Active duty US Army, Cargo, Six years
Editor’s Note: Anja is a white active duty soldier in her late twenties, who is married to an active duty soldier. They have two children, and Anja speaks to their difficulties raising children amidst multiple deployments. Anja went on her first deployment when her son was only a year old, and said she never wants to have to leave him again, but believes that she will almost certainly be deployed at least once more. She was exposed to blast pressure on deployment and currently experiences unexplained headaches, but has never received any pre- or post-deployment screenings for TBI. She also spoke about her experience of being sexually harassed very early on in her Army career by an NCO she was under, while her husband was deployed.
I always knew that I wanted to be in the military, but I joined in 2006. [It was] pretty much just for the experience, and of course I’m the only female out of my family to do it, so it was like I had a point to prove.
When you try to make an appointment, it takes something like a month to get you actually seen. This is for medical health, I never went for mental health myself, but from what I’ve heard it takes about just as long.
The way that they have it now is if you miss your appointment it’s an Article 15. So, you are responsible for making your appointments. You’re given the time and you’re punished if you don’t.
[The health care] has been good and bad, it depends on your doctor. If you finally get your primary care, and they’re not crazy busy that day, and they actually have the time to sit down with you and talk about stuff, [and it’s good]. But other times if you go in for sick call or something that they think is minor, it’s in-and-out. [There are no] urgent care appointments, you have to go to the ER. Or go to sick call, but nine times out of ten, if you go to sick call they tell you to make an appointment, it takes about a month to get in.
Whenever you come to PT and you have a profile, they’ll be like “Oh, well why are you on profile?” and you tell them so it’s not like they know [about your medical conditions]. They have to ask for themselves.
From the commanders it’s usually, “Okay.” From NCOs, it’s usually like, “Aw, that’s BS. What, really you got a profile for that? What?” Sometimes you’re given a hard time.
I have a permanent profile for no running, because I have compartment syndrome on both my legs. I’ve had it for four years. Sometimes they give me a hard time about it, but I just brush it off because it’s like whatever, you can’t do anything, so…
I don’t think [pressure to violate my profile] has been directly towards me. But I do feel kind of like I’m looked down upon because I don’t run. There’s one soldier, she basically has a profile for everything but breathing. And they’re like, “Well how do you have a profile that you can’t walk in PT? You walk every day, you have to walk. How can you not pick up something? You pick up your kids.” So, it’s things like that.
The profile that I had, it was a three and if you have a three, you can’t deploy. But if you have a two, you can. I myself went and said, “Hey I need a two,” for the simple fact that I can run under combat situations, but not for everyday PT or PT tests. So I went and did it myself. No one else was trying to make me do it.
The people with the profiles that have been given a hard time, of course yes, they know [about MEDCEN-01]. And you have your barracks lawyers who are always like, “Oh, they can’t make you do this, they can’t make you do that.” But as far as them seeing in black and white, or it being put out to solders, “They can’t make you do this,” I don’t think [the policy] is out that way.
[My profile] was issued in 2008 and my primary care had sent it up to one of the majors. I cannot remember his name but it was over at Darnall. It’s only a major or some type of officer that can issue a permanent profile. So he had to evaluate the situation and everything before.
Especially in Cav, [there is a lot of stigma]. I had a friend, he was like, “I hurt my ankle on a run and I got a profile and my NCO is like, “What the heck, I twist my ankles all the time.” I don’t know think it’s about one company, one person or one post. I think that’s just how it is.
Definitely medical, like physical profiles, [I have seen people ridiculed]. Mental, yes and no. It’s like the soldier who’s on psych meds and is also on sleeping pills. They wouldn’t be like, “Oh, so they can’t come to formation at these times because they need a lot of this time to sleep.” And then, whenever they come to work you can’t say anything to the soldier. It’s like, “You can’t make the soldier do this, this, or this because they’re going to flip out on you.” But I don’t feel that they’re actually talking to the soldier and finding out what mental issue they have. I think with soldiers like that they just kind of brush them off.
Lately, I really think [mental health profiles] have been taken seriously. But…before my deployment, nothing was really hardcore. Getting the soldier [to get help] is where the issue is. They take it serious after they’ve been to the doctor and they have paperwork saying it.
It’s a pride thing. You’re a soldier. A soldier is supposed to be able to deal with everything. And then they’re also too afraid to go and talk to anyone because they don’t want anyone in their business. They don’t want anyone to know this kind of stuff.
