Active duty US Army, Tanker, three deployments
Editor’s Note: Ian is an active duty soldier in his late-twenties, who was in the medical retirement process at the time of his interview in 2012. Originally from Saint Louis, Ian was a Tanker/Armor Crewman, and completed three deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2009. While technically lower enlisted, he had been serving in an NCO position, leading other soldiers, and testified to the difficulties he faced in trying to advocate for his soldiers. Ian had been diagnosed with both PTSD and TBI after his deployments.
I was bored one day, and I was working on my truck, and a recruiter came up. He said, “What you up to?” I said, “Working on my truck.” He was all like, “Well, you got a minute to talk?” I said, “Well, I’m kind of busy right now. I gotta put this transmission in.” And he was all like, “Okay, well, what if I help you? Then will you have a minute?” And I was like, “Alright, sure.” So he helped put this transmission in this truck. I mean, the guy was in his uniform still, got dirty as shit with me. He helped me out, so I listened to his spiel. Went up to the recruiting office one day, watched a video, saw tanks doing some cool shit, so I was like, “That’s what I want to do.”
The college fund and all that stuff, looked appealing, but really what I was looking for was life experiences. I was looking for something to do. Something different—everybody that graduated with me, something that they weren’t thinking of doing.
What I saw is a lot of stigma thrown upon [soldiers seeking care]. There was always a lot of pressure to just kind of push forward. They tell you to not let shit bother you. Really, it was probably more stressful to find the help than to just kind of deal with the problems yourself. Just because of the fact that people would look down upon you. For some reason, they would think that you’re trying to get out of work. Or trying to skate out on some kind of duty or whatever, just because they didn’t understand what was going on.
A lot of people didn’t really take too much time to ask, “Hey, what’s wrong with you?” No, it was more like, “Hey, you need to get your head out of your ass and get back to work.” It was just one of those things where there wasn’t a lot of sympathy for people that were actually having legitimate issues.
I’ve seen a lot of good guys. Burton,* for example, nobody knew that he was having problems. He did such an amazing job at hiding it. And one day he decides he’s gonna flip his car, and try to kill himself. And then, that’s when everybody’s like, “Whoa, hold on, he had some problems?” Yeah he had some problems. But the reason why he didn’t want to say anything to anybody was because he was getting rode so hard about his next promotion.
I went through it. For lots of years, I just kind of pushed through. Because of the problems that I was facing, I led a very destructive path in my life. But because of the fact that I’d hear people say, “I’ve got stuff wrong with me, but I’m not gonna go because I’m not gonna get labeled a shitbag or this or that.” I fell upon that stigma, so I just kept pushing through it.
I was like, you know what? Fuck it. I’m just gonna drink myself stupid. And as long as I’m performing at my job, nothing else really matters. And for years, I just pretty much resorted to the bottle. Eventually one deployment, the last deployment, where we didn’t have a lot of access to the outside areas of the camp that we were staying at, or whatever, it was really hard for me to get the alcohol needed to maintain my sanity, and so I started deteriorating. And I eventually got into a fistfight with a good friend of mine, who was also my platoon sergeant. And it wasn’t something that we hadn’t done before, it was just something that was escalated to a point where we usually knew when to draw the line. But that time I just kind of snapped. And that’s when the red flags went up. It took something like that for people to realize that I was legitimately having issues. When before whenever I’d say, “Hey, I think I need to go talk to somebody,” they’d be like, “Oh, don’t be stupid. It’ll ruin your career.”
Essentially, I guess it kind of did because of the fact that they did retire me because I was diagnosed with PTSD. But, at the same time, now when I look back at it, it’s not necessarily ruining my career, it’s more giving me a second chance of life.
That was on my third deployment.
One, they disarmed me. Two, they put me under supervision. Just basically I went from being a free person to a medicated prisoner until we actually got back Stateside. And then I just kind of got lost in the system. They pretty much just wrote me off into the medical system, and didn’t want anything to do with me after that. Because me seeking help and me having all of the doctor appointments and actually trying to get better would trigger a mass movement towards the mental health clinic, I guess. People would say, “Oh, well he’s getting help. Why can’t I?” And then next thing you know you’ve got 16 people out of ranks because they’re all standing in line down at the mental health clinic trying to get some kind pills to cope with whatever the hell they’re dealing with. So they would segregate us and they would pretty much just leave us to our own groups.
