January 26, 2013

Ranger Run with Team Red White and Blue

I was planning on delaying my second post for a few weeks, but I got the opportunity to support a good charity. This year I have purposely limited my schedule to spend more time advocating for veterans issues. I saw that my friend Mike Erwin (founder of Team Red White and Blue (TRWB) and psychology Instructor at West Point) was on a team of fundraisers and I wanted to contribute. The Ranger Run is a team of athletes that run a total of 565 miles in the month of February to raise money for veterans as well as awareness for veterans’ issues. TRWB has become so central to my own recovery and sense of pride. Without their emphasis on growth I have no idea where I would be right now.

In 2011 I was having a good year in the public eye, but not below the surface. My performance at my job would single me out for the U.S. Army ROTC Instructor of the Year, but I was hiding my problems. I used a full time job, a full load in graduate school, and a busy race schedule to avoid my own problems with PTSD. I became severely depressed, and began to have suicidal thoughts that overtime became an obsession. Only at this broken time in my life did I find the courage I needed to face my challenges. I had been exercising over four hours a day to manage the rage within me. I ran the Pineland Farms trail 50 miler and it broke me off something fierce. Yet I was so proud of the achievement. I found strength when I was broken. I began to realize that I had done nothing wrong, and was not morally or physically inferior because I had PTSD.

Overtime and after finishing more races, I found the courage to be more public about my own struggles with PTSD and mTBI. There is no Panacea for these conditions but TRWBs philosophy has changed my life. Do not get me wrong none of the symptoms of my medical conditions have alleviated, but I am happy. Like an Ultra Marathon I just keep pushing on with the Relentless Forward Progress necessary to grow with and not in spite of my medical conditions.

 In November I had the chance to meet Mike Erwin in person at the JFK 50 miler and had one of the best runs of my life. After running a Western States 100 qualifier despite struggling through a series of Panic Attacks at the outset of the race I began to have the courage to be public with my story. I wrote my first public account of my struggles with PTSD on TRWB’s blog. Days afterward some my friends thanked me for telling my story and, even better, others who struggled with panic attacks thanked me for my frank account. All of my own struggles to find growth were now so much more tangible because they were helping other people.

That’s TRWB’s philosophy. “Other People Matter. Period.” This Organization’s philosophy was better than therapy or treatment, and the running I was doing to manage my anger was now helping others. I proudly “Wear the Eagle” every chance I can. Trust me that you will never finish an Ultra Marathon if you focus on the whole event rather than taking one step at a time. TRWB is not just about healing but being proud of yourself and continuing to show the courage you have from the day you swore an oath to the Constitution. Its not about disability its about growth and pride. I am hooked this philosophy. Also it sponsors many more activities than 50 mile runs.

I know that not everyone can run races and that only crazy people like myself will ever try to run races longer than marathons, but it is so essential that we find ways to contribute to our communities. It is essential that we still place ourselves on teams dedicated to our value system. This who we are and why we joined the military, and when we stop doing this we lose key piece of ourselves. TRWB may not be the thing for you, but it has helped me so much. I only want to emphasize how much joining a team of veterans can help, and how fitness is “much cheaper than therapy.”

Military Sexual Trauma in Aberdeen, Part III

Warning:  This article contains graphic descriptions of Military Sexual Trauma. 

Molina walked me back to The Quiet Room and disappeared. I wanted to crawl into bed and go to sleep. I was still drunk and still trying to choke back what happened in the woods. A little while later, another group of people from base showed up to join the party. One guy in particular had heard I was there with Greg. John and I had gotten along, flirted and hung out together. He was possessive and didn’t like Greg much. The feeling was mutual, if I remember right. I was already anxious, drunk, and running on adrenaline. I talked to John in the hall and swore nothing was going on with Greg hoping John would go to the party room and stay there. He came to The Quiet Room instead. I thought I was keeping the peace by not sharing one of two beds with Greg, where I wanted to be, and laying on the floor with some blankets with John. During the night John wanted to have sex. Saying "No" didn’t work with Molina, so I kept my mouth shut and did what he wanted. The whole time, I figured it was best to go along with it, let him enjoy himself if it will keep the peace. No one takes "No" for an answer anyway. This is all I am worth. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be up in the bed next to Greg who I knew was sweet and nice and liked me and would never hurt me. Anyone else who might have helped me or kept me safe was thousands of miles at home and wouldn’t want me after that night.

The next morning, Chris was in the other bed next to Molina. She was sleeping on her stomach in her bra and shorts. The back strap had been undone. She accused Molina of trying something while she was asleep. I thought I might have an ally in Chris. I spoke up. "You too? He raped me last night after saying you were missing and I had to help find you."

I turned out that Chris had been in The Party Room the entire night until late when she came to The Quiet Room to sleep. Greg didn’t seem to believe it. I knew he knew what happened with John and me and he just wanted to get as far away from me as he could. He never spoke to me again. Verch, the platoon leader tried to sort things out. The unanimous decision was for everyone to keep their mouths shut so no one would get in trouble and Molina was suppose dot stay away from me and Chris. I wanted to forget the whole night.

We all tried to act like nothing happened. Chris invited me to the post pool and loaned me a swimsuit. While swimming around the pool, one of the guys from another platoon hit on me and started making out with me in the pool. I let him. Saying "no" means nothing. It was better to let them do what they wanted and pretend to like it because that is what they wanted. Another guy asked me to a movie and I went. He wanted to mess around too. I gave him a hand job in the dark. It was what he wanted and I didn’t care about anything.

Turning into that was a way from me to survive and be invisible to most but still find a way to get someone to give me attention/affection even if it wasn’t real. I could be close to another human being although still feeling very alone. Being close to someone even for a little while and for all the wrong reasons made me feel like I was still normal though I clearly wasn’t and really didn’t feel it. If I could immerse myself in someone or something, I could forget. If I could get through the rest of AIT, I’d never have to see any of these people again.

Those that did know what happened stopped talking to me within days. I went back to class and sat across the room form Molina who laughed and joked with his friends like nothing happened. Fewer people talked to me and when they did I snapped back. I fell further and further into a dark hole in my mind. I could pretend anything outside of class. I could be tough, mouthy, and aggressive. I could be forceful and assertive. In class was totally different. I had nothing to think about, no act to put on. Just listening to lectures of motor pool safety and reading wiring diagrams. And I thought. I thought about every second of that one night. I thought about what could happen if anyone found out. More than thinking, I was so totally consumed with anger and disgust. He was right there, not more than ten feet from me and I could do nothing. I didn’t want to go near him. I wanted him to disappear. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be invisible and in class I was…at first.

Time weighed heavily. I had weeks left before his light-wheeled class split from my Fuel and Electrical class for MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) specific training. We were still in the basic classroom curriculum everyone had to take. I felt angry sometimes and sad much of the time. Most of all I felt numb. I discovered that if I cut myself, I hardly felt it and mostly didn’t feel anything. I had bought a camouflage watch with a compass that I wore with my uniform. It was a buckle style and the pin that fit through the holes in the band was quite sharp. One day in class, I was absent mindedly playing with my watch and started scratching my hand. I didn’t feel a thing as the pin scratched away layers of flesh. It didn’t bleed much, especially if I scraped the skin wider instead of deeper. When the first scratch on he back of my hand at the webbing of the thumb and first finger started bleeding, I moved on to another spot below the knuckle on my thumb. I was enthralled by cutting into my flesh without feeling more than a light sting.

