Welcome to chapter 1
Let us start with why, as you will learn the battle with PTSD is much deeper and influential than many will know. Add to this Traumatic Brain Injury which you will hear me refer to as TBI that influences and exacerbates the issue within PTSD.
Let us start with something that many may or may not know. PTSD is not strictly a combat or military-related injury. (Note this is an injury, it is not a condition, nor it is an illness)
I personally believe that PTSD comes in different levels and from what I have learned over the years how severe the injury has to do with the individual involved as well as the severity of the trauma. Something that I feel that is pertinent is that PTSD within military personnel may have a direct connection with the amount and consistency of trauma that they are exposed too. The reality is many people battle with PTSD and do so from various avenues, anything from witnessing an atrocious event or sexual trauma can cause a PTSD injury.
This tail is only about how my life leading up to these injuries has been affected.
Growing up in what many would consider a normal American life would be what many would consider my background. My entire youth was based around farming, ranching and sustaining from within as a family. With an upbringing circulated around a family that had suffered severely from the results of the Vietnam war the military and service probably should have the last thing on my mind. However, the desire to serve our country ran deep in my veins from birth. I may have taken the long route to my military service, but I made it there.
Finally, in my mid-twenties, the commitment to join the military came all to clear. In the fall of 2000, I made the nerve-racking trip to the recruiter with the goal of raising my hand and committing a part of my life to serve our country. In my preparation for service, I had often heard of a very prestigious unit in Washington D.C. This unit represented the Army to America and through the world through ceremonial jobs. The little information I had was that the best way to get to this unit was by committing my Army career to the Infantry. For those who are not familiar with military jobs, the army has well over 200 different jobs that one can attempt to get. These jobs are based on test scores and specific requirements that qualify one for the occupation. Each specific job comes with coding that becomes the common vernacular when talking about jobs, for example, the code for an infantryman is 11B, thus when you hear two military people meet and ask “what was your MOS”, they are essentially asking what job they did while serving in the military.
For additional information, the Infantry is what many consider the lowest brow job within the Army. Essentially the job requirements for this occupation are simple, be able to walk and chew gum. The Infantry is the workhorse of the Army, this job is pretty much the front-line life, living for a fight, shooting and blowing stuff up. In order to provide you an explanation of what the Infantry job requires next time you watch a war movie and you see those guys running toward the enemy and toward the bullets, simply put those are most likely Infantrymen.
When I decided to serve, something about the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) called to me. During my initial meetings with the recruiter, it was made clear to me that I was far from qualified to serve in this unit. I was told I was not tall enough and that my academic scores were less than the minimum. This left me with a simple decision or maybe a not such a simple decision of what military job I may want. The reality is growing up with a rifle in my hand and always accepting the physical challenges the clear-cut path of going into the Infantry seemed simple.
Looking back maybe being so impulsive and proud may have been a predestination of where I am today. I spent a lot of my youth around veterans who served in Vietnam, many of them were very closed about their experiences and the signs and symptoms of PTSD very well should have been very apparent. On occasion during a drinking binge I would see the aftereffects of combat in these guys when their alcohol-induced emotional rants would go on. I can even recall hearing more than once that joining the military was a bad thing and how “Infantrymen” were nothing more than disposable.
Even with this Infantry seemed like the only choice.
Facing my first rejection of military service I accepted what I thought was my future in the military as a simple ground-pounding grunt. Boy was I in for a surprise.
In the middle of the fall of 2000 I arrived in Fort Benning Georgia for basic training, I had it set in my mind that for 14 weeks I would be challenged and tested but at the end I would find a sense of accomplishment as well as be able to paste my name amongst many who have dawned the uniform like so many before. Day 1 in Georgia opened my eyes to a lot of reality. On day one myself and a large group of guys were separated from the rest of our arriving group and placed into a large conference room. As we sat quietly wondering what our fate was to be we were greeted by a spectacle of a soldier. His first words were not hello or any type of warm greeting, it was nothing more than harsh words and yelling. His instructions quickly had us lined up on a wall where he walked in front of each man and looked them over. His unfiltered responses to most of my fellow recruits were things like, “you are to heavy, you are too ugly,” he would even point out specific flaws to individuals. If he found a flaw in the individual, he would quickly dismiss you to leave and he expected you to do so promptly.
Once he had whittled the group from about 50 down to 5 or 6 he invited us into his office. He then went on to inform us all that if we were interested in accepting the physical challenge of meeting the requirement for the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) we were invited to apply for a position.
In less than a week of being in the Army, the harsh reality was that not everyone in the military is honest. I soon found out that the recruiter who “informed” me I was not qualified for The Old Guard was basically too lazy to go through the steps to find out how to help me with my goal. His easy solution was to tell me I could not get in and push me in the direction he felt I should go. It was during this course of action that I learned that my test scores provided me pretty much any job I wanted in the Army and prior to ever selecting the Infantry I had a lot of options.
Fourteen weeks later I meet the qualifications and accept my assignment in Washington D.C.
In the next installment we will talk a little about the small trials that left an impact me through basic training and how arriving at my first unit opened the doors of even more great moments in life. We will also open a small crack in the door about the horrible events and impacts of September 11th.
I leave you with this to think on, look back over the years and think about the one bad nightmare that even when you woke up, and tried to fall back to sleep the nightmare resurfaced. When I have bad periods, this is daily life. There is a fear to go to sleep and relive things, the more tired you get the more the nightmares manifest into what I call daymares.
Yes, the Day mares or “flashbacks” are tough. For some, they may be what you have seen in the Hollywood movies but mine have never been that severe. In my case activities like driving through intersections, smells or certain areas will take my mind back to bad things.