The Idea

This isn’t a blog but more of a forum. Its a conglomeration of veteran and family voices that are dealing not just with PTSD but with life after combat in general. This isn’t just for new vets or old vets or veteran supporters but for everyone who either has dealt or is dealing with the struggle. This place, this forum, is also for those who want a realistic perspective of what life after combat really is, its a daily struggle of normal people. What follows is the original post on the forum, in a way our Declaration of Intent. One thing has changed though, replace the “I” through out the post with “We” because there are now many of us who contribute.

On the heels of losing another soldier I served with I have decided its time to try to do something about it. Soldier’s dying in combat happens, its horrible, its hard, but its reality. Losing military service members when they are back stateside, either to suicide or drinking themselves to death, is unacceptable. We as fellow service members should not stand idly by and let this happen. We the ones who made it out, came back, had the issues but have somehow learned to cope or overcome, shouldn’t sit there quietly and let this happen to the ones that are struggling. So the idea has begun to hatch.

Our Fallen Brother you are gone but never forgotten.

Create a place for Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and the Coast Guard to openly talk about the things we saw over there and during the course of our duties and what it did to us mentally and emotionally when we got back. This is an incredibly taboo thing. We as grunts are taught to be self-sufficient and resilient. We often consider ourselves to be 10 feet tall & bulletproof and when faced with something of the emotional magnitude of losing buddies, seeing the carnage, and dealing with that day in and day out fear, we tend to bury it or drown it in alcohol. This is made blatantly obvious by the sky-rocketing suicide rate. But I am not just wanting the horror stories, I want to know how we have gotten over living through that and how we coped when we got back, so that others may learn from our success.
Common problems and why I think this might be helpful. First off, we all know that getting help in todays military is getting “easier”. We all still know that going to get professional help can cause a whole mess of headaches with the chain of command. It is harder still for we as service members to swallow our pride and admit we can’t handle it on our own. Second, sometimes the help you do get ain’t worth the time you spent driving to it. Now if you are seriously considering suicide or having ideation go get the professional help. If you just want to be able to breathe in a crowd, the brown paper bag full of anti-anxiety meds they throw at you is not always what you are looking for. Frankly, the head shrinkers don’t get it. Its no fault of their own but most have never pulled a trigger, heard the whistle of a rocket, felt the heat off an IED, or can even imagine what its like to lose brothers and sisters. Beyond that they have never experienced that crazy half panic half murderous rage feeling that a lot of us get the first time we walk through a shopping mall again or woke up from a nightmare that had you reliving that trauma again and again.
So if we can’t get the advice we want from somebody thats never been there who better to ask than those who have. We need to spread the communication and knowledge between us all. We need tactics, strategys, field-craft not the junk out of the field manual of “How to make grunts shut up about what they are going through” but real tangible ways of overcoming not just the trauma but also what combat turns you into. So I turn to you, the veterans reading this, I want stories, tactics, ideas, problems, thoughts, and opinions. Answering questions like, How did you tackle the issue? What was it that was bugging you? Any tricks for coping? Are there things that trigger memories, like smells or sounds? Just throw something up here and we will try to make it into topics, so service members have a place to go. Either post a comment or email me if you want it anonymous, make sure you give me a contact email so I can get with you if I need to, to make sure the message gets across.
I know this seems a little wishful thinking, but imagine that if what you had to say helped save a service member’s life. You’d run under fire to save him, can’t you type a few words of how you learned to deal to save him too? Once you do that, spread the word, the guys still in give it to your subordinates, spread it to your buddies, post it on your Facebook and Myspace. If we manage to help just one person it was a worth-while endeavor.

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One response to “The Idea

  • Ted Engelmann

    Greetings on 28 May 2010 from Denver.

    Mike Orban put me on to this site, so I hope my thoughts might stir the pot of thinking and discussion…and might offer some ideas to help.

    I’m a Nam vet (’68-’69) who embedded with 4th ID in both Baghdad (Nov ’08), and Kunar Province in Afghanistan. Purpose: to compare and contrast the experience of soldiers with my tour. My web site has photos and some ideas I’m trying to put forth…as I don’t get on the computer all that much.

    First, I’ve done a lot of work with active and veterans. I helped set up one of the first PTSD programs in the US before it was PTSD (1980). I’ve had my own road to hoe, and want to share some of what I’ve learned over the years with both the Nam vets, and new vets for what it’s worth.

    One issue is understanding PTSD. The VA definition is good for clinicals, but I think there’s another perspective. One like Dr. Ed Tick put forth in, War and the Soul, Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

    Ed suggests PTSD is more an identity disorder than a stressor disorder. Consider how people might feel who want to kill themselves. They don’t have the same identity as when they were able to deal with life’s issues.

