Monthly Archives: June 2010

Where are you at?

Simple question, tough answer. Where are you at? Since you have been back or out, where are you at physically, emotionally, mentally? If you are a veteran, odds are you think you are doing pretty good. But are you really?

Consider this, we were taught to embrace the suck, roll with the punches, and to put the left in front of the right and repeat as necessary. So are you really doing ok, or are you just thinking that things are good because you have turned a blind eye to it like you would a hot spot on a road march. I tend to think more of us are doing the latter. I know I have been for a little while now and I am trying to patch it in.

So how can you tell? Couple of simple questions to ask yourself but it requires that you be candid with yourself. Question numero uno, Do I avoid thinking about combat, fallen buds, or anything that reminds me of the sand box? Question 2: Have I been jumpy, have I had any unexplained adrenaline rushes recently that I just dismissed cause its the norm? Question3: Do I feel sad or depressed for no freaking reason and wind up dragging myself up by the boot straps? Question 4: Have I been looking at the bottom of a lot of beer bottles and whiskey tumblers lately? Question 5: How have I been sleeping? Even if you aren’t remembering the nightmares you may still be having restless sleep because of them.

If you answered yes or in a negative way to any of those questions its time to do some rethinking about whats going on inside your skull. A lot of times us vets get too caught up about our own self-image B.S. to effectively sit down and look in the mirror (I am just as guilty as the next guy). We think, “Ohh I got this shit, I am doing fine, I am just drinking with the guys.” In reality you know why you are doing the destructive behavior you know the real reasons for everything you do, but we turn a blind eye and just keep charlie miking (continue mission for you civi’s). Being realistic, being honest, being attentive to all the chaos that is going on in your brain is the only way to be prepared to do something about it. “Complacency Kills” that old saying was bashed into our heads down range, but it didn’t die there. If you let it, life after combat will sneak up behind you and snatch the life out of you in a second. Maintain focus with yourself. Monitor your progress or regression. Be real about where you are at. Be realistic in your goals for coping and managing. Don’t just suck it up, do something about it. Express yourself in words, art, music, punching bag, or work out, you have to purge the darkness to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You aren’t weak, if you were you wouldn’t have made it this far. Never forget this is a temporary problem and is something to be overcome. When you lose faith or footing, look left look right find a buddy and chill in their fox hole until you get your bearings back. Other than that stay motivated and keep giving it hell.


Chink in the Armor

As I sat there I couldn’t stop myself, the guilt washed clear over my mind. It felt like my soul was wearing concrete bricks in the middle of the ocean and down down down we went. I spoke and tried to explain. I gave my point of view and it seemed with every word I said the feeling of guilt and pain grew stronger. Such remorse can only be found in a man that feels a self-conceived failure. So overcome in a gripping moment where it seemed that the once deeply buried traumas were freshly surfaced. Like someone ripped a scab off a healing wound. A deep breath, the cycle slowed, another deep breath and I acted like it never happened. It was just a chink in the armor that needed to be covered up.

I won’t give a lot of specifics to it, I shouldn’t because everyone has their individual burden to bare but I will go as far to assume that we have all at one point or another felt a gap in our defenses. We have all felt asthough there had been a breach in a mental and emotional barriers we create and maintain. Most of the time I will recover and move and try to act as if nothing ever happened, this I feel is the wrong answer. I feel we should engage that chink in the armor. We should pay the most attention there, not just because it shows in public, not because it is a weakness, but because it is the strongest sensation that was able to surface. I figure if it can make my armor crack then it is something worth looking into.

For me its always the guilt, that feeling that I failed my guys. It feels as though I will never forgive myself. Time and time again that is the emotion that surfaces, after long sleepless nights or after drinking a little too much. The first emotion or thought that surfaces is the guilt I feel. I suppose that it surfaces because I always think how great it would to have a beer with them again. From there its just a downward cycle and I always find myself at the point where I feel as though I pulled the trigger myself.

I get embarrassed about those moments. Sadly enough its not always the alcohol that does it. Sometimes its just that the alcohol is a good enough excuse to talk about how I feel. How special is that, I need an excuse to tell people whats going on in my head. The other twisted part is that no matter what others tell me, it just further assures me that it was my fault.

