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PTSD At Home: The Forgotten Soldiers
Did you know that there is an average of 22 suicides a day from American Veterans? This is an unaccepable number, and it must be stopped. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, affects many people for many reasons. It is caused by a stressful or traumatic experience that affects the subject psychologically. Symptoms can range from loss of sleep and nightmares to anger problems or depression. Though civilians can suffer from PTSD, warzones and firefights affect many soldiers who fought to defend America in the past and present. Soldiers don't have to deploy to suffer from PTSD though. Unfortunately, the forgotten soldiers are the ones who are left at home to support the many soldiers who are deployed currently. No one thinks about the soldier who wakes up early and works until late at night to make sure deployed soldiers are able to complete their missions. Because they aren't deployed, their units feel the need to make life miserable. They make up rules, break laws, waste money, and mistreat soldiers on a daily basis. This is the story of a soldier suffering from PTSD at home. The story of a forgotten soldier.
The Fight At Home
Have you ever been in a situation that you couldn't stop thinking about for months afterward? Something happened that was so traumatic that you grind your teeth when you think about it. It makes your palms sweat, and keeps you on edge for hours at a time. These are some of the symptoms of PTSD.
Imagine yourself in the Army's ACU uniform. You are wearing body armor, a helmet, and MILES gear. MILES gear is the Army's version of lazer tag equipement, but you use real weapons. The MILES gear works by sensing when a blank round is fired through the weapon. It then sends a "lazer" shot in the direction that you are aiming. You know when you are hit when the gear lets off a high pitched tone from your shoulder. The Army feels that training that is as real as possible is the best for soldiers who may deploy. It makes sense, because you should train like you fight. (As the Army says.) It is the best way to be as prepared as you can be for war.
Now, imagine that you are in a group of between 10 to 15 soldiers, this is what we consider a squad. You have been given your mission, and you are now moving through the forest in your training area. You have been notified of hostile troops in the area, and you must clear them out before the rest of your company can move through. Your squad has 10 soldiers with M4s, which are the Army's single shot or three round burst assault rifle. There are also two soldiers with SAWs, or squad automatic weapons. SAWs are a fully automatic weapon that is used to put many rounds downrange and provide cover for your squad.
As you move through the forest, you start to sweat from the heat and humidity. Your gear feels heavy, and you are tired from being awake for more than 24 hours. You have 210 rounds, 6 clips of 30 rounds in your vest and one clip in your weapon. The enemy is at home, they know the area, and they know you are coming. You watch your designated direction to try to spot the guerilla fighters before they see you. Your hand shakes as you reach for the hose of your camelback. The camelback is similar to a small backpack that has a pouch of water inside it. You sip water as you are walking, making sure to stay hydrated as much as possible. Your squad leader spots something ahead, gives the sign to stop, and kneels down in the dirt. You follow suit, scanning the area ahead for movement. Then it happens, you hear shots being fired in your direction. The soldier behind you falls down as you hear the tell tale whine of the MILES gear. You take cover behind a tree, getting your bearing as to where the shots came from. The silence has been broken, and you now know you need to help your squad defeat the enemy. You yell out what you saw: "Five enemies, 12 o'clock, 200 meters!" You start firing your weapon in the direction of the enemy, trying to pin them down and provide cover. Then you get the order to bound toward the enemy. Bounding consists of 3-5 second rushes from cover to cover, firing your weapon to cover other soldiers while they bound. You pull the trigger and hear your gun jam, so you take cover and try to fix it. You hear the beep of the MILES gear from the soldier next to you, and you think: "It's my fault, I should have been covering him." He lays down to signify he's been shot. You must move forward.
Then you see it, off to the side is a set of two enemies with a 50 caliber automatic weapon. You turn and shoot to prevent them from killing more of your friends. They both lay down as they hear their MILES gear go off in their ear. That's it. You've killed two people. Another 15 minutes of fighting passes by, though it feels like an hour. Finally, the battle is over. Your team won, but at a cost. You lost 5 soldiers in the firefight, and your best friend is one of the ones who was hit. It's unfortunate, but you have to deal with it until the mission is over. For the next few hours, you have to think about what happened while you walk out of the area.
Your squad goes over the situation when you finally get back to camp, and the yelling starts.
"Why did we lose so many people!?" "What did you do wrong!?" "Why did we take so long to return fire!?"
When the screaming stops, it's finally time to wind down. You go back to your tent, take off your gear, and collapse on your bunk. The problem is, you just can't relax. Thoughts pass through your mind over and over again. Why weren't you able to save your buddy? What could you have done differently? Was his death your fault? The answer is probably no, but you won't let it go. What if that had been a real firefight? You would have to tell his wife and kids that daddy isn't coming home. It's a depressing thought, but you have to push on.
Would you be willing to sacrifice your time or money to help veterans?
The story above is one of the many experiences a soldier can face while still in the United States. Along with the stress of day to day training, comes the stress from your leaders. You must do what they want, when they want it, and how they want it done. If you don't succeed, you get negative counselling and corrective action. Depending on how severe the offense, you can either be "smoked", or receive administrative action. Being smoked is when you are forced to do so much physical training that you reach muscle failure. You are dead tired and demotivated afterward. Administrative action can be loss of pay, a bad counselling, or loss of rank. All of these things are added stress to your daily work. Plus, if you work night shift, you lose sleep during the day because of shift work disorder. You are also called in during the day to do paperwork or complete training. It doesn't matter how tired you are. You do it, and you better do it with a grin.
Many parts of military life can cause PTSD. So how can we help the soldiers who suffer from it? There are many ways for a soldier to get help. Psychiatrists, medication, support groups, etc... But how can the every day civilian help? Try thanking a soldier for his service to our country. Let them know they aren't forgotten. Donate money to local charities that help soldiers. A perfect example of a group that helps soldiers deal with PTSD is the Carolina Veterans Support Group, Inc. Their website is: http://cvsgnc.org/. They help soldiers in the Carolinas come back from deployment and return to normal life. Here is a link to their latest radio appearance: http://www.ibiblio.org/wcom/podcast/mp3s/mp3s/SpeakEasy%206.4.2013.mp3. Listen to it and see if you can help in any way.
Many of the soldiers who suffer like this will never come forward. They feel as if they haven't earned their right to have PTSD. They haven't taken a life, or lost someone standing next to them. The sad truth is that if they do seek help, they will be called out for it for being weak. I sought help, which was lucky for me. If I hadn't had the perfect nurse at the exact time that I went to seek help, I may not be here with you today. Be that change in someone's life. Help out the veterans who are forgotten even by other vets. If you can't donate time, donate a little bit of money to make someone else's life better. Thanks for taking the time to read through this article. Hopefully you got a good idea of what life is like for the forgotten soldier. If you feel like you can help, or have any questions about the article, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://cvsgnc.org/ to find out how to help. Thanks once again for your time, God bless you.