They just don’t want to be seen as weak, a lot of people don’t understand that just because you have this on your shoulders bothering you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good soldier. Some people definitely are like, “Oh, how’s a soldier have PTSD from getting in a vehicle accident? They’ve never been downrange.” But the people who’ve been downrange and seen stuff are like, “Ah, you know, he’s got a legit reason.” They understand that just because you haven’t been downrange doesn’t mean you can’t have PTSD or have issues.
I don’t know where [the stereotype] comes from, it’s just kind of there. Some people you can definitely tell that they have some issues. Because they’ll finally talk about it. But you have the lone soldiers who think, “Oh, I can get out of deployment if I play crazy.” But then you know that that soldier’s doesn’t have those issues, so I think that’s maybe where it comes from, because you have the legit people and then you have the fakers, so to speak. [The legit people] are like, “I don’t want to look like a dirtbag like this other person.” But they really may need the help.
We were downrange and there was this one soldier who just really didn’t want to deploy, who was like, “Man, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to do this.” Doesn’t have kids, doesn’t have a spouse, anything like that. Just didn’t want to go. Next thing you know, we’re over there for three months and the soldier’s flipping out. “I can’t take it, I can’t take it. I can’t take it.” That’s what he’s telling the NCOs, but you as a fellow soldier see him. “Man, I’m going home. I’m going home.”
But then you have another soldier who’s away from his family for the first time. He’s kind of older, not making the same amount of money. His wife is back home like, “I can’t deal with you being gone.” And that just keeps building, building, building and he finds out, “Oh okay, his wife wants to leave him now.” She’s going to leave him, take the kids, stuff like that. And then this soldier’s really, truly flipping out.
You have the one that you’re witnessing going through crap and then you have the one who you know just wants to go home. So, I think that’s where they conflict. A lot of people just want to be like, “Ah, you’re faking, you just don’t want to be here.”
You do have the soldiers who just never say anything. Who just snap. I think that right there’s from not wanting to speak up [to seek care]. Maybe they’ve got a big pride thing going on, or they don’t know how, or they’re scared. But then, it’s also, “Oh, I don’t want to be like him. I’m just going to try and deal with it on my own.”
You do have your good NCOs who put stuff out like that—if you broke your arm, would you just walk around with it dangling and say, “Oh, it will get better?” No, you’re going to go to the doctor! So, you know, your head’s a little off. Go to the doctor and get it fixed.
You have very, very few NCOs who are actually about soldiers now, that I’ve seen. As I progress in the Army, I see that less and less. Especially now with them trying to downsize and everything. It’s pretty much every man for themselves and those NCOs—they’ve already been in for so long, they don’t know what they’re going to do if they get put out so they’re trying everything they can to make themselves better. And then they’ve got the soldiers in the background going, “Oh man, I just got in the Army because I came from hard times and now I might be facing getting put out. I need a mentor, I need someone to help me.” But there’s no one there.
Editor’s Note: The interview transitioned to talk about Anja’s experience in SRP and on deployment.
You just go in, get shots, do vision [at SRP]. I don’t really remember if they ask you about your mental state—I’m not saying they didn’t, I just don’t recall. It’s very rushed. During the initial SRP, you know the deployment’s coming. That’s how I see it as a soldier. You already know if you’re going to deploy or not, so those people who go to SRP, nine times out of 10 are actually going to be your deployers. So, it’s like, “Okay, these people are already good.”
I think the first day I do remember you have to have all of your MEDPROS and stuff. Everything has to be green for you to go. They stop process right there if you don’t have all your MEDPROS updated and that’s anything from a DNA sample to if you’re pregnant—everything. After that it’s definitely rushed. It’s get you in and get you out.
[People do get pushed through] but I think it’s because it’s those soldiers who want to go—I don’t think I’ve witnessed a soldier who actually could not do the deployment that they made them go. I haven’t seen that.
Downrange, we were really supportive of each other, oh my goodness. We were considered one of the worst units in the battalion. Because we were the unit that stood up the last. And we needed people, so whenever the unit stood up the assigned major was like, “Hey, we need this many people to go.” And they’re like “Oh, let’s send [my unit] all our screw-ups. Let’s move all our screw-ups down there,” you know, where you’ve got DUIs, failed drug tests, AWOL soldiers, stuff like that. Any kind of issues they had with those soldiers, they sent to us.
And then you had the new soldiers coming into the battalion, so you had your ones that should not have been in the Army at all mixing with your brand new soldiers coming to Fort Hood. So it was a total clash. Because you had your ones that didn’t care, and then you had the ones who were just coming who wanted to care but didn’t care because they saw what they came to [for others].
