The beginning of September is far from my favorite time of the year. On Sept 12, 2005, SKSN Jason Cremer was UA from work at our squadron, VS-31 (Sea Control Squadron 31), in Jacksonville, Florida. He and I were working for First Lieutenant at the time, where we co-managed our squadron's general store (geedunk). I would have PT first thing, so he would go into work and open the geedunk for all the Maintenance folks. Jason didn't show up that morning, so I walked in from PT to a perturbed group of Airframers and Mechs looking for coffee.
Hours went by and Jason still didn't show up to work. He was late every once in awhile, as we all are, due to not setting an alarm, but this was different. There was a feeling of dread as time kept passing. I'm not sure how many others at our squadron felt it that day, but I sure did. Before the end of our daycheck shift, around 3:30, our entire First Lieutenant division was called into the Ready Room where our Command Master Chief told us that Jason had died. At the time, we didn't know the cause, but he was found to have died due to an overdose of fentanyl. His blood contained other drugs, too. During the investigation of his death, it was discovered that Jason obtained these drugs from a disabled Veteran who would get medications from the VA and sell them instead. Our system, which is supposed to help Veterans and Active Duty alike, failed Jason. In 2009, that man was sentenced to 2 1/2 years imprisonment for his role in Jason's death. Justice? Not so much in my eyes, but at least it was something.
I am at peace with it all now, but on days like today, it still hurts to know that I noted his erratic behavior (which, at the time, I had no clue was related to drugs) to our supervisors only to be told that I was overreacting. In the weeks prior to Jason's death, we did not have a friendship whatsoever. I had hoped that would change or that we could, eventually, have a good working relationship. It was difficult to work with Jason, and I always kept trying to figure out how to make things better or how to get past general tolerance of the other. None of that manifested. It seemed that the more that I tried to make things better, the worse they became. After discovery of his drug use, there was no wonder that a solution couldn't be found or that having a simple discussion was out of the question.
I would embark on a wide awakening following Jason's death beginning, almost, immediately after finding out that he died. I went back down to the geedunk to close out the day and I don't think I was there for more than a few minutes before a shipmate came in and told me that Jason's passing was entirely my fault due to our struggles over the past weeks of working together. This person said it in front of no less than ten other people. I had barely begun to process what had occurred let alone the fact that if I had any exposure/training, in what drug addiction could look like, that any of us could have intervened. Due to my utter state of shock, I don't remember much about the rest of that afternoon, other than ATCS escorting me to the CO's office and speaking with the Chaplain.
I do know that I was invited to speak at Jason's memorial at the Chapel onboard NAS Jax, and invited to accompany our CO, CMC, and Division Officer as we escorted Jason home to Michigan. Jason's family was grateful that we were there. I was glad to be there to offer them comfort as they dealt with their tragic loss. I was also grateful for the presence of my CMC as I was struggling to maintain professionalism as a Sailor, but also to grieve for Jason. There's very little in military basic training that prepares you for that kind of situation.
Upon return to Jacksonville, it was hard to watch everyone pick up and go on like we hadn't just lost a shipmate. I would walk into work looking for him and then see the American flag - hung in his honor inside our hangar - realizing that he wouldn't be there. It was a tough few weeks, as many people expressed more of the negative than the positive. The Navy, as many know, has a zero tolerance policy on drugs. Many people were expressing that fact quite openly and were even taken aback by the flag hung in honor of Jason. I just wished they took a moment to comprehend that everyone deals with struggles differently. Unfortunately for Jason, he dealt with his struggles by ingesting some of the most potent prescription drugs available. It doesn't make him a bad person, just a misguided one.
I didn't know Jason as well as I would have liked to know him. While he was difficult at work, he had a strength and tenacity that was incredibly motivating. He knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish upon his entry into the Navy, and no one was going to stop him. If I remember correctly, he had plans to crossrate from Storekeeper (which is now Logistics Specialist) to Aerographer's Mate. He wanted to be a meteorologist. It broke my heart to see his light snuffed out far too soon.
So to you, Jason, I have never forgotten you and I never will. Every step that I take, you are always with me. I wish you nothing but fair winds, following seas, and peace.
SKSN Jason Lee Cremer
November 20, 1979
September 12, 2005