Carol Megathlin: 'The mission continues'

July 15, 2013 

The message came from Alma, a Texas lady who is supporting a soldier in Afghanistan with care packages, letters, and emails. Her soldier is fine - coming home soon -- but another soldier, a young veteran, recently entered her life. She asked a question about him that rendered me silent for days.

Joseph, the young veteran, is from Florida but had moved to Texas to get the help he needed for his wounds, both physical and mental. He was living with his girlfriend across the street from Alma.

"I got acquainted with this young man through his helping me with chores around my duplex," Alma wrote. "Grass mowing, fence repairs, this and that. I am a widow, 81 years old. Joseph was a man of his word and did what he said he would do. He was wounded and his buddies were killed, and I listened to it all."

Joseph and his girlfriend broke up recently, Alma said. He took an overdose and passed away several days ago.

Situations like this are difficult for most of us to grasp. How to leave a hot battlefield and suddenly lose the sense of intense mission? How to break contact with team members who were closer than family? These human beings were ready to give their very lives to protect one another. Is it any wonder they feel scared, angry and isolated?

he young men's problems are difficult to treat, and too often help is not readily available. Yet Time magazine recently featured an intriguing article that offered a new take on an old remedy for suffering: giving to others.

The program is called "The Mission Continues." It's designed for veterans tormented by anxiety, depression, and guilt, dogged by the sense of displacement due to the lost camaraderie of combat.

The respected psychologist Albert Ellis posited long ago that the best antidote to psychic misery lies in becoming immersed in something larger than oneself.

True, there is little that can match the sense of being vitally important to a dangerous venture on behalf of one's country. But "The Mission Continues" offers veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress a chance to keep giving. Thanks to the support of six-month fellowships, the veterans form teams to help out with community service projects, particularly in the wake of national disasters.

Quoting a young veteran in the Time article, "I was blown away by how much better I felt," Ian recalled. "And I thought, Man, if I could just capture a little bit of that and hold it close to my heart, I think I could do all right. Things could get better."

The emotional reward of giving to others supplants their anguish, perhaps only for a time. But in that time, they glimpse a way forward.

All of us care about the suffering our troops bring home from the battlefield. Unlike Alma, most of us rarely have the opportunity to lay a kind hand on a burdened shoulder. Maybe The Mission Continues could use our help.

Alma's message ended with these words:

"I would love to tell his mother what a fine young man her Joseph was. I cannot get the address of the mother and maybe I should not try, but I put myself in her shoes. I am asking for advice so that I can put 'my wounds' to healing. Did I do enough?"

The monsters got to Joseph before we did; we were too late to reclaim him. And that is a profound tragedy of war.

Do we do enough?

Carol Megathlin, formerly of Americus, is a Georgia writer who now lives in Savannah. For more information on "The Mission Continues," visit www.missioncontinues.org.

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