Robert Blohm Sr., a Lieutenant with Siena Heights University’s Department of Public Safety, recently took it upon himself to place 22 small American flags every day on the front lawn of the SHU Fieldhouse for the entire month of September. The significance of this number? Every day, an average of 22 veteran lives are lost to suicide. With September being Suicide Awareness Month, Blohm wanted to bring attention to this issue. At the end of the month, the lawn was covered with 660 flags and lights.
Blohm is a veteran himself, having served in the United States Coast Guard (USGC) from August 1992 to May 2001. He ended his career in the USCG as a Food Service Specialist 2nd class petty officer. After leaving the Coast Guard, he felt a void in his life and joined the Michigan Army National Guard in August 2001. Following 9/11, he was activated to active-duty status and served in the Army National Guard until August 2007.
The inspiration for the tribute happened after Blohm attended a meeting through the Lenawee County Veteran’s Coalition, of which he is a member. The meeting, led by Erika Behm, helped bring the idea to life by providing the supplies needed for the tribute and garnering community support. Behm is currently the Veteran Navigator for Community Mental Health Partnership of Southeast Michigan. As Blohm recounts, “She was the pioneer for the original tribute and has gained a large amount of support through the community.” He also mentioned that there were at least six other tributes for veteran suicide in Lenawee during September.
While Siena Heights has done several displays for various causes, including human trafficking, domestic abuse, and others, SHU has not yet served as a platform for awareness and change regarding veteran suicide. Thus, Blohm brought it to fruition and was fully supported by Dr. Douglas B. Palmer, the President of Siena Heights University. Blohm knew he wanted a visual display of what the veteran suicide statistic looked like over one month and wanted to bring attention to the number of suicides that occur daily.
But this number is more to Blohm than just a statistic. Blohm’s uncle, SFC Christopher Lance, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, took his life in December 2021 after a long battle against his inner struggles. “I have many brothers and sisters in arms that have struggled with thoughts of suicide, and many have made attempts,” Blohm said. “I am included in that number, as well.”
Blohm’s transparency and continued efforts serve as a testament to his commitment to breaking the stigma around mental health, especially for veterans. He expressed that help is available for veterans, especially within the SHU community including faculty, staff, and students. From a local standpoint, veterans can contact Veteran’s Affairs (VA) at 734-222-7160 for either the Adrian VA Clinic or the VA Ann Arbor Hospital. The local VA office that can assist with other veteran resources is in the Human Resources building in Adrian and can be contacted at 517-264-5335. To contact the National Veteran’s Suicide hotline, dial 988 and select option 1. In addition, a veteran can text 838255 to get help. On the Siena Heights University campus, the Department of Public Safety is available 24/7, 365 days a year.
Blohm hopes to reinstate the veteran’s group on campus, which is all-inclusive for faculty, staff, and student veterans. He would like to get this group together and would like to complete at least one community project per year.
“My goal was to get people talking,” Blohm said. “I am looking forward to next year’s tribute and hope that it draws more attention.”