This was after they acknowledged the fact that I had an issue. Because before I didn’t even attempt to contact anybody. I mean, one time they called Army OneSource and they hooked me up with a therapist in Austin. And that was like, six sessions. And it was pretty much six sessions of her telling me how messed up I am. It didn’t really do a whole lot for me. It intensified my anger, more than anything.
Once they acknowledged I had a problem it still took the medical system a really long time. I was going months between appointments, when I was supposed to be getting seen on a weekly basis for medicine adjustments and stuff like that. It would take months to get an appointment. I’d get referred to the next clinic, it would be a month before I’d get referred to the next clinic or the next level of treatment. And it really did take a really long time. And the excuse that I was always getting was that they were so understaffed and they were so overwhelmed.
Once I actually got into the system and I was able to maneuver comfortably, once all the referrals came through and stuff, the level of care was actually really good. There were still a couple of instances where they were trying to find a counselor for me, and I’d try one or I’d try another and they didn’t mesh with me as far as me being able to open up to them. The comfort level still wasn’t there.
But eventually, I did find one that I could open up with. And she was the one that actually helped me get into the Warrior Reset program. It was amazing. The Warrior Reset program was the best program that they probably could’ve had. The only problem with it was that it was very limited, and it was very selective of who got in.
Oh my God. We went through the full spectrum of antidepressants. Everything from an anti-histamine to Zoloft and Valium. And then we’d play with the dosages. And then for sleep medications, once again, they’d try everything from Benadryl to Seroquel time release 5000s or whatever. I mean, we did everything. The Ambien didn’t work. It was one of those things where we’d play with the medications, just trying to see what actually worked for me.
It wasn’t until I actually started getting a lot of my issues out that I was actually able to somewhat work with the medication, but for the most part it was just really hard for me to shut down, and I would fight the medication. So my day-to-day basis was some kind of gorked-out zombie-type person, just going through the motions. I probably shouldn’t have been driving under so much medication.
I had the typical nine to five profile that they give the psych patients that are on the sleep medications and the antidepressants; no carrying a weapon, no operating military vehicles. It was actually followed to the T, to the point where it prevented my wife and I at the time from going to marriage retreats that we could’ve possibly benefited from while we were going through some issues. Because, once again, you’re going through the system, you’re opening up new cans of worms and it’s hitting home… It kept me from going to these marriage retreats because of the fact that the bus for these marriage retreats left at 6:45 in the morning.
The profile was assisting my recovery by giving me a certain level of independence, by being able to tell them when I was going to be able to show up to work, gave me that foothold on recovery because the independence part was the recovery. Me being able to separate myself from that uniform and take a step back and look at it at third-person point of view.
I did get a lot of flak for it. I did have a hard time with it, because people would look down on you. Because, “Oh, well, we can’t use this guy, ’cause he’s all drugged up and he’s got a nine to five, he’s gotta leave at a certain time.” …It was good, but at the same time it singled you out for a lot of discrimination.
[Command was] very aware of everything. I don’t know exactly what they do now, but at the time what they were doing is they were recording how many appointments you had. They would send out a list down to the units, “This individual has this appointment this day,” or whatever. And if you missed an appointment, they’d find out about it. It was more of an accountability thing, and making sure you weren’t just trying to abuse the system. As far as them actually being proactive, as far as trying to help you out, as long as you were making your appointments they could give two shits of what you were doing. For the most part they would sit me in the orderly room and I would just sit there, kind of zoned out and staring at the coffee pot most of the day when I didn’t have an appointment.
The stigma was that I was broken and that they could only use me so often. And so for the most part they didn’t even attempt to put me to work…
It was a give and take, sort of double-edged sword. Because I got that independence where I could say, “Okay, it’s time for me to go home,” or, “I’m not coming in until this time, regardless of what you say.” But at the same time, I did get a lot of stigma because of it.
