I wanted to share a message from a veteran that I came across the other day on Twitter. To me, no one has better described what most of us deal with after we depart service.
I know I didn’t see a ton of action, but I saw enough, and I didn’t kill anyone, but I nearly did, and all of that changed me. And yet, after I exited active duty following four years of service in the infantry — only to later voluntarily rejoin the Reserves after 9/11, where I expected to be called up — I’d often feel guilty because I didn’t think I should be feeling the way I did.
And I for damn sure wouldn’t let anyone tell me it was PTSD. No, not at all. Not me. I didn’t have it. I was certain of that, and I wasn’t going to hear anything differently about the subject.
But my friends and family would tell you I was different. Way different.
And I couldn’t really understand it at the time. The hyper vigilance. The terrible nightmares. The irrational fear, even while back in the safety of the States.
Anyway, I hope the message I read the other day means as much to you and it did me. And if it does, please share it with others.
The following message is written by Jason Kander, a veteran of Afghanistan.
Jason Kander: “I’ve had something on my mind lately, and I want to share it. If you’ve ever been part of a group of people that went through something difficult together, don’t lose touch with each other. You may not realize how crucial those relationships are until it’s too late. A story:
“In Afghanistan, I was an Army Lieutenant in military intelligence. My main responsibility was to provide intelligence reports on Afghan officials suspected of corruption, narco-trafficking, and espionage.
“In layman’s terms: Figuring out which good guys were actually bad guys or working for the bad guys. This meant operating “outside the wire” about 4 days/week, in an unarmored, midsize SUV. Usually just me and my interpreter. Sometimes I wore street clothes instead of a uniform.
“We drove around and met with people whose allegiances we could never know for sure. Usually armed only with a pistol, I was almost always outgunned and outnumbered in these meetings, and that can be frightening to say the least.
“I sometimes got to work as part of a team alongside a couple other guys – let’s call them Mike and Jake – who did jobs very similar to mine. To my knowledge, Mike and Jake were the only two guys at my camp doing the type of job I was doing. Meeting with potential bad guys, etc.
“I’m certain there were others, because I’d sometimes see other guys in street clothes in the chow hall, but Mike and Jake were the only ones I got to know personally who I felt were out there experiencing Afghanistan in the unique way I was experiencing it.
“Mike was big, tall, and soft-spoken. He had a realistic respect for the dangers we confronted. Jake was the most enthusiastic about the work. Unlike Mike and myself, Jake always dressed like an Afghan, and he grew the best beard among us.
“It’s funny the things I remember, like Mike getting irritated when Jake would use his turn signal, because no one in Kabul ever did, or the day toward the end of my deployment when a clean-shaven officer in uniform greeted me warmly and it took me a beat to recognize Jake.
“Mike had a real sense for how insane this all was. One time, at a USO show, he turned to me and said, “An hour ago I was at the site of a suicide bombing and now I’m at a Darryl Worley concert. War is weird, man.”
“I was the youngest and greenest, and I really looked up to Mike and Jake. I never really thought about the fact that we were the only three people I knew who were experiencing Afghanistan in this odd way.
“When I came home and started having nightmares, hyper-vigilance, and other symptoms, I refused to allow for the possibility that it was post-traumatic stress, because I felt as though my deployment didn’t warrant it. I’d not been blown up or shot at and I hadn’t had to kill.
“Over there, I’d been in meetings where I feared I’d be kidnapped or killed. Sometimes tension ran high enough that I mentally prepared myself to take a life out of self-defense. Thankfully, I never had to shoot my way out of a meeting, but I had certainly come close.
“That said, I spent ten years enduring symptoms of post-traumatic stress and telling myself I had no right to them, because I was just some jerk who went to meetings, unlike the “real soldiers” who’d been in firefights.
“It never occurred to me to reach out to Jake and Mike to see how they were doing. Now, I look back and wonder if they were going through the same things and — just like me — denying themselves help because they didn’t see their combat experience as worthy.
“Were they racked with nightmares about being taken? Unable to turn their back to the door for long periods? Unable to be present in the moment with their family? Convinced they “hadn’t done enough” to warrant such problems?
“If the three of us had stayed in touch, would I have gotten help sooner? Would they? Since coming home, both Mike and Jake got into serious accidents. Both were one-vehicle accidents. Given what I know now, I doubt either accident was “accidental.” Mike survived. Jake did not.
“My point is this: If you’ve been through something traumatic, stay in touch with the other people who were there with you. For your sake and for theirs. I’m going to reach out to Mike and I hope you’ll stay in touch with your people. As we say in the Army, check your buddy.”
Again, please consider checking with those you served with. Or with those you know who served, if you never served.
And don’t forget to share the article if you think it’ll help.
Stan R. Mitchell
I write exciting, fast-paced thrillers. Both military action and mystery whodunnits. Ten books penned. 70,000+ sold. I also try to only write about positive things on my blog, so please consider subscribing. And obviously, if you’re looking for a quick, fun read, then click the link to check out my books. #USMC #SemperFidelis