In World War 1, they called it Shell Shock, the second time around they called it Battle Fatigue. After ‘Nam, it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. ~ Jan Karon
As the years go by have, we as men become weaker. If you look back over our great countries history there has always been the issue of war and combat. When you read and hear things about the amazing men before us you hardly ever hear about the struggle with post-combat psychological issues. The men who fought in horrific wars like the revolutionary war and the civil war never seemed to document the emotional battle during or after the war. I personally was blessed to receive mentorship from a man who was in Normandy with the famous Easy Company. He was the first one who made it clear to me that the psychological battles from war have always existed but have never been discussed. One of the first real efforts to expose the post-combat issues was the great Audie Murphy who used the silver screen to expose his own internal battle. The fact is during my times, in and out of treatment I have gained such extreme respect for the men and women who were put in Vietnam and fought in such a hard place in such harsh times. I have always had an admiration for anyone who accepted the responsibility of defending this country knowing that their life would be at risk. In every conflict, there has been a different challenge, anything from weather to an unorthodox enemy to completely inhospitable environments.
But now it seems that the phycological effects of war have become a controlling factor to not only the soldier’s life but everyone around them. I often ask myself, “In all the previous wars these men and women came home from conditions way worse than what I ever endured, and they built a life. Am I so week that I can not overcome these struggles and build a life for myself”?
Maybe the truth is times are different, maybe we as people have changed, this change may be good in that we are more in touch with things or maybe it is bad, and we are just week in the mind and back. I suppose I will never know the answer to this and maybe the truth is I do not want to know. I do know that I have never been more proud to follow in the footsteps of millions who dawned a uniform and take up arms in the defense of a country I believe in, but I wish I carried half the strength of most of those folks.
September 11th is a day that so many people will never forget. I am willing to bet that most everyone can tell you where they were what they were doing and how they felt when the day unfolded. Here are my versions of the events.
Within moments after the Pentagon had been hit, we were all assembled in the ceremony hall where instantly accountability had become an ultimate priority. Because we had several members of our unit that had wives and family members working in the Pentagon helping them get information was just as much a priority. Anyone with a Cell phone had lent it out while everyone tried to call and get any type of update that they could. Because of the mass rush of people on phones, the lines were very often jammed up so outgoing calls were just not an option.
Amongst this, the intel coming to us was very sketchy, initially, we were told that there were numerous other flights still unaccounted for and that D.C. could very well be the intended target. We were also told that there had been additional explosions within the city and that they were rallying civilian efforts to go in and get control of downtown. We later found out that a lot of this was just chatter from unknowing people who wanted to emphasize the drama of the situation. We did hear of unconfirmed additional attacks in the downtown area but I never witnessed anything to believe they actually happened.
Within the hour we were notified that we were being shipped back to our base in order to outfit for follow on security missions. Those that are not familiar with D.C. and its military presence, there are several small bases around the D.C. area. The company I was assigned to within The Old Guard was stationed on Ft. Leslie J McNair. Fort Mcnair sat on the north side of the Potomac River on the southeast tip of D.C... It was no more than three-quarters of a mile long by less than a half-mile wide. On this little spot of land, there was TONS of American history as well as some very important details to the modern military. When the attack took place, we were on Fort Myer which as a crow flies was a little over 3 miles from our home station.
The buses arrived for us to load up and make the trek back to Ft. Mcnair. Our route took us out the south end of Fort Myer then across Arlington Memorial Bridge. Slightly before we made the turn on to the bridge there is a small window where the foliage and Jefferson Davis Highway open enough that you can see the vicinity of the Pentagon. The memory of that small window and the first sight of the tail of the plane and black pillar of smoke will forever be burned in my mind.
As we made it partway on to the memorial bridge Metro PD stopped us because of a suspicious package in the middle of the bridge. During this 5 or so minutes we were now elevated enough that it was a pretty clear line of sight to where the Pentagon sits. Looking that direction it was hard to make out much through the smoke, out of the pillar of smoke the remaining portion of the plane jutted out which kind of emphasized the terror in an odd way.
Over a short 5 minutes or so, it was identified that the suspicious package was nothing more than a box and that we could be on our way. Our convoy of 5 or 6 buses then headed across the bridge reaching Independence Avenue which headed along the southern end of the Lincoln Memorial and followed along the national mall.
About the time we reached the eastern portion of the National Mall where the current World War II memorial now sits the reality of the chaos set in. Everything within the city was absolute ruckus between the cars honking in a massive rush to make it out of the city and the people running frantically the entire area was pandemonium. It became instantly clear that driving back to Fort Mcnair was not an option. Our entire element quickly de-bused and began a swift run toward our home base.
Our leadership knowing that we needed to avoid the main parts of the city took us on a semi direct route to the rivers edge where we followed the river to the southeast on its north bank. This portion of the river has a concrete path so running was easy. Most all of us had run this path numerous times so we knew what to expect and where to expect it. The one downfall was that I was still battling from Shin Splints which normally would have slowed me down but either the adrenaline of the situation or the fear of the unknown I still do not recall feeling an ounce of pain for the entire run.
I will forever remember shortly after we passed the Fish Market on Main Street and along the pathway that made its way along the north side of the river toward the Titanic Memorial we came across several veterans (this was a commonplace for veterans to hang out, on morning runs we would sometimes joke that they should name it Hero’s way) as we came up to where they stood and as we passed they commenced to whooping and hollering and telling us how it was time to go “kick their ass”.
Less than a half a mile later we had made it back. Now the stress and strain would really come out and the personal strength and resolve would get its first test.
Next, we will delve into the first 48 hours after the attacks, very little sleep, very little to eat and constant worry dominated the minutes.
In some cases, the manifestation of PTS symptoms does not come on right away. In my case still to this day experiences and situations that I had long forgotten will suddenly resurface at what seems to be the oddest times. For a long time, I felt that I had finally gained control of these things but recently I have discovered that certain things can trigger these memories. I am still learning my triggers and as much as I would like to avoid them, I am learning that you can not control all facets of life.