Combat Withdrawal

Another great article from our Sociologist Friends up North!

Social Health

0704afghanistan-700x420_thumb9“the most devastating perpetual trauma I had to overcome was civilian transition… I know the changes I see in myself are not a result of the war in Iraq. Even though those memories are still there and are traumatic, it goes much deeper than that. The changes are the result of a man who wishes he was at war.”
– Jessie Odom, Through Our Eyes

Sometimes the most troubling thing about combat is having to give it up. Many infantrymen who have experienced the harshest conditions in combat are not traumatized by war; they are traumatized by civilian life upon return.

After facing heavy gunfire and the daily threat of being exploded, how can an individual find civilian life the most troubling? Although it’s not a formally recognized condition, many veterans who have experienced high levels of combat develop combat withdrawal when they return home. More than just wishing they…

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Vet Voices: From the UK, Part III

Today we continue and end the conversation with Carl Thomas, a RAF veteran who has been kind enough to let me pepper him with so many questions. Today, the discussion is politics, and the state of veteran’s affairs in the UK.

?: Now, Carl, I asked Qui this, and she led the conversation into a place I hadn’t anticipated, so I want to get your take on it. What do you see as the biggest obstacle to new veterans of the UK military? I know there are so many to choose from.

Carl: The state of my country. We now have an uncontrolled migrant workforce from Europe. They work cheap. They don’t answer back, and they come highly qualified. Take a grunt, non-technical, up against that, no contrast; the migrant worker wins every time. Such is the politics and big business of the UK.

?: Qui brought up the same thing. So, largely, veteran’s obstacles are not only so harrowing because of the governments’ failure to plan for its’ veterans, but also because of their unchecked non-management of immigration issues, in your opinion?

Carl: Having said that, though, a veteran can get a “trade training” when coming out. Yet, is that enough? Probably not; big business is still looking for cheap labor, NOT those who served, UNLESS it is in a security role. Police, prison wardens, GCHQ, PC’s, even. Most end up self-employed, some are lucky and just quit for happier lands. As a new vet, they tend to get accepted into foreign lands a lot easier than most. You’ve got to remember, though, my feedback comes from a lot of ex who have fallen (so to speak.) It’s tough out there now for everyone, YET, all I am concerned about is my fellow vets. Thus, my opinion is clouded.

?: And that is precisely why your opinion is valuable, and needs to have a sounding board, Carl. Let me throw another question at you. If you could wave a magic wand, and wield all the power necessary to actually effect change in your government, what would be the one thing you would do that would have the greatest impact on service members and veterans?

Carl: Shoot the politicians and put the country under military orders (and note that is not martial law.) All the PC, and migrant workers stuff is bad for serving and vets alike. I’m afraid I see civilian government as bad, and only out to feather their nests. There is a loss of respect for “Queen and country” and honest things. See, I am too old for learning new things!

?: You also noted in one response that the UK has never taken care of its’ vets in an adequate manner. With the two princes being so adamant about serving in Afghanistan, and being the media darlings that they are, do you anticipate any changes in the care of vets, once William assumes the throne? Or, are they simply puppet heads, with no real power to evoke any sort of change?

Carl: No, absolutely no difference. It’s not royalty that run the show, it’s the lowest form of life, politicians.

?: I noticed at several points, you referred to your fellow service men as the “brethren”. This signifies to me a good deal of respect and esprit-de-corps. Did this serve you well during your time in, to feel connected to people you respected? How about after you got out? Did you maintain that connection to anyone?

Carl: Everyone is your bro in green, blue, or even gray. See a fight, and it is a bro, you wade in, no questions asked. Someone needed help, you helped. That extended to family/dependents. Did that serve me well? Of course.

?: How did others react to you, when you separated from service?

Carl: I’d lost my family. On handing in my ID card, being signed off base, and driving out, I felt a profound sense of loss. Forces guys I knew were always in a hurry, and such was the nature of my work, they couldn’t discuss what was going on. Finally, as they got posted away, there was nothing left.

My Dad, who was still alive then, knew EXACTLY how I felt and we spent long hours talking about it. Like myself, he never got over no longer being part of a family.

My soon to be ex-wife went ballistic, realizing that I would be under her feet the whole time.

