/*********************************************** * Chrome CSS Drop Down Menu- (c) Dynamic Drive DHTML code library (www.dynamicdrive.com) * This notice MUST stay intact for legal use * Visit Dynamic Drive at http://www.dynamicdrive.com/ for full source code ***********************************************/
Minnesota National Guard
Retired general brings message of resilience and strength through adversity to Minnesota

MG Mark Graham ST. PAUL, Minn. - Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham recently spoke to the Soldiers and Airmen of the Minnesota National Guard about suicide and loss. The message was of faith, hope and love. His words hit home like only a personal and tragic story can.

The Grahams lost both of their sons in the span of just seven months. Kevin, their youngest, died by suicide in June of 2003 after a battle with depression. Jeffrey, who deployed to Iraq as a second lieutenant, was killed by an improvised explosive device in February of 2004. Hit with such devastating loss, the Grahams struggled at first with finding the strength to move forward and a new purpose for their lives.

"Our journey has tested our faith, it's rattled our moral courage and left us feeling empty and hopeless at times; most importantly though, it's provided us with a direction and revealed an enormous purpose for our lives," said Graham.

It was a series of passages, of chance meetings and coincidences that Graham doesn't believe are coincidences that helped the family to find a sense of direction and purpose. Immediately following the death of his second son, Graham questioned whether or not he could continue to serve in the military. The answer came in the form of a passage from a devotional that reminded him that there was still work to be done.

"In order to survive, we had to use our brokenness to reach out and openly share our story and to try to give hope to others," said Graham. "It seemed like there was still a mission for Carol and I and our mission was to continue to serve military members and their families."

Part of that mission has been sharing their story in order to create awareness about mental health issues and suicide prevention. The Grahams also recognize that if their son Jeffrey would have survived the explosion that took his life, he would have been left severely injured, both physically and mentally. For this reason, they advocate on behalf of the wounded who are suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.

"We pledged to use Kevin's death to raise awareness of the dangers of untreated depression, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and other mental health issues," said Graham. "We're compelled to speak out for all the Kevins of the world who have no voice."

The Grahams have also found a calling in using their grief to help others who've lost loved ones. Their unique situation helps them to understand loss in a way many cannot.

"It occurred to us that maybe this was the reason we were meant to continue to serve," said Graham. "We personally knew the pain these families were feeling and we could genuinely connect in a way we never could before."

What they found by helping others through their grief was that, in turn, they were also being helped.

"We tried to comfort the broken hearts of the people put in our path and an amazing phenomenon occurred - we received more healing than we were giving," said Graham. "Everyone else seemed to be helping us more than we were helping them. Gradually little by little, we could see ourselves and feel ourselves growing a little stronger. We even began to be able to smile and laugh a little again."

As a leader in the military, Graham sought help at the on-post mental health clinic for issues related to lack of sleep after his sons died. He saw the stigma associated with getting help when he had to go to a building that was separate from the main medical facility and the looks he got when people recognized him or his vehicle at the clinic. He hopes that by speaking out, he can help fight against the stigma and encourage others to get help as well.

"That's hard to do, I'm not saying it's easy, but I'm telling you, help is out there, but you have to be willing to go," said Graham. "You don't have to have deployed to be struggling. We all know military life is stressful in itself."

What Graham has ultimately learned from his experiences is that no one is immune from hardship. If heartbreak and tragedy can impact a military general with a self-described "Walt Disney" family, it can happen to anyone.

"Twelve years ago if someone told us we could survive the death of one of our kids, we wouldn't have believed it," said Graham. "For us it was like the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center coming down. If one of those towers would have fallen, it would still have been unbelievable, but both towers coming down is truly unimaginable. Even to this day, it's still hard to believe both towers came tumbling down."

February 16, 2016
by Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs

Download best photos

Articles archive

In The News archive

Media Advisory archive

Latest News

Minnesota State Fair Military Appreciation Day to recognize women veterans

Posted: 2018-08-27  12:34 PM
Minnesota National Guard FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 27, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn.- The Minnesota State Fair's eighth annual Military Appreciation Day will take place Tuesday, August 28, and provide an educational opportunity for all fairgoers to learn about Minnesota's military community. This year's theme is honoring Minnesota's women veterans.

"The Minnesota State Fair is a great opportunity to bring our community together to show appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our state's veterans," said Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, The Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard. "This year, I am proud to stand with women veterans as we highlight their stories and contributions to our armed forces."

Minnesota Guardsmen learn survival skills, train with Norwegian counterparts

Posted: 2018-07-03  01:36 PM
NOREX 45 Over the course of 10 days, 100 Soldiers and Airmen from the Minnesota National Guard who traveled to Norway June 17-26, 2018, for the 45th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange learned valuable survival skills and shared their knowledge with members of the Norwegian Home Guard. This year's exchange was the second to take place during the summer months in the history of the longest-running military partnership between two nations.

"It was a great experience for both the Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard," said Capt. 'Kiwi' HorgA�ien, the senior Norwegian instructor. "A cultural exchange, a social exchange and military exchange all packed into one."

The 45th exchange got off to a late start, with flight delays causing the trip to be shortened from its normal length of two weeks. The delay meant that the Minnesota Guardsmen jumped right into training, heading out to the field after just a few hours of sleep.

133rd Airlift Wing Emphasizes Combat Readiness Training

Posted: 2018-06-29  10:48 AM
Alpena ALPENA, Michigan - Approximately 300 U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 133rd Airlift Wing participated in a readiness exercise at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Alpena, Mich.

The exercise, tagged as Iron Ore, was designed test the Airmen abilities to set up operations at an unfamiliar location and receive in depth training on Ability-To-Survive and Operate (ATSO) principles while supporting airlift and aeromedical flight operations.

To ensure mission success and readiness, Airmen had to complete training at home station prior to leaving for Alpena. Some of this training included weapons qualification, gas mask fit testing, Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) familiarization, self-aid and buddy care and career field training.

Red Bulls Kickoff Division Warfighter

Posted: 2018-06-13  01:38 PM
DIV WFX CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. - "A Warfighter is an exercise that allows the Division to evaluate their ability to maneuver assets in a battle," said Master Sgt. Greg Weaver, the Operations Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge for the Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. "It is designed to focus on particular areas and specific objectives to be evaluated or tested."

The Division has geared its' planning and training efforts in preparation for Warfighter since July 2017. Coordinating transportation for Soldiers and equipment was often on the mind of Maj. David Johansson, the logistics officer for the 34th ID. With the coordination of Johansson and his team, troops and equipment all converged on Camp Atterbury, enlisting the help of 89 railcars, 280 tractor-trailers, and nearly 50 buses for the movement.

"I like to say my job is to 'quiet the noise'". Johansson continued, "The noise being a real life logistical problem that could impede the exercise."

Article archive