By Chris Meehan
US Army specialist Joe Ridenour (Oahu) has been recommended for a commendation for helping save the life of a friend and fellow soldier. Joe’s urgent phone call led to the rescue of a soldier who had attempted suicide near an army base 2,500 miles away from Joe’s station at Scofield Barracks, Hawaii. The 26-year-old soldier says, “I’m terribly grateful to God for such good friends like Joe.”
Joe vividly remembers the events of Saturday, November 19. That morning he called his friend Mark Morris (not his real name), who lives near Fort Lewis in Washington State. (The two had met and become friends during communications signal training in Georgia.) Mark told Joe he’d done some heavy drinking by himself on previous weekends, but he brushed it off and said that he was just trying to stay out of trouble.
Joe was concerned, but not overly worried. "Things didn't seem out of control," he recalls. Later in the day Joe received several text messages from Mark indicating that he had begun drinking again. Joe decided to call and ask what was wrong. Already drunk, Mark responded angrily, "Nothing's wrong!" The conversation didn't go well, and Joe didn't expect to hear from him again. But then he received more text messages. One said, "I'm sorry.” Another said,"Tell [name], all is forgiven.”
Joe wrote back, "What's going on?"
"I'm fine," Mark replied, "Don't worry about it. Everything is taken care of."
The tone of resignation in the messages rang alarm bells with Joe, who had taken suicide prevention classes as part of his Army training. He called Mark again, but Mark didn’t answer and the text messages had also stopped. Joe couldn't be sure that Mark was going to commit suicide, but he says, “the Lord gave me the grace to overcome my pride and take the risk of looking foolish if I had misread the situation."
He called Josh Pruitt, a soldier at Fort Lewis and a mutual friend, and convinced him to take immediate action. After calling Mark and receiving no answer, Josh dialed 911, and the operator dispatched paramedics. They found Mark unconscious on the floor of his home. He had swallowed all the medicine in his medicine cabinet.
Mark was in intensive care for three days. He remembers waking up in the hospital in a bit of a panic because an oxygen tube was running down his throat, but he doesn’t remember any of the events of November 19.
“I’ve always believed in Christ,” says Mark, but his faith had grown shaky and he says he had become more interested in parties than God. “Now my priorities have changed. I’ve opened up to see the blessing of friends, and to see what’s going on in the world and in myself. Overall, I still have difficult times, but I also see the blessings.
“I’m attending substance abuse classes and Alcoholics Anonymous several times a week. My prayer life is daily instead of weekly or monthly. I’m very open about the experience, always the first to talk about it if it ever comes up. I shamelessly tell the story. It’s in my past--not my future!”
Joe says he and Mark talk on the phone weekly. “We are much, much closer friends.”