Operation Recovery

The Fort Hood Testimony Report

Brandon Harris *

US Army veteran, Military Police, NCO, four deployments

 

Editor’s Note: Brandon is a white Army veteran in his thirties who is originally from suburban Texas. He served four deployments between 2000 and 2011 as part of a Military Police brigade. At the time of his interview in 2012, he had relocated from Fort Hood elsewhere in Texas, and continued to struggle with the morality of his military service overseas.

 

From the time when I was really young, I always just knew I was gonna join the military. I remember doing exercises in class where we’d try to think about what we wanted to do when we grew up, and I never really had an answer. I thought of things like being a taxi driver—something very monotonous. Something about military life and having everything be clear-cut appealed to me. I liked the idea of not having to make a lot of decisions. My perception of the military was that for every single situation you’re in, there’s a certain thing that you should do, a procedure or something. And so that appealed to me, I think.

I was hoping to serve 20 years in the Army and retire at the age of 38, and then for the rest of my life have a pension and full medical benefits. Then I would have the freedom to do whatever I wanted, with that amount of money coming in. I wouldn’t have to worry so hard about getting a good job. I could work literally anywhere, and quit on a whim if I wanted. So that’s kind of what I thought, “Where else can you work for 20 years and then draw a paycheck for the rest of your life?” So that’s what I wanted to do.

I never sought mental care. But throughout my entire time, I would say that it was always a little bit frowned-upon to seek any kind of care. You were looked at as weak, or just…inconveniencing other people. Especially with MPs. If we weren’t deployed, we were constantly working shifts. So if you have to go to sick call, or do something like that, you have to get taken off the rotation of work—which means somebody else loses a day off. So it’s like a domino effect. I rarely, if ever, went. I was usually in good health anyway. I know one time, I had what I thought was a cold, and so I just toughed it out for as long as possible. Eventually I finally went to the emergency room, ’cause I realized I actually was sick, and I found out I had pneumonia. So it was something that probably didn’t have to get that serious, if somebody had just said, “Yeah, when you’re sick, go to the doctor.” But instead, it was, “Why don’t you just take something over the counter? Dayquil or something, you know.”

At least in the majority of my career, I never had soldiers who needed to go to mental health either. But my last tour—in Afghanistan, from 2010 to 2011—that’s the first time I was with soldiers who had been deployed multiple times, and so some of these guys did have mental issues. My unit, at least, seemed pretty okay with them making appointments and going. A lot of them had prescriptions, and my chain of command really understood. If I told them, “We need to make a special convoy soon, because my soldier’s about to run out of meds,” that was fine, and we made it happen. But we did have problems with MPs. We were usually underneath a different command. So sometimes, especially among the higher-ups, they didn’t understand our situation as well as our own command.

There was a time when one of my Team Leaders needed some kind of anti-depressant, and he was out. I think he had gone a couple days without it. You could tell in his mood: he was much more aggravated, and so it was a serious situation. We basically got it cleared to take a convoy back to the nearest base that had those meds. But just by coincidence, some lieutenant colonel, the squadron commander—I mean, MPs don’t even have a squadron, so I didn’t know who the fuck he was, but I’m sure he was basically the equivalent of our battalion commander—wanted to go to some village in the area. So we had to help take him out there, and escort him, and that turned into a long deal. Our battle-space commander, who was a captain, tried to let him know, “Hey, the MPs have to go, because they need to get there before nighttime to get this guy his medicine.” Of course, the lieutenant colonel kept finding stupid-ass things he wanted to do. So I mean, it’s just a matter of priorities… That was really the only instance I can think of. It was usually when dealing with people who were not familiar with us, someone who I wasn’t just able to go talk to man-to-man. I could do that with my first sergeant or commander, and make them understand. I couldn’t do it with somebody else’s squadron commander.

