It used to be called “shell shock.” The reality of war can put a soldier in situations not normal for the average human being. Prolonged exposure to the drama and aftermath of violence can surely have an effect on a person’s mind and heart (soul). ‘Shell shock’ has been well-documented on film, such as Tom Cruises character in, ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ and late-director Stanley Kubrick’s, ‘Full-Metal Jacket.’ A person’s ‘bearings’ are shifted and a new normal takes hold. This new normal juxtaposes itself against the normalcy of everyday society. Inevitably, the soldier who has experienced sustained levels of stress has what amounts to separate operating systems which do not always agree with each other.
The ravages of war are not taking in with a soft light. I had a friend who served in Iraq as a Marine. I knew him before and after his service. Many active and veteran armed forces personnel never see the front lines or have to literally fight their way out of real battle. This does not take away from his service. He did not walk the streets of Fallujah in heavy, street combat. No. One of his main duties was to load and unload cargo from helicopters far away from heated battle.
#theMarine was and is a proud American who was willing to put his life on the line for the bedrock principles that our country has stood for. Namely, doing the right thing. He enlisted, trained and was sent to the theater of war. While there, he was asked many times to destroy hardware that was not going to be shipped back to America. An untold number of brand new construction vehicles were burned down. His outpost was closing down and everything had to be destroyed or removed. Nothing could be left behind. He was one of the one’s in charge of doing the actual burning. So he burned.
Destroying millions of dollars in hardware was deemed more viable than shipping it back. Surely, he was not stitching back together bleeding soldiers fresh from battle, yet he was serving his country. What he was asked to do disillusioned him. It upset him. This is not what he signed up for. Something felt wrong, but the armed forces are not a democracy. You do what you are told to do by your superiors and that’s that. His morale sapped. On returning home, he and I spoke at length on what happened and how he felt about it.
Who cares? Who cares if construction vehicles were burned down in some faraway desert? Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? I believe so. #theMarine did not sign up to do this dirty work. No one was harmed. Should it matter? …Apparently, it mattered to him… It was disheartening to him…
How much does a brand new Caterpillar backhoe cost? Multiply that by one hundred.
#theMarine was ‘thrown off.’ His principles were not in line with what he was being asked to do. This was not defending his country. This is not how he envisioned serving. Serving his country was very important to him. He was asked to do dishonorable things. Again, no one got hurt.
Back home state-side he was diagnosed with PTSD. I recall him telling me that he received cognitive behavioral therapy and was placed on medications. The cognitive therapy was helpful to him. Still, the notion that he invested so much of himself for his country and then was asked to repeatedly take actions against that which he felt was right bothered him. The continual stress experienced took its toll and set him somewhat on ‘edge.’ His diagnosed-PTSD is real for him and it is a daily thing he manages.
Where would he be mentally and emotionally if he was not treated for PTSD? What if he were told that he was a ‘big cry baby’ and to shut up? After all, it is not like he had to see dead people. How would his emotional health change over time if no services were rendered to help him in his post-armed forces life? What message do we send each other when we do not take care of our wounded warriors? What messages do we send to our country and the world when we ask each other to do that which is wrong?
How can amends be made for veterans of past wars, like Vietnam? In that war, many experienced constant gruesomeness on a grand scale. How did America honor them when they returned? Should amends be made? How so? How do we honor not just our fallen, but ALL those who came back? Do we pick and choose who should receive help?
How we deal with this will continue to impact how we deal with society. The community that rises is the community that rises together and that means looking down on those who’s shoulders we stand on and ensuring that they are being taken care of, especially those who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for our costly freedom.
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