They made sure that they adhered to every single step of that profile. But at the same time, they ensured that you adhered to every step of that profile, and as soon as you stepped outside of the rules of that profile, then you would get punished for whatever reason. Like, let’s say I show up five minutes earlier than nine o’clock, they would say, “You’re not supposed to be here ’til nine or after. What are you doing” It’s like, really? It’s five minutes, dude. Chill the fuck out…seriously.
The first profile was issued by a PA, a major in the behavioral health wing over at Darnall. It was at the third floor. He was down at the Combat Stress. He’s a cool guy, but at the same time, he was more about making sure that my profile was up to date, and “Let’s play with your medications a little bit more. You seem like you’re still a little high-strung.”
Once I started the Med Board process, they re-evaluated [the profile], and they figured, “It’s what we’re gonna keep it at.” That’s what they said.
There was always pressure to do by the profile, to abide by the profile, because you would get the full force of whatever punishment you would receive for breaking that profile. Because they were watching you like a hawk. They were making sure that you didn’t break it. ‘Cause as soon as you broke it, they were gonna burn you.
Every time that I would have one of my guys come up to me with an issue, I would help them resolve it to the best of my ability. A lot of times, I would get a lot of flak for helping out, and pretty much obtaining resources for them, as far as who to contact, where to go, stuff like that. Our chain of command saw it that that information was more than adequately posted, and the way they would put it was that I “baby my soldiers, and walk them by the hand to mental health. If they really had a problem, they would do it themselves.” And that’s where I had a really hard time with it, because I lived with this stuff for seven years, and I didn’t walk down there by myself. It seriously took a life-changing event, for me to actually say, “I have a problem.”
As a leader, I felt that I needed to circumvent that. I needed to nip it and basically get it before it got them. Whether it be an issue like, “Oh, I’m having problems with my wife,” or it’d be an issue where somebody’d come to me and say like, “I’ve been having a lot of really, really dark thoughts, and I’m in a bad place.” I would always find a way to find them the help. Because that’s the leadership style that I was brought up with.
[There was not pressure for] overriding medical profiles, but just to find loopholes, find a way around it. Not necessarily break the profile, but just to find the loophole. You know, “Okay, so this person can’t lift over 35 pounds. Let’s have him do something different.” Just basically circumvent the limitations on the profile.
We had to do a ruck march once, and one of our guys couldn’t carry a pack over 35 pounds, or whatever. So instead of making him carry a pack, they made him carry something else. The profile stated you couldn’t carry a backpack, but it didn’t say anything about you couldn’t drag something. Situations like that.
The quotas for combat readiness, basically whenever we would start doing SRP and stuff like that, or just have even the mundane PT tests that we would usually have, it would usually start with some sort of corrective action, and eventually lead to separation. There was a very short fuse when it came to people not being up to the standards. Especially in the later years. It was one of those things where the standard became more important than the actual well-being of the person.
…It stems from higher-up. Because the higher-ups would set a standard, and in the Army you can always add to a standard, but you can never take away from. So because there was always somebody trying to obtain that higher-up position, they would add to the standard, to make sure that they were in somebody’s good graces.
I don’t necessarily think it affected anybody’s medical care. But it affected their willingness to receive medical care.
They would always promote getting your guys out of the barracks and doing fun stuff, and basically breaking the monotony of it. And then, they also had the equal opportunity guy, for each company. And basically he was the sexual harassment guy, or the equal opportunity rights guy. You’re getting discriminated against, that’s who you go to to file. And then you had your IG.
They had a number of things going that you could run to, to find some kind of assistance with whatever your problem was. The only issue was, those were always not exactly primary duties. Those are usually secondary or third duties that they would just be assigned. And nobody really followed up on them. They were pretty much to just check the block, “Yes, we have an EO guy.” When was the last time he gave a briefing? “Uhh, yesterday.” ‘Cause he stood in front of a bunch of people and was like, “You shouldn’t pat each other on your butts.” And that was the briefing.
Basically, they were trying to get out of work, that was the attitude towards [soldiers on profile]. It was, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just trying to get out of doing something.” Or, the favorite one was always, “Oh, you’re broken, so you’re no good to us.” I mean, they never actually said that, but that’s pretty much how they would make it feel, because of the fact that they would segregate all of the profiles together, whenever there was anything going on.