When I looked across the room or the memory of that night came into my mind, I cut a new spot moving from my hand to my wrist. I cut several one inch slashes on the inside of my wrist. When one started to bleed more than the others, I pressed it to my uniform and started on my forearm. This has got to hurt. This is sensitive skin, I thought. I scraped two longer gashes into the inside of my forearm. It burned a little but for the most part was painless. I started to worry that I might cut too deep. Who cares. No one sees me anyway. When I bled I grew concerned someone might notice and I would get in trouble. I kept cutting anyway.

January 24, 2013

MST in South Korea and Combat PTSD in Baghdad Part I

Warning: This story contains explicit details concerning rape and Military Sexual Trauma.

By Angela Woytus-Peacock

In February 1998, I was 18-years old, fresh out of high school, with an M16 hanging from my shoulder and camouflage paint smeared on my face. I was excited and a little naïve as to just what I had gotten myself into.

No one told me that fifteen years later, I'd be tired, very broken, isolated, and damaged goods. Yes, I was assaulted and harassed while serving my country. No one warned me that joining the Army made me twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than my civilian counterparts. That's not what I was signing up for.

I come from a family where military service makes you a man (or a woman, in my case). Both of my grandparents served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and my father dreamed of being in the Navy. Plans changed for him when I was born and he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident. I wanted to travel to crazy places few people have ever heard of or even knew existed. I wanted to meet those people I would see in National Geographic commercials or the World Almanac my grandfather would show me when I was little. Most of all, I wanted to get out of St. Louis and experience life on this irresistible planet.

I wanted to declare my independence to everyone I knew, so I shaved my head and signed the dotted line. A little rebellious I guess, but I liked the excitement of it all!

I was born a leader, tough as a brick shithouse, and could knock boys over when I played soccer with them in the neighborhood. I played all the sports, ran faster than most guys I knew and could outwit anyone in intellectual debates in high school. I remember keenly, the Catholic, Republican in my Advanced English class senior year who would debate with me on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and who would be President of the United States first: him or I.

In 1997, my senior year, GI Jane came out. I watched it the night before I left for the Army and dreamed of being just like Demi Moore, just as tough as the guys. I was ready, willing, and able to do anything a "man" could do.

Eleven years later, 2008 to be exact, I wound up 2100 miles from home, staying in a homeless veteran’s shelter, attending a three-month “Renew Program” for women veterans who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. There were only five women in my group who were willing to face all the pain of their past to come out feeling better on the other side. Who says women aren't strong?

There, I met Amanda Spain, producer of "In Their Boots," an online documentary series showing the struggles of Iraq and Afghanistan vets when we come home. She asked me if I'd be willing to share my story with those that were willing to listen. Apprehensive, and shocked that someone finally cared enough to listen, I hesitatingly agreed.

It was the first time, ever, to share my story, from beginning to end.

One night in South Korea, I went out with some friends to the "Ville" which is all the little hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants right outside the gates of Camp Carroll, Waegwan, South Korea. It was a dark, spring night and I had to work the next morning at 0730 hours to complete my yearly Common Tasks Training (CTT) with the unit. I went out for an hour or so, only had one small drink, as being drunk was not my cup of tea at the time. I went to leave an hour later and someone had stolen my keys. Nervous, I walked through the gate with a male, non-commissioned officer I had seen around but didn't know very well. We were taught to respect and trust the NCO's and I had no reason not to. You are not allowed in South Korea to walk through the streets alone as it is with Armed Forces Policy in most places overseas. My roommate was not in our room so I decided to stay in the NCO's room down the hall to wait for her to come home. I checked several times throughout the night but no answer from her from my knocks on our door, her boyfriend’s door, or her cell phone.

The male NCO asked me four times to have sex with him and I said no all four times. First, I tell him I don't know him, then I tell him I have a boyfriend in Germany, then I tell him again I don't know him. The final time, I tell him I am on my period and NO! Next thing I remember is my naked body being violently thrown all over the bed and I am unable to scream or stop it. It was if I was standing at the threshold of the room watching myself being raped, then being back in my body not knowing who was doing what to me. I don't know, to this day, if I was drugged or hit over the head.

I remember hearing his roommate, just on the other side of the room and I am trying to scream, but nothing comes out. It is as if I am out of my body watching from across the room and can do absolutely nothing to get back in my body and fight him off.

I wake up the next morning twenty minutes late for my 0730 formation. Shaken, not quite sure what happened that night and I am standing naked in his bathroom and cannot un-wedge the tampon that is shoved all the way up.

I report late, as fast as I can and my Platoon Leader asks me what's wrong and did I drink too much the night before? He smells my breath and concedes that that's not it, but what is it? I don't even know.

Three days later, I get flashes and cold chills as I am standing in Battalion Headquarters when I see him for the first time since. My body knew what happened before I could completely piece together what exactly happened. Somehow, I am told, the body always remembers. My hands are shaking and sweaty and now it's all clear. It's too late for a rape kit but I had to tell someone.

Article originally published at Huffington Post "To Hell and Back Again"

Angela Peacock  served in the Army from 1998 until medically retired as a Sergeant in 2006. In 2001 in South Korea, Angela was sexually assaulted. In 2003 she deployed to Iraq in the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon release from the Army, she battled addiction, homelessness and multiple suicide attempts. Today she lives with Combat related PTSD and MST, she is a Local Leader for IAVA, a Peer Mentor with WWP, and the Founder and President of St. Charles Community College’s Student Veterans Organization and the Missouri Community College Association’s Student Leadership award recipient and a member of Phi Theta Kappa.

January 22, 2013

Impairment Honesty Without Sacrificing Goals

By Joseph Miller


It takes a couple of years to realize that the people who you surround yourself with will never truly understand the daily and constant battles that a veteran suffering from PTSD and mTBI go through. I have simply stopped trying to communicate these problems with my peers or even my friends and family. It is not because I am ashamed, though I certainly have been ashamed in the past, but more that people do not really want to understand how hard the little things in life have become. As a student in graduate program at a research university I doubt significantly that any of my colleagues regularly meet with neuropsychologists or speech therapist to manage their calendar and appointments. I doubt that they have trouble knowing what day of the week it is or can be thrown it days of painful migraines by getting a bump on the head or by whatever stimulus throws you into another round of painful memories. They often do not understand why you put yourself through the rigors of graduate school when your subsistence is provided by other means, and would not likely put themselves through the same challenges were they in the same position. If I did not constantly remind myself that my friends who have died do not have the opportunity to come home and find a way to continue supporting their communities then I would have quit a long time ago.

As scholar my research is on PTSD during the U.S. early national period will certainly be the focus of my future contributions, but I would rather provide some stark and unapologetic honesty about my own struggles following three tours of duty in Iraq. When I began to write my Master’s Thesis I recognized how writing about violence was a triggering my PTSD and I began to do what veterans do when they are reminded of their own traumatic experiences. At first when I wrote about violence I avoided it by putting anything I could in front of it in my schedule. Once I recognized it I used alcohol to help me face it. Though this is what got my drafts finished they were terrible and by engaging in this negative behavior they became difficult emotionally. Proofreading became a challenge, and worse they required a great deal of editing because I needed to self medicate to even finish them. This process has taken about a year and a half longer than it should have because I was not prepared for what research on warfare would do to me emotionally.

But this is not a cautionary tale; rather it is actually about growth. Like many students working on a Thesis I had a few unanswered questions that did not directly relate to the project. I had been researching military officers serving the revolutionary period since I was in high school and I began to realize that they were often “invalided” by unexplainable conditions. I was studying the Battle of Detroit and one of my sources had detailed descriptions about a fever called “ague.” I had PTSD for a long time and when I went back to Iraq the third time I had TBI and pretty severe PTSD. I was sick for the first two months and at times bedridden. I felt fevered and I constantly threw up, but when seen by doctors I had no discernible illness. Like my somatic expressions of a psychological disorder I realized that all the bouts of ague came after traumatic events and could also have been expressions of PTSD.

