Re-acclimation from combat to civilian life is very difficult both for those returning and those welcoming them. As I travel and speak I am often asked why PTSD and other problems exist today with military personnel when it seemed absent before Vietnam war. This is a difficult question to answer. But my usual response confronts the speed of the return from the battlefield to home. From World War One to Vietnam, it often took months for the combatants to return home. This gave them time to sit and talk about their experiences with those who shared them. Men haunted with visions of war could debrief in an environment where there was no judgment, total acceptance, and freedom to release pent up emotions. This debriefing would not erase the memories; it would just help bring them into a manageable place before arriving home. This was important because the families would then not have to deal with a traumatized returnee. This is not to say that those returning to civilian life didn’t struggle. Combat is a life altering experience. It affects all the senses. The taste and smells of war, the sights and feelings of war, and certainly the sounds of war all lead to a life change. And there are triggers which can cause each one of these to appear throughout the soldier’s lifetime. These flashbacks can lead to panic attacks and hyper-vigilance, which is the perpetual scanning of the environment to search for sights, sounds, people, behaviors, smells or anything else that is reminiscent of threat or trauma.
Today, a soldier can be in brutal combat one day, and at home the next day. This creates the potential for serious problems which can be seen in the rise in suicides and divorces among those who have served in war. That’s the problem – so what is the answer?
First, as civilians, we must educate ourselves to help. And everyone can be part of making life better both for those returning and those welcoming them home. The most important thing is to learn to listen. Listening is the act of hearing both what is said and that which is unsaid. A good listener is adept at reading those communicating and speaking only when they have a well thought out response. Secondly, it is important to provide an environment where it is safe to open up. This is exactly why Mission Force has centers which operate around military installations. We provide the environment for openness and camaraderie for the warrior and families. When possible, we purchase properties which have rivers and lakes, streams, fire pits and walking trails. These are helpful when attempting to mitigate some of the tensions warriors have.
Bottomline: As civilians, we owe those who serve in the military. Whether you agree with the situation surrounding their service or not, our nation is free because of them. My encouragement is that you engage in the battle for those who give us our freedoms. Please don’t believe the lie that you can’t do anything — because you can.
Something to think about: “The hardest part, by far, is to make the bad pictures go away. In war time, the world is one big long horror movie, image after image. If this is anything like Vietnam, I’m in for a lifetime of wee-hour creeps.”
— Tim O’Brien, Vietnam Veteran.
Greg Wark, Executive Director Mission Force
To learn more about Mission Force or to donate to our rebuild campaign, please visit https://missionforce.org
About Mission Force:
Since 1996, Mission Force has helped service men and women across America successfully transition to civilian life so that they can truly come back home — body, mind and soul. We offer a variety of programs, what we call “Warrior Reintegration” which includes: Transition Assistance, helps veterans convert their military training, skills, and talents into valuable skills that can be applied to civilian life; Emergency Crisis Support, addressing the everyday battle that some of our service members face once returning home; Marriage and Family Development to strengthen marriage and families; Equine Therapy, which encompasses a range of treatments through activities with horses. Donations welcome! https://missionforce.org/product/donation/