So how do I mend my armor? Suck it up, lol thats not working too well as of now. I think I will try something radically different. I am going to forgive myself. I failed, its a fact in my mind, so the simplest thing I can do is forgive myself and move forward. Rather than trying to hold everything in, I should just dismiss it and let it all go. Its like that old saying, “its harder than holding onto a fistful of sand in a hurricane.” In order to mend the armor I should get rid of it all together. I have tried this before. It was in a rather alcohol fueled rage shortly after returning from Iraq. I started scribbling on a post it note what I was sorry for. About 20 minutes later my walls and door were covered in multi-colored apologies to my many ghosts and demons. I remember sitting there looking up at the 40 some odd notes I had smacked everywhere, that had been scratched out in sharpie marker in a feverish pitch, I realized that this is what it feels like to lose your mind. To go blind to everything but guilt and pain. I sat there took a couple of deep breaths which I thought was a good idea and just let my mind settle. What I thought was letting go was just breathing it all back in again.

I think this place is about the only space I don’t wear the armor. If I can get to a point where my attitude here is the same everywhere I believe I will be much happier and so will my buddies who occasionally see the chink in my armor.


The Rumor Mill

What is it like?  …to be the one at home while your loved one is away?

Some of you may be able to share your own experiences. Some of you may gain perspective or insight.

There are probably a dozen things that bear discussion:
The farewell
Waiting for the phone calls and emails
Picking up the slack
Watching the news
The anticipation and the reunion
Listening to the gossip and rumors

It is that last one that I want to talk about; “The Rumor Mill”

From the deployed Soldier’s perspective I hated the rumors and the gossip.

The rumors and gossip spread faster than a Texas grass fire on a windy summer day.   One Soldier calls home and talks to his wife.  She holds it together long enough to be supportive on the phone with him.   When they hang up she breaks down and calls another spouse to let it out.   Pretty soon everyone back home knows whatever it was they talked about.   We almost have to submit an immediate press release to the Rear Detachment and Family Readiness Group(FRG.)

We organize the FRG as an “official information” and a support channel.  Sometimes they will coordinate for a speaker to come give a class to the spouses; anything from finances, to reintegration, to Military Programs and benefits.   You are supposed to be able to call the FRG if you need help, say you get really sick and do not have family that live close.  Sometimes they just organize gatherings to get everyone together; Christmas parties, Halloween Parties, Easter Egg hunts, Going out to dinner, Making crafts, cards, and care packages to send to the Soldiers.

Some spouses are become active in the FRG.   Usually participation increases during deployments.   But there are some spouses that avoid the FRG.  Some spouses have very little spare time, Some spouses don’t like having the Army involved in their personal life, Some are just shy, and Some are too far away to get involved.  Some had a bad experience in a former unit.   Maybe it was some case of snobbery, but often these spouses got sick of the rumor mill too.

Sometimes, a sub-group of spouses develops back at home.  This group is usually made up of only a small percentage of the spouses.  They go to the FRG meetings and sit in the back of the room spewing out gossip, rumors, and garbage.   This is the group that I call the Rumor Mill.

I heard “so and so” is cheating on their wife.  I heard “so and so” is only in trouble, because “so and so else” has it out for them.   I think “so and so” should get fired.  I heard “so and so” is coming home early.

At one point we had some drama going on downrange, a lot of rumors spinning around in the rear, and many spouses getting upset.   To dispel the rumors and ease minds, the Commander and 1SG set up a conference-call to speak to the spouses and answer questions.   Because of the time difference, we stayed up until around 0100 hrs to set this up.   Here is the kicker, only the senior leaders spouses came to the conference call.   One of the Soldier’s wives had organized a sex toy party that evening.   Guess it is something like a Tupperware party, but different.   WOW!!! That is pretty supportive of the Soldiers and other spouses if you ask me.