…When I actually started getting into the system, a lot of the guys that knew me, they were more in awe of it, that I was actually having issues, than anything else. I’ve never actually seen anybody being ridiculed for it. I’ve heard of it, but as far as seeing it, no.
It stems from being in the Army. You’re a soldier, you’re a soldier 24-7. You’re supposed to be able to shoot, move, and communicate, and that’s your thing. You just do the job. Supposed to be hard-core. They don’t yell at you in Basic Training for eight weeks for nothing. I mean, that’s supposed to toughen you up, right?
[The stigma] makes them feel like they’re not gonna advance if they do find care, or because everybody automatically assumes the worst. You know, for instance, they see a guy who didn’t seem to have any problems before, and he goes to see a doctor once, and the next thing you know he’s getting kicked out of the Army.
And nobody really understands that there’s different levels of PTSD. There’s not just full-blown, “Oh my God, I’m having nightmares and hiding under my bed every night.” There’s also the passive forms of PTSD, where it’s like, “Okay, well, I’ve got some anxiety. I can’t be in a crowded room full of people.” Or, “I gotta change the channel whenever that Geico commercial comes on.” Just something stupid.
The SRP process pretty much stayed the same the entire time. You go in, they make sure all your ducks are in a row, your medical’s taken care of, your dental’s good, finance, the power of attorneys, your wills, you’ve got everything in line before you leave. It’s a big clusterfuck, how they do it, but it gets done, and apparently, it works, for the most part.
I’ve seen a lot of people that shouldn’t have been deployed. The SRP process doesn’t necessarily keep them from being deployed. The SRP process just makes sure that all the legal and the medical stuff for it is in order. They don’t exactly do a psych screening on people. When you do SRP, you sit in front of a PA, and they ask if there’s anything wrong with you, and you tell them your knee’s hurting or your back hurts or whatever. And he’ll put that down on his notes.
But as far as actual sitting you down, talking to you, like, “Hey, how do you feel about going on this deployment?” They don’t actually do that, for SRP. Being able to pick out somebody from a large group and, “Oh, this person shouldn’t deploy, because he’s got issues,” that wouldn’t have came out through SRP.
Editor’s Note: When asked if he thought he had deployed with conditions that would have made him non-deployable, Ian responded emphatically.
Absolutely. After my first deployment, every time after that was with some kind of condition that definitely would’ve disqualified me from going. [PTSD] is pretty much the one thing that, I would say, would definitely disqualify somebody from deployment. I mean, really, honestly. ‘Cause really, what’s the point of putting them through the same shit that they just lived, and caused them problems?
I mean, I did three deployments. It took the third one to actually break. So yeah, I figured it did exasperate it. At the time, I thought I was just doing my job.
[PTSD] definitely hindered a lot of stuff. But PTSD isn’t one of those wounds that you can just see on somebody. Whether that person broke down or was really good at hiding it, that was just one of those things, versus an injured person, where they actually deployed somebody with a broken arm, that’s gonna be an actual visual, that person is actually broken. Whereas, somebody with PTSD, they can still participate, and not really show any signs.
…On my second deployment, because of the fact that we did a lot of in-town, lived with populations, stuff like that, with these other teams, we had access to pharmaceuticals and alcohol. And I never did any pills or anything, but I did drink. It was definitely something that I looked for so that I could function. I didn’t necessarily get sloppy drunk, but I got drunk enough so that it would calm my nerves, and I was able to make decent shots, or make rational decisions…you know, just find that level.
…I don’t know if they’ve improved on [PTSD and TBI screenings], but I know at the time, they weren’t screening for that [at R-SRP].
