Friday, July 23, 2010

War is Hell

Government will increase PTSD benefits, and that's a good thing

I returned from Panama 20 years ago with post traumatic stress syndrome.  I had been through a lot of violence, had seen people killed, and was almost killed myself on a few occasions.  Four Cuban soldiers dressed as Panamanian policemen jamming AK's into my car windows while shouting at my friends and me is one of my less fond memories.

PTSD is Real
You can't put a finger on it like a messed up back or worn out knees, so assigning disability can be difficult.

Author Sebastian Junger was on Bill Bennett's Morning in America the other day talking about his year embedded with a combat unit in Afghanistan.  He wrote a book about it called “War.”  They were talking about PTSD.  Killing, seeing friends killed, and almost being killed yourself are the most obvious causes.  

Other PTSD Factors
Junger went on to mention other factors I had never thought of, but they rang true.  In a war zone there is a sense of urgency and an immediacy of purpose you rarely find anywhere else.  Everything is “in the now.”   

You will never bond with others the way you did under such extreme circumstances.  You're doing an immensely important duty in a very stressful environment.  Lives are literally on the line.  It is an extreme adrenaline high.  Ironically, returning home can be a letdown.

Returning from Panama, it took me months to decompress.  Everything had moved so fast and suddenly I was thrown back into happy, peaceful America. 

I had nightmares for awhile, but they slowly went away.  The heartbreak of seeing that country and its people I had loved so much come to such violence was probably worst of all, but that slowly healed as they put it all back together.  I went about my Air Force duties, played in a Country-Rock band, and although it permanently changed me, I have no lasting negative effects.  What I remember now is all the fun I had before the trouble started.

War is A Life Changing Experience
I didn't have PTSD coming back from my year in the Middle East, just tinnitus.  I did have a hard time ramping down after working non-stop 90+ hour weeks and deploying all over the place installing and repairing communications vital to convoy security, perimeter defense and air-to-ground missions.  It was important, fast-paced work and lives were at stake.  

The picture on the left was taken at the Air Force camp at Baghdad Airport.  When I e-mailed the picture home, my wife remarked how happy I looked.  Well, I was literally having the time of my life.  Those guys with me in the picture were like my sons. I cried when they returned home...

Reuniting with my family was awesome.  Our youngest was three and she didn’t know me, so it took her awhile to warm up to me.  Although I came back with no trauma, life for me had changed forever.  So I can only imagine the hell a returning combat troop must go through.

My experience with PTSD is vastly different than the horrors experienced by our young combat troops coming home today.  I just want my fellow conservatives to know that it is real.  It also afflicts people here in the US who have witnessed violence or experienced a tragedy.

Blood and treasure are not the only costs of war
Couples divorce, families are irretrievably broken, lives are changed forever.  People who have survived combat will never be the same again.  Children will lose parents; spouses will lose their beloved; siblings and parents will be left with nothing but memories.  War wrecks lives and produces a cohort of walking wounded.  For this reason, military action should never be taken lightly.


Fredd said...

War certainly IS hell on earth.

Thank God I never had to experience war, although I spent 10years active duty in the Army, and nobody ever shot at me in anger. And I have always been OK with that.

Joined in 1974 when men were still dying in Vietnam. I went to language school in Monterey CA for 47 weeks, and Vietnam ended halfway through my AIT in mid 1975. At that time, I was getting a sun tan near Pebble Beach, along with cramming for Hungarian vocab tests.

Spent two tours in West Germany, and my last as an instructor in Texas. Lebanon and Grenada scuffles happened during my stint, but I was never sent into harms way.

Lucky me. Thank you for your service, however, Silver. Glad you came out of hell OK.

Silverfiddle said...

Thanks Fredd. Actually, my 20+ years of service was much more like yours than it was the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.

Those two blips in my career were about the only excitement, the rest was partying, beaches, girls, etc.

Linda said...

We owe a debt that can never be fully re-paid to our servicemen and women. Thank you for your service and for relating your experience with PTSD. Those of us who have never faced war on a personal level cannot possibly know exactly what the experience was like, but I am always taken aback by the tales of WWII veterans when they are interviewed. When they speak of friends who died in battle or experiences in battle, most of them choke up and tears stream down their faces even DECADES after the experience. I'm sure that the PTSD claims are real. Everything possible should be done to help the sufferers. We owe them that much at the very least.

Silverfiddle said...

Thanks Linda,
Like I told Fredd, my experience was more Forrest Gump or Good Morning Vietnam than it was Saving Private Ryan or Platoon.

I was not a combat troop, which I why I included a picture of me and my buds in hard hats and climbing gear.

We carried guns and had to fly and convoy through some rough territory, but we weren't door kickers.

Leticia said...

I had never heard of PTSD until it has become a topic of interest on Army Wives, love that show btw.

I wouldn't even begin to fathom the pain, the loss, all the emotional trauma that our beloved soldiers have to endure.

You may not have seen some of the action that but don't count yourself short, you did your part, which helped other soldiers. Every military job is relevant and that is the truth.

We owe all of you a great deal of gratitude and a debt that can never be repaid. But at least we have the opportunity to honor every single one of you servicemen and women.

God bless and protect our troops.

Silverfiddle said...

Thanks Leticia. I am ok, but some people will never be "ok" again, and I'm glad patriotic people like you understand that.

Bastiatarian said...

My two oldest sons both returned safely from a year+ in Iraq, and over the past year and a half that they have been back, although they have had some minor issues with difficulty sleeping and tenseness/jumpiness soon after their return, they seem to be handling the psychological elements effectively as well.

I know that not everyone is so fortunate. As you have written, it can change lives forever, and the sacrifices made by the members of the military and their families are great.

So, as I have said before and I will continue saying as long as I live, thank you for your service. As has been said, those of us who have not served in the military owe a debt that I doubt can ever be paid sufficiently.

Norwegian Shooter said...

Great post. I wish we could ban the term "blood and treasure". It sounds good, but it is now an empty phrase that distracts, rather than describes. My suggestion is war "ruins people's lives" and "bankrupts our country". Your list has good examples of the specifics.

As far as what conservatism has to offer, sometimes the old terms are the best. Shell shock. Doesn't that sum it up well?

Silverfiddle said...

Shooter: I agree about shell shock, but as we learn more about a condition we try to put a more accurate name to it.

I am encouraged that conservatives are rethinking wars and military actions. I am not a pacifist, but I do think we must be much more circumspect in the future.

My biggest criticism of "neo-cons" is that they often appear to cavalier about military action.

I say, beware of people beating war drums who have never been to war.

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