Tag Archives: Veterans

Most Distressing

How do I help as many vets as I can?

Its that same fervor that drove me nearly insane in Iraq. A friend, seems to be a master of the one line bombs, said to me,” This may hurt but maybe you just aren’t ready to help other people.” What he meant is that I don’t manage to help others and come out of it unscathed. I come out of one of those “come to jesus” meetings roughed up and beat down. I usually drink hard that night and make an ass out of myself. Allison has to tolerate all the craziness that flows out of my mouth. I completely disassemble. I am a farking mess. And when its all said and done and I pass out the necessary apologies. It dawns on me that I would do that a million times over, if it only gets one. If it only keeps one trooper from being there, hell knows I stood there. I would go through that emotional crap any day, any time of the week at a moment’s notice to help a brother out. This is apparently a contagious disease or at least communicable. All Vets feel that in some way to some extent, that it is part of that undying obligation to the guys that chewed the same dirt as you. Just cause we made it out, doesn’t me we leave them behind, its all the more reason to turn around and pull them up too. We have to all of us, actively search for those in need. Those that don’t admit it, those that don’t see it, those that reach out, those that try to laugh it off, those that drown it out, we have to find them and do what is necessary, smack on the back, kick to the head, a funny story, or a simple I have your back. We have to sit down shut up and let them drop the ruck for a minute. Then when its time get them back on their feet with their lighter load. We have to find a way to be that ringside corner man, talking a battered rocky into getting back in there to knock Chuck Norris out. This stuff keeps me up at night and drive me insane.

So how do we help as many vets as we can. We start but getting real, cutting the B.S. That macho crap, has to go. Trust me, I am egotistical SOB, you don’t make much of an NCO if you aren’t but I dropped that macho crap at the door when I started this. If we are actually gonna help vets and help each other, thats got to go. That very thing is what makes the stigma. Thats the thing that leads to joes taking their lives or taking someone elses. All because our little fragile egos can’t handle the simple truth that after war we needed a little back up, what a load of horse @#$6! Boils my freaking blood. Makes me want to shit kick every individual I see who says crap about it being weak or sad. Makes me want to drag their faces and their false medals through the mud, because those of us that really know, know what it takes from you to be the monster. And you don’t just come back and smile. After that we have to walk around with ninja skills, quietly listening into conversations waiting for those warning signs in their speech. Just hunt for them, when you catch one surround with as many vets as possible, let the stories go and then let them have the floor you will be amazed what comes out.

How do we help as many vets as we can…. by genuinely giving a damn. Fastest way to heal the invisible scars is to heal another’s.

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I Know…

Friday night my parents took me, Dan, and my younger brother out for dinner to celebrate my birthday.  A few days before, we found out that one of his former soldiers committed suicide (Dan talked about it on the blog on July 6).  I knew he was upset, I knew he wished someone had been able to stop it….I knew he thought he should have been able to prevent it.  What I didn’t know, was how it was going to almost “regress” some of the progress he had made with his PTSD.

That Friday, I spent the day at work; Dan spent the day up on campus.  He had class and then a meeting with the student veterans group he is in charge of.  Apparently they spent some time talking about the suicide from earlier in the week.  Dan came home shortly before I did on Friday and seemed rather upset, despite his efforts to hide it.  He says he was okay, I knew better.  I also realized he made some choices in the afternoon that would eventually not be conducive to our evening with my parents.

Despite all that was going on, we got ready (and looked pretty nice, if I do say so myself) and met my parents at the restaurant.  We walked in, it was packed.  A warning bell went off in my head…but I sort of dismissed it and decided he would manage…it was good for him.  When I saw the table we were being taken to, I knew there was not a good spot for him to sit.  I kind of panicked and just picked a chair.  Dan hesitantly sat down next to me.

Things were fine until shortly before our meal was served.  I saw a flash of light in the corner of my eye…I turned just in time to see Dan tuck a knife behind his forearm and then cross his arms on the table.  I was completely shocked to see him do that.  I couldn’t tell you the last time he did it.   I quickly went through all the factors that caused him to do it- really busy room, his back was not to a wall, lots of people behind him, and all the other things that had happened earlier in the day.  I quietly tried to get him to put the knife back without my parents or brother noticing.  He refused me several times.  I had to make a decision.  Do I let him get away with it and have his “safety blanket” or do I ask him to put the knife back a little louder so my dad, who is sitting next to him, can hear.  I decide the latter.  I had to ask him several times again- each time he refused- “I’m fine, leave me alone” he would say.  Yeah right!  Big fat liar.  That’s exactly what I told him too.  I eventually raised my voice enough that my mom and brother both noticed.  Dan did reluctantly relinquish the knife back to the table, but not without some words for me.  Playful words, but words.  I’m pretty sure he was embarrassed I made somewhat of a scene, especially in front of my parents.  Nonetheless, this was behavior he had not exhibited for a long time and I had to stop it quickly.