They didn’t ask about PTSD or TBI. It was something that I had to bring up to them. I had to bring my medical records from [Iraq], here and turn them in at the Reverse-SRP, so that they could find me the proper channels to go through. And even then, that file just went into my medical records, and I never received a phone call back, as far as a follow-up, or, “Hey, this is the clinic you’re gonna go to.” So, I had to do it myself, basically. And go down and sit in the triage, down at the Combat Stress Center, and then sit there and wait for like, eight hours, and eventually somebody’d see you. And then they’re like, “What the hell’s your problem?” And I’ve been sitting in that goddamn waiting room for eight hours, with a bunch of people that smell like ass, and now you’re sitting here asking me a bunch of stupid questions. It got to the point where, I don’t know if it was part of the screening process, to see how cool you could sit out there, before you stab somebody or, if it was legitimately like, “Hey, we’re really this backed up.”
…I at first did not feel comfortable requesting help. Because I didn’t know how to ask for help. And then, once I had my coming to Jesus, going to talk to the therapist over there, and stuff like that, that’s when I was like, “Okay, well, you know what? There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.” But really, at first, before I knew that there was actually help available, that wasn’t gonna judge you or ruin your career, yeah, I had a hard time asking for it.
For the most part, the [PTSD] briefings, they’d always be accompanied by some kind of pamphlet, or some kind of video explaining what PTSD was. There was a lot of joking around in those briefings. Not a whole lot of people would take the whole PTSD, combat stress-type stuff seriously. Because you always have those guys that are always trying to cover up some kind of traumatic experience or whatever with, “I’m tougher than that.” Yeah, they would try to just push themselves up, so they pretty much ridiculed anybody in the room that felt like they actually could have legitimately had a problem.
And then also, you had the armchair warriors that had never really experienced anything, but would always talk a big game. And it’s like, “Oh, you received your combat action badge, playing X-Box, because a mortar landed outside, near you.” But I don’t have a combat action badge, but I have awards of valor, that I received because I was out there protecting my guys. I mean, it wouldn’t make any sense.
There really wasn’t a screening process [for PTSD]. They would have briefings, and they would hand out little cards that would say, “Hey, these are the signs that you look out for, for your buddies, or whatever.” But that was it. They didn’t actually sit you down once a month, or every couple months, “Hey, what’re you feeling?” There really wasn’t much of a screening process. It was more, if you had an issue, you would go find help yourself.
Before I understood that I actually had legitimate PTSD, I would associate my symptoms with the stressors of doing the job, or whatever. But I never actually acknowledged the fact that I had PTSD. There was a lot of that avoidance behavior, like funeral details, and talking about stuff. Just, in general, thinking, “Well, why should I do it?” I never actually really grasped the concept that the avoidance behavior was me keeping myself from putting myself back out there and getting hurt, or whatever. Until I was actually explained what the symptoms were and somebody broke it down for me when I spoke, I had no clue. I mean, really, you just don’t know. Until somebody else points it out to you.
I by no means was self-diagnosed with PTSD. I did not walk into a doctor’s office and say, “Hey, I have PTSD.” I walked into my PA at the time, ’cause that’s all we had on our compound, and I said, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” And he said, “What’s up?” And I said, “Well, I’m feeling very anxious lately. And that thing that happened to Sergeant Tyson* the other day, that shit was out of control. I think I need something.” And then he would sit down and talk to me. And it wasn’t until I actually saw an actual psychiatrist, or psychologist, that I was diagnosed with PTSD…
Looking back, if I would’ve known myself on a personal level, versus a professional level, I would definitely say that I was exhibiting the prime symptoms of PTSD.
It affected [my personal life] majorly. When I first deployed in 2003, I’d just gotten this girl pregnant, a girl I’d known from back home. So we got married, for the benefits, ’cause she needed it for the baby. I thought that was what you do. You get a girl pregnant, you marry her, right? I was a kid.
And so, I come back, and I’m completely different. And she’s completely different, ’cause she’s spent a year raising a kid. We can’t see eye-to-eye on anything. We get into big fights, this and that. I didn’t really acknowledge the fact that something had changed me. It was just, “It was a year, being away from this person. I get back, she’s a royal bitch. I don’t want to be with her,” right. And that’s pretty much what I associated it with. I didn’t really think much of it.