    I would also suggest, the type of training our young troops received and their expected behavior helped them loose their identity as soldiers…even humans. We don’t run over kids and shoot people indiscriminately. But we do.

    The Joes in Iraq said they wanted to return when the war’s over and help rebuild. Some Nam vets have done that. The locations are hard to get to, so I don’t hink many people will go. But the desire to help is there.

    For Nam vets, I think we saw the end of most suicides among our ranks some time ago. Still, most vets I’ve met seem to hold some serious anger from and about the war. I think it’s misdirected, similar to a dysfunctional family that blames others instead of the ones who created the problems…usually the parents.

    Fro my personal experience in Viet Nam starting in 1989, a couple things are evident: one, the Vietnamese do not hld American veterans responsible for the damage done in the war. They hold our leaders responsible: Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger, Westy, etc. Soldiers just do their job, that’s all. That’s what the VC and NVA did.

    When people find out I’m a “disabled” vet, I’ve been treated better in Viet Nam than in my own country. A Best Buy manager and his assistant tried to take financial advantage of me when I told them I had taken meds to deal with a computer problem. They tried to use my “disability” to their advantage. Instead of creating a new widow, I was able to walk out, shaking.

    In Viet Nam, just the opposite has happened; more than once.

    For Nam vets, and others, a challenge I have to suggest…consider: Viet Nam is a country, not a war.

    Viet Nam has always been spelled two words in a mono-syllabic language. The word Viet means “people.” Nam means “south.” They differentiate themselves from the Vietbo, the “people of the north,” their long-time enemies, the Chinese.

    By spelling Viet Nam, you both create a new cognition…recognizing the country, not the war. Also, you establish a new set of emotions. Viet Nam is not the same emotional value as “Vietnam,” so there are no hostile feelings towards Viet Nam.

    In some PTSD models, you help the client recognize, “that was then, this is now.” What happened when the trauma happened isn’t here, now. It’s a different time and place. New feelings are created to help move past the fears and anger from the old trauma.

    I would never suggest or consider to forget the war in Viet Nam. Still, it’s way past time to forgive ourselves for what was done to us (by our “parents” the government and nation), and what we did to ourselves and others. The Vietnamese have.

    Several half-size replicas of the Wall travel throughout the US for those who cannot go to the Wall in DC. Money, time, health, and emotions can prevent traveling. The Wall comes to us, and enables catharsis. We leave tokens of our love and memories at these memorials.

    Not to be presumptuous, however, I’ve been photographing Viet Nam since 1989. Since most vets aren’t going to Viet Nam, my photos might bring a little of Viet Nam to the viewer. The shots of ’68-’69 can help some understand what a base camp looked like. Some photos I have are of the same place many years later showing the changes. The visuals help show the changes over time.

    One thing Dr Ed Blank, former VA dir said, unlike the photos immediately after WW II, showing the release of concentration camps, rebuilding Dresden and Berlin, etc, for 10 years after the war in Viet Nam, there were no photos of the carnage we created.

    When each of us left for the World, we took our tour with us on mental video tapes, to rehearse them over and over all these years. No wonder we’re good at remembering and talking about our war. We see it all the time, mentally. For many, it’s their only identity.

    Having new images and stories about the country where we got hurt would be helpful, but it would also be painful to accept and change. Realizing the only person who likes change is a baby with wet diapers, no one is going to leap for this idea. However, I believe in my heart, letting go of the self-inflicted pain by realizing there’s another world out there…that could make people’s lives a whole lot happier. And the implications for the “Silent Ones” is hopeful.

    Back in January, the night before I was to chopper to the hill-top OP Bari-Alai, I had a dream. Something was telling me the barrowed time I had been living on since Nam and missions in Baghdad was running thin. It was time.

    That night I choppered out of COP Pirtle-King, avoiding the trip to the OP. The OP got hit the day I was supposed to be there. Since then, several US soldiers have been wounded and a few KIA. And I’m back here in Denver; my body armor and Kevlar on the rack next to me.

    Four weeks ago today I attended the funeral at Ft. Logan National Cemetery, Denver, for one of the soldiers from OP B-A. I didn’t know him, but having been at the COP made me feel connected.

    Tomorrow I give a commencement talk to graduating high school students. I’m still struggling with what to say. I know what I want to say…but I want to trust them to think and act with integrity. Let’s hope.

    My web site, http://www.tedengelmann.com, is a work-in-progress. Constructive suggestions appreciated.

    I’ve run out of steam, lucky for you. Time to find a theme and words for Saturday’s graduates.

    Thanks for reading/listening.

    Ted

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