But we got all that weeded out before we deployed, the people that didn’t need to be there, they didn’t come with us. And then we came together and it was actually very surprising. I was like, “Oh my god, I do not want to deploy with these people. I’m so scared,” on my first deployment. But once you get in county it’s like everyone’s just one big family.
We had like three people in our unit [who dealt with substance abuse], but other than that we really didn’t [on deployment]. But our gun truck unit, they were high all the time, drinking, everything. The sad part is that we didn’t know until we got ambushed. And then they were like, “Why didn’t you shoot anything?” So then we all got drug tested.
We did have one suicide attempt, he OD-ed on his malaria pills because somebody from the FRG had said on Facebook that his wife was cheating on him, and he couldn’t get in touch with his wife for whatever reason. She was with her family or something, she wasn’t cheating. But he just flipped. And that was all [in] a matter of two days—and then he tried to OD. But he was okay. Came through everything and they sent him back home and they’re fine, him and his wife.
…When you’re deployed, it’s a bunch of he-said she-said stuff. And especially the spouses back here are like, “Oh, I seen this person with that person,” it’s how the telephone game works. And then it got to him, he couldn’t get in touch with her. And all he had was her, she was like his support system. Nobody really knew about it in the unit until he took the pills.
I think [hearing the rumor] is what brought him over the top, because everyone deals with stress differently. Me, I was stressed out if I couldn’t get a hold of my son. But you got to think about the time change, what were they doing at that time here, and then you’re always on the road. You don’t really have that much personal time, so you get to make that phone call home and if you don’t hear the voice, it’s just like “Ahhh.” That’s my total stress relief, it can be two weeks, but that’s my breath of fresh air. So I could totally understand where that would bring him over to the top. But yeah, there’s definitely a lot more other stresses [on deployment].
He actually was an awesome soldier. He was a really, really good soldier. My husband and him were good friends, too… He wasn’t one of those soldiers who show symptoms over a period of time. Just like, total flip.
It kind of blew [the command’s] mind because like I said, he was an outstanding soldier. Afterwards, after all that went down, the Chaplain came, he talked to us, we had our little brief. Everyone’s had their like, weirdness, and they would talk about stuff…for like two days. And then it just went back to normal activity.
[Reverse-SRP] is pretty much the same. You just come back through, you update your paperwork, make sure you don’t need any more shots, ID cards, stuff like that. Then you go and take a little survey, and it tells you about your health. It has questions like, “Do you feel that the air you were breathing affected you?” And then, “Have you witnessed anything that would make you feel depressed?” That whole ordeal. But it’s a number sheet. And then they follow up with you based on that.
You do take the survey, you do sit down with what they say is a physician. But you sit in a little cubby and they ask you “Are you depressed? Have you hit your head? Have you done this?” And that’s it.
I think you maybe have 90 days to get it done. Honestly, I don’t think that you would even know that you had those symptoms until you’ve been back for a while. You’re not going to know that the first week you’re back. For the mental part, that’s too soon. Actually, for any of it that’s too soon, because you don’t have time to get sick. You can’t even get a cold in that time.
It was just [for PTSD or TBI], “Have you hit your head in the past however many days? Have you been knocked out? Have you had nose bleeds?” Stuff like that. Basically, have you had any trauma to you? …It did ask about headaches and stuff like that.
I don’t think [everyone answers truthfully at R-SRP]. I think a lot of people just take it for granted. Just be like, “Oh, just circle five for everything, you know, and get it done.”
It was from pressure to get there and get it done… And we were actually told whenever you do this, make sure you tell them everything. And we were told because we lived by a sanitation pond. They’re like, “Make sure you state that.” The commander’s like “I should hear about every single soldier saying what they said on that paper.” We were told, you know, to take it serious. But, of course there’s soldiers who don’t.
…They have to give you one [PTSD briefing] quarterly. Your suicide prevention, domestic abuse, PTSD. PTSD is involved in both of them. And when we had safety stand downs, which is once a month, that’s always implemented into it. Vehicle safety and PTSD. Those were the two big, big things. But, you go and sit in an auditorium and you watch it, some people get it, some people don’t. But it’s put out there and they are changing it to make it more interesting, to where you’re going to want to pay attention to it. So it’s not like death by PowerPoint.
I think they’ve been more serious [about PTSD] since I’ve been back. I definitely have seen more out there and it’s definitely enforced a lot more.