So we got a divorce, and then after the divorce I just started doing my thing. Just kind of going out and partying, one night stands left and right, doing whatever I wanted to do, ’cause that’s what I felt like I needed to do. A relationship would come along, I’d hang out with them a couple weeks, and then I’d drop them, because I didn’t feel like I needed to be tied down. It was just one of those things where it was a lot of avoidance behavior, is what it boiled down to. I was avoiding getting close to anybody.
Subconsciously, I was afraid of being hurt again, because every time that I’d gotten close to somebody before, something would happen to them. And then, it was just one of those things where I would alienate friends. As soon as I started getting close to somebody, as far as either romantically, or friendship-wise, it would go south quickly, because of the fact that I just would separate myself from the situation, due to the avoidance behavior. I would drink a lot, just trying to self-medicate, trying to forget a lot of the stuff that happened. And that was also detrimental to any type of relationship that I had. My recent divorce was because of the fact that I was trying to find who I was, the new me, and through that I was just very unstable, very ugly, very rude, just was shutting myself out, wouldn’t let anybody in.
I felt like, “Okay, my doctors are the only ones that are actually gonna be able to help me, I don’t want you to find out what I’m doing. These people, they’ll keep it confidential, it’s not gonna go anywhere. I don’t need you running your mouths to somebody else about what I’ve done, so I’m not gonna tell you.” And that’s how I felt. And that’s why I would shut everybody out, emotionally. And then once that was actually explained to me, that that’s what I was doing, then I started realizing, “Holy shit, I’ve been doing this entirely the wrong way. I should’ve actually opened up to somebody, and it actually would’ve helped me out, more than it would have hurt me.”
I’m gonna segue here a little bit, but that’s really the reason why Maya* is here. She came into my life at a kind of crucial point. I’ve started realizing that I’m not an asshole like everybody else thinks I am. It’s just I made myself that asshole to protect myself from being hurt, or having to lose somebody, or whatever. And really, I want to start off things, like putting myself out there, and that’s how relationships are really built. I felt like whether it’s just friends, or if it’s a romantic interest, it’s something that needs to be put out there, how you feel, and whatever. If you shut yourself out emotionally, it’s more like living a lie than anything else, because you’re not giving yourself 100% to that relationship or that commitment, you’re just kind of half-assing it and going through the motions.
Eventually it’s gonna break down, where—“What’s wrong with you?” “Why don’t you ever talk to me about stuff?” And, “You always seem to have something on your mind, but you never want to share it.” And it causes issues and fights, and people to be ugly, and just puts them out there like that. PTSD is definitely a huge contributor to the fact that I haven’t had a stable relationship in the last like, nine and a half years.
[Command was] supportive, because what the marriage counseling was doing was keeping her out of their hair. Because she would come to the office on a regular basis, bitching about my latest and greatest asshole move. And they would say, “Well, maybe y’all should seek marriage counseling.” And they would bring me into the office, and they’d be like, “Look, I’m tired of her coming in to the office, you guys have to go talk to somebody about this.” But as far as my relationship actually working out, they didn’t give two shits. They were like, “Either divorce her, or go to marriage counseling.”
…[Fort Hood has] a TBI clinic, they specialize in nothing but TBIs. And their people are very, very well-educated, as far as TBI goes. It’s a small clinic… And the other big resource that was available was the Warrior Reset Center. And once again, that was a very small clinic, and a very limited number of positions for patients.
Editor’s Note: Ian was asked whether soldiers he knew experienced symptoms of PTSD.
Almost every single one of them.
There was one time, when I was prescribed Zoloft. And Zoloft really made me very depressed. And I had one blow-up with my wife at the time, over the phone. And I went back to my room, and downed pretty much an entire bottle of sleeping pills. Because I wanted to sleep away the depression I was in.
Fortunately it didn’t happen, I just got really, really high. When they came and found me, I was sleeping with my rifle. It was normal for me, me sleeping with my rifle was an everyday occurrence. But they got concerned when they saw the empty bottle sitting on the floor. And then they attempted to wake me up. And then eventually just dragged me into the first sergeant’s office, and then he was all, “Hey, what’s your problem.” Of course, I’m borked out of my mind, ’cause I’m high as shit on these pills, so I can’t really give him any straight answers. But because I hinted at the fact that I was to the point where I wanted to just end things, that’s why they really took an interest in what was going on.
