It's been said the best resource for reaching the psyche of a combat veteran suffering from PTSD is a family member. While in some cases this may be true, in many cases it couldn't be further from the truth. Many combat veterans will never openly share the horrors they experienced with those they love most. In some cases, they may even lose the natural ability to show affection due to the constant battle they are experiencing within.
Much like our mantra, "the battle doesn't always end on the battlefield" for our experienced combat veterans. Many find they are very good at what they do, and develop a passion for military service. Their brothers and sisters in arms become as much a part of them as their own wives and children back home. For the immediate family members, the importance of the bond and the close frequent fellowship with this extended family is often lost and creates a barrier between them.
After joining the military, I always wondered why they felt that it was important for me to get my Commander or First Sergeant's permission prior to getting married. Now that I'm older and hopefully a bit wiser, I see the value in getting a soldier to understand the impact marriage and a family can have on their ability to perform their job. It's also important that a prospective spouse be aware of the impact the service members job can have on a family. I personally experienced this after joining Company H, 121st Infantry Long Range Recon and Surveillance (LRRS). Although this was a National Guard unit, it was demanding. Additional drill weekends, extended drill weekends, annual training...often more than annually, and isolation training often kept me away from my family and left me exhausted. My passion for being an Infantryman just as many servicemembers were returning from Desert Storm, overshadowed everything else that previously demanded my attention....even my family. My team provided me with the experience of becoming their family, with each of us looking out for the other and keeping any secrets that we discovered about one another to ourselves.
Being a fan of country music and also being raised on gospel and becoming accustomed to listening to the Bill Gaither Vocal Band meant I was in for an experience like no other. I would first realize this after loading on a bus with the unit to make a 4 hour ride to Anniston Alabama for a training weekend. We received our Operation Order prior to departure with each of our 6-man team having time to digest and run through their particular role in the upcoming training event. After the drone of my fellow soldiers voices faded into the background of the rolling bus, I began to study my SOI in preparation for the training mission because being the new guy, I did not know what to expect. I was simply told, "Know the mission of each man on your team, just in case you have to take over their position." Being one of the older soldiers, I had played in that choir before, only to find as a PFC that I would be faced with acting as the Team Leader.
As we we made our way through the nightmare of Atlanta traffic, I was suddenly faced with what I thought was the absolute worst sound to my ears. Being a fan of country music, I had never heard the sound of Dead Pool screaming, "Let the bodies hit the floor!" I would later become accustomed to this new style of bonding and even looked forward to the song being played as we prepared for mock battles. This is when I discovered how easy it was to lead a totally different life away from home by clearing your mind of all things civilian and getting into the mindset that would prepare you to focus on the battle at hand. This would become a regular occurrence during my time with the unit and through various other phases in my military career. I learned to compartmentalize and switch things off that may otherwise impact my ability to perform. Unfortunately, this also became routine in my family life, ultimately leading to divorce and separation from my own children.
Our veterans and service members are a valuable asset to the independence and freedoms of our nation. With their commitment to serve came habits and traits that were no longer just something they did on command, but became an important part of who they had become. While some are able to adapt and overcome as they enter civilian life, many more can no longer do so. They sit with their backs to a wall while eating in a restaurant, staring at the door each time someone walks in, picking up on any movement that catches their peripheral vision. The sounds around them become magnified and as they are conditioned to listen and absorb events taking place in their surroundings. The 9mm secured in its holster tucked away at their side is not only carrying a magazine, but also has a round in the chamber and is safetied in the cocked and locked position. While this is typical of any soldier that learned to live in a war zone, it may seem paranoid to those friends and family members who know them. This hyper-awareness can be quite haunting as that feeling of needing to always be prepared never allows them to relax, decompartmentalize and let their guard down.
This is only one of may issues experience by our veterans who have served in combat. At Casting for a Cause, it is our desire to provide a recreational outlet through fishing, welcoming family to join when appropriate. The wide open space of the oceans, rivers and creeks allows the vet to see everything, hear everything and enjoy everything as they let down their guard and relax. The camaraderie of sharing war stories, learning new tips and tricks and of course catching fish, allows them to bond with us and build a trust that may not be established otherwise. As stated in a previous blog post, although we may share photos of our interactions; discussions related to psychological well-being, physical limitations, haunting histories and other debilitating issues remain confidential. We often follow our interactions with a phone call to ensure things are going well. We continue to reach out to the community for support so that we can continue to provide quality recreational enjoyment that ultimately assists in the healing process. Please don't become one of the 22 veterans a day that are lost to suicide. Give us a call at 912-996-3442 and let us schedule a trip to get you or your loved one on the water.