13 May 2009

Stresssssss and War...

From the Soldier side: OK, I don't normally do post 2 days in a row...but some recent news from the Sand Box has had me thinking alot. Since alot of the good civilian folks out there don't really know what the military has done and is doing about stress...let me say some things.

First of all, those who've read my blog for awhile know I don't bullshit. If I see something that's wrong, I'll tell you. That's the main reason I haven't been promoted alot in the Army National Guard. If I see a pile of dog do-do...I'll tell you not to step in it. Some commanders I've seen had wanted to ignore the do-do and step right into it.

In the past, the Army has come up with some really dumbass ideas for dealing with stress. Years ago soldiers in Basic Training were issued a "Stress Card." It was a heat sensitive card that turned different colors. The idea was if you were stressed, and touched this card, it would go black or something...meaning you were stressed. Time out.

Well, in war you're going to have stress. If somebody went to war and was never stressed out, I would want them to go see a mental health professional. Every time I went "outside the wire" in Iraq I was stressed. But I was also happy. I was happy to get away from the REMF idiots who stayed on the camps. I knew when we left, we were on our own...our lives depended on each other. We didn't have Sergeant Majors looking out our boot laces or making sure our Humvees were washed and cleaned. We were on our own. None of them assholes were leaving the camp and I actually felt good to get away from them. I knew it was the assholeinsurgent's job to try to kill us. They were doing there job and we were doing ours. But the bullshit on the camp was something I couldn't stand---it stressed me out! (In Bosnia my goal was to go outside the wire every day.)

One of the things I noticed about half way through my year long tour in Iraq was...whenever the unit had a "problem child" they would give them to me. Why? Did they think I was every one's dad? Was I just too friggen calm, cool and collected? Did they think I could fix any body's malfunction? After 6 months I considered becoming a screw up...but I just couldn't do it. I had some pride in my duty and always thought I could fix any problem. I couldn't.

About 4 or 5 months into our tour, my duty assignment was changed. I went from doing "MMKR" (Mobil Mess Kit Repair) to "MKRI" (Mess Kit Repair Investigations) So I had to come up with a new team because they were going to keep the team I had doing what they were doing. I had to start a new job from scratch but they gave me more soldiers to do it with. I got to keep my "terp" because he asked to stay with me.

One of the troopers they gave me was a very young PFC who had just gotten out of school a few weeks before the deployment. He hadn't been in the Regular Army very long. He was still getting used to being away from his mom and stuff. They had pulled the PFC off another team who had just returned from Mosoul, Iraq (where the "Wicked Witch of the West" had been in charge. See my older posting) I knew anyone who had to work under the Witch would have been stressed out. If it was Sunday in Church, she would have done something to make it stressful...she was a crazy person who had to make everyone else around her suffer her mental problems. If I had run into the witch on my civilian police job, I would have taken her to the county mental health ward.

Well, anyway, this PFC had been working under the witchbitch. He had a team leader who didn't know how to protect her troops from bullshit. The PFC cracked. He had threatened to kill himself. They sent him back to Baghdad and took away his rifle. They had him seeing a "shrink" then returned him to duty and stuck him on my team...but never told me why.

A few weeks later his former team leader came back to Baghdad to go on Leave. She told me what had happened. She didn't know what to do with the PFC because she had never been properly trained on what to do. I had been trained...but not by the US Army. I had been given lots of training on dealing with mental health problems in my civilian cop job. I applied that knowledge on the PFC. If you look in the above photo, the PFC is the guy to the left near the Humvee. This is on one of our missions going from Fallujah to Al Asad Iraq on a convoy. (That's a long ass convoy for Iraq.)

Was the PFC scared? Was he stressed out? Was he ready to pee his pants? Nope. At this time he wanted to go with me...he wanted to do good. Why? Because I took care of his ass. I let him talk to me and tell me his problems....what was bothering him. I never treated him like shit...I treated him like a son. He wanted to prove to me that he was a good soldier and could do his job. He did well and I'm glad I was able to have him on my team. Smart kid.

So... what's my words of wisdom on dealing with those who are stressed out? You have to give a shit.

UPDATED NOTE: For those who didn't know, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afganastan, the soldiers are always armed on the camps. In most places in the "real wars" they had unloaded weapons, but always had to have at least one mag with them. We got "checked" by guards, sergeant majors and anybody else who had nothing else to do. In the really small camps we had loaded weapons all the time. For those not aware- IT IS A COMBAT ZONE!!! YOU HAVE TO HAVE REAL GUNS WITH REAL BULLETS!


coffeypot said...

Many a man or woman's attitude toward the service, tour of duty and even their whole career is affected by the leadership they first encounter when going live after boot. The witch seems to me to be more concerned about her career than taking a little time to train the young recruit. As you know, training your team is of paramount importance in safety, team coherence and the ability to get the job done with fewer casualties. You did a good job.

I can see (read) the concern you and Mike feel concerning the Camp Liberty thing. Similar things happened in WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and will always happen when men get together in the process of killing bad guys. It is sad, but it cannot be totally avoided. I will be willing to guess that the kid was screwed up before he joined the Army. There are thousands of kids going through the same things all combat veterans have gone though since the cave men ruled the earth, and they have to learn ways to deal with their demons and still lead a productive life.

But what do I know? I served on a destroyer during peace-time and the beginning of Viet Nam. You know much more about this situation, but, like I ask Mike, why are men carrying loaded weapons to a stress class?

Anonymous said...

1. Served prior to PTSD awareness.
2. Never heard of anyone going off their rocker and blowing people away.
3. Long Binh jail hosted a bunch of bad-ass murderers on their way back to Leavenworth or the like.
4. Their victims tended to be B-Girls or guys unlucky enough to get in their way.
5. Heard stories about fragging -didn't happen where I was. The leadership wasn't good -but we considered them poor chumps, pretty much trying to get along. That's what we were doing, too.
6. It was 70-71, we were drawing down and nobody wanted to be the last one killed.
7. One reason why I joined the Marines, the next go-round. Wanted to serve in a good unit. That sort of worked out.
8. A year or so ago was talking to an OIF vet. He looked mid-twenties. Wife was standing behind him.
9. Asked him how he was adjusting after his hard 15 months. He thought he was doing okay.
10. Asked if he was having trouble sleeping. Wife nods.
11. Impatient, angry a lot. Wife nods.
12. Told him went through the same crap. Took me about 5 years to get back to normal. Didn't tell him I was no sweet heart to begin with, so normal wasn't anything to write home about.
13. Some of the guys I served with are still broken. A few weren't affected much. I'd say my experience was about average.
14. The OIF fellow was lucky in that he had a pretty, young wife who was standing by him.
15. Until I was earning a decent wage, the fair sex wanted nothing to do with me.
16. Still react very badly, when I'm surprised. After 40-odd years, doubt that will change.
17. The troops rate anything that can smooth out the bumps. Suspect, apart from drugging people into insensibility, folks that go in harms way will have to find ways to live with what they experience.
18. Great flying pig story.
V/R J West