That was during the third deployment. That was when they were changing up the meds and trying to prescribe me stuff.
Editor’s Note: Ian confirmed that he was on the medications while deployed, and while on guard duties with access to multiple weapons.
I was on restrictions, I wasn’t on an actual profile. It was more of an unofficial thing.
I wasn’t running missions, but I was pulling guard duties. We had a 240 up on tower, and then I had my rifle, and a 9mm pistol, and a 203 grenade launcher, and a knife. And a piece of rope.
Seriously, anything that you could possibly harm yourself or anybody else with, was within my reach while I was on medication. It was just one of those things where, they figured the dosage was low enough that it’d keep the edge off, but it wasn’t gonna cause you any serious… It was prescribed through the PA. Actually, the reason why I chose to accept being on the medication was because I’d known a couple other people on the compound that were actually on lots of prescriptions.
You notice a difference in the guys that do multiple deployments, versus the guys that have just recently completed their first deployment. There’s a huge level of don’t-give-a-shit-ness, I guess you could call it. The guys that have done the multiple deployments, and have seen this stuff, and have lived through it and they’re still working on going through another deployment.
It was just one of those things where they were just going through the motions. We got so used to the routine, that it was really hard to shock any of us. We would do our training going through the motions, knowing that today is just training, it’s not real life, real life scenarios are completely different. And then there was the fresh guys, the guys that were still going, “Oh, man! This is so realistic!” And it’s like, we were playing a video game.
The major cause of trauma is the loss of your friends, your partner, your brothers. If you didn’t lose anybody, that was a good day, but the moment you started losing people, that’s when stuff started hanging heavy on you. And you’d start avoiding more and more situations because of the fact that that’s what caused you to lose an important part of your life. To this day, I still struggle with a lot of survivor’s guilt. You go through the motions, the “what-ifs,” and the, “What should I have done?” “What could I have done?”
That’s what it is, for me, the fact that I lost guys over there that were depending on me to bring them back, or that we were depending on each other to be there, for whatever reason. You know, kid’s baptism, or you know, “Hey, I just had my twins born, I can’t wait to go on leave and see them.” And he gets to go on leave in a fucking box. He didn’t even get to see his kids be born. And now he doesn’t get to see them grow up.
It’s shit like that that’s really what caused a lot of my issues. The taking of lives, you’re never going to forget it, and it’s always going to change you. But the actual losing lives is one of the big things for me. It’s definitely what’s hurt me a lot more than anybody else. You get close to these guys. You live with them, you eat with them, you go out and work with them. Everything that you do in a day-to-day basis revolves around somebody else. There’s always like, “Hey, man, I’m going to the showers.” “Hey, hold out, I’m going with you.” It’s just one of those things. There wasn’t any type of separation between y’all. Y’all were close. It was almost like y’all were cut from the same cloth. And especially when you worked together, and you trusted each other, and it was just a smooth working machine. The moment that one of those cogs became undone, that’s when your machine broke. And it would never work the same again, even if you did get a new part. There was still that—you’d still have to break that part in. And that’s always been a big, big part of my hurt. That’s would be what my post-traumatic stress would be, would be the losing of people that I consider family.
The best way to actually deal with stuff is actually just by talking about it. That’s what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that really just putting yourself out there and just hearing your thoughts. You start realizing, “Wow, I’m really thinking that?” Or just having a third party saying, “Okay, well, that sounds like you’ve got a little bit of confusion going on,” and then they break it down for you. And then, it makes sense. Once you have somebody to help you to make sense of it, it works.
Also, writing stuff down, you write everything that you’re thinking, from the time that your pen touches the paper, to the time it runs out of ink. You go back and read it, half the shit doesn’t even make sense, ’cause you’re going back and forth on yourself. And then you start thinking, “Okay, well, how can I fix this?” And being able to open up about what’s eating you is really the best medication for it. I think that hindering the ability of people to actually voice what’s eating them is really what’s killing them.
