Thoughts From a Veteran on PTSDSubmitted by ralph hornsby on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 12:40
Recently I was asked on Facebook, by someone who had never served, why would Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl want to commit suicide. It made me realize that there was this huge disconnect between what we - soldiers who were there - experienced and the mythos of our experience that the civilian world believes. I completed two tours in Iraq, 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, so some of these experiences might not apply to other times, such as the initial invasion; however, many veterans have fairly similar experiences.
We never see the enemy. I don’t mean ‘never’ like I never see the Skins win a Super Bowl. I mean “never” as in I never knowingly laid eyes on someone who I was sent there to fight despite having spent two years looking for them. Sure we were attacked repeatedly, people were hurt, trucks were destroyed, but never in all the miles we patrolled (~30,000 over two years) did I ever actually see any bad guys. And that’s the problem: for years I drove around waiting to be killed, without any way to stop it. It wasn’t about being better at your job, you could be sleeping or wide awake, it was all about how good the bad guy was. Just take a moment and imagine spending a year or more doing your job, surrounded by people, knowing that people were trying to kill you and your comrades, but having no way to identify them. It’s not something that you ever get used to, and you certainly don’t just leave that there when you return home either.
We love it over there, when we’re not on mission. Other than a few mortar attacks on post, only about a hundred or so out of the 600+ days I was in country, the base was pretty nice. Yes it was a half mile walk to eat and an eighth of a mile to the latrine, but you know how nice it is not to have to do laundry? Just drop it off and pick it up, washed dried and folded, a few days later? We would go work out for an hour, go play Call of Duty at the MWR and watch illegally downloaded movies. No bills, no responsibility, except for missions, it was nice.
Everyone wants out. But you’re stuck. You can’t leave and the gym, the MWR and the PX are the extent of your entertainment options. None of your loved ones are there, there is no sex, there’s no hanging out with friends or any actual time by yourself. This becomes especially hard when a significant life event happens, such as the birth of a child (my two oldest were born while I was in country), their first steps, or negative ones like a girlfriend/wife leaving you/cheating on you, or a death in the family. One of the three suicide attempts I saw while in the service happened when a guy waited in line for two hours (a pretty standard wait time) to call home and talk to his fiancé. She then told him that not only was she leaving him, but that she was pregnant by one of his friends back home whom she had been with since he had left the US five month prior. He walked out of the phone booth, pulled out his M9 and put it to his head; only the quick action by a passing soldier prevented him from doing it.