This realization did not provide enough material to prove that there was PTSD, and I will not get into my methodology, but it does illustrate how I have learned to use the terrible experiences and difficulties I face everyday as a worthwhile perspective to analyze warfare affect on the individual. PTSD casts a strange kind of amnesia about war because it causes those most affected by it to do everything in their power to avoid reminders of traumatic experiences. So my perspective despite the pain it has caused me in the past (I certainly no longer use alcohol to get through a project) is a useful to provide a better understanding of war as a source of emotional trauma. It has led me to look to different sources and to follow the lives of soldiers after the wars were over. It has become apparent that many suffered from the same sort of odd illnesses suffered by then men in my Master’s thesis. This work will be a significant contribution to the field of history. This realization could not have occurred if I had not conducted by research at the time that I was most impaired by PTSD. It may have delayed my Thesis, but it has helped me uncover something much more important about how war has affected the lives of American veterans from the very beginning of U.S. history. For others struggling with invisible illnesses you are not the first ones, and your generation is not weaker than the preceding veterans. Your impairments are significant and challenging, but they can also become a source of strength and an incredibly valuable perspective.


Joseph Miller  in 2003 commissioned as an Infantry officer and assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Deployed three times to Iraq in support of national elections and as an Iraqi Army adviser during the 2007 surge. During his second rotation he was injured by an IED. His awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Iraqi Campaign medal with three service stars, Senior Parachutist Badge, and Ranger Tab. Recently named 2011 Army ROTC Instructor of the Year and is completing his Master’s degree in Canadian/American History at the University of Maine.

January 19, 2013

I Have No Good Excuses But He Has Plenty


You probably thought I disappeared, huh? It's been quite some time since my last blog. I won't waste your time reading up on my lame attempt to make some excuses for my hiatus, but will say that it's been more than hectic here. There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of time for anything anymore. My mind is foggy, my body over extended and my sanity? Well, let's just say it's on the verge of giving me a permanent eye twitch!

I fell outside and encountered my first broken bones a couple of days after my last blog posted. It was a doozy of a fall and well, I figured that was a sign from the big man upstairs that I am just doing too much. I had no choice then but to walk away from many things and try to heal. All healed up pretty decently since surgery but two fingers which are sort of frozen and unable to move. My sanity and stress level improved but while I had that much down time, I did the most dangerous thing a Caregiver could do....THINK. 2012 wasn't very kind to me and if I had endured any more surgeries that year, well I could literally be my own sprinkler system with as many holes as this body has had! 

We managed to make it through the the month of October with the help of my mother in law and my oldest son and husband. The lack of sympathy or any remote interest from my husband was disheartening but I don't know why I expected anything more from him. I find by lifting any expectations, I always fall flat on my face and end up with skinned knees from disappointment. I always wondered what happens to Caregivers who need care giving too? That is probably one of those questions that stumps irony.  Kind of like "where do doctors go when they are sick?"

It's been quite a road since Thanksgiving with the Army, husband and school for two of the three children I have. Thanksgiving I couldn't cook with one arm so we ended up grilling out hot dogs and all the fixings. Turned out to be one of the lesser stressed holidays we have ever had. My husband tried so hard and offered to take us out to dinner but in our rural area, it seems that was everyone's idea as well. Just the thought of the crowds, his reactions and all that comes with it? Yeah, the hot dog were damn good! Four days before Christmas our PEBLO decides to finally contact us and wanted everything done right then, right now which was literally impossible. He moved on to another station and I can't say I will miss him at all. Right now, we are appealing much of the MEB reports because he failed to do his part of his job, failed to add in a few important details and for some reason; proof reading and correcting things that are important went by the wayside. We haven't even heard from our new PEBLO yet and of course, she is new so it should be interesting. New people seem to always be a challenge to break in, kind of like a wild horse. It's amazing we haven't scared off our Federal Recovery Coordinator or our Army Recovery Coordinator. They must be gluttons for punishment but I am so glad they have stuck around to see us through. That, and we are probably good dinner table talk and worth a few laughs here and there! I love that I can call one and she has a great sense of humor. She must wonder if I am on the thresh hold of running a circus here.

Christmas went well with few minor hiccups along the way. My husband had some bad days but at least we didn't have to deal with suicide attempts, drinking binges or anything serious. However, New Year's came and he went to see a friend up the road and never came back. I don't know why it bothered me so badly that he just ran and disappeared, but I feel not only a responsibility for him but it was New Year's Eve too. I wanted to bring it in right and I am hoping like hell that the whole old wives tale of "what you will be doing on New Year's Eve will be what you will be doing the whole year long" is just a crock. If it turns out true, I am not going to have a good year as I spent my New Year's up all night, crying. I was hoping we would be having sex or maybe share some laughs while we watched the ball drop in New York City. At this point, I would have been happy just going to bed together early and not doing anything; not crying though because my husband stood me up for a friend that he couldn't care less for. I think I was more hurt than anything. 

Excuses and Lies

My husband has a ton of them and lying has become a serious issue now. Excuses for his behavior, excuses for where he is, excuses for getting angry, excuses to the kids, excuses for everything. I am so sick of hearing them and they are constant with no rest. If it's not a long drawn out excuse, it's a lie. He is a horrible liar and most of the time, he won't even look me in the face. I especially hate when I ask him something because I know he is lying, he looks away and says "huh? what? huh? I didn't hear you?". Seriously? It's like watching a child make up an excuse to not listen to your question and then try to back peddle into a good lie to cover the real reason why he spit on his brother or why he lost his report card which had an F on it. I am not sure why this started all of a sudden but all I can think of is dammit, haven't we already been through this in the past? I used to think that PTSD/TBI had a pattern during certain periods of the year. Holidays, major event "memory day" and the rest just falls in the "other" category. Over the past five years of living with all this, it has bettered in some areas like the abuse of alcohol and suicidal tendencies but worsened in other areas. Major events I thought we were done with but after thinking about it....it just repeats itself. Every. Single. Year. There is no break from that and I realized it's just a vicious cycle that we will repeat over and over again just a little different each time. 

I just can not tolerate lying. I try to teach my children they can tell me everything, even if it's the worst. My husband and I built our relationship on that foundation of trust, honesty and friendship. I never have had that tolerance and the worse part is? I don't lie to him and he would always tell me everything. I feel guilty NOT telling him something even now. I think the part that has the highest "suck" factor is that the lying is nothing really that important to even lie over. I mean, if you are going to lie? Lie big or go home right? Don't lie over silly small things. Now, its not the "I just forgot and I need to lie to make up for the fact I don't want to admit it" just for clarification. It's just lying to be lying. I am at a complete lost at this point and I found dealing with him this latter part of the months I have been gone, has really reduced my toleration for a lot of things.I am pulling myself further away from him to protect myself. I am starting to look away at certain behaviors because it just isn't worth the damn fight or listening to the lies. I don't know if it's him or if it's me slipping further away.

Funny isn't it, how you fall in love and when you look at this person who has swept your heart away, you don't think of what you will deal with in the future. You never really stop to analyze at that point, of what would be the whole picture because one really doesn't know right? You just know you are supposed to be a part of that person and that's all that matters. Any obstacles you can overcome you think, any burdens you will carry together and all you really focus on is happiness with that person. You just know your life is never going to be the same. Boy, wasn't that the truth! Here lately though, I feel like it's more of a "phantom limb" situation. It feels like he is still there, still a part of me but you can see it's not there. The worst part is, my trust had been broken so many times that it took a lot for me to open back up and trust him once more. One year of therapy, lots of break downs and chastising myself for not forgiving and it led me here. I don't know if he even remembers the past of the wrong doings, or even acknowledges that broken trust is truly hard to gain back. I wonder if he knows how truly hurt and disappointed I am in him right now? Does he even really care anymore about anything? Now I feel like he has broken it again and again with just stupid and tiny lies, so how does one trust again? Sometimes I wonder if he knows that I still think he hung the moon just as I did the night I met him? Regardless of the bad times, I never once faltered on that thought.......

