Tag Archives: Life after combat and PTSD

Rock and Man

I spent the last week out in the woods of South Dakota. At night we slept in the bar; during the day we humped through the black hills of of the national forest. The elevation wasn’t too bad we would go from 5000 to 6250, but sometimes it would do that ascent in a hurry straight up a big ass piece of granite. But with anything, going up was always easier than coming down. There were a couple of times I would be hanging on the ledge knowing that my toes were just inches from the next ledge but I couldn’t reach. I couldn’t go back up because that would only slow my progress down off my rock island. So left with only one choice, buck up. Letting go of a nice solid hand hold and sliding into the abyss is about as natural as exiting a perfectly good airplane with the knowledge a private packed your chute. Sliding down the rock, hands spread, feeling for balance, my toes catch my knees give enough to keep me from flying off and I continue the descent. For some reason that brings to mind the Indiana Jones the last crusade when he makes that leap of faith.

I am not a very spiritual person anymore. I believe in god and that there is a higher power and purpose, but no one religion can fit my beliefs anymore, mainly because most have been killed in the name of. I am all for standing for what you believe in but when we are killing each other over a bunch of fables and missing the point of those fables completely, I take a big step back and say to hell with it. All that said, there is something powerful about being in those hills. Something awesome and amazing about having a piece of country kick your ass and you just love every minute of it. Something about walking around in crazy horse’s old stomping grounds and Teddy’s little vacation spot. But the single most spiritual thing about that place is the silence you find at the top of one of those hills. It hurts its so quiet. The wind blows and you can hear the wood of the trees strain and stretch as they bend with the wind.

That silence was the most incredible thing, it forced my buddy and I to whisper because it justseemed wrong to talk at normal levels. Sitting there I remembered all the noise from combat. All the noise of trucks and jets and machine guns and bombs and mother’s cries and the damn noise. It took your breath away. Then to its opposite contrast of sitting in the woods, where your heart was the loudest drum and rustle of the leaves was so loud it could be deafening, it took your breath away. They were so different despite they both made it hard to breathe. The noise sucks the life out of you, sucks the passion, sucks the patience, sucks the brilliance. You have no desire to create anything because you are afraid to add to the noise. When you are in the silence though, you see the hope, the possibility, you are filled with that vitality, and the strange human desire to fill it with just a little bit of noise.

I am sure I am not the only combat vet, who has given up on major religion. Especially from my era. Seeing what a couple of pricks with some uneducated religious people can do, makes you question everything. What I found out in those hills though was just about as close as I have come to finding faith since I have been back. I found a place I could think, believe, and trust in. I found a place where the only thing I was watching my back from was a mountain lion. I found a place that understood what I was far better than I or any person in a city does. I found a place where I fit, a place that the only adrenaline rushes found were self-induced. And in this trek through the woods is when it dawned on me like a 500lb bomb up-side the head.

Urban-warfare, this is the majority of the place where we were in combat. We fought in the streets and from our trucks and in the buildings. We were always on edge everywhere we went because there were predators and observers. Our lives were a constant battle of shooting in 360 degrees. Now that we are back, what if the city is just a big PTSD trigger. What if driving through traffic and walking around huge buildings or being in crowded rooms and restaurants is just one big PTSD trigger, not individual ones as we have made them. Well ain’t that a crappy thought, lol.


Back to School

As some of us Veteran Students get ready to do the Summer School thing:

Thanks in part to the new GI Bill, veterans are leaving the military and going to back to school in record numbers. Can you blame us, the money is good and alot of us are pretty tired of getting blown up and shot at. We sit in our platoon offices or while we are out on the PT route and dream about the so much greener grass on the outside. So we go through the motions and leave active duty and then, reality b#$%^ slaps you the first day you step on campus.

Adrenaline spikes as you cross through the masses of children that surround you. The quad or university center looks shockingly like baghdad or kabul or khe sanh. You make it safely to a classroom find your seat and realize your back is to not just one door but 10 and about 400 people. This all by itself is not the hard part, its the realization that everything you have worked for and once held so much pride in means absolutely nothing to these kids. They, luckily, have no idea what it means to have been to war and they do not tend to show the respect that slightly older people do towards veterans. At first this is a hard pill to swallow but it passes with time and you realize you aren’t an NCO or an officer any more. The next bomb that will drop on you: just how old you are. I am a young buck by just about any standards but most of the kids I am in class with they were in 7th grade when I was in Afghanistan. Thats a killer, you start to feel out of place or like the old guy at the party who needs to just go home and go to sleep cause its past his bed time. These series of challenges are difficult to overcome, add on the inherent challenge of a college education and a veteran can feel strained in a hurry. So what do we do? Same thing we always do pinky, try and take over the world…. or settle for the university.