My son thought it novel to be taken to school by his father.

Apart from that, I’d occasionally get a nod from someone I didn’t know. Occasionally, they would ask, “been out long?” It takes ex-mil to recognize ex-mil.

?: What do you think is the most important thing for civilians to remember or know about the military, and it’s veterans?

Carl: Wow, toughy!

We choose to serve and protect.

Some of us did some pretty bad things in really shitty places in order that civilians could walk and talk the way they do.

We won’t ask for respect but understand it is due from civilians, especially for those fallen, or those who come back broken.

The military is not made up of morons (except the military police, that is) and for the most part, ex-mil have a highly tuned sense of discipline, organization, skill-set, and respect for those serving. Civilians dissing military or veterans alike will provoke a reaction from ex-mil.

Some vets came home broken. Combat FK’s with the mind, and you can’t fix that with plaster. Some came home with horrific injuries, those may need a lot of help. Both will need long term help.

They deserve care, understanding, respect, and HELP, even if they don’t ask for it.

As for their due (pensions, medicare) they served those who choose not to. To deprive them of help is despicable.

?: Carl, and Qui, thank you so much for your time, and honest, well-thought answers over this past week. I definitely appreciate the opportunity to interview you. It has been a real pleasure.

Keep your eyes here, because there will be another Vet Voices interview soon, with an American Air Force veteran who served in the early ’60’s.

Vet Voices: From the UK, Part II

Today, we continue the discussion with Carl & Quiona Thomas, a veteran’s family from the UK. We will talk with Carl about challenges during and after service, then we spend a few minutes with Qui, and actually launch into topics such as immigration reform–something I wasn’t anticipating! I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did…

?: Carl, What do you think was your biggest challenge while you were in service?

Carl: Staying alive. I was shot at by terrorists, the Argentineans, and there was that friendly-fire thing from an A10.

?: Now, since you have been out, have you experienced obstacles particularly caused by the fact that you are a vet? How did you deal with them?

Carl: First six months out, I found I was employable as hell. Then, it tailed off. Almost like a switch was thrown. After a while, I gave up “being nice” and went abroad to earn money. When I came back just six months later, I returned to an even bigger mess than before. A government “swap” and immigration was out of control. So, questions like, “Where have you been working abroad?” were “awkward.” Finally, I settled down to fixing computers and comm gear in a nice little mom-and-pop type shop. No awkward questions, good job, too. Nice bit about it, he was ex-Army.

?: Now, looking back at your time since service, if this were an ideal world, what is the one tool, resource, or policy, perhaps, you could have used or would have appreciated having access to, to overcome these obstacles, that wasn’t available to you?

Carl: Wow. Three things to think about. I’ll want paying after this brain workout!

One tool? L42a1 would have done me, or my personal love, a SVD Dragunov. Happy with either, and a couple of hundred rounds. (I think he took me a little too literal here!)

One resource? It’s now here, the Internet. When I left, it was in its’ infancy. I was in on the first university setups and big business. A lot of my first jobs were found using bulletin boards, but when the internet REALLY got going, job hunting was simplified.

One policy? Two fold: The right to keep and bear arms. I watched a friend die by a hand of another. Me, literally on the other side of a fence. One handgun and it would have been a different story. THAT, I’ll never forget, too.

That, and the UK has NEVER looked after it’s vets or their dependents, whole or injured, so a VA would be nice, as opposed to relying on charity the whole damn time.

?: So, on that note, what are your thoughts about the current members of the UK military, and perhaps a more important question, your governments’ use of them?

Carl: Poor sods is what I think. Being put in harm’s way on a politician’s whim, no job security, and a terrible civilian climate to work in as most of the good jobs are now done by the PC’s. The forces is a shadow of what it was when I was in.

?: When you say a shadow, do you mean just numbers, or the intrinsic stuff like esprit de corps, resolve, etc?

Carl: Equipment, logistics, weapons, training, and morale is really low following the mass redundancies plus all the deployments and the UK is still being labeled as the borrowers.

?: Anything you see as a solution to that?

Carl: Brick wall and loads of ammo comes to mind.

?: Well, yes, but there would probably be repercussions to that. I mean a diplomatic or policy-based solution?