After the buses left the gym, some of the spouses gathered at one house.  They didn’t want to go home and be alone right away.  They wanted to have some company for a little bit and maybe have a glass of wine or something.   Pretty soon some spouses were very intoxicated, and a few started talking about wanting to cheat on their husbands.  WE WEREN’T EVEN IN THE AIR YET!!!

Some of these people are just clueless and insensitive to the impact their words are having on other spouses I am sure, but I really suspect that some of them must have low self-esteem and actually get off on the reactions that they cause and in seeing other people’s pain.    Why do some people pretend that they are in a competition to see how many times their husband calls home?   Or, feel the need to gloat that their spouse will be the one to come home for Christmas?  Some feel the need to “one up” everything you say, and others minimize your feelings as insignificant.

Then there are some of the normal rumors that are not caused through malice or by drama.  Things related to what is actually going on down range.  What about when the unit starts having enemy contact?   Or once Soldiers start getting hurt?   When that first Soldier gets hurt, It suddenly hits home.  It gets very real for ALL the wives.  Will my Soldier be next?  What are they doing over there?  Whose fault is it?

Now who do you talk to?   Your civilian friends can not relate or understand?   Your family probably doesn’t either.  It should be this group of people who are going through the same experience, but you no longer trust them.

You may wonder, “What do you know about the rumors and gossip?”  Not only was I connected to the rear through my own spouse, but through the spouses of the 42 Soldiers under me.  If you think that what goes on in the rear doesn’t affect the unit down range, then you need to wake up.   As a leader you need to have a constant finger on the pulse of everything in your unit.  That one Soldier who is thinking about problems at home, instead of pulling security could cause something very bad to happen.  That first break up can start causing worry and doubt in every other Soldiers relationship.   Relationship problems caused me to send just as many Soldiers to mental health as combat did.

Not only do I care about our Soldiers, spouses, and families, but I feel that problems at home can be directly related to increased risk of PTSD.   That 3rd letter stands for Stress.   Relationship problems back home cause depression.   Being depressed in combat can lead to increased fear, anxiety, stress, hopelessness, loneliness, isolation, desperation, and suicidal tendencies.

How do we fix this?  How do we make people comfortable with the FRG again?   Maybe it just needs strong leadership just like a military unit.   Someone leading the FRG who is strong enough to stop the flow of garbage as soon as it starts.

What measures can the unit and Soldiers take to support the spouses back home?   We tried to write a company newsletter to the FRG every month.  Another attempt to keep the families informed.  As the deployment went on, it became harder and harder to write about anything interesting.   It was a running joke that the deployment was like the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray.   Every day became a repetition of the day before.

Does it just come with experience?   Does it become easier during subsequent deployments?   Learning tips and tricks.  Knowing what to expect.   Things like knowing not to judge what you think you heard, but what your spouse was actually trying to say.   That was hard at first, with all the emotions involved, without body language to accompany the words, and trying to pack days or weeks of conversations into a few minutes.   Who can teach you to understand these things?  Who can you go to for support?   How do we clean the FRGs of The Rumor Mills?

What experiences have you had?   What do you think a unit can do to fix this?  Anyone else just want to vent?


Common Ground

I have heard it said many times, and quite often I have to admit that for the most part; Veterans feel more comfortable talking about things with other veterans.   Mostly it has to do with a common sense of understanding and being able to relate.   It is a basic premise for the foundation of the JollyRoger.   But, I don’t think that it is always exclusive.   For some reason it seems that veterans have always been comfortable speaking to me, even when I was a young kid.

Living in “retirement community” as I grew up in Florida, I found myself literally surrounded by many WWII veterans.   Quite often we would talk about their time in the military and time at war.   As I remember, one man had been a member of a bomber crew shot down behind occupied France.   He was able to elude the Germans and participate with the French resistance.  Mostly causing minor harassment to the Germans, until he was finally able to re-enter friendly lines.

Another WWII veterans had told me that he served as member of a bomber crew in the Pacific, and that he was one of the sister planes to Bockscar when it dropped the 2nd Atomic bomb on Japan.

