I spoke with a Soldier, a seasoned Ranger NCO, who participated in the first phase of combat operations in Iraq.
He said he saw things that would change him forever. All Soldiers I speak with, who have been to Iraq or Afghanistan, make similar comments — but he went further.He said sometimes he sees, out of the corner of his eye, Iraqi soldiers emerging from the wood line at his quarters. When he looks directly, there is no one there. He feels embarrassed.
Once, when a neighbor was grilling chicken, he had a flashback to a time when he was exposed to the smell of burning human flesh. He said he instinctively hit the deck in a cold sweat when he heard the sounds of gunnery at night. Lying there crying, he felt foolish. His reactions are common for those exposed to the trauma of combat. Obviously, this was a strain on him, his work and his family. He realized he needed professional help. Thank goodness the stigma of behavioral medicine is beginning to leave and Soldiers can find help without fear of destroying careers.
One Soldier who works as a drill sergeant told me he was involuntarily extended on the trail and was unsure how his family would cope. The stress of being a drill sergeant, father and husband was overwhelming and he felt like he was not performing well in any of the three roles. His wife was threatening to leave him.
Another spouse said she couldn’t handle the stress of her husband’s work schedule. “This assignment was supposed to be a break for us sometimes we’d both rather he be deployed than to be at home for four hours each day and missing from the rest of our life,” she said.
Recently, I heard a story on the radio of a Soldier returning from Iraq. The Soldier said she experienced a lot of traumatic events. After she returned home, she said “I feel a constant anger in my chest.” She didn’t care about anything. Her husband said he didn’t know her anymore and had fallen out of love with her. He filed for divorce. She began drinking excessively.
Military families deal with more stressors than ever before. From post-traumatic stress disorder to the cumulative affects of hard yearlong separations due to deployments, our families are wrestling with stress. These stories sound gloomy, but I want to tell you there is hope, but it takes work and initiative. I’d like to offer encouragement and advice for those feeling stressed out.
The first thing you need to know is you must manage stress. Avoiding or ignoring it never gets rid of it. Deal with stress in a healthy way before it begins to manifest.
Most people simply do nothing. Stress accumulates and often, at the worst place and time, it manifests. I recommend visiting websites like www.militaryonesource.com, www.realwarriors.net or www.hooah4health.com and reading about the excellent stress management techniques presented.
Practice the techniques. Do them daily. Think of your life as a cup. The stress of life is poured into your cup until it begins to overflow. You must choose to empty the cup by regularly practicing stress-management techniques like those listed on the sites mentioned above — prayer, meditation, exercise or rhythmic breathing.
Sometimes, when the trauma is great, people need more help than what techniques alone can give.
I offer two suggestions: refer yourself to the professionals at Behavioral Medicine or investigate the free, off-post, non-military counseling offered for Soldiers and family members through Military One Source.
Rarely do people avoid the doctor when they find a lump; rather, they see the doctor and get help immediately. Dealing with PTSD requires the same urgency. Your career will not end your visit to a behavioral specialist as a self-referral is confidential.
Finally, I would remind you to remember the power of prayer and the role God plays in healing people who are hurting. Your unit chaplain, civilian minister, and Family Life chaplain can be of great help when you are suffering. Seek spiritual help for the hurting emotions and the hard questions of life. God is a very present help in times of trouble. Take the initiative in dealing with stress before your cup overflows. If you need help, reach out and ask. Know that agencies on and off post stand ready to help you. You don’t have to feel alone and helpless. Remember, you can always talk in strict confidence with your unit or Family Life chaplain.
To contact your Family Life chaplain, call 545-1760.