Carl: We are talking about the UK government. The only time they change policy is if there is no money in it, or they are scared.

?: Anyone in your government currently that you think has the right ideas, if they just had the support? Also, I would like to get Qui to weigh in on this, as she has a background in economics.

Carl: As for a politician of note, sorry to say, there are none who give a toss about the forces, ex- or otherwise.

Qui: Hi, dear, Qui here.

?: Hi, Qui! Carl and I were talking about the current military force in the UK, and how it is a bit out of sorts, due to government policy and interference. I asked him if there was anyone currently sitting in government that might have the right ideas (and no overwhelming desire to line his pockets) that might do something right, if he had enough support? I understand you have a background in economics, so I wondered if you might have a different take on that subject?

Qui: Numbers were definitely my forte’, and though I had the title, I didn’t have the paper to say that. I don’t think anyone in power actually knows what the figures are, to be honest. They keep moving the goalposts, including this, excluding that, thinking of another and multiplying it all by 10, to make them look good.

?: So, no one looks good to you, currently in office? Or even perhaps like their intentions haven’t been tarnished yet?

Qui: I don’t trust any of them to deliver on their promises, particularly with an election coming up!

?: I am going to get back to some more military-related questions. Let me know if Carl tries to boot you off the computer, as his questions are a little different.

Qui: Chat with me, I’m prettier!

?: Absolutely the truth! As a wife, and I realize he had been out of service for a bit when you two met, but does his training or indoctrination (perhaps that is the right word) provide any unique challenges in the relationship?

Qui: I don’t think the same way as him, neither do I see things the way he does. It’s part of why our relationship works. We come up with some very unique solutions to problems!

?: I can imagine, a military background, and a financial background, make a pretty powerful problem-solving team?!

Qui: Yes, he wants to buy bullets, and I say, “No!” He also had a go at teaching me to shoot, and a conditioner bottle top doesn’t stand a chance now!

?: A well-trained, well-armed, smart woman is her countries’ greatest asset, and it’s greatest threat!

Now, have you noticed or experienced in any way, that things are more difficult in society as a whole, because you are married to a veteran? Have there been specific challenges you have faced, that you would not have experienced, if he were a civilian?

Qui: He also has made me more aware of my surroundings, and when situations are somewhat out-of-kilter, but we both had a jaded view of everything when we met, obviously for different reasons.

?: And his being a veteran hasn’t caused any undue hardship in dealing with the community or the powers that be, in your mind? Other than perhaps disagreeing with sheeple, I imagine?

Qui: Carl tends to be more cynical than me, though I have my moments, but because our backgrounds are so different, he sees things from a different perspective. Sometimes I can see his point, but I don’t always agree with him. I can’t say there have been any hardships in dealing with anything, though. If we differ, we always discuss it. He’s the hard-ass (he thinks) and I am the pussy-cat (with long claws.)

?: Now, if you were in a position to cause any sort of change within your countries’ government, what sort of policy change would you set into effect to help veterans? (Imagine you actually had all the power you needed to effect this change, here.)

Qui: Oh, I wish! I’d like to see an increase in support on all sides, not just financial. I’d like to see the return of National Service, so that the young of today give the respect to veterans, that they so rightly deserve. I’d like there to be some form of definite and permanent structure in place for those who need help, somewhere/someone/an organization where they won’t be turned away, won’t feel alone, or isolated?

?: I understand your government doesn’t have the equivalent of our US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, with its Veteran’s Hospitals. Are you thinking something along those lines, or do you have better ideas?

Qui: Yes, I think we need something similar.

?: You may not know the answer to this next question, but I will throw it out to you. If I were a young, newly-separated UK military person, and needed help, where would I go?

Qui: As a young military person needing help, I would probably go to the Chaplain. Carl says that’s normally where someone would turn, and when we offered assistance to someone in the past, that was the first thing that crossed my mind.

?: Wow. I can imagine how many people wouldn’t even bother, if that was the best place to start. Wow.

Qui: Please explain that last comment?

?: It has been my experience, talking to other veterans, some of your experiences may leave you feeling that perhaps God doesn’t want anything to do with you, or that He has forsaken you, so having to go to a chaplain to get help would be especially difficult, more so than talking to some bureaurocrat.

