Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Having served 14 years in the military, I've had an opportunity to witness heroes being awarded for uncommon valor and for operating outside of the call of duty. We often look at our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines as someone who has served selflessly, with unmatched devotion and dedication to service. However, we often forget the human side that often compartmentalizes their own problems so that others do not think less of them. This ultimately results in an emotional download of sorts that may lead to domestic abuse, drugs, alcoholism or even suicide.
You may wonder why anyone should be so selfish as not to share their emotions, but until you have served in their respective branch of the military and performed the same job in the same conditions as they have, you will never fully understand their need to lock things away. For many, it starts as early as basic training. As a young adult, you enter a world that is nothing like anything most people have ever experienced. For me it began with my arrival to Basic Training dressed in civilian clothes and being called a rainbow due to the array of colors that each of us were wearing as we walked off the bus. That kind Drill Instructor that your recruiter told you about was out of the office for some reason and you now had a father figure that felt he should better resemble Gunnery Sergeant Highway as he taught you the basics of military service and pushed you beyond anything you ever expected you were capable of doing. With that, I learned to push emotion aside and never let your battle buddies see you cry, hear you whimper or complain about a little pain.
Imagine if it were you. The move from Basic Training to your technical training school is much like moving from high school to college. Graduation comes and you transfer to your first real duty station. Transferring from a stateside assignment to the battle field is a different matter altogether. You've found purpose and you want to be the best you can be at whatever your do. After all, it could mean the difference between life and death of your team. However, fear runs rampant within you as you work to get familiar with your surroundings, identify who is hostile and who is not, ensure your gear is clean and in perfect working condition, only to realize you haven't even left the Forward Operating Base yet. This is your safe haven, where you come to let it all out after a patrol or some other mission. This is where you share your secrets with your buddies and learn a few of theirs. This is also where you as a new recruit will shed tears for those you know and maybe even those you have loved who have fallen. You will take part in numerous excursions and see things that most only see play out in Hollywood movies by actors too spoiled to realize what military service really means. With each hostile encounter or roadside bomb, a part of you diminishes as your view of the world and life itself begins to change. You look forward to the return home, only to find after you return stateside that you will deploy again in just a matter of months.
After returning for multiple tours, you find you are no longer the new recruit, but now lead a team of them. With each life lost under your direction or command, you begin to lose the desire to make friends. It seems that if you do, they end up getting maimed or killed. You know you have entered a dark place, and now return to the battlefield regularly because it is where you are most comfortable. You've lost the ability to shed tears although you still care. You've learned to keep quiet or downplay specific events as you try and keep your team together.
Three tours later you return home once again to find your spouse sees you differently. They don't understand why you won't open up to them and talk about what you have seen. You don't realize you have changed so drastically that you need some help finding peace to escape the battle that rages within you. Your purpose in life has been altered and you don't know how to accept it. This leads to nights of self-isolation, alcohol and reliving the past. No one in your family understands what's going on and you are no longer conditioned to share. Compartmentalizing has taken its toll on you and you find yourself feeling lost and out of control. The nation has labeled you a hero, but you feel as though you have failed those around you that did not survive, or may even feel guilty about the lives that you had to take during battle. They still live as ghosts within the far reaches of your mind and haunt your thoughts at the most inopportune moments. No, our veterans are not just heroes. They are real people just like any one of us, and many of them carry the burden of war on their shoulders.
As I stated, you will not understand until you have served the time in their shoes. At Casting for a Cause, we realize the tough exterior that may seem normal during routine conversations just might not tell the real story. That's why we provide a recreational outlet for veterans among their peers to enjoy camaraderie and return once again to the experience of adrenaline rushing through the body. We listen and hold all conversations to the highest level of confidentiality. We become a buddy to help you through your battles, and will provide chaplain assistance when requested. We enlist the help of health professionals in the community to assist with any physical needs you may have while fishing, and we hold them to the same high standards of confidentiality. Our trips are designed to be a part of the solution and never a part of the problem. If you or someone you know needs our help, please call us at (912) 996-3442. Disabled veterans or veterans and active duty service members experiencing the effects of PTSD get priority. Don't walk the battlefield alone. We have your six, but we need you to link up and make contact.