I think most of the time [the quality of care] was poor. Some of the guys knew exactly what they needed because they had navigated the system so long. Like this guy who had that prescription, he knew he needed the specific brand of anti-depressant. One of those times, we made the special trip to go get it, and then the clinic didn’t have it. So they had to give him something else. I do remember there were a couple times where he just kept getting more and more pissed off at that medical facility. We would call in advance, and they would tell him that they had something. We’d say, “Okay, we’re coming on Friday to pick that up.” We’d get there, and whoever was there would say they didn’t have the authorization to give it out—that only a certain doctor could give out meds and he wasn’t there that day. Or something like that. So it was a lot of something that should’ve been easy, and instead it was constantly getting jerked around.

…It was definitely a burden on all 20 of us who were located together, when he didn’t get what he needed.

…The only ones that I’m thinking of were not super-open about it. I don’t know that they were ashamed or anything. They certainly didn’t get into the details or tell me anything. They just said they needed their pills, and it was obvious when they didn’t get their pills that their mood and their irritability changed drastically over time. But I don’t know if that soldier had PTSD [diagnosed], if it was related to prior combat, or if he just had an issue.

If he was on his meds, that was great – but that’s why it was so important to get back when he ran out. Especially if that guy wasn’t on meds, he was more irritable, he made poorer decisions. So it would endanger other people, or could possibly endanger other people, if he’s not in the right frame of mind. It could make a normally innocuous situation turn real bad.

We all did some kind of screening [for PTSD], went through and got our shots, and all that stuff [before deploying]. And as I remember, having to talk to a mental professional was one of the log-jams when we were having to do that. So, they definitely talked to someone. From what this guy told me, it was really just kind of confirming what his prescription was, and making sure he had a three-month supply when we left. That was pretty much it.

…I think [my commanders] were pretty responsive. Obviously, just like I said before, there was still a little bit of the…I wouldn’t say it was a stigma. You could tell things were an inconvenience. I’m thinking about a different soldier, a private who definitely did not have PTSD —this was his first deployment. But for some reason, he started having suicidal thoughts. So when I called the first sergeant and said, “We must come back tomorrow, ’cause this soldier has suicidal thoughts,” it was still a vibe of, “This is inconvenient.” But I think we had reached the point, in 2010-2011, where the first sergeant realized that he has to let us come back. It would be a serious problem, so they made it happen.

I was on a profile a couple times. After having a surgery, stuff like that. Especially when I was at Fort Bragg…that was a really big deal. I remember specifically telling other soldiers when I was either an E-4 or below, that one day, when I was a first sergeant, I was gonna make a bright orange or a bright pink T-shirt, and it was gonna say ‘broke dick’ across the front. I was gonna make my soldiers wear that if they got a profile. That was the mentality at Fort Bragg. So as a soldier, I obviously learned that from somewhere. I learned that from the environment and the way we all looked on people with profiles. And later, I obviously wised up and realized that was ridiculous. But as a young soldier, that’s what I aspired to, so that’s what I expected of myself and others.

I would say that the farther in my career I got, the more evident profiles were. I don’t know if that was because my first eight years were at Fort Bragg where everybody prides themselves very much on being Airborne and being better than the next guy. It was more frowned-upon. The other units that I was in, in the second half of my career, were what I considered to be POG duty stations. They were much more relaxed. So I don’t know if it was just because people held themselves to a lesser standard and they didn’t mind getting a profile, or if it was that over the years of constant deployments people realized, “Hey, I have to take care of myself, ’cause maybe the Army’s not gonna do it.” Or if it was over years of having such a taxing experience, of deploying constantly, that people thought, “Hey, I really need a break. I wouldn’t mind getting a profile to be on quarters for a couple days.” I don’t know what the cause was, but I would definitely say, around 2010, 2011, there were way more profiles. It was way more common for a soldier or an NCO to get profiles than it was in 2000, 2002.

I think by the time I was an NCO, I no longer was as dismissive of profiles as I had been. Even though I personally still was opposed to myself getting a profile, I never looked down on any of my soldiers for it. And certainly, towards the end, I didn’t discourage anybody from it. It was irrelevant to me. We would just work around it.

