Why Didn’t You Tell Me that constant readiness is the missing factor in PTSD? As a Green Beret with experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa, I sometimes returned in a state that my wife Cindy called “rough shape.” So I know there is a need for a long-term solution for PTSD. What are we getting wrong?
From my perspective, it seems as if the people who are supposed to be coming up with the answers lack boots-on-the-ground experience in the military. They are missing some of the key principles that cause so much tension in our military members and families.
When dealing with PTSD or any type of transition back to the homefront, many people focus only on the combat side things. The experts spotlight all of their efforts on treating the dangerous memories that may be lurking deep inside of a soldier’s soul. While I feel this is an important factor in treating our veterans, I don’t think it should be the only focus.
For those who haven’t been in a combat zone, it’s easy to overlook the glaring issue of readiness. When your servicemember was deployed, you may have seen pictures of your better half at one of the shopettes or fast-food shops that dot the larger logistical bases like Bagram or the Victory Base Complex.
Your servicemember may have played some pick-up basketball or called you on Skype from a plywood hut in Afghanistan or a marble palace in Iraq. But there are many things hidden from those pictures and that video call, things that your better half will most likely never bring up on their own.
The issue of readiness is always at the top of our minds in the military today, but nowhere more than in a combat zone. In Special Forces we would have our rifles and pistols always in arms reach--locked, loaded and ready to go.
We would have several configurations of body armor always at the ready. Whenever a mission would come up, we would be like firemen. We only had to don our gear and head out the door.
When instant readiness was so key and everyone was on high-alert 24/7, pleasantries and niceties became very low on our priority list. If we were told that the trucks need to be gassed up and ready to go at all times, there was no excuse for them not to be. If it’s time to eat, we knew we’d better eat right now because soon mortars might fall.
We had to be ready because we knew a distress call could come at any time over the sheriff’s net. We had to be ready to go help some of our brothers in trouble.
As an extension of that, repetition and muscle-memory are paramount. We didn’t have time to think about where the extra ammo or water was when we were running out the door. Everything had it’s designated place. We became so used to getting it from that place over the past six months of deployment, that we no longer had to think about it.
When a soldier finally returns home after his or her deployment, all of that has changed. Pleasantries go from one of the least important parts of functioning with the people around us to a very important part.
The things that we put where we want them become a mess. They are in the way for someone else and can be seen as clutter.
The order to “go do this now” doesn’t quite cut it with the wife and kids. If the result of our abrasiveness is tears, it may even cause returning veterans to get angry. We can be completely dumfounded that someone would cry over a simple request.
There is therapy available. There are books. There are counselors. But as a guy who has come home from a few combat deployments myself, it’s very hard to open up to that PhD sitting on a couch who’s never been anywhere more dangerous than the metro area of an Ivy league college.
I think that the most important part of helping your spouse come home and readjust will start and end at home. Constant readiness was trained into us and it takes time to train it out.
I know that any love worth having is a love worth saving. If you really want your life and love to go back to the way it was pre-deployment, it is going to take a lot of work and even more patience.
Slowly work your proud hero into your daily schedule, but don’t force. Slowly start including them while you’re doing chores around the house to show them how it’s done and where things go, forgoing the argument if they get it wrong.
Get together with friends as much as possible; the bond with those you deployed with will never be broken, and readjustment together will be much smoother. Be active; idle hands are the devils tools, and after a deployment the last thing a soldier needs to do is sit on the couch and gather dust.
But most importantly, be patient. Your soldier wants to come home, and needs to come home, but it can only happen when they are ready. Understand that if they’re not telling you things about the deployment, they’re probably just not ready yet…..but will need you, more than anyone, to be there for them when they are.
Robert Patrick Lewis is a former Green Beret turned author. His new memoir "Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love and Loss For a Green Beret In Post-9/11 War" is now available. While assigned to B/1/10 he was an operator on Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) 022 and was deployed to Iraq, Africa, and Afghanistan, amongst numerous other training deployments around the US and Europe.