Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reflections on Independence and Comrades

On this Independence Day, I am reflecting on the incredible blessing of being free - of being able to go online and write about my thoughts and feelings - and I remain in awe of the men and women who have and who continue to stand in harm's way to guarantee my freedom.

For Father's Day, my daughter gave me Sebastian Junger's book War.  War is the story of a single platoon in combat over fifteen months in Afghanistan and gets to the dirt and mud of being a combat infantryman.  In the third chapter, Junger talks about psychiatric casualties and I was surprised to learn that logistics warriors suffer greater psychiatric cases per physical casualty than do front-line troops.

"The primary factor determining breakdown in combat does not appear to be the objective level of danger so much as the feeling -- even the illusion -- of control...among men who are dependent on one another for their safety -- all combat soldiers, essentially -- there is often an unspoken agreement to stick together no matter what.  The reassurance that you will never be abandoned seems to help men act in ways that serve the whole unit rather than just themselves" (War, p123-124).

We become dependent upon one another for safety, we make a pact to watch each other's back - no matter what - and then the day comes when military service ends, either abruptly due to injury or planned due to expiration of enlistment.  When that happens, the process is called discharge, severance, separation and that is exactly what happens.  The pact is not broken, but it is fragmented.  A sense of control is gone, purpose is gone, it is no longer possible to watch each other's back.  Closely knit individuals scatter to the four winds - only now they carry the reminders of their service in physical scars, in movies that flow through the mind during sleep, in spontaneous reactions to sounds, smells, sights that remind them of combat.  Few in their new civilian lives understand or even seem to care, and the new PS3 game due out soon seems to be of more importance that the fact that soldiers still serve and die on the other side of the world.

Small wonder it is, then that a new veteran has difficulty making the transition out, difficulty finding a great job that returns a small sense of the purpose he or she felt while serving - but what a tragedy it is when that veteran, fighting too many demons alone decides the only way out is to take their own life.

We can do better - we MUST do better.  We swore we would never leave a fallen comrade - now let us dedicate ourselves to preventing that fall by never leaving them now.  Join with me to prevent veteran suicide and reduce veteran unemployment.

Rangers Lead the Way,