Carl: True, most veterans have seen and probably been in some heavy shit and it does shake the faith, BUT the UK chaplains have the power to walk into the CO’s office and grab the guy by the throat and remind him that HE ain’t God! The chaplain’s concern is to keep the dependents happy, as well as his brethren. A distracted swordsman is a bad risk, and worry about his lady or baby is one hell of a distraction. Back to Qui.

?: Now, Qui, I asked Carl this same question, but I anticipate a different answer from you. What are your thoughts about the current UK military, and more importantly, the government’s use of them?

Qui: I’d like to see our troops brought home from places where we don’t belong.

?: Great answer! And along those same lines, (and you may not feel you have a great answer to this, but I am going to throw it out there,) what do you see as the biggest obstacle to new veterans of the UK military? This is purely asking your opinion, so no answer is going to be wrong.

Qui: No respect, no job prospects, no support!

?: So your answer gives me a sense that the predicament that veterans in your country find themselves is largely of the governments’ making, but that’s not the complete picture. There is also a general lack of empathy and respect amongst the civilian population, as well?

Qui: This is a toughie for me to answer, but from what I can gather, if you are ex-mil over here, the only job prospects seem to be in something in the security line. If they are trained, some employers like to hire ex-mil, but it all comes down to money, and sadly, the migrant workforce is cheaper.

?: You read my mind. I was just going to ask that. So, some of the pressure veterans are facing can be directly traced back to the governments’ handling of immigration issues?

Qui: Non-handling.

?: Exactly. And do you feel that a population that was not so inundated with émigrés would also hold more respect for their veterans, and perhaps hold their government more accountable to take care of them?

Qui: Again, a tough one for me. I think if anyone has served their country they should not be forgotten once they are out of uniform. Carl could probably answer that one better than me.

?: Ok, one last question for you, Qui, and thank you so much for taking your time to talk with me today. What do you think is the most important thing for civilians to remember, or know, about the military, and it’s veterans? Once again, this is your opinion, and no answer is wrong.

Qui: When I think about Remembrance Day, although no war stories were passed on to me by uncles or grandfathers, I appreciate the ultimate sacrifice so many made for someone like me, and show my respect.

?: Again, thank you so much for your time. It has been a joy interviewing you.

Qui: You are welcome.

Veteran’s Voices: From the UK

03 December, 2014

Veteran’s Voices

This is the first of a 3-part interview I will be posting over the next couple of days.

As I have been blogging over the past year, my blog has become different, and so much more than I ever expected out of it, when I started, just one short year ago. A lot of this is due to the interactions I have had with other bloggers. One thing that has become apparent, is that my blog is a terrific opportunity to examine issues, and express what I am passionate about in a non-biased manner.

One of the things that I am passionate about is the experiences and plight of veterans. When I speak about veteran’s issues, I don’t want people thinking, “Oh, that’s just an US issue, because they are constantly at war,”. My ambition is to interview veterans, and their families all over the world, and bring their experiences and opinions into focus. My goal is to interview at least 30 veterans in the next year, from all over the world, and all areas of conflict, covering any actions I can since the the 1920’s. I realize our vets are getting older, and some of these folks won’t be around to interview for long. If you know any World War 1 or 2 vets, please send me a comment. I would love to interview them, and will do whatever is necessary to make the interview comfortable for them.

I do not have an agenda with these interviews. I start with a set list of questions I want to ask, but experience has shown that the answers will sometimes lead in interesting directions. I always tell my interviewees there are no right or wrong answers, I simply want to know how they feel, what their opinion is. I may or may not necessarily agree with those opinions, but I think they deserve a voice. I want to give a strong voice to that veteran who may feel he or she has been abandoned by his government or even the civilians he swore to protect. I want to give a voice to that veteran who is too proud to ask for help, or too confused by red tape to figure out how. For that same reason, I don’t overly clean up any language that is used. A few words are modified, but I try to express the essence of what the interviewee is feeling and saying, at that moment. Honest answers are powerful, and I hope my readers feel that power when they read these interviews.

My first interview is with a couple of bloggers, who, prefer to remain anonymous for this interview. I will refer to them as Carl & Quiona Thomas. Carl is a Royal Air Force veteran of the UK, who served in the 1970’s – 1980’s. Qui is his wife of approximately 14 years.