Sometimes I question the whole "is this it for the rest of my life?" probably just like my husband does. I am sure everyone does, I don't care who you are. I mean you fall in love, you get this person in your life that you love and learn to lean on. Then all of a sudden your on your own. Seems somewhat unfair and I have to question the whole "plan" for me because I just don't get it. So far God has given me the strength to carry my family and myself through, the courage to take on more but what are we really gaining? That part bothers me the most and heaven help me, I just want a small hint. Anything that says "this is where you are heading" because right now? The directions I am seeing are more like my stupid GPS with the lady and her perfect voice stating "recalculating" over and over again. Yeah...ain't that the truth!

There are days where he is truly appreciative of things I do for him or how much time I put into advocating or representing him. I do not hear "I love you" which to me I long for more than anything else. I wonder why three words are so hard? Often I wonder if that means he doesn't anymore? There are other days though, he could care less and I don't think he "sees" me anymore. As long as things go the way he wants them to, as long as it benefits him....it's all great. Of course it is, it's great for him. Anyone else though be damned. I hate thinking this way, and like I said before...thinking is dangerous for us caregivers and spouses. Thinking to me is like mopping. You start mopping but sometimes we don't always pull out the fridge or the oven right? (if you do every time you mop, that's just weird) All that stuff gets built up under there but eventually sometime, you clean under there. When you pull it ALL out, you are horrified at how much shit comes out. Yeah....that's what thinking is to me. Strange way of describing it but then who said I was normal right?

I wanted so badly this year to be a better year, but so far it really hasn't impressed me much. I will say I am trying to focus more on me. Maybe that's where we are all going wrong. Perhaps we should just think of ourselves and "put on our safety O2 mask before others". I think many of us caregivers focus on everyone else but themselves and I know how hard that is to change. I am the worst to take on everything for everyone at any time and its exhausting. So I am trying to get caught up, better organized, finally catching up to some movies I want to watch, and even bought myself an Xbox game. Now for many of you who don't know me, I haven't played a game system since Nintendo and Sega came out although I was the queen of Pacman and Donkey Kong once upon a time. I was pretty good at Super Mario Brothers too. Haha! I made myself a promise I would keep blogging and just putting it on my weekly "list of things to do". I am trying to keep up more on my facebook page, I taught myself to "tweet" (@Unclesamsmiss) in which I am quite proud of (yes, USM is not technically savvy; see above mentioned GPS comment) and planning on skipping town to see my sister who lives in AZ in which I haven't seen in years.

I am trying to do more things with  my sons albeit hard because I feel some of it should be done by/with daddy and he just can't do it. I realized my two younger sons, due to living in a rural area, have never ridden a bicycle which I hope to remedy soon (somehow). Leaves me wondering how the hell I will find the strength or the courage to teach my oldest son to drive who started Driver's Ed this semester. I honestly did try the whole "list positive things" on a piece of paper or journal bit that's been going around as a bit of therapy for Caregivers. I so far had a few positives like "we are all here", "we are all healthy somewhat", and the rest? Well, I had "I positively suck at the MEB stuff", "this list positively sucks", "I completely suck at Walking Dead on Xbox because I can't figure out the damn controller", "This list sucks" and "this list positively sucks ass". Perhaps that's why so many major organizations don't want to accept me as a writer....it's my award winning positive thinking isn't it? **cheesy grin**.  Hey, at least no one can accuse me of not being honest.

So here I am. 
Still alive.
Still trying to figure everything out and crossing off the things I don't understand.
Come On, 2013...
Mama needs a new lease on life. 

Recalculating, Recalculating, Recalculating,



January 18, 2013

Two Weeks Into CPT

I recently attended my third session of Cognitive Processing Therapy. Week one was difficult as my assignment was to write about how my trauma has affected my life. I know that sitting down and thinking about the physical, mental, and emotional manifestations of my trauma will set me off. Immediately I went into self-preservation mode and struggled to figure out how to write this requirement without losing control of my emotions. The directions asked for one page. I hand-wrote one page. There were specific areas to focus on: e.g. relationships, security, physical, etc. To minimize my reaction, I wrote the page at work where my job will certainly distract me from getting completely sucked into a flashback or crying jag.

The assignment for the second week was to take my trauma and two other instances and examine what happened, what I thought, and how did I feel. Then I had to look at what I told myself and determine if those thoughts were realistic. In my case, I was told so many times by people in authority in the Army that because I was drinking, I deserved what I got. I believed for may years that if I had not been drinking, I would not have been raped. Is that realistic? Maybe I wouldn't have been raped if I was sober. Maybe I could have fought back if I was sober. Likely it would not have made a difference because my rapist was on a mission. Regardless, I did not deserve to be raped and I will never know if drinking or not drinking mattered. It is a struggle to remember that my drinking made things easier for my rapist, but likely didn't really make a difference in the outcome of those nights.

This week, Week Three, my assignment is to write about my traumas. I have already written about my rape in Aberdeen in 1993. This time I am supposed to focus on my rape in Germany in 1994. The second trauma is one I had only vague memories I didn't want to put together. After seeing Invisible War and years of therapy, I remember too much. That is the trauma I haven't faced and now am being forced to, in my opinion. One day after getting the assignment, I am fighting it. I don't want to remember despite being sick to my stomach, being more depressed, being more anxious, and the continuous smell of the basement I haven't been in in 19 years. I know those symptoms should lessen if I deal with this, but I can't deal with this. I don't have time to deal with this now.

Another thought has come to mind to follow me everywhere. Who will I be without these constant reminders and relivings? Who am I without my traumas hidden away inside of me?

January 15, 2013

Our Story: Delta Company 6th/6th Infantry, 1st Armored Division

I am looking for members of Delta company, 6th/6th Infantry of the 1st Armored Division and deployed to Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991.

Dco, 6th/6th Infantry, 1st AD
My name is PFC Scott Lee, I was the driver for Sergeant Dan Tickle and our gunner was Sergeant Otis Banks. If you were a member of Delta Company 6th battalion, 6th Infantry of the 1st Armored Division and deployed to The First Gulf War I would like to get in contact with you.

I am setting up an oral history project to tell our story. We played a pivotal part in the largest tank battle in the history of war and I'd like to share our story.

Please leave a message in the comment section or contact me directly by email at rmngen@gmail.com.

Communicate with PTSD Veteran

By Scott Lee circa 1991
Last year I was diagnosed with paranoia features to go along with PTSD. The significance resounds in the impact it has on my relationships and self imposed isolation. I fight unreasonable and persistent thoughts of not being able to trust anyone, especially those in authority and closest in proximity. My imagination has convinced me that buying an electronic bug sweeper to rid my apartment of the mics and cameras everywhere is a good idea. Try having intrusive thoughts and the feeling that you can't trust your inner circle because they don't get it, whatever it is. Or while in therapy fight the yelling in your head that your therapist is trying to get you locked up.

When I can't stop the impulsive thinking things can escalate quickly if the situation is misread and turns stressful. All of this informs that I must be wary of what I say depending on the audience in attendance. Not that this plan always works. If people could step back and take it as a learning and healing opportunity, it would break down barriers between us. My difficulties in communicating could be seen as a manifestation of my condition; a psychological wound. It's time to take a look at how we communicate with our veterans, before to many more of us pull the final trigger.