I don’t think [soldiers on profile] were directly pressured [to violate it], but certainly, there is to an extent. What would usually happen is there would be a task that needs to be done, “Hey, we need to unload this Connex.” So everybody’s expected to be working hard. If one person is slacking off and they get called out for it—and if they happen to have a profile—in order to not get made fun of or not get reprimanded they might mention, “Yeah, I’ve got a profile, I’m not supposed to be lifting more than 15 pounds,” or something like that.

Nobody’s gonna say, “Hey, you will violate your profile. You will lift more than 15 pounds, ’cause we have to accomplish this.” Instead what they would say is, “Well, come here, I’ll find something you can do that’s within your profile.” So, to a certain extent, it was still like they were getting the short shrift, or almost a punishment. They got the message that if they told someone, “Hey, I can’t do the current task because of my profile,” it would be worse for them. So the unsaid message was that if you’ve got a profile, and what we’re doing violates the profile, it’s probably better to just go ahead and do it, rather than bring it up and end up getting a worse situation that’s actually within your profile.

Editor’s Note: Brandon also testified that he did not see soldiers receive re-evaluations for profile eligibility, either for permanent or temporary profiles. He went on to reflect about how combat readiness quotas played out during his service as an NCO.

I didn’t have the details, but in 2010, when we were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, they did say that there was a certain threshold. Each unit is supposed to be assigned a certain number of people, and if you didn’t have a certain percentage, then you were non-deployable automatically. So the idea was, as we got closer and closer to our deadline, and we started losing people—either because at that point we were already stop-lossed, or stop-movement, or whatever, so it wasn’t like people could PCS—but as people would become non-deployable, it became a very big issue. If somebody broke their arm or broke their leg, then the next day we’d hear about how everybody needed to be really careful. We could only afford a couple more people, and then we wouldn’t be able to deploy. So I think we did take people with us who were actually on profiles that, according to that profile, they could not do combat duty.

Apparently, though, they could sit behind a desk in a combat zone. So we would still take them, because that meant we had enough numbers and would be able to deploy. I don’t know if the Army would really have prevented us from deploying, or whether it would’ve just meant that the commander looked like a shitbag for not being able to keep his guys from not breaking their arms for two weeks.

I think [the quotas] were stemming from Army policy, or someone higher than the company commander. ‘Cause it was always the company commander who would stress at safety briefings on Fridays, “Hey, we’re gonna be deploying soon. I know you guys are gonna have fun this weekend, but make sure you’re smart about it because we can’t afford to lose another person. Each one of you is needed.” Actually it reminds me that this became really, really evident when soldiers got caught—non-medically related—for abusing drugs. Normally that would’ve meant they’d be kicked out of the Army, or at least get some kind of punishment. But because we needed those people, we took them instead. They were still flagged, and they couldn’t get promoted, and stuff like that…but we still took them on deployment.

…I mean, there was the substance abuse program. But that’s just a week or two-week long course that you would send them to, and they would sit through, and then come back. It’s kind of like everything else: check the block. I was in a different position prior to that deployment, so those two were not even in my platoon, and I don’t know what they did with those guys. I don’t know if there was any conscious choice to try to see, “Okay, why are they doing drugs?”

For the most part, a soldier on profile is just usually considered to be making life harder on those around him—no matter what, at a minimum. Even in the best case scenario, when it’s a legitimate reason, “Oh, he broke his leg.” There’s nothing he can do about breaking his leg, but it’s still undeniable that now that he’s on profile and can’t work, everybody else is screwed. So sure, we can all agree that it wasn’t your fault, and that you weren’t intentionally screwing us all over. But it doesn’t change the fact that you are screwing us over.

