With the onset of the Holiday Season, we all know that family and friends will be gathering to share in fun and friendship and the traditions of the season. For those of us who have served, it can be a period of mixed feelings. There is of course the excitement of seeing people we haven’t spent as much time with as we would have liked, the exchanging of gifts, and Holiday meals. For me, I also know that when the holidays come around, I can’t help but remember times in the past when I was deployed and missing all of this, trying to create some version of it in a dusty corner of the world. I am grateful for the time I have with friends and family at home, but also can’t help but think about some of the people that I was deployed with who are no longer around to share in the Holidays.
For all the joy of the season, there are also documented trends of spikes in depression, feelings of loneliness, and in the worst of cases, suicide. Some of the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can worsen during the Holiday Season. Emotional isolation, hypervigilance, depression, and anxiety in crowds can be compounded in a time when many people are having fun and relaxing. It can create some difficult emotional and psychological challenges for some in the Veteran Community; yet many veterans don’t talk about this or seek the help that could very well improve their situation.
When we found ourselves in a tight spot while deployed, we did not hesitate to bring to bear all the resources at our disposal to succeed. When a warrior in ground combat begins taking fire, they are conditioned to immediately call out the threat to their comrades around them with distance and direction. The element leader calls in a SALT (Size, Activity, Location, Time) or SALUTE (Size, Activity, Location, Time, Uniforms, Equipment) report to their higher headquarters. Echelons of fire support were brought online from mortars and artillery, to rotary wing and fixed wing close air support (CAS), both manned and unmanned, from in country and across the theater. Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) availability was checked should there be a casualty in need of assistance. If there were a casualty, immediate aid was rendered by a buddy and an on-site medic, and if needed, CASEVAC was immediately dispatched. Adjacent units in the area were notified should assistance be needed, and a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) was often on stand-by and ready to move in to provide reinforcing assistance. A wounded team member would be treated on site and could be moved through echelons of care from buddy aid, by MEDEVAC to an aid station, to a Role III field hospital, to Germany and all the way back to the United States. So supportive was the treatment system that we made sure anyone suffering a wound received all the best care available as quickly as possible. And yet…
Many veterans carry with them wounds that still cause pain and suffering. Aside from the physical damage of wounds and injuries that many of us live with from our service, there remains the emotional and psychological toll of our service and sacrifice that often goes undiscussed and unaddressed. In this regard, many of our comrades find themselves alone and unsupported carrying the invisible yet very real wounds of war and moral injury. This is despite the echelons of assets available to them to address this threat, similar to what was provided in combat theaters. In the worst cases, there is a lingering weapon with a 7,000-mile range that has followed them back and remains a threat. It is recognized as PTSD and has a host of challenges that come with it.
In combat, we are not asked to go into the fight alone and unsupported, and we would not turn down assets that would assure the fight goes in our favor. But all too often, in an ongoing internal fight experienced by veterans that have returned home, they don’t share their thoughts and feelings. Often, friends and family see a change in them, but hesitate to start the conversation. Failure to address this need can be detrimental to those who have given so much of themselves. The words of encouragement towards our veterans must reinforce a constant stream of support for them and encourage their efforts to seek the assets at their disposal while continuing to fight and win the battles they may still be in. As veterans, when we are in a struggle, we need to remember to call for the overwhelming support that will tip the fight in our favor. The same as we would have in combat.
If you’re in contact with a threat, call out to your buddies the nature of the threat. Similarly, buddies need to watch out for each other and respond when one is in contact with a threat. Provide immediate buddy aid. Talk and stay by their side. Call for more assets if needed. . Seek local counseling or find a veteran’s support group. Call in the supporting assets that are ready now, in position, and standing by, such as the Veterans Administration PTSD online education site, local clinic or hospital in your area. Reach out to veteran advocacy groups like Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and others. Levels of response, like levels of CAS, exist to help reduce the threat. Weekly or monthly in-person or Telehealth check-ins provide consistent and reliable support. Support groups, intensive outpatient programs such as Emory Hospital’s Veterans Intensive Outpatient Program partnered with WWP, or Mass General’s Veteran PTSD Program partnered with Run to Home Base are also good support alternatives. Many of these are fully funded either through the VA or private donations. The assets are there. Find groups that keep veterans engaged with each other and interests, such as Casting for a Cause or any of their partner organizations.
In combat, we called our buddies, mortars and artillery, CAS, MEDEVAC, QRF and adjacent units to address the threat and win the fight. If you can do all that, you can use a phone call for the help that you deserve from all the assets at your disposal.
Use the assets to engage the threat and win the fight. We owe it to ourselves, our friends and families, and those who didn’t come home, to live the life they would want us to. Make this your gift to everyone, including yourself, this Holiday season and be well.
© 2022 William J. Carty, Jr.