16 January 2013

I used to have a reoccurring dream after I returned home from my last deployment. It always began and ended the same.

I am running down an alley towards my truck. I am at a full out sprint with bullets skipping the dirt around my heels. I feel as though I cannot run fast enough but finally make it to my vehicle. I jump in, look at the floor board then glance down the alley from which I came. I scream to my driver to move out. No response. I look over to the driver, noticing that my gunner’s legs are not in the gunner’s position, and see that my driver has been replaced with an Insurgent. I pull my 9mm pistol out of my leg holster and point it at his head. He smiles and places the truck in gear to start moving. I pull the trigger of my pistol and put a round in his head. Blood and grey matter covers the inside of the truck. The truck slowly lurches to a stop against a wall. I get out of the truck, I am surrounded, they open fire, and I wake up.

The reason I wanted to share this is because it helped me. And if it wasn’t for my wife, someone who cared, I would probably still be having this dream. Talking about the dream, the events of my prior deployment, and everything I went through in Ar Ramdi with my family, friends, therapist, and Soldiers helped me cope. When I was coming up in the Army as a young Private it was looked down upon if you wanted to get help for anything; it was considered a sign of weakness. Times have changed, but we still (although not nearly as bad) have this stigma in the military, primarily in the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Corp, that anyone that wants to get help is weak. I want to help change that. I regularly talk to my Soldiers as if getting help is no big deal, that it is as normal as spraining your ankle. The more they hear about me talking openly about getting help, the better. Soldiers need to know that they can depend on their leadership to support them getting better. It’s our job.

The Department of Defense recently released Suicide numbers that were greater than the number we lost due to combat. In the Army we are all brothers, and to lose a brother to suicide is unacceptable. Yes, we receive numerous hours of training learning to identify indicators of suicide and what to do, but somewhere we are failing. Many people have their own perception of what needs to be done and how to combat the issue, but it’s only getting worse. Is it disenfranchised leadership? If so, what level? Team Leader, Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, or is it the First Sergeant’s fault? I believe it’s everyone’s fault 90% of the time.

What do I think? What it boils down to is leaders need to care. Leaders need to put their Soldiers needs above their own. Care about what they do. Care about them and their personal lives. Know everything there is to know about that Soldier, so when one little thing is off, leadership can spot it quick and react. When deployed, we eat, sleep, and go on missions with each other every day. We spend 9 to 15 months serving with that Soldier, but when we return home, that Soldier that had constant supervision is now left out to dry for a majority of the day. From 0630-1700 he is with his platoon, but not as close as he once was. Many of those Soldiers he deployed with have moved to new duty stations, new Platoon, or have gotten out of the Army. He has lost that support network and brotherhood that he had during that deployment. Soldiers need to know that they can get help, without repercussions, and get it as easy as they can get help for a routine headache. The resources are there, we just need to tighten the screws on the Soldiers leadership. If they don’t genuinely care about their Soldiers and only are looking out for their own best interests, it may be time to swap them out with someone that does.

We have been at war for over 10 years…. “Suck it up and drive on” no longer works… We can beat this suicide trend. All we need to do is care.

10 thoughts on “Nightmare

  1. Sgt Gibson,
    Thank you so much for this post, not only for your thoughts, but even more for your bravery and your honesty in sharing them. I can’t even begin to stress enough how important it is for the rank and file to know that “being human” and “being the best soldier” are, in fact, one and the same. You will make all your men and women’s lives better–and you’ll make sure we on the veteran-caring end will have far less to do in the future, which is a very good thing, I might add.

  2. Reblogged this on Paving the Road Back and commented:
    I awakened this morning to read this. This is a stunning piece, well-written, truthful, brave, straight from the heart–and straight from the front lines. Sgt Gibson gives me hope for the future of the men and women in the military who, like him, are willing both to be “the best” and “the most human.” I had to share this with a wider audience, and I urge each of my readers to do the same.

  3. Pingback: VIP Treatment for VIP Healers « Paving the Road Back

  4. Heard this comment on NPR yesterday from Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of IAVA, He calls the increase in suicides troubling, and says everyone – not just the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – should be involved.

    “Every community based non profit, local veterans group, the faith-based community – everybody’s got to wrap their arms around these folks and get them the support they need,”

    Army leadership needs to be involved for sure and thank-you for your well written article and honest sharing of your struggle and healing. And we civilians are also part, a significant part of the solution. Thankfully there are good resources on line, which can be found by simply by googling “How to talk to a veteran about war.” Here is a good link.

    Thank you for your blog and your good work. This civilian is grateful.

    • You are right! I truely believe that the problem lies in the support and or help that these Soldiers get when we return home from deployments. As stated in the blog, we work with eachother 24 hours a day while deployed. I can tell right away if someone is “off”. When we get home, we speed through 5 days of re-integration and take leave. After the leave period is over, typically the unit will loose a lot of Soldiers to PCS moves, getting out of the Army, or promotions. This takes away that “support base” that the troubled Soldier had, 24 hours a day, while deployed.

  5. Excellent post. I’m curious what soldiers in other wars have done. I’m not in the service so maybe I’m not in the loop, but I don’t remember reading or hearing much about guys returning from WWII, Korea, etc. and having such high suicide rates. Were there more groups at home willing to help them? Was it that, at least for WWII, most people approved of the war and as such tried to help the returning soldiers? Or did those guys have just as many problems when they came home and nobody ever talks about it?

  6. powerful words indeed, you remind me of Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret) in his book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” (Battle at Ia Drang Vietnam) He wrote the same words. In my generation to express fears or feelings was considered weak, even cowardly. my support came from, and still comes from fellow Vets who served with me, even today we keep in touch even though thousands of miles apart. I have never confided with civilians, going futher back WW1 shell shock troops were shot as cowards, two 14 year old boys who lied about their age, after two weeks constant barrage ran away to go home, caught and shot as deserters WW11 as a boy I knew of a number of men who committed suicide, on returning home. A buddy who served with me in Korea and later was in Nam, One minute hes in the Jungle, 24hours later dumped at San Francisco Airport, being abused as a baby killer, he never got over that. I could tell a thousand stories about returning home from a war zone, but its your blog. and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your brave words, just hope you are not a voice crying in the wilderness, this is the first time I have written anything outside my support circle. You and the guys with you have an added burden that we didnt have, multiple deployments over a long war.They’d better take care of you guys back Stateside, it is the very least a Govt can do. You have a good way with words, I like the directness/ upfront of your writing, in the future you MUST write a book in the same way you blog.I,ll be the first in line to buy. Last time I quoted a verse from Kipling now I leave you with a Quote by John Stuart Mill 1868.” War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war,is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself” Ian Blissett. New Zealand

  7. Fantastic post, 1SG. Thank you for sharing. Suicide Prevention training can’t be seen as a box that needs to be checked. Leaders need proper tools to help Soldiers suffering from PTSD.

  8. “was in Nam, one minute he’s in the Jungle, 24 hours later dumped at San Francisco Airport, being abused as a baby killer, he never got over that.”

    This was the experience of my friends during Vietnam. Can you imagine being in that chaos and craziness and a day later back home with everyone expecting just to instantly re-integrate. My husband didn’t dare wear his uniform when traveling because he’d be spit on and called “baby killer”. Civilian clothes didn’t really help because the haircut gave him away.

    There was no help and very, very little support for these returning vets and it took many years before they could even speak about it. It was a whole generation of young men who were walking wounded and worse and I applaud you for speaking up. It is, again, a sign of your level of commitment to the soldiers under your command. We are so grateful for your service and your care of these young men.

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