I think [these ideas] stem from basically just the organization of the Army. When you look at an MP unit, which has to work law enforcement, they might have 160 people in the company or something. A certain number of those are allowed to work the road, and if they don’t have enough, it’s not like they can call in more people. You only have what you have. It’s like you get 200 bricks to try to build a shack, and if in the course of building that shack, you break 20% of the bricks…tough shit. You can’t get another 25% bricks replaced in order to build the shack. Instead, what you have to do is modify the shack to make it work. It’s the same thing.

No matter what, we had to have a certain number of soldiers working three shifts, around the clock. So if a soldier got a DUI and was no longer allowed to drive, and then another soldier broke his leg, and then another soldier just went to sick call ’cause his back hurt, and they gave him a profile saying he can’t wear body armor, now he can’t work law enforcement on the road either. It’s the same thing. Just because three of your soldiers in your platoon cannot work the road doesn’t mean you don’t have to provide 12 soldiers for day shift, 12 soldiers for swing shift, and 12 soldiers for mid-nights. So it means those three soldiers just screwed Private Snuffy out of his three-day that he was gonna get this month. And it screwed some other private, and instead of working a five and two, he’s gonna work a six and one.

[The 12-soldier requirement] is probably from the installation. Because every installation—whether it’s Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Camp Zama in Japan, another place I was—in order to do law enforcement, they divide the whole post up into a certain number of sections. Then each section needs a certain number of police per shift. I don’t even know which installation I’m thinking of in my head, when I think of 12, but I’m pretty sure one of my installations needed 12 soldiers to be able to cover a shift. So that meant that there were 12 patrol areas, one MP in each patrol area. Or maybe 11 and one supervisor, or something like that. And when you did the schedule, you made sure there were 12 on days, 12 on swings, and 12 on mids. Then whoever was left over would be off, and you just had to work out the rotation.

I think it absolutely did discourage [soldiers] from getting the care they needed, because there would be self-imposed stigma. If you’ve been fucked out of three days, then you’ve gotten screwed out of the good schedule you had on the 1st of the month. By the 10th of the month your schedule sucks already, because so many people have screwed over everybody else, in your view. Once you’ve been on the receiving end of that enough, you don’t want to be on the giving end. So for some of it, without any outside pressure, the soldier’s just already gonna start thinking in that way. He doesn’t want to screw his buddies. At the same time, I also had platoon sergeants who sucked at making schedules. So I’d make that schedule, because that 12 for three shifts would stress them out. So when they have to make a schedule change every day, they get frustrated—and then they start putting pressure on the soldiers.

So now, not only does the soldier not want to do it because he already in his own mind knows he’s screwing everybody, but other soldiers are also hearing from their platoon sergeant, “Hey, just so you know, so-and-so got a profile today, so that means all of you got screwed.” I know that one of my platoon sergeants at Fort Hood, when he would have to call a soldier on his day off, or the day before his day off, would say, “Hey, I’m sorry man, I know you’re supposed to be off tomorrow. But you gotta work. Torres,* or somebody, went and got a profile.” He would actually use the name, so now that soldier knows that because Torres went and got a profile, he has to work tomorrow instead of being off. So that’s part of it, too.

I don’t think anyone ever retaliated or targeted others for it. Probably ridiculed—name-calling, and stuff like that. The two most likely outcomes, I think, would be for people just to complain, but suck it up and endure it. Or the other option was to basically become the person who screws everyone else, rather than getting screwed, “Okay, fine. If that’s the way it’s gonna be, then what I’m gonna do is, every time I’m off, I’m gonna drink alcohol. Because that means when you call me and say, ‘Hey, I know you’re supposed to be off today, but Torres got a profile so you have to come in,’ you can say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m drunk. So I can’t work.’” So that passes it along to the next guy, who gets screwed.

…Similar to the way profiles were, I saw [substance abuse] increasingly the longer I was in the Army. In the early days, everybody drank or binge-drank. And everybody understood the trick of getting drunk when your day was off so you wouldn’t get called in. But I was not aware of many people who I would consider had a substance abuse problem. Closer towards the end of my career, I started noticing it more. Just like with the profiles, I don’t know how much of that was because I was at a different installation, or how much of it was because of those soldiers. When I was in Japan, which is a very chill duty station, I can remember we had a specialist who absolutely was an alcoholic, who was getting in trouble off-post and blacking out. He had PTSD, and I think he was basically self-medicating for that.

