A story of the birth of Post Combat Stress
Once, a long time ago, a boy who wanted to become a man (it could have been a girl who wanted to become a woman, but that’s a different story) wondered into a military recruiters office. He saw the uniform and the medals. He noticed how strong the recruiter looked and was awed by the stories. The boy felt pretty capable himself. He played some sports and did well, he liked to hunt and thought of himself as a good shot. He knew he needed some discipline, at least that was what his dad said, and he wanted to make his dad proud of him.
As the recruiter began to tell him about the opportunities the military had to offer, and showed him pictures of basic training, the boy could just see himself doing these things that looked fun and exciting. He could see himself in a uniform, his hair short and his girlfriend being excited by his uniform. His buddies too. After basic would come AIT (Advanced Infantry or Individual Training). The recruiter talked to him about all the different opportunities he might qualify for.
Now, in this story, the boy decided he wanted to go infantry, maybe become airborne and even ranger qualified. In other stories he might choose a different path as do 85% of those who enlist in the military. So he enlists in the Army (or Marines) and goes to basic training. He’s ready to make that leap to adulthood.
In basic he learns a lot about himself and his new buddies. He learns that the team is bigger than the individual and that the Mission is bigger than all. In the barracks the guys talk about the on-going war and how they hope they get there before the war is over and they miss the action. They learn to march in step, keep their foot and wall lockers neat and orderly. They learn to run everywhere, stand at attention, get yelled at, eat in 8 minutes or less, camp outside even when it’s raining or snowing. He learns that sergeants can keep you alive if you listen to them and officers are another breed; distant from enlisted men. He learns that he may be expected to kill and that some of his buddies might get wounded or even die. He learns not to think about that very much. He also learns that he is a part of a group with new rules. He’s never been big on emotions, and now learns that complaining is expected but then you do your job and don’t whine. Get up, continue mission, don’t fall out. If you screw up everyone suffers. You’re becoming a team and the teams survival is more important than yours. You learn this stuff but there is nothing to connect it to. No experience that you’ve had has prepared you for this new world of green or blue or white in other stories).
Home on leave your dad treats you differently, your mom hovers, your girlfriend does seem impressed but you’re buddies not so much. Soon it’s over, this visit to the world you used to know. But it’s time to return to your new world that your friends and family don't really understand.
Act I, Scene II
Advanced training: More of the same but more intense, more detail about what your life will be like when you go overseas. You thought you were a soldier (Marine) after basic training, but this is a lot more of everything. Are you going to measure up? Do you have what it takes? How will you react in combat? Great! You’re ready. Airborne? Ranger training? For some yes, for many others they try but wash out. For still others - maybe later.
Act I Scene III:
Assigned to your unit. New guys mixing with other new guys, maybe some veterans. You’re not in basic anymore, but you’re not really a veteran yet. That comes later. Now you learn more about your place in the larger organization. You can feel the power, the pride of belonging. The military is your home. You are told what to do, how to do it and discover the expectations you will be held to. This is different from anything you’ve ever experienced and it’s special. You have already done something that most civilians never experience. You’re part of history and tradition. You are gaining skills that you will need in the future.
Act II Scene I:
You hit the ground with your unit. Knapsacks, seabags, a lot of weight. what’s that smell? The country smells different then home. Who are those people. They dress weird and you can’t understand a word they’re saying. Later you discover that this place is nothing like home - the language, food, music, religion, people’s behavior and attitudes are so.. foreign.
Ya’ll settle in - such as it is. This may be your new home for the duration, or it may just be a transition point until you are assigned to your spot. (It seems that wars are more often than not fought in some not very cool places. Or, if you do get to be somewhere “nice” it won’t last. And, no, your opinion is not requested. So, you settle in and begin your routine. Seems ok, there’s still a lot to learn and the veterans don’t tell you much at all. It seems they don’t even want to get to know you.
Act II Scene II:
BANG! and everything changes. Someone is shooting at you. YOU! This is for real. If you screw up you or someone else could die. Even if you do everything perfectly, you suddenly learn, you or someone could die. What the hell?! And you learn many new things about your enemy - well, the sergeants told you that the enemy doesn’t wear uniforms, they may be men, women, even children or old people. You didn’t want to believe that or what it implied, but now you do. The kid running between the buildings was carrying something to the people who are shooting at you and one of the guys just blew him away.
The third day out your unit gets hit. Two guys are wounded, one killed. The one who was killed just went down. Just went down. The two who are wounded are screaming and the medic goes out and brings back one guy while another member of the unit gets the other. You wonder, could I do that?
Act II Scene III:
Back behind the wire, relative safety. Tired, shaking, Events running through your head. Listening to the other guys talk. Some very loud, bragging about what they did, how brave they were. You sit and listen and wonder, now what? The sergeant comes in and tells the squad that you have night patrol. What’s there to say?