It's never easy to receive a direct verbal assault of judgement or righteous indignation from your veteran, which can happen when loved ones fail to listen or discern underlying issues.

Living through combat or operational experiences fundamentally changes the way we think, feel and see the world. Our survivors perspective has etched our psyche altering consciousness and our connections with people whom we were once close. It may seem as though we have disowned one another, but for the veteran we are locked in our minds most of the time. Fighting our trauma takes an incredible amount of mental energy manifesting as the external battle you see. Just as we would lend an arm in support of the physically disabled, so should we begin the journey of understanding the mentally wounded and offering a emotional shoulder.

We no longer feel the comfortable sameness with one another back at home, the relational arena has changed.

In combat we develop the most intense bonds through blood and survival in unimaginable situations in epic tales. When a squad emerges having survived, it burns away the facades we fake. We become genuine in our thinking, feeling and expression. Whether we direct this new energy in a downward spiral or we hone it as a skill set. Either can have a huge impact on our lives. Civilian life is full of complex rules of etiquette and expected social mores. All very troublesome for the paranoid, delusional and dissociative mind looking for the reason to avoid, avoid, avoid.

If we are unaware of these developments; our skill sets, the dissociative symptoms and the civilian rules, then it can become problematic for our triggers. Alarms signaling hidden agendas, putting us on guard our defensive mechanisms begin to turn. We may project our anxiety onto you, again fouling up the opportunity to reach a relational arena. We may feel disowned or out of touch, but what we have lost is the place in which to relate again. The altered relational parameters will take time to work out, give it and us time.

Communication starts when we loose the desire to speak and be heard, it begins when we open up to receive and act authentically.

Listening is a powerful tool, it can make your veteran feel as though you are in our corner. Caught up in our constant and silent mental crisis, our perceptions may be skewed. The delusions may have greater command over our judgement and thus our reactions. Hence the confusion and misunderstandings between veterans and loved ones. Armed with the right information and the ability to listen, the support member could use these moments to offer an empathetic hand. We need to share our burdens but fear your rejection if we tell you it all. Expect to be open minded, we may share soul tearing information. Guard your reaction, please don't pull away during these moments.

Let the stunned silence rain, communion begins when we open our spirits to one another.

We need direct communication, don't worry we probably will not be phased by 'what you say.' It is in the delivery that we need to take great care, with skill and finesse in, how we speak to one another until we can bridge the gap of confusion. We have been emotionally crippled by witnessing or participating in mass death and destruction on a scale unimaginable. If our wounds were visible we would get respect, admiration, and compassion. We have no scars to prove our fight was just and that we gave it our all. We have Invisible Wounds that manifest as behavioral issues and social awkwardness.

January 13, 2013

Military Sexual Trauma in Aberdeen, Part II

Warning Trigger Alert: This story and its subsequent parts describe my experience as a survivor of Rape in the military. It also describes my experience with Cognitive Processing Therapy.


We got as far as the steps to the door with Molina shoving the cup at me the whole way saying, "Drink." And I did if it would keep him happy. When we got to the steps, he said that he thought the pool was around back and that we could get into the hotel that way but should at least check to make sure Chris wasn’t by the pool drunk where she could get caught and we’d all get in trouble. There was that word again. The last thing I wanted to do was get in trouble over a stupid party. I told him we could take a quick look and then I wanted to go back to the room. He handed me the cup again and said, "Here, take a drink."

We walked along the wall of the hotel. Straight ahead was some woods that were not very well lit. Around the corner was supposedly the pool according to Molina. At some point, we should run into the other guy that was supposed to be helping to find Chris. Molina isn’t going to do anything if the other guy could catch him. My anxiety level was through the roof. I could feel my pulse pounding in my head and I felt like running back into the hotel but knew I was too drunk for that. The best course of action was to continue following Molina, don’t piss him off or say anything to give him ideas, and find Chris so we all don’t get in trouble.

We made it to the corner of the building and I started to turn to walk along the back assuming we would find the pool at some point very soon, I hoped. Molina took my hand and started pulling me toward the woods. It was thick with bushes along the grass line and looked dark and dense with saplings and a few larger trees. Little light penetrated. I was panicked. I couldn’t get my hand away from Molina and tried to talk him into looking for the pool. That was what he wanted, so let’s find the pool. I tried to talk him into go the other direction. I didn’t want to check the woods. I didn’t want to go into the woods. I didn’t want to go anywhere with this guy. I didn’t want him to hurt me. I didn’t want to get in trouble. In my mind, in the Army, I would be the one in trouble.

I told him I thought I was going to be sick. I had a funny taste in my mouth like metal or blood. As I write this, I can still taste it in my saliva after twenty years of brushing and rinsing and spitting it out, it is still there. He handed me the cup now half full. I didn’t want to drink and said no. He still had my hand and pulled me into a small clearing between some bushes where the light in the parking lot couldn’t quite reach. He went in first so I thought I was still okay. He can’t shove me to the ground and do anything if I am at the only way out. I pulled against his grip, but he wouldn’t let go. He kept talking to me; reassuring me that he wouldn’t hurt me that everything was going to be okay. I said, "No." I tried to talk him out of whatever he had on his mind and I was trying desperately to find whatever words I could to get him to go back to the hotel. He jerked on my shorts. The button had not been buttoned from when I took the shower and the zipper dropped and my denim shorts followed. He grabbed my hands and sat back on the ground pulling me on top of him. I couldn’t roll to the left or right because of the sharp branches and bushes that dug into my knees. I tried to straddle him so I could push backwards and roll away. I kept saying no and he continued to try to comfort me that he wouldn’t hurt me.

I don’t remember his words anymore but I remember the tone. The calm, gentle, "it’ll be okay" tone mixed with insistence and "we don’t want to get caught" as if we were lovers and I wanted to be there as much as he did. I got my knees to either side of him and leaned back to get a hand hold. He grabbed my arm with one hand and tried shoving himself inside me with the other hand. I said "No" again. He kept pushing himself inside me and I tried to pull away and I tried to lean to the side only to have the bushes bite into my knees. He kept shoving and I couldn’t make him stop. He wasn’t all the way hard and was getting frustrated. I thought if I made a joke about it, he would give up. He didn’t. He tried to get all the way inside me and I did the last thing I could think to do to get him to let me go, I pretended to pass out.

I let my body go limp and didn’t respond. He shook me and then started to push me off of him. I acted like I was waking up when I felt him trying to get out from under me. I got to my feet. He pulled up his shorts. Mine were wrapped around one ankle and I put my other foot in them and pulled them up. He was talking again with that reassuring tone that was making me nauseous. I was trying to think what just happened. What would people say? I didn’t even like the guy. Why? What did I do to deserve this? I walked with my arms crossed tightly across my chest. Halfway back to the building I asked him not to tell anyone as if we had mutually decided to have a little tryst in the shrubbery. I was humiliated and sick to my stomach. I took all the blame on myself for something I couldn’t stop, didn’t want, and didn’t really understand. I had to pretend to be normal. No one could know. Especially no one back home and definitely not the Army.


Michelle Monte is a Professor of English and is working on several essays. She is an assistant editor for Journal of Military Experience 3. Michelle served in the Army and Army Reserve from 1992-2000.