I’ve had symptoms of PTSD, but I don’t feel that it’s on the level where I need to be medicated. Because whenever you come back to country, those first couple months, it’s rough for everyone, whether you sat on the FOB and did nothing or you were out on the road. It’s a hard transition, and like I’ve said a thousand times, it depends on you, how you deal with it. But yeah, sometimes you hear a gunshot or something go off on post and everyone flinches a little bit. But, then you recover in a couple seconds and you just go on.
I have really bad driving. When I came home, if I’d see a wreck I’d freak out and I’d have to pull over. In the first two months, but then… I think I’m okay.
I had a friend commit suicide from [PTSD]. One who just got in a really bad accident, totaled his car. You have other soldiers who just kind of close themselves off.
I think it takes somebody on your same level sometimes, to get you to open up instead of just going to the psychiatrist and sitting there and being like, “Okay, what questions are you going to ask me?” Like my friend who just, totaled his car… You try to put yourself in their shoes, or what you think is in their shoes, to try to get them to talk about it. And then, they just open up. And then you’re like, “Okay wow, now I know how this side of you really feels, so this is what I feel I can do as a friend to help you out.”
Editor’s Note: Anja’s deployment to Iraq shifted to include a deployment to Afghanistan directly afterward. She switched into her present unit after this deployment, and the unit as a whole had been on one deployment thus far. She said that many soldiers in the unit and the company had been on multiple deployments as well.
…My friend who just got into the accident, this was his third deployment. His first one was really rough. There were like foot patrols and stuff like that. His second one…not so bad, I don’t think. But I think his third one, it really hit him, because he was like, “I didn’t want to go back to what I had already experienced.” You’re already putting yourself in that state of mind that you’re going up to a really messed up situation, where it wasn’t that bad this time. Nowhere near as bad. It’s a long flight over there, you’re thinking about all kinds of stuff, and if you’ve already put yourself in that state of mind, you’re done for the rest of deployment. If you scare yourself on the way there, you’re going to be scared the whole time you’re there.
Besides physically, being blown up, I think listening to other stories of soldiers who’ve done prior deployments [causes soldier trauma]. Me, I was scared because I’d heard about everybody else talking about their deployments. And I’m like, “Is this what I’m going to have to witness?”
But then, what affected me even more was I was a single parent at the time. My son had just turned a year old. And so I have to worry about that right there, along with, “Am I going to see him again?” Things like that. So I think it’s just a combination of what you’ve got going on back at home, what you think you’re going to go to and then what’s actually there. All of it into one.
The coming back, I was excited, I couldn’t get there fast enough. I was like, “Okay, let’s go home, get it over with.” But a lot of the soldiers who were married, they had a lot of issues like, “Oh, he’s cheating on me,” or, “They took my kids and left.” And, “I don’t have nothing when I go home.” So a lot of them are angry. They’re angry because…they want to go home. And then you get home and everything’s chaotic.
Home life is a big, big deal, a big, big part of [the trauma]. Because you’re always going to be worried about your family. You could be married to the same person for like 10 years, and you go on a deployment that you’ve been put on four times. But you’re still going to be worried. Like you hear, “Oh, my kid is sick.” And you feel like crap because you’re a parent and you can’t be there with your kid. What was going on back at home affected me a lot more than what was going while I was there.
I don’t really feel like you can do anything about the pre-deployment [stress]. You’re always going to have the vets telling you stories. I don’t even know if you could do that either, if you could find out what the area is like whenever you go there. Because, when I went to Iraq, everyone knew. We were working during the day, or doing missions at night, regular stuff during the day.
But when we go into Afghanistan, nobody knows anything about it. And it’s like, can you do a little bit of research, can you talk to the units that are there, find out what’s going on or relay some information to us, so we kind of know what we’re getting ourselves into? I think just maybe trying to educate yourself about it before you go [would help]. And then, the company educating you as well. If they don’t just throw you in there and be like, “Oh, you’re going to go here and that’s it.” They tell you as much as they can, but I feel that they could maybe find out a little bit more than what they’re telling you.
[Downtime] depends on your job, we were given as much as we possibly could, but we were on the road every single day. If you have a lot of missions, you got to get the mission done. But then when you come off of a mission, they’ll be like, “Okay, we can only give you guys a day, but take advantage of that day. Get your laundry done and call home, do whatever you can.” If they had the time to give to you, they gave it to you. But that’s not your NCO or your company. That’s just the mission. You got to get the mission done.
Definitely [it affects soldier’s health]. Because you don’t get sleep. If you’re up all night long, and the next day you can’t function, well, try being in the desert where it’s 120 degrees, driving a truck.