Find other veterans. Make friends, build veteran groups. When I was briefly a paratrooper I learned about LGOPP’s (little groups of pissed off paratroopers), they form any time a mass jump happens, its where whatever group of joes you find yourself with, turns into a fire team and move outs for the mission. The rule of the LGOPP is as follows: After the demise of the best Airborne plan, a most terrifying effect occurs on the battlefield. This effect is known as the rule of the LGOPs. This is, in its purest form, small groups of pissed-off 19 year old American paratroopers. They are well-trained, armed to the teeth and lack serious adult supervision. They collectively remember the Commander’s intent as “March to the sound of the guns and kill anyone who is not dressed like you…” or something like that. Happily they go about the day’s work….. We should use the same concept form LGOPVS (little groups of pissed off veteran students). Invade your university veteran center, take it over, all the assets are there we just need to use them. I hear so many vets gripe about feeling out of place or missing the camraderie when all we need to do is figure out some time to go paintballing/pub crawling and make it happen. I think that student veterans are in a unique position to be able to participate and get involved in veteran groups and that these same groups that make campus life a little bit more enjoyable could also benefit from the support network for when PTSD rears its ugly head.

So I have talked about school but what about the guys that aren’t slacking, who get out and go straight to work on the civillian side? Same deal but you have to search a little harder for other vets. Finding a group of veterans is about the best thing you can do during your transition to being a dirty civi. It takes the fear factor out of the equation and gives you something that is recognizable as everything around does a 180. Believe me, the first time you realize that its just you who decides when to get up, life changing.

Summer school starts in less than a week for me and I am just trying to get my head right because I have been doing the army reserve thing this whole break. Its like rebooting, forget tact, common courtesy, replace sir, ma’am, or sarge with dude. Greetings of the day are replaced with subtle head tilts. I have to remind myself that all those things I keyed into when I was in or working at the unit, no longer matter and its not worth getting the blood pressure up for. Time to remember that I am just a student and that this professor doesn’t know that the guy sitting in seat 3A once ran gun trucks up and down some of the deadliest roads on the planet, and the student should try to not to get offended when the professor calls him son (doesn’t work/ worth-a-try). But all in all, college ain’t bad and what is a little difficult can be made easier by finding others to embrace the suck with or drowned the difficulties in a couple of beers with. So when it comes time to get out, remember to not cut all ties and burn all bridges because most times you will find yourself missing a little part of the old life even mixed in with the new school.

Predator PTSD

Mike Orban, veteran, author, radio show host, and contributer to this little blog, recently brought an article to my attention. In the article a woman, stakes the idea that PTSD is universal irregardless of how you got it. She says that, “Its a normal persons normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.” She states that she feels as though those of us that went to war suffer from the same form of PTSD as rape and theft victims. But there is one fundamenatl problem with that statement and it lies in the last word of the former sentence, victim. I have been many things while at war, newbie, gunner, warrior, protector, PITA, last thing a man see’s, saving grace, psychopath, buddist monk, pirate, old man (in soldier years), but never not once was I victim other than some pretty good practical jokes. I was the predator not the victim.

I was the not an unwilling participant but I was forced to act due to circumstances beyond my control. But more than that I was a witness to the fray. I was made to stand witness to the incredible depths of evil that man can produce. I was baptized by fire and left to either die or learn how to survive. I was not someone that got mugged or robbed or raped. I was a combatant. My version of PTSD is mixed in with my survival skills from war. I don’t cry out of fear, the only time I ever find the desire to cry is out of anger and remorse over lost brothers. I don’t get timid when something that reminds me of my trauma happens, I prepare for war and actively hunt for the cause. I am not saying that victim PTSD is weak or some how a lesser form but it is surely not the same as predator PTSD. I am the tiger that had to kill to survive not the gazelle that was nearly eaten. Thanks to evolution I have the ability to understand why I killed and why those close to me were killed around me, and thus predator PTSD is born. Also with our version of PTSD it is not a singular event. We have enough trauma trapped in the memory banks to make most grown men wet themselves. It is not a singular event with a singular trigger but a clouded murkey mixture of a thousand events all with multiple triggers. A thousand smells, sounds, sights, and feelings can trigger any number of repsonses from us; we do not a have a single trigger to watch out for.

Another side of the predator PTSD that makes it stand in defiance to victim PTSD, is the pride. Pride that is instilled by our common training, common background. We are taught that our PTSD is a shameful thing something to be hidden or “sucked up”. Victim PTSD, they are typically told its not their fault and they don’t have this common system and social network that fights against healing. They may fight their own wars and live in their dark places, but I tend to think we have not only seen the darkest depths of the human soul but have ourselves pushed those boundaries further.

“…now I am become Death [Shiva], the destroyer of worlds…”

Physicist Robert Oppenheimer