Was it different for WWII veterans?  Normandy, Pearl Harbor, Guadal Canal, etc….They must have suffered their share of PTSD.   Did it make a difference how they were treated when they returned?  I wasn’t there at the time, but it seems like the public treated WWII veterans with more respect and appreciation.   How they saved the world, and made a mark on history.  It seems like this may be one things that is different between them and veterans of other wars.   I mean people have already forgotten about Iraq, before the war is even over.

As I got older I met other veterans.  One friends father was a Vietnam veteran who spoke about his nightmares when he returned and how he still checks his boots for snakes and things to this day.

Another Father and Vietnam veteran I met somehow opened up to me, and as I later found out had NEVER spoken to his wife or children.   For almost 30 years, they still never knew what he had been through.  They spoke of his anger and how he was just an asshole.  His daughter told me that his burn marks and scars were from drunk games that her father would play with his friends.   They were actually from when the bulldozer that he was operating ran over an anti-tank mine.  The first time that I met him, he was opening up to me.   He had been part of an experimental engineer unit, who would bulldoze swaths of jungle looking for enemy base camps.   When they would find one, the bulldozers would lead the attack.  They would plow through fighting positions and bury the enemy, while APCs and infantry followed behind.   He later was connected to a reunion for his unit, and found out that every single member was diagnosed with 100% disability for PTSD by the VA.

My uncle was a Marine truck driver in Desert Storm.   He went through numerous Scud attacks.  I remember seeing him hit the dirt when someone lit some firecrackers at a bonfire party after he returned.

So where do we go to speak to each other?  Online?  A Veterans Organizations?

Have anyone joined a veteran’s organization? VFW? Amvets? American legion? A student’s veterans organization?

It seemed to me that some of these organizations could already be doing what we are trying to in this group, or that they might have a lot to offer a group like this.

If you have joined one: Do you find it helpful? Do you feel better about being part of the group?

I have heard people give a stereotype or submit the perception of just a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking beer and telling war stories, but what are they really about?  How do we get more people interested and involved?

VFW?  There is even one over here in Korea.  It is just down the street from my apartment.
Vet centers?  I just checked and there is one within 2 miles of my house back home.

I was thinking about it sorta like a support group.  Places to meet, that are full of other guys have been through it too.  People who won’t judge us.  People who we feel have a common understanding of our experiences.   Especially the Vietnam Vets, they have been doing it much longer than us.  They must have found methods to adjusting and for some reason I always imagine it sucking for them so much more…..(I know you can’t compare wars, but I have to admit I really wouldn’t look forward to a walk through the jungle.)

I’m actually very curious to see how many of our generation are getting into organizations like these, and what their experiences are.

VFW Post 10033, you may be seeing me soon.


Flood Gates

If I were to purge all the emotions and bad memories in my head all at once. If I found some way to do that, what would it look like? What would the prevailing mood of it all be? Angry, remorseful, guilty, hateful, psychotic, amped, all of these are likely suspects as to what I would look like if I brought everything all at once to the surface. You might be wondering, whats the point? By considering what the prevailing point would be, I know what I should approach first.

After long and careful consideration, my prevailing thought or state would be fear. I never allowed myself that luxury when we were over-there. I felt it but I stuffed it deep in the mentalPurging it all... frozenruck sack and never dealt with it. Just put my left in front of my right and charlie miked. I never stopped and let all those near death impacts sink in. I sort of just closed my eyes. It was as if I was playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded six shooter and trying to ignore the fact I was playing. I never gave much thought to it. An explosion would happen, people needed medical aid, others needed killing, I didn’t have time to consider the huge piece of metal that just flew by my head. I didn’t have time to panic about the bullets flying  by. I didn’t have time to fret over the impending impact of an incoming rocket, just listen for the whistle and wabble then run. There was work to be done and I seemed to be the capable person standing there. What I didn’t consider is that every time something like that happened it hit my sub-conscious. It registered there, those built in responses. The fight or flight systems got the message, my bad-memory and physiological response centers all got that message I ignored. So now it sits this encoded response to any form of stress, this fear response. My body knows to supply every ounce of adrenaline in reserves and my memory bank knows to be quiet. How unhealthy is that?

