When civilians are wounded by traumatic events so deeply felt they suffer with PTSD, we seem to understand it even when we cannot associate a name with it. Regular people we know will talk about something we never experienced but we can see the pain in their eyes and put ourselves into their place, knowing how hard it must have been for them.
Listen to a parent on the news after their child has been abducted or vanished. Any parent could understand that level of pain imagining what it would be like if it had been their child.
When the earthquake came to destroy Haiti, the rest of the world understood the suffering there. So much death and destruction with a natural disaster, people crying out for the loss while still in dire need of help touch everyone's heart. The outpouring of donations is still being sent as we are reminded so many are in need of help.
We can understand pain even if we have never lived through it. We can feel for them. We can feel the tug of our hearts to help them. So why is it so very hard for us to do the same when it comes to the men and women in this nation we ask so much of?
What do we expect when we send them into Haiti on humanitarian missions? We see on our TV sets what is going on there. We saw on CNN how they are putting bodies into mass graves, so it should be easy to assume the men and women in the military are seeing all of it first hand. We see the reporters talking about the wounded and we know they are seeing them as they try to help them. What we don't see, what we don't understand is that the responders to this disaster will be in need of help to recover as well.
We also do not seem to understand that many of the men and women sent into Haiti were on their way to Afghanistan but diverted there. They will end up going into Afghanistan after the crisis is over in Haiti.
Many of them are already wounded by combat from earlier deployments. They are carrying that burden inside of them as they are asked to carry even more because they are needed.
We do a great job responding to need of everyone but them.
Why can't we listen to them talk, see the pain in their eyes and put it all into the same human terms we have no problem doing it with others? Why can't we listen as they grieve for the loss of a friend knowing how hard it must be on them? Why can't we listen to them when they speak of a child that died, weighing heavily on their hearts? Why is it so easy to ignore them and forsake them?
When we send men and women into combat, our job has just begun but we can sit there and say caring about them after combat is not in our "job description" as humans. The numbers of PTSD wounded grow everyday but we do not seem to be as interested in them as we were when we sent them.
We complain when they self-medicate and drive. We want them arrested when they commit crimes, get into fights or cause any trouble at all without ever once wondering how someone could be so valuable, so unique they were ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of this nation, set aside their own personal needs, wants and desires, but then end up where they are. We don't care when their family falls apart or want to hear about the struggles they go through.
We do a great job caring about strangers as humans but a lousy job caring about the strangers we ask to take care of the rest of us.
We will see all the numbers go up until we manage to care enough to do something for their sake.
Former Army sergeant major is putting a face on suicide prevention
Posted Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010
By HALIMAH ABDULLAH
WASHINGTON — Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes keeps pictures of the dead in his pockets.
They’re the faces of young soldiers whose eyes stare out resolutely from photocopied pages worn and creased by the ritual of unfolding them, smoothing them flat and refolding them.
They’re the faces of men who, haunted by problems at home or memories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — the dead children, the fallen comrades and the lingering smell of burnt flesh — pressed guns to their heads and pulled the triggers or tied ropes with military precision and hanged themselves.
The pictures remind Rhodes of how close he came to joining them and how, sometimes when the sadness presses in, dark and suffocating, he still mentally writes suicide notes.
"How many times have I written that letter in my head? I still think about suicide, but when I start thinking about it I have to think, 'What’s the impact on everyone I care about?’ "
It’s been roughly five years since Rhodes came home from his third tour in Iraq. And despite a highly decorated 29-year career in the Army, a new book, more than a hundred speaking engagements and praise from the likes of Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, for his efforts in suicide prevention, Rhodes still wrestles with his own demons. When he speaks to crowds and gently holds up the photos of fellow servicemen who’ve committed suicide, it’s as if he’s holding up a mirror.
"It’s not about me," he tells soldiers. "Every one of us can tell our own story. Start telling it. Change the culture of silence."
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