Do not miss a heartbeat; dare not blink. Know what needs to be done and follow through no matter what happens. Do not hesitate; there is no room for fear or even a millisecond of weakness. It is your oath to watch their back; it is theirs to watch yours. Hesitating will get you killed. Or worse; it will get your buddy, your best friend or your entire squad taken out. Mistakes are not just unacceptable, they are deadly. Do not fuck it up!
Values become ingrained like a second coat of armor. Among many things taught, we learn:
Suck it up figure it out get it done soldier on
trying is not good enough mistakes lead to disaster weakness is deadly
bring your A game 24/7 rely on the training – do not think
sleep with one eye open there is no room for excuses
prepare for the worst, hope for the best there is no room for emotions
a soldier’s life is no longer theirs – the mission is the only thing that matters
These techniques and skills are useful on the battlefield. They are useful when a soldier has to ignore their inner humanness, forget the human connection and take the life of another; or be the one who makes the decision to tell someone else to take the shot/make the kill/set the bogey. On the flips side, these are also useful thoughts and techniques when one is charged with the duty of saving others. Be it a recovery mission, a drop in medic or a nurse on a standard operation unit base that is struck by a disaster. These thoughts and techniques will save a soldier’s life and the lives of others.
The military is good at stripping a human down to their basic brain and rebuilding them from the ground up. They do this with intention, knowing the ramifications of their job. They and fellow military members rely on each and every member of their squad to pull their weight and do the job right the first time. If a soldier cannot perform under intense stress/duress, more than just that soldier’s life is at stake. It is not a game!
This is not to say, everyone who is in the military is an upstanding individual, simply doing their job. Just like in any other career field, people with not so good intentions fly in under the radar, infiltrate the system and reek havoc on anyone they come in contact with. I mean, if you are an individual who gets off on hurting or killing others, what better organization is there to join? These individuals are able to intimidate others into keeping their secrets, sometimes for several years, even with the loss of lives taking place. Sometimes torture and death happens at the hands of these individuals. Making the military experience even more complicated. Causing trauma on top of normal military stress or preexisting trauma.
Let’s also not forget there is still a space for human error as well, because regardless of being a soldier and regardless of the extensive training a soldier goes through, accidents still happen. When one is playing deadly games in order to prep a soldier for facing the actual enemy, mistakes are made and yes, people die or become permanently injured as a result.
10 U.S. Code § 502 – Enlistment oath
“I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
It is almost a guarantee, that those who enlist will come out different people than when they went in. If they are lucky, they will have a good support system or will still be strong enough to reach out for the help they need. However, many cannot shut off the amygdala part of the brain, turn off their fight/flight response which has become permanently engaged, or uproot their extensive military training. The military, releases these soldiers into our public community system in different states of mental and physical well being. There is no transitional period, where a soldier is reoriented to the community and assisted with the unpacking of the load they carry. Inevitably, if they did not come out of the military with PTSD, they will contract it as a side effect of trying to learn how to live in a society that does not understand them, care for them, support them or protect them.
Suddenly, a soldier discovers everything about who they are and how they have developed, is wrong. People are either scared of them, cannot connect with them, or shame them for their behaviors and self-created coping skills. Some try to fake it until they make it, hiding their stress and troubles deep within them. Friends and family will not be able to tell anything is wrong (military training skills at their finest) until one day suddenly, their loved one is gone, or becomes so withdrawn they disappear mentally. Others give us quite a fright by engaging in drugs, alcohol, dangerous activities, anger, bullying, harming others, or engaging in self-harm.
Many take their lives, in one way or another. Some commit suicide quickly and others do it slowly over the span of a few years. However, there are those who find a new purpose and learn to reinvent themselves, using some of the skills already in their toolbox, along with the addition of new skills. Learning when, where and how to use their military knowledge and skills, and when, where and how to deploy their new skills. Not all military skills are transferable to the private sector/public community, and learning to let go of or adjust them appropriately is important.
I am a Gulf War Era Veteran of the United States Air Force, honorably discharged with medical disabilities. I am becoming a clinical mental health practitioner. I am walking my own journey of discovery and working through my own demons. I have been to hell and back again. I know there is more to who veterans are, than just their military trauma, or remnants there of. I also know there is more to life and things can get better and often do get better with help.
I want to work with veterans to turn trauma into personal triumph.
If you are a military veteran and you need to talk to someone, I am here currently for peer to peer support at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need the assistance of a clinical professional, I may be able help make the connection! Once I am out of training and licensed, I will be able to provide professional services personally. Also if you have some time, please check out www.maketheconnection.net website to hear from other veterans.
I care about you and I am living proof that life can get better post-military trauma.