July 24, 2007

COMBAT REACTION

This from Jules Crittenden struck me:

I realized with all this examination of post-traumatic stress and how much of it there is, and whether its normal or not, I didnít describe what a mild, walking combat reaction case is like.

Itís like this. Being totally wired for months upon years. Like crank, so that you donít fall asleep as much as pass out and you donít wake up as much as become alert. Thinking about different aspects of combat the way some people think about sex, compulsively, repeatedly in the course of the day, while going about your business, holding down a job, acting relatively normal but still freaking people out when you talk about it. Small flashbacks-lite, triggered by various events. In my case, accelerating up the highway, like going on an armored assault, with all the emotions, thoughts and memories, on my way to the various places that took me. More adrenaline then, and other adrenaline bursts at odd times. Thinking about the dead, at least once a day, in a number of different ways, when alone. Seeing their faces, and studying a face to catch the moment when life exited it. Choking up or sometimes sobbing at both expected and unexpected times, and learning to control that. Wishing you were back there. Preferring the company of people who know what that is like. Recognizing in a glance or a word that you both know the same secret, without having to say much about it.

I never had nightmares like some friends did, and in fact have never once dreamt of it. It didnít haunt me, not even the dead, not even when I felt the need to ask some of them their forgiveness. I was fortunate that way, in part maybe because I wrote about it, had plenty of opportunities to talk about it, because that is part of what I do. Over the third and fourth year, most of it significantly subsided, though parts can and do periodically come up. I never felt traumatized as much as I felt I had a great deal to think about, not least the startling discovery that I had enjoyed myself, and also that I had been fundamentally rewired, and had somewhat different perspectives and focus in various matters. As one friend put it, there was life before, and life after. Not good or bad, just different.

And there you have it.

This sounds familiar to me. Especially the "thinking about combat" thing. Sometimes when my husband's quiet, I'll ask what he's thinking about. Usually it will be trivial, but on a couple of occasions he's launched into a thought about how if they'd only turned his tank right instead of going straight on that day back in April, he'd've been more useful to the battle. Three years after the event, he still replays it in his mind and thinks of ways he could've done more.

Posted by Sarah at July 24, 2007 08:08 AM | TrackBack
Comments

I often think about how I could have done more. I also think about the young kids (the PFC's and SPC's). And I also go back and forth between wanting to go back for the adrenaline rush and dreading going back because of hardships.

Posted by: Randy at July 24, 2007 09:26 AM

I almost held it all together...right up until your last comment Sarah...about thinking one could have done more.

CPT Patti (now former Major Patti) still faces that particular demon, apparently feeling that if she'd tried even harder she could have willed days to have 36 hours in them. In the extra hours I imagine she'd have held the hands of every one of her soldiers, rocked them to sleep, donated blood on each's behalf and started college funds for all of their children.

And here I am - amazed at what she accomplished, inspired by her dedication, sacrifice, commitment, and absolute selflessness the likes of which most on this planet, myself included, will never have or give...somehow trying to rationalize away her "irrational" (my judgment) notion that she could have done any more.

I wasn't there. I don't get it (again, my judgment, not hers). I'll NEVER get it. And though I'm her husband and she is my Sweetest Woman on the Planet, in some ways I'll never be as close to her as her soldiers. I may be the love of her life, but I'll never be her Battle Buddy.

As it is I simply have to somehow try to understand that now, three years later, she can speak about it only for 20 minutes or so - and when she trails off into silence, I know the headache has returned...the headache she gets when she reviews the photos, or sees the news - the one that prevents us from watching an entire half hour show on OIF.

Is that PTSD? We don't know. But its our "different" that Jules speaks of.

Could she have done more? She still believes so.

Posted by: Tim Fitzgerald at July 24, 2007 08:04 PM

Jules was embedded with a very good friend of ours during the first push into Baghdad. He's a wonderful writer and one heck of a guy.

Posted by: Non-Essential Equipment at July 25, 2007 01:37 AM

I've tried several times to write a post on supporting our troops and their families but I've never posted it. After a career that ended in 1975, I think I have a perspective of experience and also distance of 31 years after service. With so few troops and their families serving so much time in Iraq, I also feel inadequate to the task.

Our unit was unfortunate in being the most experienced early in the Vietnam War. So we were almost continuously deployed over the next three years. The hard part is never knowing when you would actually get back to your wife and kids.

You do let the war take over your mind and it always takes a lot of time to "decompress" and get back to a normal life. The current deployment schedules must be devastating on family life.
The general public seems totally unaware of the sacrifices beyond the casualties.

My wife of 48 years also served. She supported me in my service, raised our boys, and moved our household effects whenever the Navy decided to move me. She takes great pride in having been a military wife. We both believe the military community is a special place. It is what sustains the mind when all else is tragedy.

I regularly support veteran issues and organizations but I wish there were better ways for the average citizen to show support other than a faded and torn car decal. Maybe just knowing that there are some old vets that do understand your sacrifice is enough? I hope so.

Posted by: RobertD at July 25, 2007 11:26 AM