If I could purge it all, all at once, I think that I would probably be under a desk or something, trying to work my way through all the fear I never processed. By my last count I have been blown up by incoming rockets 8-10 times depending on what your standard of close is. Mine is I have to feel the heat or see the white flash. Those little events are the ones that torque me, when I was blind dead dumb and stupid after a rocket hit, not sure if I was dead or dying or wounded. It was like coming out of slow motion movie and arriving in chaos and hell. For a moment just as I would cross the threshold from the ringing blurry shaken moment to the chaos of full speed post impact mass casualty, I would panic. Its a natural thing, your brain is totally jacked up, you are hurting, you don’t really know where you are and there is all this chaos. You want to back into a corner and take a second. But there is too much blood, too much pain, too many in need of your help, too many others scared or incapable… so its swallow the fear, put the adrenaline pedal to the floor and get to work. That happens to you once or twice, you are considered a hard-ass by others. Four- six you are a crazy but a hardened veteran. 8-10, you are a bad omen, others are scared to ride with you or eat chow with you because you have a magnet in your back pocket for rockets and mortars and ieds. You in your mind start to feel like the angel of death because everything around you gets hurt or dead….. IT sucks. This is where I would be if I purged it all at once, under my desk taking that moment I never got to get my bearings set.

Where would you be, if you could purge everything all at once… other than the looney bin?


Slipped

Sometimes I feel completely in control. I have a grip on the nightmares and the thoughts. I am moderating and controling my drinking to just being a social beer. And then all at once, I am flyingThe enemydown the wrong path with no headlights on. Its the ultimate snowball effect. There are so many factors to monitor and control and when one slips they all go and it feel as though I can not regain my balance. It makes me feel like I have failed myself and those that depend on me to take care of things.

I let the reigns slip on Thursday, slipped into my old drinking habits and spent most of that day and the majority of Friday stumbling. Then I caught a cool version of food poisoning which was probably a good thing because it kept me from missing reserves. Saturday, I was just pissed at myself all day for being weak. Sunday I sat and thought, reassessed what I was doing right and wrong. Figured out what caused the slip, tried to mentally shore up those defenses.

I am more upset about this slip than the other ones that have happened, because recently I have been more in control than ever. I am also mad about it, because I have been working with other vets and this slip was pretty evident in front of them, only it was the first time they met me, so they think its just how I am. This doesn’t sit well with me and I will do my best to overcome that

Slipping, is not some obscure thing. If you are dealing with either life after combat and or PTSD, you are going to screw up at some point. You are going to slip or stumble. Its going to make you feel like a big bag of ass and a failure. That’s when the real struggle hits. When the easy comfortable thing to do is stay right where you are face down on the cool, dark, bottom. Slowly drinking yourself into a quite coma. Commit suicide with a locked and loaded Jack Daniels bottle. This is where you find the drive, the focus. You dig the toes in and start climbing out. Make apologies where necessary to those you trespassed on, on the way out (this will make you feel a lot better about screwing up, but its limited to how much patience they have). Set a plan with realistic goals, e.g. I am going to cut the drinking down to 2 social beers, this is considered moderate drinking. To help me, I am going to tell my buddies I drink with, so they can hold me accountable. As another reminder, I am going put something on my body like a 550 bracelet to remind me that when I am 2 beers in and feeling good, how shitty I will feel if I fail to stop. I remind myself that drinking is the cowards way out because I am too afraid or too weak to deal with the shit in my head. And I remind myself that I do not want to be dependent on any form of medication that includes self-medication…. This my friends is the struggle. Not when you are balancing on top but when you are looking up from the bottom with your face muddy and bloody from the recent fall.

