I have seen Soldiers go to and come home from combat, I myself have done it 4 times, and it still amazes me just unprepared not only the Army is, but also the country is for our return. We are not returning from a vacation, or a sabbatical or from college. We are coming home from what is for a lot of us the hardest most terrifying experience of our lives. When we get home everyone expects us to be the same person we were when we left. That does not happen, everyone who goes into combat changes, some changes are small, and some changes are huge, but there are changes. When we get home to people who don’t understand, people who will never experience what we did, we can’t always tell our whole story, and for some of us not getting that story out eats at us. The untold stories, good or bad, terrifying or happy, are now a part of us and we yearn to share them but we don’t know how. Most of us are the type “A” personality, we can handle anything life throws at us, we take on the world and we win! We don’t have problems and the stories we want to tell but can’t, that are eating away at us are one more enemy we WILL defeat, and if we can’t share it we will kill it on our own. We are too strong to get, (said in hushed tones) PTSD, weak-willed people with Tiny Heart Syndrome get that, not us, we are warriors, we prevail, and will not be taken out by an ailment you can’t even see.
So we sit alone, even when out with a group of people we are still alone, because they have no idea what we went through and never could, and I pray they never have to see what I saw, yet in a crowd we are still alone. We don’t know how to get the demons in our heads out, so we self medicate, drinking enough alcohol to kill a normal man, or having gotten no relief from alcohol we turn to drugs, marijuana, heroine, cocaine, or we abuse the pain and sleeping pills the Army docs throw at us. And we keep it in, and it continues to eat at us, and the drugs or the drinking cover up what we don’t want to think about, things we don’t want to let out, because we don’t want normal society to look at us like we are animals, or murderers, or killers, or worse. We don’t know how to tell anyone, and that pushes us farther away from everyone who cares, but would they care if they knew what we did over there? So we continue to drink and drug, and it gets worse, and it takes more for us to drown out the demons screaming in our heads. We can’t tell anyone because we’ll look weak if we ask for help. So we sink deeper, and the demons get worse. Still no one really knows what we are going through, how could they?
Even our superiors are fooled into thinking nothing is wrong, not that they would actively encourage us to get help, that would make them look bad, make them look ineffective, “Colonel Blah Blah you had 5 Soldiers go to Behavioral Health for mental issues, why are you allowing this? What is wrong with you, you must not be the leader we thought you were!” Yes the Army touts it’s advancements in treating Traumatic Brain Injuries, and it boasts of it’s “New and Improved Behavioral Health Services,” but it still frowns on soldiers using them. Why? People are what the Army runs on, with out Soldiers all you have is a bunch of useless equipment.
I knew I had a problem when I was spending more on alcohol each month than I was on my rent and car payment combined. I was drinking at least 30 beers a night, and on some nights more, way more. I took my empty beer cans back at the end of one month and got almost $60 in return fees, in NY you get a nickel for each can. I know I am not the only one who had a substance problem, but in the Army drinking alcohol is expected, Soldiers can be heard comparing drinking stories on a daily basis, and the majority of them have a problem. I know Soldiers who never drank a drop before deploying, only to come back a raging alcoholic. I went to my First Sergeant and told him me and my therapist decided I needed to go to rehab because I was an alcoholic and needed help. His first response was, “You drink?” I asked him how he didn’t notice and he said he just didn’t. Then he said he was an alcoholic also, and asked how much I drank, when I told him he choked. If I can drink that much and no one know, how the hell could these young kids ever get help. I know for a fact with as much as I drank I was never sober going to work before I went to rehab and no one noticed. This is a problem. These young kids given the power of life and death over their enemies, they will never admit to needing help. If the leadership is blind then these kids have no hope. I decided that I would help myself, and then I would help my Soldiers.
Going to rehab is a sign of weakness in the civilian world, how must it look in the Army. Well I decided to change that. I did not hide the fact I was going to rehab, in fact I broadcast it. I am a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, I had 40 Soldiers working for me in combat, I have been awarded Medals for Valor in combat, I volunteered for combat 4 times when I never had to go once. I dare any one to tell me I am weak-willed, or I have Tiny Heart Syndrome, I dare you. My whole life I wanted to be a Soldier, and now that I am responsible for my Soldiers I WILL lead them, whether by teaching or by example, I WILL show them the right thing to do. I WILL SHOW THEM HOW TO COME HOME. The soldiers who come back with these problems, PTSD, alcoholism, or drug abuse will never be home. We came back but we never came home.