You take your iPod. You could listen to music, or I was studying for the boards. So my NCO, he would be asking me questions. The first couple months I was just so scared there was no way I was going to fall asleep. There’s just no way. I had too much adrenaline from being scared.
But you find ways. You stock up on candy, just whatever. Just try to eat the whole time. You figure out different ways.
To be honest, TBI is not really put out that much. I found out what TBI was because of the self-structured development courses that you have to do for your rank. I’ve heard soldiers say, “Yeah, I got a TBI,” and I’m like, “TBI? What is a TBI?” …But then there’s one course, all about PTSD and TBI, but mostly TBI… And then my husband, he went to the doctor during that same time, and they said, “Oh yeah, you have a skull fracture. We think you have a TBI.” So I more or less educated myself on that. They don’t normally talk about it too much.
I honestly think you’re more likely to have a TBI than PTSD, because you don’t have to witness something happening to you. You could be working on one of the trucks or you could just be getting out of your car and smack your head. I think they need to definitely put that out more.
Editor’s Note: Anja testified that she did not take the ANAM test before she deployed. She was exposed to blasts during her deployment, and did not receive any TBI screening after returning home.
It was always put out to us, if we witnessed an IED or we were in the range, we’re all asked, “Hey, how do you feel? You okay? Your ears ringing? Your head hurt? What’s going on?” And then of course the people who are actually in the blast, they got medical help, other than just saying, “If you feel okay, then you’re okay.”
The mission commander, the NCO in charge of the whole mission [asked those questions]. We had our medics there and they would tell us it was basically like concussions. Emphasis on vision, ringing in the ears, dizziness. If you were out to where you couldn’t get back to the FOB, then of course you stayed with the medic the whole time. You weren’t driving, you weren’t doing anything, you were with the medic. With injuries and stuff like that, they actually were really good about it downrange.
…I don’t know the policy 100%, but I would think [there was follow-up] because I do remember one of the questions on the paper was, “Were you involved in an IED blast?” It was on the Reverse-SRP, they ask you things about “Were you in any kind of accidents? Did you hit your head?” The whole medical paper.
I have been having headaches more frequently this past year than anything. I haven’t gone to the doctor about it, but I mean, they would say like, “Drink water.”
Until right now I never even thought about getting myself checked [for TBI]. Because with a headache, you’re out in the motor pool all day and you’re not drinking enough water, you get a headache. So that’s what I associate mine with. I’ve never thought about it being any more serious. Probably should. Because I don’t think it’s that common to have headaches like that.
…One soldier, she would have crazy bad headaches and mood swings, bad mood swings. And she was constantly leaking fluid out of her ears and her nose and her eyes. And they said that was because of the TBI. So she would go to the doctor, and [supervisors] are like, “Oh, you don’t have the paperwork documenting this right now so you have to come to work.” And she’s like, “I can’t even drive myself. Are you going to come get me?” She was given a hard time about it because the doctor didn’t state “You need to be on quarters for this amount of time.” It wasn’t stated on the paperwork. I don’t know for sure what was on there. I remember them making a big, huge ordeal about it.
[MST trainings] were quarterly classes, too. And it gets put out every Friday in your safety brief. “Don’t do this, don’t do that. If you have this kind of stuff happen to you, please report it up.” They point out who your individuals are that you speak to, the NCOs and stuff. It’s put out who you need to talk to, and open door policy.
[Sexual assault] happens all the time. All the time…[to both women and men].
To be honest, I really don’t know [what should be done about it]. Because it’s all situational. You have your people who joke around with each other, where it can be a male to female soldier, and they’re just close and they could be joking around, saying things that a new person coming in would take it offensively and be like, “Oh, that’s sexual harassment.” But also, you have your soldiers in the motor pool or whatever who are joking around and grabbing each other, and they think it’s okay, but then the other soldiers don’t think it’s okay. So you have your jokers and you have your serious people.
And then you have your really serious cases, too. I don’t really know how to prevent it unless you’re going to be like, “Don’t do this to me.” And then you take it up. But you don’t have too many people who do that.
They’re scared of repercussions. They’re afraid. Like with new female soldiers, you have your other soldiers who are like, “Ah, these are new females.” Or even guys. “Oh, you have your new soldiers coming in. Oh, I’m going to do this, I bet I can do this, this and this.” …I don’t think [soldiers] know coming in what exactly their rights and their capabilities are as far as stopping it.
[Reports are not taken seriously] all the time. No. The situation with me, I don’t know, because I was being sexually harassed by my NCO. And me being the only white female, and the only female working in the office that I worked at, it got pushed under the rug. I was told no for something, for some question. And then it was used as being a racial thing. So it turned out I was being racist against that NCO. It was nothing like that at all.
