When Iraq War veteran Brian Vargas recalls the moment he nearly lost his life in 2007, he says it's a bit hazy.
Vargas, 29, was on a rooftop in Iraq with two fellow Marines on a security watch when a sniper opened fire.
"I felt what it's like to be gone and to be able to give up if I wanted to," he said.
Vargas was shot several times, and during the gunbattle, his ammunition exploded into his face. He remembers his ammunition box saved his life.
"There’s a lot of times in my head that I think I shouldn’t be here," he says. "I should have taken the round straight to the face. My parents would have a folded flag."
Vargas made it back home alive, thanks to two of his buddies, he says. But his battle didn't end that day nearly a decade ago. He admits there was a moment when he was so overwhelmed with the grief of losing friends to suicide and with the stress associated with school and marriage that he went looking for his gun lock.
"There was a time when I thought, screw it, I’m ready to end it," he remembers.
But the contents of his ammo box — pictures of his wife, the rounds that struck him and a list of Marines who served by his side — persuaded him to continue the fight. On Saturday, he will graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in social work.
"Stay in that fight," he says, "our battles aren’t over. We’ve got new battles."
With his degree, Vargas plans to start a new suicide prevention program with psychologist Shauna Springer that centers on the ammo box. It's called Live 4 Box. He hopes to inspire other veterans to live for whatever they choose to keep in their box.
"If I can prevent one guy from committing suicide, I know I’ve done some service," he says. "Life is OK. You’re fighting a different battle, but you have resources that are here to support you."
Vargas has a job lined up with Rep. Eric Swalwell working in veterans affairs and outreach. Meanwhile, the Live 4 Box program is seeking funds to expand.
For those seeking help, the national suicide prevention lifeline is open 24/7 at 800-273-8255.
NBC Bay Area's Stephen Ellison contributed to this story.