Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Warrior Dilemma

I'm going to write about an issue very near and dear to my heart here. I have my reasons for talking about it today and this is probably not going to be a very funny article, so I hope you bare with me, dear reader. I am a former soldier, as are most of my friends. I like to think I am better adjusted than most men who have seen war, but I know there are men that have come back with more of themself intact than I did. I'm not saying that for pity, but it is an observation that colors everything I am going to go in to.

Soldiers, Marines, Seamen, Airmen... we all train to have the strength to defend our homeland, our loved ones, and the men we fight beside. Especially the men we fight beside. It makes us paradoxically very solitary creatures and pack animals at the same time. We fight beside the men in our company, platoon, squad, fireteam and especially our battle buddies. We live with them. Eat with them. Sleep beside them. They become a part of our identity in a way that sometimes even our family does not.

Because of this, when they are no longer there, it is like... an amputation. You feel their absence the same way someone who has lost a limb feels the absence of that limb. You know it isn't there but feel where it should be with a painful awareness sometimes, and other times you react to a situation as if it is there, only to stumble and catch yourself when you realize what is wrong. There was a few years where I am not ashamed to admit I had to drink myself to sleep because I missed the comforting presence of my battle buddy, a man we lost in the dessert one day that is etched in my soul. We would sleep back to back with the friction from our body armor keeping us in place despite our bodies going entirely slack.

The dilemma too many military men and women face when they get home is one of being a pack animal without a pack. The men and women who your instincts have been trained to view as your safety are no longer there, making it too easy to rely on the sense of self sufficiency and strength the training you have been given lends to you. Those of us that are lucky find a new pack, often other veterans, sometimes civilians who earn our trust, but people we can trust enough to let our guard down. Even sometimes people that we can unload some of our baggage to.

It's a dilemma that doesn't often have a good solution, if you know a veteran they can be dealing with these feelings without you even knowing about it, my family didn't know about the drinking, or the anger or the need to prove myself to myself until years later. You can't push for them to open up, all you can do is be there and it might happen. It might never happen though. If you are a veteran. If you're one of my guys? And no, it doesn't matter what is between your legs, you are all my guys if you put on a uniform. If you are one of my guys.... talk to someone, find a friend you trust. Find someone who has been there who can help shoulder the burden. Even go to one of the many groups set up to help us out, a lot are run by veterans and no one should fight the battle in their own head alone. I'm not going to preach about a ton of groups, the non-profit ones are generally good and run by good people. I will mention I have done some work with PTSD Projects and carry one of their ptsd medical alert cards in my wallet. If you decide to contact them, great, but don't fight the fight alone.

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