- Chancellor Keesling shortly before his suicide in Iraq. Submitted photo.
Gregg and Jannett Keesling's son Chancellor committed suicide in Iraq on June 19, 2009. Between the stress of his second tour of duty and something that happened at home in Indiana, the young man they called Chancey apparently snapped.
How the family dealt with the news and heartbreak is captured in Self Sacrifice: A Son, A Solider, A Suicide, a touching, unsettling and occasionally frustrating half hour. Producer Gary Harrison took the unusual step of letting Gregg Keesling tell the story and, for the most part, that was an excellent decision. Keesling, who runs an electronics recycling firm that helps ex-offenders reenter the workforce, is likeable and genuine. And although the show follows a lot of tangents, it's forgivable because it reflects how conflicted and scattered Keesling must feel.
Chancey Keesling went to Iraq because, as he told his parents, "We have a military, and somebody has to serve." His family didn't understand; they're pacifists.
On his first tour, Chancey had his gun taken away and put on suicide watch. Why he was allowed to go back for another tour isn't fully explained, but we do learn that soldiers' mental-health records aren't transferred when they are. The commander on his second deployment was unaware of what happened on Chancey's first tour of duty.
A military spokesman should have been included in the show explaining why that was.
On his second tour, the night before his death, Chancey received some upsetting news from home. What, we're not told. His father explains cryptically: "He knew in real time that things were happening back home that he desperately didn't want to happen." Now, part of me thinks it's none of our business, but another part thinks it should be included to provide better context.
After Chancey died, the Keeslings waited for a letter of sympathy from the president. They were surprised when they didn't receive one. They found out that for some unknown reason, it has been a longstanding U.S. government policy not to acknowledge soldiers who commit suicide - even though, in Iraq and Afghanistan, more soldiers die by suicide than in combat. (Happily and correctly, the Obama administration reversed that policy last week.)
And we also learn that the military is working harder to recognize warning signs when soldiers are suicide risks. Too late for Chancey, but as his optimistic dad tells us, maybe something positive can come from this tragedy.
By the end of Self Sacrifice, you'll feel a mix of emotions, which, I imagine, is what the Keeslings feel every day.