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One Concrete Thing

Years now. Almost 11 years into the war in Afghanistan, and with Iraq mostly behind us, we’re still unable to get our hands and our minds around the military suicide rate.

July marked the highest number of suicides among soldiers the army has faced. My colleagues Mark Thompson and Cam Ritchie have both written extensively about this, as have I. In fact, I felt like I had nothing left to say, so I’ve been quiet on the subject for months.

For the record, I came close to becoming a statistic in 2006. Read more…

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Not (Just) Another Reading List

My Battleland colleague Nate Rawlings has done excellent work at keeping us all aware of trends in official Army reading lists. Like many veterans, I suppose, I have a shelf of books I own solely because some previous commander put it on his mandatory reading list. These lists are handed down as part of the boilerplate leadership model every commander (in the Army at least) learns early on. Not that they aren’t important, but they are ubiquitous.

What strikes me about many of these lists is that they lack a literary component. Clearly they’re not designed to help rising leaders hone their ability to discern post-modernist themes in the American novel. But, I thought it might be interesting to put together a list of literary works that soldiers and others would find helpful or at least interesting and worthwhile. I teach writing in a number of venues both as an academic exercise and as therapy, and I use these works in my seminars and workshops. I won’t make this a top-ten list, but just a list of a couple handfuls of books and why I think they’re worth including on soldiers’ reading lists. Read more…

PTSD: Weakness or Wound?

This week, the American Psychiatric Association is meeting in Philadelphia. Among the presentations in the “military track”—a spate of meetings directed towards practitioners focused on military or war related psychology and psychiatry—the top listed presentation is titled “Combat Related PTSD: Injury or Disorder?” Based on conversations I’ve had in the past couple weeks with psychiatrists and psychologists who ply their trade among wounded warriors, this is the hottest of hot topics.

In the next year, the psychiatric community will re-issue its handbook of diagnoses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The current manual, DSM-IV, defines Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A core element of the discussion will be whether or not to change the description of PTSD in DSM-V from a disorder to something else. But to what? I’m convinced the definition must include the word injury. Read more…

Rush to Judgment

For the past few days, Washington’s, America’s, probably much of the world’s airways have been filled with commentary about the horrific killings in Afghanistan allegedly committed by an American soldier. Radio, TV and the blogosphere have been inundated with reports, predictions, and speculation—why he did it, what it means for the American war effort in Afghanistan and what it means for the future of the military.

The NY Daily news featured the headline “Sergeant Psycho.” Other, less inflammatory and ridiculous story headers have appeared across the spectrum of platforms, prompting a backlash of stories denouncing the rush to condemn returning veterans as ticking time bombs of psychoses. No sane person would commit such an act. So it seems safe to assume that there is some sort of mental health issue—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or something considerably worse—at play. But the rush to judgment by the pontificating classes has been disturbing. Read more…

A 7000 Mile Sniper Shot

Jeff Hackett died in the war. Jeff was a career Marine, a mustang who rose through the enlisted ranks to become a gunnery sergeant, then through the officer ranks to become a major. In Iraq, Jeff led a highly specialized unit of Marines searching and destroying improvised explosive devices (IEDs) before they could kill other Marines. It was tough, dangerous work. Eight of his Marines died on the mission.

When he came home from Iraq, Jeff Hackett wasn’t right. His behavior was erratic, especially to friends who had known him for years. He left the service and drifted from job to job, when he could find work. Eventually, he was doing manual labor in Wyoming. He felt like a failure, a joke. He killed himself.

Jeff hadn’t been able to keep up the payments on his Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) policy after he retired. He paid in full each month of the 26 years he served in the Marine Corps. But afterwards, because he missed a few payments when he was struggling, the insurance company refused to pay off.

Hackett was only one of an average of 18 veterans who killed themselves that day almost two years ago. He died in a parking lot in Cheyenne, Wyoming. But in my book, his suicide might as well have been a 7000 mile sniper shot. Jeff Hackett died in the war. And the damned insurance company ought to pay what it owes his family.

Read more about Jeff Hackett and the efforts to take care of his family in this article by Greg Jaffe

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

NEWS FLASH: The new threat to American security seem to be the very people we laud for providing our security: the veterans who fought America’s wars.

Two recent reports by reputable journalism outlets (CNN and the Christian Science Monitor ) have re-positioned the “psycho-veteran back from the war” scare front and center.

The events that sparked these articles — the brutal slayings of a park ranger in Washington state and a grisly multiple murder in Los Angeles –have, according to the Monitor, “prompted new discussion of the potential role of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Really? Among whom? Read more…

Who is at War?

I arrived in Afghanistan about nine years ago, in the first week of November 2002. It took a couple days to get there. We left Fort Benning and drove to Atlanta. From there we flew commercial to Baltimore and had a seven-hour layover. My wife drove up to the airport and we spent the day together before she dropped me off to catch a flight to Afghanistan by way of Germany, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and a couple other places before our C-130 corkscrewed down to the airfield on a rainy night in Bagram.

Apparently it hadn’t rained heavily there in about five years. So the locals took our arrival as a harbinger of good things to come.  Maybe that’s why they laid off the rockets for the night. Rain and rockets would have made a pretty lethal welcome cocktail for us newbies. Rain was only disheartening.   Read more…