The military that I grew up in, I can honestly say that I don’t think [it wants to open that up]. It’s a dialogue that weighs entirely too heavy on entirely too many people. You get one person opening up and putting themselves out there, then eventually you’re going to have a multitude of people putting themselves out there. And then, by the time that it’s all said and done, it’s gonna be really hard to actually sit there and sift through everybody that’s trying to a) get better, or b) just trying to do something so that they don’t have to do the actual work.
…I was diagnosed with a TBI. They gave us briefings about the TBI stuff. Once again, it was just one of those things that we just kind of joked around about, ’cause you know, the symptoms of TBI are headache and dizziness, stupid shit. You been sitting through a presentation, you get a headache, you stand up, you get light-headed, bam. Automatic, “I got a TBI! “From sitting in this fucking presentation.” You know, just people joking.
Editor’s note: Ian testified that he thinks he probably took an ANAM test, after one of his deployments. He said he had been in explosions and received a concussion while deployed, but that he had not received a memory test afterward while deployed. Ian then described the TBI symptoms he has experienced, and the treatment he received
Just the headaches, the spotting vision, the restlessness, just the regular, run of the mill TBI symptoms. The things that you would think, “Oh, you know, I’m just seeing spots ’cause I’m a little dehydrated,” or, “I got a headache ’cause I’ve been shooting machine guns for the last six hours at the same house,” just stuff like that.
They gave me Topamax, which is a pill. And then, that’s pretty much it. I mean, I’d go in for screenings. They did the CT scan to make sure that everything was growing back normally, or whatever the hell it does.
The TBI diagnosis came after I was deployed, because of some symptoms that I complained about. ‘Cause I thought the symptoms that I was experiencing were something to do with the medication.
Every time we’d switch out a pill bottle, they’d say, “Okay, look. This one’s gonna cause impotence.” Or, “This one’s gonna cause you to bleed out your butthole, or you know, dehydrate.” They would go through the barrage of side effects. And then they were like, “Oh, so do you still want to take it?” “Uhh, not really. But you say it’s gonna make me feel better.”
…My TBI wasn’t severe enough where it was causing memory loss, or any type of inability to function. My TBI was mild enough that all it was causing me was some goddamn headaches. And some spotting of the vision, and stuff. At first they thought it was cataracts. They sent me to the optometrist to go get me some glasses, and then I was like, “I don’t need glasses.” The optometrist was like, “Of course you don’t.”
Editor’s Note: The interview transitioned to address sexual assault and harassment in the military, and wrapped up by addressing Ian’s experience in the Medical Evaluation Board process.
…I was in an all-male unit, every time. Every once in a while, we’d have females attached to us for female search teams, or whatever PSYOPs team was with us, or interrogators, or whatever, that were with us, were female.
I guess there’s never actually been a serious, reported case of sexual harassment or anything. ‘Cause, I mean, we all ran around grabbing each other’s asses anyways, on the most part. You know, like telling fart jokes. So, in our unit, sexual harassment was more of one of those things where, unless if it actually legitimately made somebody feel uncomfortable, because somebody was actually legitimately 100% without a doubt violated, it was one of those things that was just brushed under the table. It was just guys joking around with guys.
…We received a lot of training [on MST]. We’d sit in a room, and they’d hit us with a PowerPoint slide, and then we’d sit here and joke about how like somebody put their wiener in somebody’s face when they weren’t supposed to.
…Honestly, I don’t know if there’s anything we can do to really avoid it. It’s gonna happen. You got males and females in confined spaces, and places where there’s a lack of supervision. But because I’ve never served in a unit with females, I wouldn’t know how to [prevent MST].
[MEB] was very swift. They didn’t do a lot of dragging their feet in the Med Board process. [My commander] was happy that they were gonna actually attempt to get rid of me. That was pretty much it. I mean, really, that was his response to it, “That’s great that they’re gonna Med Board you.”
…I tried to appeal my Med Board, so that I could stay in. And they basically told me that if I appeal it, I’m probably going to lose the benefits that they’re fixing to give me now, and it’s only gonna buy me another two months in the army.
Once I got my profile, they discriminated against me because of the profile. They just pretty much just put my promotions on the back burner. Because of the fact that I was broken, and they couldn’t use me, so why would I be rewarded for it?