Scholarship Fund For Children Of First Responders
Jonathan Lang, Founder Of HERO
HERO’s reason for coming into fruition is Michael Deal. He was a friend and co-worker of mine whose sudden and tragic loss of life made a lasting impact on me. I made it a personal goal to never let another brother or sister fall through the cracks. Had an organization like HERO or Peer Support been in place during this time I feel we would have seen a different outcome.
I want to share his story with you to honor his memory. Please be advised that this story contains sensitive content and could be a trigger for some.
Susan Starnes, Michael’s Wife
Michael was born in 1979 to Missionary parents who struggled with medical issues, financial issues, and the ability to care for him and his older sister. In 1982, he was placed in foster care with his sister. It wasn’t until 1984, after multiple placements, that Michael and his sister were adopted together.
He joined the United States Air Force in 1997 after graduating from high school. He went in as a combat weatherman and was stationed at multiple locations and participated in several conflicts. We met In December 2002. He was charming and funny, and so handsome. I knew I was going to marry him the night we met. He deployed multiple times in a short period of time at the start of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict. We spent a lot of time apart but our love story continued. Only two years after we met, we were married, and in 2006 we welcomed our first son.
Michael was physically fit, well-liked by his peers, and proud to serve his country. Michael never wanted to settle and always wanted to be better. He tried to join one of the most elite groups in the Air Force, but at the end it was decided that he would not make the team. This was a significant setback for Michael and he decided to leave active duty service. I believe this decision changed his life forever.
After leaving active duty, Michael struggled with the fact that the skill set that enabled him to excel in his military career did not seem to translate positively into the civilian work force. He attempted to get jobs that were service connected and that he felt would be rewarding. He struggled with the fact that his military career did not seem to be looked upon as experience in the civilian work force. He applied for a job with the police department and finally decided to become a firefighter. He enlisted with The Maryland Air National Guard where he excelled at his studies and graduated at the top of his class. We were happy and expanded our family again with another son in 2010. After some time, Michael pursued a career in the federal fire department, and was hired by Fort Belvoir Fire Service, while remaining a traditional Airman in the Air National Guard.
Michael went on to continue his education in hopes of becoming a military officer. He noticed during his studies that staying focused was difficult for him. He spoke to his doctor and was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and began taking medication which somewhat improved his focus and concentration. However, he was still struggling and decided to make an appointment at the Veterans Administration (VA). After a screening for depression, he was referred to counseling at a local Vet Center. Although he was struggling, he was doing so well in his business classes, that he was inducted into their honor society.
During all of these transitions and medication changes to manage his ADHD, Michael’s behavior began to change. Although things are so much clearer now, Michael was paranoid. He did not trust the people who were closest to him, he was angry frequently, his drinking increased, and he isolated himself from the people who could help him. He became a person I, as his wife, didn’t recognize. Ultimately his pain became too much. Michael died by suicide on August 13, 2012. It shocked his friends and family alike. We don’t know if it was a specific issue, or just a perfect storm of circumstances that pushed him to the point of suicide. We will never know.
Michael is missed every day. He was a HERO to so many and I am thankful that HERO will exist to help other members of emergency management to realize that getting help, although difficult, will make things better. Michael’s life should not have ended. His children should not have to live with the aftermath of his death. His life mattered!