?: Carl, let’s start with what you are comfortable with telling me about your time in service. What branch or units were you with, what time period did you serve, what foreign missions were you involved with, that sort of thing. Of course, anything you are uncomfortable sharing, that is fine. Tell me as much as you are comfortable sharing…

Carl: Comfortable, eh? I was born into a forces family, so joined at age ZERO. I upset my father by joining the RAF when I was 17, as the food was better. I served 12 years before military changes in policy made me “surplus to requirements.”

Postings? I lived in a suitcase, name it and I’ve probably been there if it is a UK forces base.

I walked into a recruiting office and said, “Learn me a trade.” The very smart looking guy behind the desk said, “Like what?” I said, “blowing shit up, sort of trade.” He said, “Take our test, and we will see.” It was a three hour test regime I had to take, including an IQ. I didn’t even know what one was, but I scored in the “upper echelon,” whatever that meant. Physical dexterity was being shown a shape in metal that they then mixed up. Lying on the guys’ desk, was an inert 9mm Browning. I shut my eyes, field-stripped it, reassembled it, and clicked the action. His comment? “Passed!”

Anyway, if I had known all that was going to happen, I would have joined the Navy, instead.

As for rank? My stripes were on Velcro. Reason? In the RAF it don’t matter much about rank, only what you know. The higher you go, the higher the responsibility. So I alternated between Sergeant and Corporal, having upset more than a few senior ranks.

?: What were your initial motivations to join (that than to P-O the parental unit?) Were there any strong family reactions at the time, to your decision?

Carl: If we were on Skype for this, this would be a scream. I might even have gone to video to give you a bigger laugh! Motivations? I wasn’t good at school stuff and liked guns and things that generally go boom so the forces seemed to be the place to go and play with them.

Family was a tad upset. Hell no, they went BALLISTIC!

It wasn’t until they found out what trade I finally enlisted in, did they see the funny side, bearing in mind my penchant (not) for all things technical.

? Do you have any specific memories of good or bad leadership while you were in service, and how did you cope with it?

Carl: All officers suck, but in my time, I only came across two that didn’t suck too badly. Both were ex-rankers (enlisted, for my US readers), and both from PRACTICAL trades, my trade.

SNCO’s basically left me alone, because I had acquired unusual skills, and as said, in the Air Force, if you are useful, they use that, and NOT (as my assessments constantly said) “Carl Thomas has a deep mistrust of rank.”

Only, it wasn’t a mis-trust, just a dislike of anyone who thought they deserved respect, and hadn’t earned it. My service nickname was predictable – REBEL. Job knowledge, excellent, Attitude, bloody awful!

I dealt with some US Marines, knew a few. Good lads. Problem was your “each person has a specific trade”. One undoes the nut, the other guy, the bolt. RAF training, you did them all. So, when working with the US, I tended to upset the status quo a bit. I actually got thrown off a US base once by some drip of an LT. He didn’t like being told, F@#$ off, stop pestering me, I’ve got work to do, SIR. Even then, I knew the power of the word “Sir” and he was constantly stopping me as I “overstepped my trade boundaries.”

At best, I gravitated towards cooks. IF you want anything, ask a cook. Intel, a decent steak, equipment, barter was good currency, as was “favors.” They knew people, and I got what I needed in a “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours,” sort of way.

Ahh, but you asked how I coped with bad leadership. In the RAF I just ignored it and did what was right. Later, I did what was right, having first (and very blatantly) removed my Velcro stripes, giving them to whomever I had upset, thus saving them the bother of demoting me.

After a while, they just left me alone.

?: It was my experience, and I assume this may be true for any service person, where, despite whatever your motivation was for joining, you say, “whiskey, tango, foxtrot, what am I doing here?” Or, “dang, this is a cluster@#$%.” Did you have 1 or several moments where this became abundantly clear to you, and if so, how did you cope?

Carl: Nope, None, NEVER. I knew nothing else, you see? ClusFk was normal to me. You’ve got to remember I was raised on military camps, attended military base schools, and usually ended up eating their food! Forces brat, to forces, and thought I’d peg out forces, too. In my blood, 4th generation forces.