I think [SRP] changed a lot, too. In the beginning, when I was deploying from Fort Bragg, it was just a joke. Usually what it involved was you doing a survey, just saying what things you did or did not experience. Then you would go through and hand that to someone, and they would maybe ask you follow-up questions. The big joke back then was that we were active duty, and we were at Fort Bragg, and we prided ourselves on being hard-core. So we would come back and out-process through the SRP at the same time as National Guard units or Reserve units.

I remember that even the doctors told us they liked it a lot more when we came through, ’cause active duty soldiers didn’t own up to anything. “No, I’m not worried about this. No, I’m not worried about that.” When they would ask questions, “Hey, do you have nightmares? Do you have any mental problems that you need to see us about? Are you concerned about your health? Did you see anything on your deployment that could be bad for you?” The active duty soldiers always said, “No, no, no, no, no, no.” But the doctors claimed that the Reservists and the National Guardsmen were drastically different, because they were going back to civilian life. They didn’t want to get screwed, so they wanted everything documented.

Maybe only one doctor might have said it to one guy. But then that guy told us, so we all knew. We looked down on the National Guard soldiers at that time, for that reason. It wasn’t until we realized, “Oh, we’re gonna keep deploying over and over and over again,” that maybe it is a good idea to have some of that crap on paper.

Editor’s Note: Brandon testified that he thought soldiers were pushed through SRP who should not have deployed.

I think so. I had a team leader whose back was really fucked up, and he absolutely should not have deployed. But because we were hurting for numbers, even though his back was fucked up, the first sergeant and the commander wanted him to deploy anyway. The doctors, I think, did not want him to deploy. Either because they genuinely believed, “Hey, you’re too fucked up, you shouldn’t deploy,” or, who knows, it might’ve been because they didn’t want to have their name on paperwork signing on for him to deploy, and then something comes of it. I think the big difference, though, was that the individual soldier wanted to deploy. So I think most of the time, that’s kind of what it came down to. If the soldier wanted to deploy, then I think that carried a lot of weight with the doctors and stuff. More so than what the commanders or first sergeants, or whatever, thought.

I know on one of my deployments, to Iraq, I found out after the deployment was over that soldiers had been getting drunk. I guess while they were on patrol they would go to the Christian neighborhoods, where they actually sold alcohol, and they would buy it and bring it back to the base. Then at night, they would drink. But I never even knew about it. I never saw anybody drunk or hung-over or anything. So I don’t know how much it was going on, and whether it was just them trying to relax or whether they were abusing or what.

We had zero suicide attempts, and zero suicides [while deployed]. I did have one soldier who said that he was thinking about suicide. That was the example I gave earlier, where the command was very understanding about it. I just called the first sergeant and said, “Hey, I’ve got this soldier, he told me this and this, and that means I need to come as soon as possible, to let him see a doctor. So should I come tonight, or should I come tomorrow, or what?” They said, “Yeah, come tomorrow.” So we came and he saw the doctors, and the doctors let him stay with us or whatever.

…I never got blown up or anything. I’m pretty sure that you had to check a mark whether or not you’d ever been hit with an IED. And if you said no, then of course you’re not gonna get screened for TBI. So I don’t know what that screening was or wasn’t, because it didn’t apply to me.

Same as I said for a few different things, I think these days [soldiers] probably [tell the truth at R-SRP], because I think soldiers are more aware of…the need for being honest. I think in the beginning people were not. People were definitely lying.