It’s a big deal, because sexual harassment I think leads to sexual assault. Because if you don’t put a stop to the harassment, that person is going to think that they can just keep going and going and going, until next thing you know, you’re getting raped or you’re having this crazy stuff happen to you. I think sexual harassment needs to be emphasized more because I think that’s the cause of sexual assault, in a lot of cases. But of course, you do have those crazy ones where someone is just going to come snatch you up.
I reported my situation to my first sergeant. I did my sworn statement. The paperwork was done, I was told, “Hey, be waiting for an investigator. It’s going to be an officer you’ve never met before who’s going to come up to you and they’re going to want to talk to you about what happened. Make sure you tell them everything.” I was told I couldn’t PCS, I couldn’t deploy, I couldn’t do anything until the investigation was closed. I never saw anyone. No one ever asked me any questions about it and I deployed, came back, tried to follow up on it. Nothing ever came of it.
…I haven’t heard anything. No one even knows anything about it now. So what happened to my paperwork? It was one of those things that just disappeared.
Editor’s Note: Anja tried to follow up on the investigation after coming back from deployment. She had also seen other soldiers who experienced MST made to deploy with someone who assaulted or harassed them.
No one knew. No one knew anything about it.
Right now I have a friend, her and her roommate were talking about how they wanted to work out, and this person would meet them at the gym. At first they thought, “Okay, it’s a male NCO walking with us.” You got to have a male with you most times anyways being deployed. So they didn’t think anything of it. And he was like, “Oh yeah, you guys should try these exercises. It will help you tone.” It started off really nonchalant, just everyday soldier talk.
Next thing, he was bringing a thumb drive to their room and was like, “Hey, take pictures of you in your sports bra and your shorts and put it on the thumb drive. And then just do it every week and I’ll monitor how much weight you guys are losing and how toned you’re getting.” She’s like, “Have you lost your mind?!” She says she told him no. “You need to stay away from me, I’m not about that.” Put her foot down right then.
But then he just kept on and kept on. “Oh, well, your roommate wants to talk to me.” And the roommate was one of those soldiers who liked to be the center of attention and was okay with what he was doing. So finally she did have to bring it to higher-up. And then all that stuff was done. A no-contact order was put out. And now she works in the orderly room and that NCO comes in very frequently. The commander had to be like, “You know you’re not allowed up here. So don’t come to this office anymore, you’re not allowed up here.”
…I know that they put [MST care] out there. They have their helplines, and they tell you who to talk to. But you don’t hear about it as much as you would things like suicide. You hear more about suicides than you hear about people reporting sexual assaults or harassment.
…I didn’t feel like [I had any options]. Of course my First and my NCOs would be like, “If you feel like you need to talk to someone, come and let us know.” But I was a brand new soldier. I’m assigned to that company but I don’t know any of you. And here I am, the NCO who I work with for the past year who has been nothing but professional. Knew my husband was gone at the time, I was just there with my newborn baby and then I have him stalking my house and calling me and then now here you are, brand new. I don’t know anything about you and you’re males, you know? You think I’m going to trust you? No! So yeah, I wasn’t told, “Oh, you can call this person or that person.” I didn’t know I had any of those options right then. I was a scared little girl for a little bit.
Before, I wouldn’t go anywhere by myself at all. And now, of course, I’ll venture out. But certain places I don’t go, because I know that individual still goes there. They are no longer in the Army, but I know they go there, so I don’t.
Editor’s Note: The conversation turned to Anja’s experience with how the Army is handling health care and discharges during the draw-down.
…The past couple months, not being able to get into the doctor like you need to, because they are cutting back and you do have to go through medical screenings before you can get out of the Army. And then you do have a lot of people who are going through Med Board.
I have a soldier right now who’s about to get chaptered out for missing his PT test by 15 seconds on his run. He’s been in for a year and a half, has been given two PT tests since he’s been here. Two PT tests of his whole military career and missed his run by 15 seconds. They’re chaptering him out. Outstanding soldier, never had any kind of negative anything against him at all.
He’s going to get honorable. It’s going to be the best discharge that they can give him. It’s not going to affect him negatively, I don’t think. Well, of course it will in some aspects. They say he can come back in within six months.
