sent to reinforce the mental health message that the Commandant had recently published. Also, at the time of Col Ford’s email, suicidal ideations at his command (Marine Corps Communications Electronics School – MCCES) (4000+ students and staff) were on track to increase over 350% from the past year (thankfully there has not been a suicide there in years). I was at MCCES when he sent that email, which I read, and its important to note that NOWHERE in it was there any mention or endorsement of any specific religion. It was clear to everyone that Col Ford was trying – and rightfully so – to remove the moral ambiguity that seems to surround suicide these days. Most of the students at MCCES are under the age of 20. Men and women of this age need clear guidance on right and wrong – not a bunch of psycho-babble about the situational ethics of self-harm. These days there is an attempt to remove the stigma suicide once had. That might be well and good for civilians, but there are some things that are shameful for active Marines to do – like running from danger – that should not be judged so harshly if done by civilians. Suicide is absolutely one of them. Marines have sworn an oath to obey orders and support and defend the Constitution. For a Marine to commit suicide is violation of that oath. Furthermore, “suicide is quitting and Marines DO NOT quit”. That is a direct quote from the former Commandant Gen Neller. That is the firm, clear message our young warriors need to hear. Whoever contacted the Times with Col Ford’s email was clearly someone who either had an axe to grind or lives to be offended or outraged.