…I don’t think [we ever got briefed on PTSD]. At least none that were significant enough to make a difference for me. I personally read a book, just because I wanted to read it. It was called On Combat, which was talking about the physiological effects on your body when you’re in a lethal force encounter. Its idea was just to let you know what is gonna happen, “If you get in a fire-fight, you’re gonna experience tunnel vision, this, that, that.” And that talked about PTSD. When I was a squad leader, prior to our deployment in 2010, I forced my entire squad to read that book. It not only talked about what happens in a fire-fight, but it also did talk about after the fact: what happens immediately after you kill someone, what happens a couple weeks later, what happens maybe several months later. It also had what I guess was just the author’s theory on ways to deal with it, and stuff like that. So I forced my soldiers to read that book, but that is the only thing that I kind of went back to, or really considered a good source. If the Army ever told me anything, I don’t remember it and it wasn’t significant.

Editor’s Note: Brandon was asked how often he was screened for PTSD.

…When you came back there was an immediate screening, when you did your SRP for returning. Then, a couple weeks later, you had to come back and do different things. And then maybe a month later, you had to come back and do something again. So I’m not sure. I don’t remember when they asked me, because I have no PTSD, and did not have any cause to think I was going to get it. So it’s kind of similar to the TBI, in that I don’t think I paid as much attention. I know I’ve been asked and had to fill out questions at some of those SRPs, where it was just asking those questions, “Have you seen a dead body? Have you seen someone you knew die in front of you?” So it’s the same kind of thing—if you say no, then they’re not gonna waste their time on you, more than likely. ‘Cause there’s no reason to.

The only distinguishable effect I’ve seen [from PTSD] is just the fact that some of them are on medicine, that apparently they’re gonna have to be on either for a long time or forever. And the impact that makes on them…that’s pretty much it. All the soldiers I know of who definitely had PTSD, I only knew because they said they had PTSD—because they mentioned it, or because they were on medicine.

I think [multiple deployments] connects a couple issues. One of the things it connects is why I ended up getting out of the Army. Most Americans can look at World War II, and they think that was a worthy cause. I don’t even think that was a worthy cause, now. But most Americans, I would say nine out of ten Americans, are gonna tell you World War II was worthy. If you experience a lot of hardship and have a lot of problems, and experience all the things we experienced—whether it’s TBI, PTSD, and whatever—there’s a certain level of comfort from knowing that you did it for a worthy cause. I don’t know, but I think some veterans today who have PTSD and TBI and are having trouble—who still believe in the wars and think they did something good in Iraq, and think they did something good in Afghanistan—I suspect that a lot of those guys, if they ever change their minds, are going to have a much harder time.

That’s kind of the Catch-22 about it, in talking to other vets. I have a vet friend in Dallas, who I know has killed children in Iraq. I know he’s killed civilians. He admits it, and says he has PTSD, and I know that bothers him. But I also know he specifically is unwilling to go so far as to think that Iraq was not worth it. He still believes in what we did. And I think that is, at least to some extent, self-preservation. Because once he adopts the idea that, “Wow, not only did hundreds of thousands of civilians die for nothing, but civilians that I killed died for nothing,” that is a huge weight to land on someone.

…I was lucky, because I’m 100% positive I never killed anyone. I was in fire-fights, I was shot at, I returned fire. But it was suppressive fire, and there’s zero chance that I’ve killed anyone. So any guilt that I’ve had was more from occupying peoples’ countries, and being there in general—just being there gives a certain bit of support to the others who actually are killing people. It’s kind of an indirect amount. My guilt is much smaller than it could have been. So in that way, I’m lucky.

But in no way am I proud of any of my deployments anymore. I absolutely think that every single deployment I went on did more harm than good—without question. So if I had done anything on that deployment that I wasn’t proud of, it would just be a multiplier. It would make it even worse. I think that element, to some extent, might account for the levels of PTSD in vets, for suicide in vets, and for whatever amount still believe in the wars. ‘Cause to some extent, some of those people, even if they don’t realize it, might be supporting it against their logic, just out of self-preservation, as far as I know.