With all the progress that had been made, I forgot that sometimes taking two steps forward is followed by a step backward.  Now, this wasn’t a big step backward, but it was in the opposite direction.  I think we, as the not-so-silent ranks, need to remember that this is an ongoing struggle, one that gets better in time, but not without its bumps in the road.  Some days are better than others and certain events and happenings can set them off.

What we also forget is how a single event, like seeing the knife go behind his arm, can affect us.  I was completely shocked when I saw that behavior.  Dan doesn’t know this (well I guess now he does) but it sort of upset me.  It made me feel like I hadn’t done enough to prevent that- maybe I should have asked him to tell me more about what was bugging him before dinner and not been so dismissive with his attitude.  I even think maybe I should have asked the hostess at the restaurant if we could have sat in a booth or one of the other tables in the back corner, then this maybe could have been prevented.

Sometimes I think we wonder, what if, what if, what if… and all it does is prevent us from saying, I know –

I know that things are getting better as time goes on.  I know this will not be easy and there will be difficult days, weeks and months.  I know he wants to be back to himself too.  I know that a small lapse in forward motion is not that big of a deal, but I know it is not to be ignored.  I know how to bring it up and talk about it.  I know when to step in and when to stay out.  I know I don’t know it all.  I know when to ask for help.

We have so many resources as not-so-silent ranks, and we need to remember to use them.  Those resources are on the web, in books, our friends and family and most importantly, each other.  The one thing that we need to continue to say to each other is…

I know that we can get through it, together.

~Allison (Dan’s not-so-silent rank)


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.


Distraction System

I keep myself pretty busy these days. When I got out of the army, I gave myself a month off. That month started out great but you can only run and go to the gym and watch burn notice reruns so many times. I had gone from the incredibly high op tempo of an army at war to couch potato literally over night. By the end of the month I was perpetually a grouch, drinking like nobody’s business, and being an all around swell guy. I got a part time gig working at a hospital moving patients from room to room. It was all fine and dandy other than the system was broke, management sucked, the kids I worked with were unprofessional, I could have run the place with my eyes closed better than what was going on, no chain of command, no follow through, and overall they were freaking slow. Besides that I loved it. I left as soon as school started next month. College, let me tell you about college. College is a game of accelerator and neutral. You spend most of your time coasting in in neutral and then all at once, the world of a college student collapses and for a week straight you are face down in a book with a coffee IV drip running , cursing the sun. Then the tests are over and its back to coasting and looking at the pretty girls. Not exactly an intense challenge. So the fall semester came and went and I crushed it. Spring was even slower with more classes added on to my schedule, I had the hang of it. So I turned to outside activities. Half-marathons, triathlons, 10K’s and 5k’s became a usual part of my life. Nothing like training to get your butt handed to you by a bunch of really fit chicks. This summer, its been about the organizations. I am part of two groups I am the president of one. I am taking summer school, still kicking my own ass in endurance races, and now I have had these extra responsibilities. Oh and did I forget to mention this thing, this crazy concoction, that has grown into a web page and is actually starting to help people. This web site is on my brain 24/7. I am always trying to think of ways to make it better. I think about it when I go to bed, and it starts up when I get up. I read over it with my coffee, check it at school on my phone, first thing I do when I get home and the last thing before the day is done. It keeps me very busy. Sitting here this morning, this post smacked me in theface. Am I running? Am I distracting myself from what is going on in my head? Am I trying to control the situation in which I find myself dealing with everything? Like viewing it in a cage or from behind bullet-proof glass or up on a monitor. Maybe this is the only way I can deal with all of this stuff. Perhaps, all these challenges and tasks I put before myself is to distract me from whats going on in the background until I can sit here and study it from behind a keyboard. Or maybe I just can’t sit still, I like pain, and being over-reached, lol. I love to forever be in motion. In any case, whether its healthy or not, I strongly suggest distracting yourself. Life after combat isn’t going anywhere but when I set to a task or a challenge I don’t see dead charred bodies or f@#$ed up friends. I don’t hear incoming rockets or walk around with my fists clinched. I am focused on the task, goal, or mission at hand, and in those situations; Those scary, difficult, trying, ass-kicking, face-in-the-mud-dragging, embrace-the-suck moments, I find it really easy to smile, because it is a paradise compared to what happens in my mind, when I sit still.


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.