…People with DUI or failing a drug test [are getting Other than Honorable discharges]. The worst I’ve seen them get was general discharge. That’s not even cool. With all the cutbacks and changes being made, our battalion commander puts out every single time he can, “If you come to me with any of these kind of issues, if you’re brought to me by the cops, dishonorable discharge. You’re out.” He’s like, “I don’t care. Any trouble you get into, I’m not putting general on anything. You’re dishonorable.”
Mostly it’s soldiers who do have PTSD or some kind of a psychological issue, and they have to take sleeping meds, [who are getting disciplined]. That’s the biggest thing right there. “You were ten minutes late for formation.” “I have paperwork that says right here that I’m on sleeping meds.” “Okay. Well, on the weekends, I bet you’re up late. But, you know, this is not [okay].” But then again, it’s back on the leadership.
Editor’s Note: Anja further testified that she had seen some soldiers discharged dishonorably, who she thinks were probably experiencing symptoms of trauma. She also spoke about whether the Army is helping soldiers prepare for work as civilians, and the stigma and sexism she experiences as a female soldier married to a male soldier.
I know they definitely enforce you doing your ACAP, your process to get out of the Army. But I don’t think you have a lot [of support], because you need to have a mentor if you’re going through that process. Because if you’re ignorant to what the Army has to offer you, even that late in the game, then you’re not going to know. Like the soldier who’s getting chaptered out now, I’m like, “Hey dude, make sure you go through all of this stuff. Make sure you do.” I told him every bit of everything I knew. And he was like, “Well thanks, because no one has told me.”
Not that many [people know about that stuff]. There’s so many things that the Army can still do for you even after you’re chaptered out. And people don’t realize it. They think, “Oh, well the Army’s done with me now.”
…[As a woman] you definitely have something more to prove. I’m going to prove my point, I’m going to prove that I can do just as much as you can… But I’m also soldier enough to say, “Hey, I got to go get this taken care of.” Like marriage counseling—I was like “Hey guys. Sorry, I can’t do this, I got to go to marriage counseling.” And they’re like, “What?” Yep, I’m doing it.
But then too, being in the Army and especially being married, you know, “Oh, you need marriage counseling. You know, your husband…” You’re put down on the level of a civilian spouse. “Oh, your husband—he’s cheating on you, he’s lying to you, he’s doing this, that. That’s why you need counseling.” They don’t think of it being as, “Hey, you’re dual military. Maybe your husband doesn’t know how to deal with you being the same, equal.” Or, “Hey, I have two kids and my husband, he’s not used to dealing with kids, or you know, we have a newborn baby.” They don’t look at it like that. They’re just like, “Oh, cheating. Cheating. Yeah.”
I feel like the only time [female soldiers] would need any more or serious care is for female issues, and then having a child. I think afterwards, having a baby and going through your postpartum and things like that—I think they do need to be more sensitive for things that could go wrong with you. They tell you, “Oh, within six months, you’re going to be completely healed, your weight’s going to be down.” So they give you six months and then you’re supposed to be back up on your feet ready to go.
I think they need to be more sensitive to it, because you cannot recover physically in six months from having a child, even in the civilian world. It’s not that easy. And now they have your annual physical that you’re supposed to do every year. You have it every two years now because they don’t think, “Oh, well, unless you have some issues going on then there’s no reason for us to check you.” So, I think in that aspect, I think they need to be a little bit more sensitive. But other than that, it’s okay.
You can request [a female doctor] and if they have one for you, then they can give it to you. But you don’t keep a primary care doctor more than four months. I’m always getting letters in the mail saying this is your new primary care. I don’t go to the doctor unless I absolutely got to and then I try to ask for someone I know that’s been there forever.
…You hear it, “Oh yeah, the reason why he’s going crazy is because his wife is cheating on him.” Or, “Yeah, well, her husband is doing this and this, her husband doesn’t do anything but sit at home and she’s the sole provider.” You definitely hear it. Or you have the whole, “You don’t understand what I went through” type deal. “So you’re supposed to be my support system but you’re not there for me because you can’t relate with me.”
My son, he was only a year old when I deployed and it was rough because his father and I, we were married for a very short time. We were only together pretty much for the pregnancy and then he deployed when he was a month old. And about two months before he returned, I had to deploy. So, my son went to his father’s grandparents because financially they were the best people to go to and they’re great people, so I knew he was going to be taken care of. But also I’m like, “Okay, I don’t know his doctor that he’s going to be seeing.” He did get really sick while he was there. So it was just like—are you sure you’re doing the right thing, because that’s my kid. You can’t take care of him like I can.