My opinion for PTSD is based on that book I read. I haven’t really seen anything to change my mind. My opinion is that PTSD is caused by basically three things… One is a traumatic situation, or a dangerous situation. The second is you’re helpless, and you’re without the power to do anything about it. Three is just that later it comes back to you.

…Another thing I have read about is the studies going on right now trying to figure out whether moral injury can result in PTSD. So [this would be] if somebody had 100% pure intentions, and they were trying to kill somebody who they thought was going to kill them, but they accidentally killed a kid. Maybe later on, when they get a chance to decompress, that event could be characterized as moral injury. That still might fit into my criteria. Even though they were the perpetrator, they still might feel like that situation was: one, traumatizing; two, beyond their control. ‘Cause what are they gonna do, not return fire? So it still kind of fits into that thing.

I think the major cause of the soldier’s trauma is there’s nothing to be proud of. That’s my personal belief. I don’t even think that everybody understands that that’s what it is. But I think, deep down, everyone knows that there is no reason for the Iraq War. I think, deep down there, everybody knows that. It’s impossible for someone to not know that, except for the most—I would start to say the most ignorant, honestly just oblivious person. At this point, you almost have to be willfully ignorant; you have to actually put on blinders to not see it. Afghanistan is still not like that, but I think it gets more like that every day. The more people go to Afghanistan, and especially if they go back again, and see that nothing has changed, then the more it happens. I think it’s like a light switch. If one day you realize, “Shit. Everything I went to, everything I did, was bullshit. It didn’t matter,” then that changes all your experiences.

So everything you thought you were doing…everything you were proud of, it’s the opposite. So…I feel pretty lucky, ’cause I don’t have a lot of stuff which gets too changed. The only thing I feel bad about is just that I felt like I was patriotic, like I’m doing great things for my country and I’m worthy of this praise that people give me when I come home. I’m proud of one time when I stopped at a school and took down their flag, ’cause it was tattered. ‘Cause that’s the honorable thing to do, right? ‘Cause you don’t want to fly a tattered flag. And that’s bullshit. That’s a symbol. Maybe if that symbol stood for something good…but once that light switch is flipped, you realize what you were doing is not like that.

You can still admire yourself or others for what they originally thought. In my opinion, a lot of soldiers today—including myself in 1999, when I joined the Army—are like the child who tries to help his mom. His mom starts a kitchen fire, and it’s a grease fire, and the child comes in and wants to throw water on it. He comes in with a water hose, or a pitcher or whatever, and he’s trying to help, but it makes it even worse. And his mom dies. Well, he’s got great intentions. You can praise him for wanting to help, but the fact is he’s making it worse. That’s kind of the way I see it. And he doesn’t understand, all he knows is, “Man, that fire was super-bad, my mom died.” That’s terrible. Then years down the line, he finally learns that, “Oh, you’re not supposed to put water on a grease fire? So what you’re telling me is my mom didn’t die from a grease fire—my mom died from me throwing water on the grease fire.” I think that has a big part to do with how people are.

…But you probably can’t…do much better than…talking to people, or making situations for them to be able to talk about it, to get stuff off their chest.

…I know of soldiers when I was in who made accusations [of MST], and then those were either founded or unfounded. But I wasn’t close with any of them. Currently I’m not in contact with and don’t know of anyone I ever was close with who was affected by it, one way or another…I still don’t think [MST] is taken seriously.

…Combat experience is enough that everybody pays attention to it, or at least acknowledges that it’s a real problem. I think MST is still not seen as a real problem. Plus, since…at least the perception is the majority of the victims are gonna be females, and females are a minority in the military. So I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. I think the majority of male soldiers simply don’t really see it as a big issue. I don’t think they realize the true number, the true amount, that it goes on.

Editor’s Note: In concluding the interview, Brandon reflected on what he thinks it will take to get soldiers the care they deserve.

I think it’ll take…popular support from the civilians, from the Americans. As long as the only ones who care about it are vets or active duty, I don’t think it will happen. We’re not a big enough number.

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