January 10, 2013

Combat Narratives Part 2

Our first official campaign was against the Iraqi Republican Guard, a highly trained mechanized division under Saddam Hussein. They never ran from or surrender to our overwhelming force.  The 3rd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division had over 20,000 enemy kills in three campaigns. My crew was the spear tip and I drove for 172 hours in the largest tank battle in the history of war in the 100 Hour Ground War. The Army VII Corps' mission was to cut off the Iraqi Republican Guard supply lines before our descent into Kuwait and attack, attack, attack everything along the way.
My squad
Blazing 50 Mph across the sands towards the front line, my 32 ton combat loaded Bradley drove over a sand dune into a landmine field stopping us in our tracks and throwing everyone inside forward. Sgt Tickle flipped out and started cussing why we had stopped and I could hear my captain in the background cursing. As they both continued the barrage of swearing and demanding I screamed, “Shut the fuck up and look out your window, we're in a landmine field!” As reality sunk in, I assessed our trajectory into the field and found we had landed at an angle and missed detonating a single mine. What took less than two seconds to get into, took us about 15 to 20 minutes to get out of. A paltry amount of time when you have all you need; but our job was to guide our tanks into battle. Being 20 minutes late was not an option. In this moment we melded as a squad, we had becoming one body. I felt a welling of emotions circling despair; I was to succumb or prevail and tuned into my machine, environment and crew in a way I had never experienced.

Sgt T had to stand out of his hatch exposed giving directions to thread us back through our tracks laid, without any deviance from the trail. Sgt Tickle to me, “Straight, stop! Left back, stop. Right, back, stop. Forward left, stop!” As I was driving blind as my thoughts went to a conversation we had the night before. I was complaining about driving for two days straight without sleep, and Sgt Tickle says, “The only way your backup driver is going to drive is if you are dead! Got that soldier?” Welling with pride from the high praise to his biggest pain in the ass private. I had his implicit trust and felt respected and honored. The instant bond enabled me too read the inflections in his voice, his marked tone indicating we were on the track in the sand. An abrupt, “Straight ahead! Right, straight, left.”
Me
I kept an eye on the horizon for the enemy and the ground for unexploded ordnance, not just for me but my brigade to follow. The problem compounded by staying awake for days peering out four periscopes ranging from 8 o'clock to 1:00 o'clock in the heat with fatigue and boredom made it especially hard at night watching the one-inch by half-inch red nighttime lights on the rear my leading vehicles. One on the right most vehicle of the 1st brigade and the left most of the 2nd brigade; my first job was to keep in between each with a mile in between in a reversed diamond figure with 3rd brigade on the rear single point. Keeping my eyes on two read lights on the back of vehicles 1 to 2 miles from me became a dancing ritual of fidgeting and flexing my body and wiggling and squinting to stay awake. After two days of no sleep, I though four days would be impossible – seven days only if my life depended on it.

Before we went into battle while sitting on a ridge waiting our orders I watched the Multiple Long Range Rocket systems launched live rounds from behind, hailing the night with eerily beautiful red streaks filling the horizons. Underneath the belly of the deadly mosaic red lines our Apache helicopters erupted with Hell-fire missiles, snaking through the air without aim and at the last-minute ministering vaporizing showers of demise. Coming through the nighttime curtain of fire where our artillery rounds lobbing to find their targets with a core shaking boom, boom, boom resounding a boosted repetition of bursting bombs rending reality from unlucky enemy crews. Beneath the Apaches our M1A Main Battle Tanks were firing and hitting the enemy tanks with columns of flame erupting 100 feet in the air, flipping turrets end over end atop jets of roiling plasma. In the closest I saw bodies rendered, splayed and sprayed within the ejecta in showers of molten metal and steel. The first a religious experience, the next several thousand was getting the job done. I heard somewhere from the muted distant, “Move out!”

Dodging bursting bombs while wreathing and fracking my spine. God help me! He answered, smothering me with heaps and mounds of apathy. Driving through eruptions of earth and reason, exploding ordnance ringing off the edges of my Bradley as shock waves tumble through my steel trap. Bracing against my slanted seat and butterfly steering wheel and driving the blade deep into the enemy. The physics of war upending earth all around as we thread between artillery rounds, to the right one of our Bradley's throw track in a hard turn in the sand. I slammed the gear in reverse and backed out of the artillery barrage driving 50 mph trusting my Track Commander with his steady sharp commands of, “Left, right. Straight.” I was watching as the lobbing bombs attempting to find our target, “Boom!” and a pause further away, “Boom.” Sgt Tickle says, “Right! Straight. Left, right, left.”

We pulled back far enough to dismount and watched one of our Bradley's repair track in an artillery barrage inside a ferocious tank battle set against the fiery sky. After letting down the back troop-hatch to let the guys get a breather, I got out to join them so we can watch our guys changing track. It took them and outstanding 15 minutes of a 45 min process. As we stood together on the back hatch watching the battle, we begin to hear a pesky whistling sound coming in, louder and louder. As we all started looking around, KA-BOOM! The heated blast rung my ears and my skin went dry, just out of the kill zone considering none of us took any shrapnel. I was in the driver's seat from the back landing hatch screaming at our team before half of them got in, “Get your fucking asses in!” As I started to raise the rear dismount hatch, looking back over the gear as the last soldier jumped in as the seal set shut. My head was ringing as I slapped the driver's hatch release for the second time; combat operations when the drivers hatch door clangs.

Somewhere in the blazing haze of timelessness after our third engagement Private E1 and PFC Lee's assignment was the cleaning our dead vehicles of weapons and intelligence. We were walking side by side each taking a 180 degree sector to scan. Our M16's slung in the ready as I look off into at scorched earthed damns hiding distorted hulking bombed out shells, shuddering and wondering how anything survived and where all the bodies were. Private E1 says “Lee, check this out!” With his right foot cocked back ready to kick tuna fish looking can with shinny spider legs. Instantaneously I grabbed him and his gear pitching us both over, body slamming Private E1. Then jumped up cussing, “You stupid ass mother-fucker! You almost kicked one of our air-dispersal anti-personnel mines!” I was not recommending him for a promotion.

January 9, 2013

Combat Narratives Part 1

The soldiers of Delta Company, 6th battalion, 6th Infantry of the 1st Armored Division were sitting around the television in Bamberg, Germany. Rumors were going around that we would be called up and mobilized to go to Operation Desert Shield. The scrolling list of divisions being activated for deployment came down to ours, my heart sank. I was trembling and knew if an armored division was going that I would see combat. Feeding the rumors was our abrupt training from the boxy Vietnam era M119 armored personnel carries to new $2.5 million Bradley Fighting Vehicles. I was a Private First Class 11 Bravo with a brand new Expert Infantry Badge. The 11 Bravo's mission was running 5 miles one day and force march 7 miles with full ruck sacks the next, 6 days a week while the Bradley crews trained to drive, fight and command.
Dco 6th/6th Infantry, 1st AD
Late in the day our captain called us into the hallway outside his office and read the orders. It was then I decided to become a driver instead of the 11 Bravo dismounting and clearing trenches out the back of our Bradley. It was fun in training, but I didn't think it would be in combat. It turned out that our driver wasn't taking his job serious so I stepped up and asked to take his place. The next day I was sitting in the driver's seat familiarizing myself with the controls. I caught on pretty quick except for the steering was tricky, you have to give it gas to turn and the brakes consists of letting off the gas pedal. We went out everyday to train on a two-week threshold till we had to load up our vehicles to ship them out, I didn't receive the 3 months of training everyone else did.

In two weeks I learned how to drive my Bradley Fighting Vehicle before we loaded them up at the rail yard. During a late night training mission in Germany, around one am it was cold and wet with a heavy mist in the air. We were convoying on a narrow 16 feet wide road with our 14 foot wide Bradleys when we came upon narrow road on a sheer cliff. Turning is also transmission driven, to make it work you must hit the gas pedal. The more you turn the more power needed. I let off the throttle and the rubber padded tracks began to slide toward the edge, as I was peering down the cliff I punched the gas pedal just as the road disappeared underneigh us left turning as hard as I could. We stopped sliding and turned with only a half a track left on the road. The guys in the back never knew they were almost part of a training fatality.
Our Bradley and Crew
We sat on our asses for two weeks when I arrived in the sandy lands of King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia. The warehouse we were bunking in was setup for soldiers awaiting vehicles to come into port. I found out later that the same building we were in was hit by a scud missile two weeks after we left, killing a couple of National Guardsmen. After our vehicles came in we had them painted in desert camouflage. Then we lined up to load up on missiles, 25mm armored piercing sabot rounds along with high explosives rounds, 7.62mm and 5.56mm ammo and grenades. We made all our checks and topped off on fuel and moved out to our base to set up.

