With the holidays having just passed people should remember that not everyone celebrates with the sugar and spice and everything nice. Those that have fought to keep Americans safe have experienced triumphs and tribulations on the battlefield and after returning home.
Some who have come home from the War on Terror have experienced PTSD. As authors Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor wrote in their novel Last Christmas In Paris, those with PTSD “walk on both legs without the use of crutches. They swing both arms by their sides. They have no need for facemasks to hide their injuries. These men suffer in an entirely different way. They suffer in their minds. The horrors they have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after night stay with them.”
The following is an interview with Adam Shumann, one of the soldiers highlighted in the book and film, Thank You For Your Service, about the true to life struggles and trauma he experienced. The statistics are overwhelming, considering that one in five of those who have served in the War on Terror have either TDI or PTSD, at least 500,000. His former wife, Saskia noted, “It’s not as if he caused this. He didn’t. It’s not as if he doesn’t want to get better. He does. On other days, though, it seems more like an epitaph, and not only for Adam. All the soldiers he went to war with, the 800 in his battalion, come home broken in various degrees, even the ones who are fine. I don’t think anyone came back from deployment without some kind of demons they needed to work out.”
Adam compares the emotions he has with PTSD to “how you might feel after a really bad car accident with your nerves fried, adrenaline pumped, scared, having a rapid heartbeat, and your mind racing. This is what it is like for me on some days. It is exhausting because it lasts all day.”
Although he acknowledges being changed by the war experience, he does not think it was all for the worse. “I have a different perspective on life. I tend to value what I have a little more. Of course, there is always a negative side. I tend to hold people to a higher standard that sets me up for disappointment. For example, the military teaches you to be punctual and professional. In the military when someone is not doing their job it is an obligation to correct them. But now, in this politically correct world, I have to watch myself and to stop from telling someone they are messing up.”
Although he does not call it by the name he still has survivor’s guilt, feeling remorse each and every day for his buddies who died in the war. “People have to understand what we went through. They were not over there. We cannot put ourselves in a mindless box and become desensitized to what happened over there. Most of us have experienced a traumatic incident like your buddy getting killed. Each and every day we wondered if we were going to be killed. It becomes an imprint on our brains. There are things I will never ever talk about unless it is with the guys I served with. I can only open up to someone capable of listening who has the ability to handle what I have to say. I would love to unload some of this baggage because it is some heavy stuff.”
It is not just the soldier who goes through these experiences, but also their families. Adam wants people to understand that initially he did not comprehend what he was going through and was terrified. “I could not explain anything to my wife Saskia. The more she would press the more I would shut down, literally falling asleep during arguments. Her patience was worn down after awhile. She was just as confused as I was. She heard my violent outbursts at night. I slept with my rifle by my bed. If it was not there I would get up and freak out while I looked for it. She was the one who spurred me to seek help.”
Unfortunately, she was not happy with his choice of programs. The one in Kansas, where he lived had a very bad reputation. His advocate suggested he enroll in the Pathway House in California. Because he knew there would be a confrontation he never asked or told her he was going, and just flew out. He credits that program with saving his life because of his suicidal thoughts. Adam describes it as “a group setting where you lived together in what best can be described as a barracks. There was this unit mentality, once again a part of a team. Guys would pair up with a peer. They understood how embarrassed I felt that I could not even satisfy my contract with the military. Even after my first deployment I sought out a doctor, but was told I was fine, prescribed some pills, and sent back to my unit. It was after my third deployment that everything came undone. Funny how it was my mind that got me thrown out. I really just wanted to get better, and I really wanted to be myself again. Every time I would run into a door or barrier, I would just figure out a way around it. It was probably the hardest fight of my life to just get back to who I was, and the biggest revelation of that is that you are not going to get back to who you were before. You are not going to be that person again after an experience like that.”
Adam is a very retrospective person. He has some suggestions for the military considering they invest a lot of money in training. “It is sad more is not invested in continuing care and doing it on the spot. Sure. After a death on the battlefield they send a Chaplain. But these units are so tight they don’t want to speak with someone they do not know. I think a doctor and psychiatrist should be embedded with each unit. After a mission, we can unload on them and talk about our experiences. It would help to figure out on the spot why we are confused or angry instead of internalizing it. I wish I could have gone back in time and sought help before I reached the end of my rope.”
PTSD is an emotional and silent wound that is not out there for people to see. The stereotype is still alive and well where many associate it with being a lunatic. Adam stated, he is looking for work, noting “any job at this point would be fantastic.” He insists he does not want charity and only want the job if he is deemed qualified.
As Americans, we should never forget those who have fought for our freedoms and have sacrificed themselves either emotionally or physically. As Adam summarized it, “I wish for a little more love and happiness and to understand each other. We are all in this together, whether someone who is a veteran, still serving, or a civilian. If you are in a position to help, do so. And if you need help, ask for it.”
ABOUT THE BOOK
Thank You for Your Service
A FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE, THE DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE, AND THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY HELEN BERNSTEIN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM
ONE OF TEN FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2013 BY MICHIKO KAKUTANI (THE NEW YORK TIMES) AND AWASHINGTON POSTTOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST, USA TODAY, THE ECONOMIST, THE SEATTLE TIMES, AND MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
No journalist has reckoned with the psychology of war as intimately as David Finkel. In The Good Soldiers, his bestselling account from the front lines of Baghdad, Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion as they carried out the infamous “surge,” a grueling fifteen-month tour that changed them all forever.
In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel follows many of those same men as they return home and struggle to reintegrate—both into their family lives and into American society at large. He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments as they try to recover, and in doing so, he creates an indelible, essential portrait of what life after war is like—not just for these soldiers, but for their wives, widows, children, and friends, and for the professionals who are truly trying, and to a great degree failing, to undo the damage that has been done. Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding, and it offers a more complete picture than we have ever had of two essential questions: When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?