The hard part for me, I run this website. I had the internal struggle of my pride versus the possibility of helping someone. Do I confess to the fact I slipped, I failed, and go as far as to explain how in the hope of helping another who may be hanging with me face down in the mud, or do I maintain my pride and keep it to myself. So you know, I have wrote and deleted this post 3 times. Deep in the back of my mind though, I know that when I do that, that is something that has to go up here. We aren’t interested in the neat and the clean. We aren’t interested in the cookie cutter system we are interested in fixing this and working with it. To do that we need a clear no bullshit assessment on what happens and how it happens so people who read this can develop clear tactics and techniques to combat it. So Here it is all laid out. I slipped. Lost control, I drudged up a bunch of memories, drank to hard to try to numb the pain, drank some more to try to go to sleep, woke up the next morning still thinking about it had a drink in my hand by 12. Woke up the next day in a freaking depression and anger fit, fought my way north of that and then regained balance the next day.

For me fighting my way out of it is all about anger and responsibility. You have to find your tools to fight your way out. I focus on how mad and disappointed I am in myself and I focus on my responsibilities to others to motivate me to get back up and kick some ass. Figure out what works for you, don’t be like me talk to others about it (i have a hard time asking for help, surprise surprise). Do tell people you are cutting back or getting in control of whatever bad behavior you are doing, they can either help you are get out of your way or hold you to it. Always remember you aren’t in it alone, its not the last time you will fall, and its not about how hard you fall but how fast you get back up.


Not Alone; The Journey Starts with a Step…

Many of my posts are a result of a thought that I had while working on an earlier post.   When I started the apologies post, I started thinking some more.  I remember family members who were in AA when I was growing up.  I remember them talking about making amends as part of the 12 steps, so I looked it up real quick and I wondered if those AA guys were onto something.   I don’t want to clutter up this whole post with the 12 steps, but you can check it out here if you are interested.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-step_program

One of the early problems that Dan and I identified was that the 12 step programs are very religious.   This may be fine for some, but if we were going to capture something relevant to all veteran’s; then we would need something more universal.  It has been said that there are no atheist in a foxhole, but how many times has someone come to terms with God allowing a buddy to die in front of them?   Some veteran’s may have found religion, but some veteran’s just no longer believe.

Next, I wondered can you relate those 12 step programs toward everything or just to addictions?  Addiction?  What could I have been addicted to?  I could say that I became addicted to staying alive, but that wouldn’t be true either.   Sometimes you just give up that hope of making it home, but keeping your buddies alive that is something that you never give up on.   In that regard I could say that I became addicted to doing my job and keeping my Soldiers alive.

Then I realized that I also had to be aware of the stigma that may be associated with the word addiction.   PTSD already has enough labels and stigmas, I would have to find a way to accomplish this idea without adding another one.

A few days later I was surfing from one website to another, through the associated links and I found www.NotAlone.com.  It gave me a pretty good first impression.  They seemed to be attempting to do the same thing that the JollyRoger was established for: Veterans helping Veterans, a place for veteran’s and their families to feel comfortable talking about issues, and not standing idly by waiting for someone else to fix our problems.   I searched through some of Not Alone’s archives, and there I saw it…..The Steps…..Someone had the same thoughts as me…..Not only that but it looked like they nailed a 3 point ringer.

The Not Alone Steps:

By working the ten steps, we can move from being alone to finding a new normal after combat trauma. The new normal can bring richness to life beyond our experience before war, but it takes real commitment to get there.

  1. We resolve to do whatever it takes to improve our lives. We fix it. We are relentless. We never quit. We expect to win.
  2. After war, we continue to help each other overcome obstacles and achieve goals.
  3. We make our reactions appropriate to the situation at home, not the battlefield.
  4. We identify and break through negative ruts.
  5. We take a little ground every day, working a plan appropriate for us.
  6. We honor the past, but live for the future.
  7. We process stress in a healthy way.
  8. We identify our strengths, and we build on them.
  9. We achieve victory by partnering with a power greater than ourselves. Victory is feeling peace.
  10. We reach out to understand and become a source of strength for others because, together, we are not alone.

You ever read an article and felt that they were talking directly to you, or reading your mind?   They captured many of the things that I have been talking to either Dan or Mike about.

Step 1, Whatever it takes and letting go of control. “The strange truth about recovering from combat stress is that the real challenge is letting go, not pushing harder.”

Step 4, Negative Ruts and our inner enemy’s tactics:  “If I just go to work everyday and work my ass off, I can escape and avoid the enemy.”  Listening to Mike’s show was the first time that I had considered being a workaholic as a result of returning from war.