Our company set up our first base camp in a low-lying area. By the time we finished setting up the tents, it started to rain. I had last guard duty, so I hit my cot. When I woke we were in 2 feet of water and someone was telling me to get out of bed we were moving out. A little lake had filled in so we packed everything up again and moved out to another base. After setting up our second base, we got into mission mode. We started training for offensive maneuvers immediately, in Germany we trained on defensive. Once in training maneuvers we received orders to retreat. I started turning my vehicle in a tight turn and threw our track in the sand. It took us about 4 hours to put the track back on, I would not make that mistake again. We trained on and around our base for about three and half months with the bombing of Baghdad in the background day and night. I still hear the boom, boom, boom, boom; just like yesterday.

Earlier in the week we received reports the Iraqi suicide bombers were dressing as Bedouins with captured military equipment. While on guard duty one night we spotted a slanted box on tracks, an M119 armored personnel carrier about the penetrate our perimeter  The M119 keeps coming. We try to radio him, no answer. The vehicle on our left fires a warning shot, it keeps coming. We radio again and fire a second warning shot. The vehicle breaches our perimeter as we dismount and surround it. By all rights of war we should have killed this vehicle, but out pops a second lieutenant out of his hatch. It was a tense moment. Private Roman and another of our great sergeants lead our opposing force with fingers on triggers of our M16s, our barbed wire caught up in his tracks. He was on the wrong radio frequency and didn't know the password, so we held him until higher up said it was okay to let him go.

Base camp life was pulling guard duty four hours on and four hours off, write letters and train for offensive maneuvers  One day during maneuvers we got the word to move out, I gunned it and blew the motor. So we spent the rest of the day helping the mechanics put in a new motor and transmission. It was a nice break in our regimen and I found out how much the motor can take in the sand and that would come in handy later in combat. We were getting close to moving out, Christmas had come and gone. I got to call home around that time. I was ready to go, it was February when we bugged out toward Iraq. The bombing of Baghdad everyday and night was wearing on me, all I could think about was how many people our bombs were killing. I was ready to go when we mounted up and headed into Iraq.

I was an Infantry soldier driving on point for the 3rd Brigade, my job was to lead our M1A1 Abrams Tanks into combat. Broiling inside my body armor and a full body zip up fire-retardant suit, covered by an olive drab chemical warfare suit commonly used in Germany during the winter. It was one hundred and ten degrees outside and 160 degrees inside the belly of my Bradley sitting next to a 600 HP Cummings turbo-charged diesel engine and separated by a 3/16” steel plate; with a ledge perfect to cook my Meals Ready to Eat. Sipping water became a survival skill and the only way to make your alloted three quarts a day last. During training missions I got in the habit of leaving my hatch open due to the heat and fought with my track commander to have it open until combat operations.

On or around February 22, 1991 we had reports of regular infantry soldiers in Saddam’s army surrendering in droves. The following day we saw thousands of people scattered in the shimmering heat surrendering some with weapons milling about lost in and billowing sandy red tinted sky as our tracks rolled by. At home in Kentucky we have rolling hills and trees everywhere so my sense of the horizon broadened tenfold when nothing stood in the way of belly of the desert. Our assignment was to get online with the rest of the VII Corps on the Iraqi border to cut off the Iraqi Republican Guard from retreating. We set out in convoy toward the front line. That night we received an after-action report, five Marines killed when a Stryker came across an enemy T-72 tank with its turret turned around. Geneva Convention Rule of War for surrender. When the marines encroached enough they turned their barrels around and killed our five Marines. I was shaking all over, mad as hell and wanted revenge.

After 24 hours of continuous driving we convoyed down through a wadi, a low-lying basin perfect for a desert ambush when I saw swimming silhouettes of people and jeeps on our left flank night sky. I reported to my Track Commander Sergeant Dan Tickle, small in stature but great at command. I hated him in garrison but loved him in the field, I would have given my life for him if I didn't kill him first. The Ground War had not been officially set off yet, so we had to get permission to fire upon an advancing enemy. They kept coming, higher up ordered our company online and our command vehicle fired three warning shots, boom, boom, boom. Then death squeezed from the gunner's fingertips with 25mm automatic fire boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. The next day our after action reported we had killed 30 Iraqis trying to surrender. The silhouettes on the horizon have haunted my sights and nights since.

January 6, 2013

Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD

Several years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety Disorder. I am Service Connected Disabled (70%) and live with daily symptoms caused by two rapes while serving in the Army on two different posts, on two different continents. My assailants were both soldiers I served with. In another series, I am revealing my story. In this series I will address how I have lived with my experiences and symptoms.

Since considering posting my story, my anxiety levels have been through the roof. My hands shake, I am nauseous, I sweat, I constantly look over my shoulder, my legs bounce (tap?) when sitting... the list goes on. Most of the time I am able to deal with my symptoms and most people don't even realize I am having a problem. I have nearly 20 years experience hiding what is inside me.

Recently, I saw the movie Invisible War. Though the movie is excellent and needs to be seen by everyone, it set me backwards in coping with my experiences. I began to remember details I had worked hard to suppress. I remembered more clearly the second time I was raped and that was something I had buried deep as I could never tell anyone about it. After trying to get help the first time, there was no way I was going to put myself through the hell of being persecuted again.

I have been angry and frustrated the last few months after seeing the movie. People close to me expressed that they noticed a change in me. My ability to camouflage is failing. Everyone I saw looking at me "knew." Every man was a threat. Every woman a judge of my dress, behavior, mannerisms, speech.

Being an educator I did what academics do best: I researched. I had heard about Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) but didn't really know what it was. After reading about it, I made the request to my VA therapist and started CPT this past week. Posting my story and my therapy online is to both help me heal and help others find their way.


Michelle Monte is a Professor of English and is working on several essays. She is an assistant editor for Journal of Military Experience 3. Michelle served in the Army and Army Reserve from 1992-2000.

Military Sexual Trauma in Aberdeen

Warning Trigger Alert: This story and its subsequent parts describe my experience as a survivor of Rape in the military. It also describes my experience with Cognitive Processing Therapy.

I joined the Army after I turned 18.  Though I graduated at 17, my parents refused to sign the papers I needed to allow me to join the military right out of high school.  I went to college for a year and then went to Basic Training in Ft. Leonard Wood, MO.  I did another year of college and flew to Maryland for Advanced Individualized Training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  Between Basic and AIT, I drilled with a reserve unit thirty minutes from my house.  I thought I had found the one place where I fit in and a career that I excelled at. The rules were simple, do what you are told and, for women especially, don’t go anywhere alone.  The worst thing in the world was to get in trouble with the Drill Sergeants or command.  I took that lesson to heart.

One night around Fourth of July, I was planning on going into Aberdeen from where my barracks were in Edgewood Area of APG to see a movie with a friend from my platoon.  Greg was very nice and I really liked him.  Before we could leave, Christine, another platoon member stopped me and invited me to a party off post.  I said no initially, but she didn’t want to be the only female there and I was the only female left planning on leaving post anyway.  I hesitated.  I didn’t really want to go to a party.  My head was in Army rules and I knew that Chris should not go alone to this party.  Our platoon leader was going to be there as were several friends.  Because were all in training for Maintenance jobs, there were very few women.  I talked to Greg about going to the party instead and suggested that we could see a movie another time. He agreed.

