Military life is difficult for both the service member and his or her family. Schools, deployments, and relentless pressure often have a profound impact on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of military families. Families of Special Operations Forces (SOF) often experience all this at a heightened magnitude given the secrecy of their loved one’s assigned missions, the heightened danger of those operations, and the frequency with which those operations occur. Special operations families are a unique breed that must be extraordinarily resilient to withstand all that, but sometimes, even the toughest bow under the immense emotional and psychological burden.
Such was the case of the family of Special Air Service (SAS) Staff Sergeant John McAleese. By all accounts, he was as tough as they come. He led part of the hostage rescue operation in the Iranian embassy siege in London in 1980. He fought in the Falklands War and conducted covert operations in Northern Ireland against the Irish Republic Army (IRA). His actions in Northern Ireland resulted in him receiving a Military Medal. After retiring from the military, he worked in the close protection industry and as a military contractor and consultant with various companies.
Staff Sergeant McAleese always led from the front. And his son, Paul McAleese, aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps. Enlisting in the British Army, Paul rose to the rank of sergeant and deployed to Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles Regiment. In August 2009, while on patrol in Helmand Province, Sergeant McAleese was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED). His death left his family, and particularly his father, inconsolable. Heartbroken, John McAleese died of heart failure in Greece in 2011.
At the time of his death, his daughter, Hayley McAleese, said that it was the grief from his son’s death that killed him. “I am sure the grief and stress he had suffered had a bearing on what has happened. He is now reunited with his son. Two great heroes taking their place in heaven.”
On November 12, 2018, one day after Remembrance Day (the Commonwealth equivalent of Veterans Day), Joanna McAleese, the second wife of Sergeant McAleese, was discovered dead in a ditch in the Brecon Beacons. Found by her side was a photograph of a military man. After months of investigation, a coroner concluded that she committed suicide by overdosing on prescription pills.
“My mother took Paul’s death really badly and struggled to come to terms with it,” said Jessica McAleese, daughter of the deceased. “I believe she took her own life because she didn’t want to be here any longer and wanted to be with her husband and stepson who died.”
Military life is difficult, regardless of who in the family is wearing the uniform.
Lest we forget.