Hidden war zone scars claim another soldier's life

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 6:00 a.m. MDT

Dale McIntosh was no stranger to death. When it wasn't everywhere around him, it was a constant threat, something that kept him literally looking over his shoulder for months at a time.

A former Marine, he hired himself out as a privately contracted bodyguard in the Middle East, where he lived on the edge and saw and did things so terrible that it haunted him. He survived firefights, ambushes, exploding cars, road mines, snipers and rocket-propelled grenades. In the end, he escaped without any wounds, or at least none we could see.

When he returned, he seemed to be the Dale that his friends remembered — charming, gregarious, warm, outgoing — but inside, he was hurting and disturbed. McIntosh brought demons home with him.

In 2006, I wrote a lengthy profile about McIntosh, then a student at Westminster who took time off from his studies to pursue quick money and an adrenaline fix in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the postscript: McIntosh took his own life in February in Harlingen, Texas. He was 35.

"It's still hard for me to talk about," says Dale's older brother Robert. "Another veteran falls through the cracks."

Robert, who is an anesthesiologist and former Army officer who served in Iraq, says his brother suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. It's another cautionary tale about the damage of war and violence, the kind of damage that is more difficult to see and repair than a bullet hole.

I met Dale through a mutual friend in 2006, and we had several discussions about his experiences, which was the basis for the Deseret News story. The youngest of five boys, Dale grew up in a military family. His father Tony served in the Army for 30 years, including a stint in Vietnam, before settling the family in Star Valley, Wyo. Four of his five sons served in the military.

After graduating from Utah State, Dale served five years in the Marines — part of it in special ops — but felt unfulfilled because he never saw action. He compared it to being an athlete who never got in the game. Eager to use his military skills and see action, he signed on to do private security work. At the time, there was a big demand for security firms, the most famous and controversial of which was Blackwater. With a shortage of manpower, the U.S. government hired the firms to protect American interests and personnel in the Middle East. They were largely ungoverned by law, which did not make them popular at home or abroad. McIntosh spent six months in Afghanistan, five months in Iraq, two months in Bosnia and then another two months in Iraq before returning to Utah in the fall of 2005.

The work was dangerous, but lucrative. McIntosh made as much as $25,000 in one month. Aside from the money, there was another reason McIntosh took the work. He told me several times that he craved the thrill of combat. "It's addicting because you do get an adrenaline rush, and it gives you a new appreciation for life," he says.

When he came home and enrolled at Westminster to study finance, he struggled to fill that void. "I started going to the shooting range and shopping for a bullet bike, something to get the blood pumping," McIntosh told me then. He slept with a pistol by his bed.

I eventually lost track of McIntosh, but I learned from his brothers that he returned to the Middle East to do more security work after the story appeared. Between trips abroad he completed his degree in finance at Westminster and moved to Glendale, Ariz., to enroll in the MBA program in international business at Thunderbird School of Global Management.

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