And then whenever I came back on leave—it was like December when I left, August when I came back—he didn’t want anything to do with me. He was like, “I don’t even know you. Like, get away from me.” And I actually had to be in contact with his father. He actually had to stay at my mom’s house for two or three days so my son could get used to me again before he left. So it was just like, I don’t know, “Look at this guy. But I got to be civil with him, because of my son.” And then when I left, he was with my mom and had nightmares. So, it was really rough, that period was really rough.
As soon as I got back, my mom told me that this was going on. She was calling around to pediatricians. We were just trying to research if this was normal. It was pretty typical, so it that made me feel a little better. But now coming home, being here for two years—he’s four now, just turned four. I don’t ever want to leave him again. And I have a daughter who’s one. So it’s really, really hard.
[I am not deploying] next year, but I just reenlisted for four more years. So I’ll definitely be going again. It’s hard, because there’s so much that you have to do in those couple months before you go. Not saying you don’t pay attention to your children, but it’s so much you have to do for work. And with his doctor, I just had to trust that his grandparents were doing the right thing.
Other [spouses I know have gone through domestic violence], like my friend who totaled his car. Apparently… None of us knew this until his wife told me the night we were all in the hospital making sure he was okay—that there were a couple times that he would push her. But mostly just throwing things, tearing things off the walls, punching the walls right next to her face, stuff like that. But she never told anyone. She was like, “If I can’t help him, no one else is going to be able to help him.” And I’m like, “But what about helping yourself?”
And then another friend of mine—her husband would like lock her in the bedroom. “You’re not leaving, you’re not going back to work. I don’t want you to get in trouble.” Stuff like that, just because he was a man. They’re from Guam, the man’s supposed to be the sole provider in that home and the woman’s supposed to stay at home. Roles were turned, and he didn’t know how to deal with it. He was just like, “No, I’m about to do anything I can to make sure you get in trouble.” And then you have your really, really crazy ones. But mostly it’s all because of drinking.
I honestly think that the spouses should have mandatory training, just like we do. I think that they should have mandatory training classes to educate them on what their rights are, because a lot of them don’t know.
And then, you also have the ones who take advantage of it. I just think that they need to be sat down, they need to have their annual trainings just like we do and be like, “Look, if this happens, you have the right to do that.” Or, “You don’t have the right to do this just because you’re mad.” Because you have some spouses who think, “Hey, you know what? I have pull over you, no matter what, because it’s my word against yours.” And a lot of times, that’s what it is. But then you have your other soldiers who think, “There’s no one that can help me because it’s going to be his word against mine.”
I definitely think we need more education on it. And it needs to be like mandatory. It doesn’t need to be, “Hey guys, we’re having this class. Please just join.” Your spouse needs to be here. Sign in on this roster.
Editor’s Note: In the last part of the interview, Anja described what she thinks should be done to provide soldiers the care they need.
More doctors, designated ones, for soldiers who have PTSD, TBI, issues that need to be addressed. They need to have their own little section, like this building is strictly for your guys. These doctors are strictly for you. Not the R&R Center, not, “Go to the ER, go to the 5th floor,” whatever it is. But just a spot for them that they can go to and get the care that they need. And then have all the other physicians, or primary care, for just your everyday whatever.
Like my husband, in order for him to get a psychiatrist, had to go through the primary care, and primary care has to give you a referral. You get your referral but then you don’t see the same doctor—over and over again. You have to keep telling them, “Hey, this is what I’m here for.” Your next visit, you’re there thinking, “Okay, I’m going to go from where I left off last time and start from there.” No, you’re starting all the way over.
I broke my foot on deployment, not even knowing. I didn’t even notice what was wrong. So it was broke, my foot was hurting… And then my toe stopped bending. It would get stuck up or stuck down, and I’m like “Okay, let me go to the doctor.” The doctor, thank God, he was an old-school doctor and was like, “Yep, that’s not normal. I’m going to give you this medicine until your referral goes through.”
It was a civilian doctor but because he was working in a military installation, you have to go through all those things. So, “Alright, I’m going to try putting you on this medicine.” “Okay, is this medicine going to make my toe bend?”
“Okay, I’m going to try and give you cortisone shots in your toe.” “Is that going to make my toe bend?” Finally the fifth time me going in, “Oh yeah, we’re going to give you surgery. You need surgery because it healed wrong.” So it’s like, “Oh my god, it took me almost two years to get surgery on my foot.”
And I’m just like, “Take an x-ray, and the first time you will see that it doesn’t look right. Okay, this is what we need to do to fix it.” Too simple… But it was like he had to try all these things before he could just say, “You need surgery,” when he already knew, “Hey, you’re going to need surgery.”