by Chaplain Kathie
When the men and women leave their bases, they head into combat with weapons they were trained to use. Imagine if they were sent without weapons. Imagine if they were sent with weapons but left alone to figure out how to use them. The military is great at drilling, training and even manipulating the thinking process of the soldiers they send, but not so good on the returning process. They’ve never been trained with as much sense of urgency on how to come home.
Coming home these men and women returning from hell are thinking about getting back to their normal lives. The thought of coming back as a different person does not occur to them as they fight off the thoughts they cannot allow to fill their minds. Usually by this point, they have nightmares keeping them awake, so there is no way they want to deal with any of it during the day, especially when their families are waiting for them and their bed is waiting for them to rest in. They unknowingly begin to face off with an adversary unprepared and unarmed.
Given the fact that so many of them are carrying the emotional price for what they had to do, this should be the time when all the military might should be preparing them to fight off this new adversary instead of giving them pills to make them unaware of what this enemy is doing to them. Masking the symptoms allows this enemy to go on attacking at will.
The troops are thinking about seeing some of their friends die, others wounded and the residue of the fear they had that they would be next. If it came to the point where they had to take a life or wound someone else, they are dealing with the Commandment, “Thou shall not kill” totally unaware that there is a big difference between killing someone at will and killing someone during war.
They forget that killing was the last thing they wanted to do and would not have been in the country they fought in unless the government they served under made the choice in the first place. They forget that if they could capture the enemy instead of killing them, they would have preferred to capture. While wars have been reported throughout history, there are many examples of warfare in the Bible.
These accounts are graphic and horrific. Reading about the slaughters in Joshua when every inhabitant of the territory was killed in hand to hand combat, it is easy to understand the emotional toll but what they justified it by being what God wanted of them.
For others, it was not enough to bring them peace of mind. King David, Achilles and many other warriors had lasting memories of what they had to do. There was a huge difference back then between killing at will and killing someone without malice or on purpose.
Cities of Refuge
1 Then the LORD said to Joshua: 2 “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. 4 When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. 5 If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 6 They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”
7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of . 9 Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.
The human mind has a hard time viewing the whole movie when they are haunted by the memories of what they had to do. They need to talk about it as soon as possible while the whole event is fresh in their mind otherwise the end result is the dominant memory.
If they had to kill, they need to think back to everything that happened before. What was going on in their mind before it happened? Were there other attacks that hit other units? For an example, the weapon of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the IED planted in the road. Each time they had to travel on roads, this fact was holding onto them.
They knew if an IED exploded, usually that was followed by gunfire when they rushed to help the wounded. This thought is carried back home when they are back having to drive on country roads and city streets causing many flashbacks. If this is easy to understand, then go a step further. Suicide attacks from cars also held onto them whenever there was a car coming too close to their vehicle. Should the driver not acknowledge the warning to back off, often the soldiers are forced to stop it with brute force.
They try other means first but when it is a choice between letting the car come too close and taking a chance, or preventing what has been a means to kill troops, they decide to stop the vehicle any way possible.
A National Guard soldier was face with this very event. He tried everything to get the car to back off but the drive kept speeding up. He threw rocks. He fired warning shots. He screamed. He prayed. The car kept coming. He let loose with machine gun fire. The car was not filled with bombs or insurgents.
It was filled with a family. The father driving the car, for whatever reason, decided to ignore all this soldier tried to do to get them to stop and they ended up dead. The soldier carried that last memory of the bodies in the car and allowed the rest of the “movie” to end up being cut out of his thoughts.
He came home feeling like a killer and unforgivable in they eyes of God and man. His family fell apart and he got divorced. He tried to kill himself twice as he found it impossible to go on one more day with physical wounds topped off with his emotional wounds. No one understood him.
No one knew why he came home so differently and they judged him. This young man was able to watch the movie in his mind from start to finish and found peace understanding that he was not a monster or evil. He began to heal when he was able to forgive himself for what he had to do.
He was given the weapon he needed to fight this adversary off with and he conquered it. The scar remains with some aspects of PTSD not reversible but it was no longer an open wound eating away his spirit.
For the families, if they do not understand what PTSD is they cannot understand what it is doing to their family member. They tend to forget that this person they loved, lived with and knew all so well, just spent a year in hell and changed for a reason.
They don’t know they can help them heal so they are not carrying around the pain inside of them and take away the power of the adversary. For most families, they want to stay and fight for the person they love but they are unarmed as well. No one told them what they needed to know to help.
SImple things like a spouse being aware enough of what PTSD is so that they know not to shake a veteran in the middle of a nightmare. This has caused a lot of black eyes and bloody noses leading to the veteran being arrested for domestic violence. This could have been avoided by just getting up out of bed, out of striking distance and gently waking them up. It is the same story with flashbacks. If the families understood where the veteran actually is during a flashback, shouting would be the last thing they would do to get the veteran back to the here and now.
The things the veteran does when they come home with PTSD causes the family to judge the actions and hold them against the veteran because they do not know what the cause is. Give them to knowledge and you save a family. If you do not, then the veteran feels even more guilt for the turmoil in the house making PTSD even worse. This also feeds anger within them. They are being eaten away from all sides.
Base Family Readiness Groups (FRG) need to stop ignoring how important the families are when the troops come home. They are on the front lines of all of this. It is even more important for the families of National Guards and Reservists to learn all they can about PTSD to help their veterans because they are no longer surrounded by their brothers and sisters, they are back on the jobs they had in their regular lives.
There is so much we can do to help them heal but Congress has been only interested in what is not working, hearing about the failures, suicides, attempted suicides and veterans becoming homeless.
They don’t seem too interested in what has been working for families fighting off this adversary for 20, 30 or 40 years. There are success stories out there they should be listening to and putting these experienced veterans of after combat to use as a weapon against PTSD. It seems everyone wants a quick fix and this is it but it is not easy or painless. What it is, is priceless.
Senior IFOC Chaplain,
DAV Auxiliary Chapter 16 Chaplain