There is always the question, “WTF am I doing here, but usually after some mess up with travel, equipment, food, or a jerk-off who thought he was in charge.

“Hurry up and wait” peed me off a bit, but in general, I was well-suited for the transient lifestyle and as home had always been where I lay down, the disruption meant little to me.

Cluster FK’s happened, guys died, you learned to make acquaintances, not friends.

How did I cope? Only one thing comes to mind.

My best friend got killed. Someone else’s fault, too. I went to see his wife as soon as I came back, only she had been moved out of married quarters within 7 days. Some shitty officer was there moaning about the state of the house. I clouted him, and he went down. The padre saved my skin that day, by going to see the CO to explain what had happened. The jerk-off was posted; I lost 7 days pay. Did I feel bad? Nope.

?: Was there ever a time when you felt you were insufficiently trained for a situation you found yourself in, while serving? And, again, how did you cope?

Carl: Yep, all the time. What you learned in basic was NOTHING LIKE REAL LIFE. What you learned in trade training was also equally useless. You learned as newbies/sprogs/green, or whatever, to ASK QUESTIONS, and who, among the brethren, knew the score. Those who were afraid to ask didn’t do well. Those who questioned and got better, did.

That’s a difficult one to answer, though. At what point DID I feel I was fully trained?

Know what used to upset me more than anything? The blind, “follow me, boys” leadership that some commanders expected.

The enlightened listened to the quiet words of their knowledgeable brethren, not the wet-behind-the-ears, or gung-ho leadership.

Thus, later on in life, such restraint served me well when working in or without a fire support team. Thinking your way through a problem, BUT still falling back onto acquired training if things got too complicated, or too fast to work out. For example, “Incoming!”, hit the deck, get under cover. That’s the training, and it’s automatic. Then you work out what to do using risk assessment (protecting your hide) as your guide.

?: Now, one for Qui: I am assuming, from my calculations, you guys met, probably two or three years after Carl got out. As a civilian, before Carl told you he was prior-military, did you pick up on any tells that he was a former service person? Was there anything about him that made you say, “Yep, this is a military man.”?

Qui: We met in 1989, so I never knew him when he was in the Forces. I don’t think there were any tells that I would have picked up on, probably because my background was so vastly different from his (ie. I’d lived on civvy street all my life and my Dad only did National Service.) However, for years, I had written to lads who were serving overseas, and the guy in front of Carl in line, actually picked my letter out of the box when he was in the Falklands.

?: Now, Carl, your blog frequently parlays that you don’t particularly trust your government. Personally, I think this is a healthy response to any government. Do you think your experiences and time in service affected the way you see the government more so, than if you had remained a civilian?

Carl: Absolutely. I lost friends to a politicians’ whims. That, I don’t forget. I saw how they treated the dependents of the fallen, the injured, and their kids. I definitely won’t forget that. I was forced out by a change in government policy into a shit-world of weakness. I loathe civilian life. To cow tow to anyone is not in my nature and all the civilians around me seem to. The whole civilian system is weak, with no structure, no loyalty, and no respect. And this is all because of the government, and the POLITICS OF MONEY.

This Woman…

I see this woman, every week, usually on Tuesdays, at the Veteran’s Hospital.

She’s usually dressed mid-professional, clean-cut, jeans are ironed, and whatnot.

I am pretty certain she is a veteran. She doesn’t have a hospital badge, I’ve seen her with the elastic around her arm, like they give when you’ve had your blood drawn, and she carries herself like a Marine, in charge of her destiny or her troops…most of the time.

Twice, I have seen her recoil from loud, startling noises, and hit the deck. Once, I asked her if she was OK, and she replied, in a voice that probably didn’t sound like her own, “Don’t touch me!”

I want to tell her, it will get better. It’s slow as hell, but it will get better. I want to tell her, “I’ve been there, still, more often than I have the courage to admit.” I want to tell her it will be OK.

But how do I start this conversation with a practical stranger? I wouldn’t be comfortable if someone I didn’t know said this to me–it even sounds a bit condescending as I type it.

There is a huge need in this country, and probably in others, to have a conversation about how to interact with returning soldiers suffering from PTSD. It’s high time it wasn’t the elephant in the room.

How do I reach out to this woman, this perfect stranger?