Our group stopped at the PX and those that were over 21 collected money and requests from those that were not and went in to get supplies. We took a taxi to a hotel off post and began drinking.  Back then I could drink a lot.  On my 21st birthday, more than a year later, I went out with friends to a bar after work.  I remember 14 shots of various liquors and 6 cranberry and vodkas.  My friends tell me I drank more after that.  I do know I puked in the bushes of a church down the street from another bar we stopped at that I don’t remember.  While I could drink mass quantities of alcohol, I wasn’t very good at it.

Our off post party amounted to two rooms.  One we called “The Party Room.”  The other was dubbed “The Quiet Room.”  After considerable drinking, Greg and I went to The Quiet Room to talk and share his Peach Schnapps.  After that night, I never drank Peach Schnapps again or spoke to Greg for that matter.  It wasn’t anything he did, it was because of something I couldn’t stop from happening.

An hour or so after we got to The Quiet Room, I took a shower to wake up and redressed in my T-shirt and shorts and nothing under because those were the clothes I was planning on sleeping in anyway.  There was a knock at the door and a guy from my platoon, Molina, and a guy from another platoon were there claiming to be looking for Chris.  I vaguely remember asking if she would be okay in The Party Room with all the guys we were training with.  Verch, our platoon leader, wasn’t drinking much and was a trustworthy guy.  He said he’d keep and eye on her and we were all supposed to be friends anyway.

Molina and his booblehead friend said that Chris got in a fight with someone else and stormed off all pissed off.  They were looking for her and asked if she was in our room.  I said no.  They asked if I would help look for her.

“She’s fine. She’s probably already back at the room.”

“No, she was pretty pissed off.  Even if we find her, we don’t think she’ll come back with us.”

“Guys, I just want to sleep. Go find her and bring her here to sleep.”

“She isn’t going to come with us. She’s pretty pissed off and really drunk. You should come with us. You’re a woman, she’ll listen to you.”

“Just go find her. She’ll go back with you. She’s probably already in the other room.”

“No, she’s not.  Come on. Come with us. We don’t want to get in trouble if she tried to get back on post all pissed up.”

They said the magic words in my drunken stupor.  “Don’t want to get in trouble.”  I was at a party I didn’t want to go to in the first place, under 21 and drunk off my ass.  I told Greg I’d be back after we found Chris and asked if he wanted to help.  He said he was too drunk and took another swig off his Schnapps bottle.

I didn’t know either guy I was with very well.  The nameless one was from another platoon; I don’t think I ever knew his name.  Molina was from my platoon.  I didn’t know him and really didn’t like him all that much.  I didn’t like getting in trouble more than I didn’t like him.  The guys were talking to me about looking outside the hotel because there was a pool and maybe Chris went outside looking for the pool.  I didn’t really care. I just wanted to find Chris and go back to the room.  I vaguely remember suggesting that one of us check the other room just in case.  Both guys vehemently assured me that Christ was not there and too pissed off to return of her own accord.  We got to a side door on the hotel and the guys decided to split up.  I would go with Molina and walk in one direction.  The other guy would go in the other and presumably, we would find the pool and meet up on the other side of the building, ensuring Chris would be found.

I was drunk off my ass for the first time in my life. That plan sounded reasonable to me, so I started walking with Molina.  He carried a huge, big gulp type cup filled with what I thing was Whiskey and Mountain Dew.  He kept passing it to me and telling me to drink.  I was drunk, so I drank more.  He was being very nice and grabbed my arm when I stumbled and talked nicely to me coaxing me in this direction or that.  He pointed to some trees on the other side of the parking lot and expressed concern that Chris might have started walking in that direct as post was that direction.  I figured we could walk as far as the trees and come back, so I agreed.  Once we got to the trees, I was too dizzy to continue walking.

“I need to sit down a minute.”

“Okay. Here, take a drink.”  And I took the cup again.

“What happened with Chris at the party.”

“One of the guys made some comments and she got pissed and walked out.  She didn’t come back so we checked your room and she wasn’t there either. We got worried and decided to look for her.”

I couldn’t really think too clearly and everything Molina said sounded reasonable.  He asked if I was ready to walk yet and I said I needed another minute.  He started asking me questions about different guys in our platoon and if I liked them and why.  I answered his questions thinking nothing of why he was asking except to make conversation.  He asked me what I like in a guy and if I could ever like someone like him.  A dull bell went off in my head from somewhere a great distance off.  Looking back, the anxiety I was starting to feel through the alcohol haze was a warning that something was not right.  I was too drunk to fully grasp it and it was easy to blow it off.  At the time, all I could think was don’t say anything to offend him. Be nice.

I told him he was a nice guy but that I really didn’t know him very well to give him an opinion.  He asked if Greg was the kind of guy I liked and I said yes, I really liked Greg.  Molina took my hand.  I thought it was to help me up. He stuck my hand down his pants.

“Is this enough for you?" The expression on his face was dead serious. The warning was louder now but I couldn’t put my thoughts together very well.  I pulled my hand back.  I told him it was fine but we needed to find Chris.  In my head I thought that if I said I didn’t like him or didn’t find him attractive, he would get mad and do something.  I couldn’t think beyond “something” to have any ideas of what he could do.  He laughed it off like it was a joke and reassured me that he didn’t want to make me do anything I didn’t want to do.  He passed me the cup, still two-thirds full.  I drank to keep him happy.  I said we needed to go find Chris and I got up and started walking toward the hotel doors.


Michelle Monte is a Professor of English and is working on several essays. She is an assistant editor for Journal of Military Experience 3. Michelle served in the Army and Army Reserve from 1992-2000.

January 4, 2013

Symptoms Appear Suddenly But Control You Over Time

By Travis L. Martin

My hands shook for the first time after an ambush on one of our convoys in 2003. I figured it was the adrenaline; but it didn’t go away.

We came home to protesters outside the gates of Turley Barracks in Mannheim, Germany.

The next year, while serving in garrison, my friends made fun of me because I was always covered in sweat. Typically, I sweated the most when out in the city or in a confined area with lots of civilians. Maybe I was just fat?

We all drank. I drank my entire first deployment’s savings away. I’d wake up shaking uncontrollably and blacked out three-or-four nights a week.

I had never heard of “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Add another deployment in 2005.

I went through withdrawals the first two weeks.

It was infinitely more luxurious with the hot chow and air-conditioned rooms. We were better at our jobs the second time around, too. But so were the bad guys.

I returned to Germany and finished up my four-year enlistment in 2006.

Sometimes, it took me an hour or more to get out of the bed. The dreams were so violent. I couldn’t imagine how a good person could dream up such horrible things. I shook everyday: in formation, before PT, when talking on the phone. Eventually, I isolated myself.

I passed barracks inspections with flying colors. My room was immaculate, the product of hours and hours of crawling around on all fours, picking lint out of the carpet, scrubbing the wall lockers with lemon-scented pledge, and meticulous spacing between the hangers on which my uniforms hung.

Maybe all those stupid rules taught in basic were invented by other soldiers with shaking hands. Maybe they were looking for some measure of control in the outside world because they couldn’t find it within themselves.

I decided to get treatment.

End, Part 1

Travis L. Martin served two tours of duty in Iraq as a sergeant in the 51st Transportation Company. He holds an MA in English from Eastern Kentucky University, where he founded The Journal of Military Experience. Currently, he teaches and is a PhD student at the University of Kentucky. His research interests include trauma, autobiography, and war memoirs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.