Chapter 2 The day that stands still for ever.
“War is war and Hell is hell, and if you ask me War is a lot worse” ~ Alan Alda
Over the years the education and recognition of post-combat psychological issues have gotten much better. If you ask me, we are still completely missing the mark. In the last few years, I have borne witness to all kinds of efforts to treat and care for our veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. Unfortunately, it seems that we have all fallen into the idea that every person will react to the same treatment the same and how everyone has the “great” solution to the problem.
As much as I hate to utilize Hollywood as an example the reality is they have been showing the world the problem with Post Traumatic Stress for years. Nearly every dramatic movie if you watch carefully you can see the subject of the film showing signs of post-traumatic stress issues. Even in children’s movies they softly point out the issue of PTS (I choose to not use the D since in no way is Post Traumatic Stress a disorder). I point this out because during a long inpatient treatment part of our education process had us watching some movies like the Lion King. In this movie, if you pay attention you will see how Simba battles with “survival guilt” from the loss of his father. “Survival Guilt” is a very profound issue within the fight with PTS.
The next phase for me was my time in Fort Benning Georgia where I found a new me. Basic training was actually a very good time for me. I enjoyed the team atmosphere and the physical challenges that came with the early phases of the military. I found myself reaching new physical accomplishments and I began to feel like I was a part of something much bigger.
I know there are many out there who like to lean toward the side that the military “brainwashes” you. The is so far from the truth, yea in basic training you learn to take orders and follow instructions however they also teach you to analyze your situation and execute internal patience. One of the biggest lessons is how to efficiently assess situations and avoid emotionally driven responses. In the end, you value the man’s life next to you the same if not more than your own, you will put the needs of the whole before yours.
One of the areas I feel that can be criticized for initial training is that the efforts to desensitize a person to killing and death are somewhat lacking luster. Yes, if you are ever faced with the unfortunate reality of taking a life or confronting your own death there is probably not much “training” that can be done.
We all go into service with the idea that “The Object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his” ~ George Patton. However, the after-effects of it all take a toll.
After 14 weeks of training my time in Fort Benning came to a glorious end. Walking away from that post had placed me with a new pep in my step and a whole lot of pride. My biggest accomplishment was through a lot of hard work and additional effort I had accomplished a personal goal and had received my assignment in Washington D.C.
Those that are not familiar with The Old Guard may have to spend some time researching, there is a lot to the history and prestige of this unit that I will not spend much time on here. In the end the assignment is a huge honor and comes with a lot of great opportunities.
It also comes with its challenges, as odd as it may sound arriving in the nation’s capital may have been the first of many traumatic events. Just imagine taking a small-town country kid and plucking him out of everything he knows then plopping him in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the nation. Almost immediately the sense of discomfort and uneasiness overwhelmed me as I stepped off the plane at Reagan International Airport. About the only thing that got me through the discomfort of arriving in this strange new place was the focus of the new challenge.
Over the next few weeks, all kinds of new challenges and opportunities came to be, on the same note a bad new coping mechanism developed. One thing about the military is drinking is a part of the culture. All the way back in history you can always find how soldiers use their off time as an excuse to party. This held true in 2001. At the time it just seemed like young and foolish sowing of wild oats. Looking back, it was probably a way to escape the new realities and a way of avoiding my true internal emotions.
Little did I know that the small traumas of a new place would be severely overshadowed by one of the most impactful moments of our nation’s history.
In September of 2001 my career in The Old Guard had taken off, I was quickly finding my groove and small bits of success. In many ways living in D.C. was good for me, because I did not like the big social environment, I had absorbed myself in to work and performing my duties. This paved a road of success that still to this day I appreciate. However, on the other side of the coin a guy can not live breath and eat work to much before he becomes pent up. This led to the unfortunate reality that my way of coping with the stresses came through partying with the boys, partying always was enveloped with mass amounts of drinking.
By September of 2001 my confidence was as high as it could be, I had accepted nearly every challenge the Army had to offer, and I felt the I had found my calling.
Then it happened, September 11th, 2001 came around and the day started like any other with the exception that I was somewhat limited on duty. In the Army I had discovered that I really like to run, because of this I enjoyed runs twice even three times a day. This running had led to shin splints which had put me on “profile” so I was supposed to be limited on the type of physical training I could do. Luckily on the 11th we had an early rehearsal, so the team did not conduct physical training that morning.
It was during this rehearsal that life changed.
Around 9:00 am while we are waiting for rehearsal to begin, we get word that there has been a disaster in New York. Our unit chaplain has an office in the rehearsal building so many of us cram in there to watch on TV as the smoke billows from the World Trade Center. At 9:03 am as we are watching the coverage on TV the second plane flies into the second tower. It was at this point when the “freak out” out begins. A lot of people amongst us start the terrorist talk and the term “we are headed to war boys” gets thrown around a lot.
Around 9:15, myself and several other soldiers and leaders step outside of the ceremonial hall on Fort Myer Virginia which faces north toward the city of D.C. during our conversation one of our senior leadership makes a comment about a plane flying very low along the Potomac River. Short moments after this comment at 9:37 am flight 77 impacts the western wall of the Pentagon. Because of where we were standing the actual impact was outside of our view, but the explosion and immediate billow of smoke was audible and visible. All of this happened less than 8000 feet from where we were standing.
We had just witnessed one of the worst attacks on American soil.
In the next installment we will talk about the first signs of trouble, we will discuss the sights smells and activities that go on for several weeks and how this simple event changed a perception of life.
Have you ever considered how much PTS can affect more than just the victim? When a family member battles with PTS so much that it affects the daily life that suffering pours over into the people around them. Simple things like I must be cautious about how I shut the door because the loud bang can cause dad to become alerted. Now, what is normal everyday life becomes a life of walking on eggshells trying not to trigger your loved one?