Step 10, “WE REACH OUT TO UNDERSTAND AND BECOME A SOURCE OF STRENGTH FOR OTHERS BECAUSE, TOGETHER, WE ARE NOT ALONE.”  This is inline with the JollyRoger’s purpose since its inception.

I contacted the editor of NotAlone about the steps, and they asked for my feedback.   First, I think I would recommend adding “Making a  decision” as the beginning of step one.  The first step should always be to choose.  Noone can make this decision for us.   Our families can only stand by our side being tolerant and supportive for so long, until we are willing to help ourselves.   If forced to get help by someone else we will only resent them for judging us, and not be committed to the process.   This realization, choice, and decision MUST be our own.   Then we can move into never accepting defeat as listed in Not Alone Step 1.

I would also add a “making amends” step .   This self reflection will help us to access our current state and how we got here.   We will appreciate those who have stood by us and recognize those we have hurt.   The attempt at making amends could begin healing broken relationships, in turn adding more support to us.  We would also be forced to consciously monitor ourselves for actions that may wrong others, allowing us to attempt to change our action/reactions.

Step 9, “WE ACHIEVE VICTORY BY PARTNERING WITH A POWER GREATER THAN OURSELVES. VICTORY IS FEELING PEACE.”   It begins well.   The first things I think of are the mission and my men.   Those will always be something greater than me.   When a friend is lost, I do not give up and quit.   My conviction becomes stronger.   He did not die for nothing, we must see this through.   Step 9 moves on to state; “Believing in God was incompatible with living the horrors of war. And so we stopped believing.”  As I already stated though, some never believed to begin with.   Religion will always be a beacon of hope and give strength to those who believe, but others never have and never will.   Some may eventually return to the flock, and others may find religion.   But when we start preaching many who never or no longer believe will tune us out as irrelevant.   They are not listening.  This needs to be universal.   What happened-happened.  There is nothing we can do about it now.  It was not God’s fault.   Blame it on fate or luck or inches and seconds.   It just happens.  We must accept it and move on.   We should realize that we are not insignificant, but there are things that are bigger than us….but importantly we are a part of them.   We may be a part of God, and his plan.   Or we may be a part of something else.   How about our community?   Lets give something back and heal through service.  Through church, working with children, working with other veterans, volunteering, a neighborhood watch, community service, or through a forum or blog.

Also, the steps may appear to some as a rigid and inflexible process.  We should recognize that this is a war and not a battle.  Sometimes the enemy may win a battle and we will have to give up some ground.   This is our time to reconsolidate and reorganize.   The enemy showed us his new tactic, and now we develop our TTPs to counter theirs.   We get up, dust ourselves off, and charlie mike.

Next we need to get this integrated into a group setting.   Places in cities, like the VA Vet Centers and other veteran’s organizations.   Places online, like NotAlone, the JollyRoger, and other blogs and forums.  We must come together to support each other, and in places where we feel comfortable due to our shared experiences.

Another critical piece that I think we all need is Sponsorship.  A sponsor/sponsee relationship would be a “one on one” personal relationship of shared experiences focused on working on the journey.  A battle buddy, a fire team.   The sponsor would be a more experienced person who guides the less-experienced person through the journey.  Sponsors would share their experience, strength, and hope with their sponsees… A sponsor’s role would not  be that of a therapist offering some sort of professional advice.  A sponsor would simply be another person in the group who is willing to share his or her journey.  When battling depression the sponsee would know that someone is there to help, someone who cares, someone who understands.   There is someone to discuss a nightmare, flashback, trigger, or relationship issue with.  Someone to cross talk ideas and compare notes.

Once we put this all together, we may have the place and resource to help ourselves without waiting for so called doctors and the government to figure it out for us.

You can read more about each of the steps in the Not Alone library.
Introduction:

STEP 1

STEP 2

STEP 3

STEP 4

STEP 5

STEP 6

STEP 7

STEP 8

STEP 9

STEP 10

By Bryan H. Reed, Army Veteran OIF 07-09