Operation Recovery

The Fort Hood Testimony Report

Reese Stewart *

Active duty US Army, NCO, two deployments

 

Editor’s Note: Reese is a white active duty service-member at Fort Hood. As a team chief NCO in a combat arms unit, he currently sees many soldiers struggling both physically and psychologically, many of them very reluctant to seek any care. He spoke at length about a soldier in his unit who is suffering with mental health issues. The soldier has been deployed four times, is an NCO and served as the team chief of his unit prior to his instability. Reese respects him highly and shared that he has always been a top-notch soldier and a “genius at his job.” However, even with this track record, Reese says his command is just trying to chapter the soldier out any way they can, without fully disclosing this to him. Reese has also deployed twice to Iraq. He has a foot condition for which he has occasionally been on profile. Reese describes times when he was made to take Record PT tests while on profile, and testifies to the culture of stigma which keeps soldiers at Fort Hood from standing up for their health care needs.

 

I’m from Texas. Job market was going down in San Antonio and I decided, “Hey, why not join the Army?” I joined when I was 25, so kind of late in the game. It was pretty tough. Being old enough to know better and getting yelled at like I was a kid was a pretty drastic change.

[I wanted] a solid routine. We’re always going to be doing PT, okay, cool, always gonna get a paycheck. Don’t really know where I’m gonna be at, but at least I’ll know my family’s taken care of if anything happens.

If I’m hurt, I’ll go, if I’m not, I won’t. But I’ve had soldiers who you could really tell that there was something bugging them, and they didn’t want to go seek help, because they thought it’s gonna make them seem crazy, or less of a person, for getting that kind of help.

We do have one soldier that was handed to me, who actually went to seek help, and he got the help that he was needing. But now they’re looking at trying to chapter him out because of the help that he had to get, and the things that happened to make him finally turn around and say, “Hey, I need help.”

He was a Team Chief in our section, and his performance started going down. I wasn’t really tracking who he was, I just knew he’s a specialist over here.

[The guy who] was running that show, section sergeant, was E-5, a friend of mine. He was telling me something’s not right with this guy. Before deployment it wasn’t really too bad. The guy went on his fourth deployment with us, and he was doing his jobs real good. But some things were slipping, like his counselings were not getting done on time, and he was getting wigged out by the sirens really bad. They ended up yanking him off his team, took his Team Chief spot away. And then he thought, “Hey, I’m not a Team Chief anymore, so I might as well just be a shitbag.” So, that’s what he went through, and when we came back [home], he was on several different medications for sleeping, because he couldn’t sleep very well. He had a bad back, and he aggravated it while we were deployed. It was a bunch of different issues.

He hasn’t really opened up to me on everything, but what he has opened up to me about, I’m not at liberty to really talk about. Some of the things that he’s seen, he was having trouble dealing with those, and he finally talked to his Team Chief, which was our section sergeant, and he finally said, “Hey, I need help.” They took him to the Emergency Room and got him admitted, and he ended up going for about 45 days, getting counseling, and getting his meds straight.

When he came back he was doing pretty good, after his meds were all good, and he wasn’t sleeping at work or zombified, here but not here… Now he’s trying to get his stuff straight. He got command referred, because the command wasn’t happy that we couldn’t find anything else out about why he is the way he is. Actually, last week I had to go and find out from one of his doctors if we could chapter him for any of his counseling that he was getting. The doctor they had him go to, however, was a biofeedback specialist, and they only teach relaxation exercises.

They had him go to that [civilian] doctor, but his escort fell asleep and didn’t ask the questions that they wanted, so it was pushed back on me to go and find out what’s going on, because right now I’m the acting section sergeant. The idea was, “Hey, we need to find out if we can go ahead and start getting him out because of whatever.”

I walked in there and said, “Look, I need to find this out.” And they said, “We only teach relaxation exercises.” So my command’s not happy about not having a good answer, but he knows his job really well. Getting rid of him because he’s got an issue is not really the right way to go, is how I see it. So I’m kind of pissed off about that. He’s an ace, a friggin’ genius at his job.

I’m not privy to all the information that [command] has gotten, but from what the doctors were saying in Denton—one doctor was saying, “Oh, he’s got an alcohol problem.” Well, this guy doesn’t have an alcohol problem. He was just on pills so much that he was not really coherent most of the day. But they said he had an alcohol problem because he had a drink with his pills, once or twice. Okay. Crap happens, sometimes you pop a pill, you don’t think about it, have a beer. But they said he had an alcohol problem. He’s adamant that he doesn’t. People that are around him that I’ve talked to say he doesn’t have an alcohol problem.

But that’s what the doctor was saying, so the command referred him to ASAP, and they said, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on. Why are you here? Why are you wasting my time?” …At the emergency room I believe [he saw] a medical doctor, and then a psychiatrist, and then up in Denton it was mostly psychiatrists up there.

The only things I’ve talked to him about was why he went, and he was telling me he saw bodies, he saw kids getting shot, or he saw pieces of people. And I understand that would freak somebody out, cause some scars. But like everything, time heals, so usually, everybody thinks, “Oh, I won’t think about it for a while, or whatever, it’ll go away.”

That’s what he tried to do. And that’s not working, so then he actually went and got help for it. Not to mention the strain of change of command or change of responsibilities. We got a new first sergeant who’s quite a bit more strict than our last one, which pushed a lot of buttons, and it’s still pushing buttons.

…He doesn’t really know that they’re trying to chapter him. When he came back, I was his only piece of leadership that they gave him, because our second sergeant had been on leave for a couple weeks. And then he actually talked to me and told me what was going on. He said, “It’s too much, I can’t be here, I need to go somewhere.” So we take him out. Take him somewhere, get him away from everybody, take him to R&R, take him over there.

Since our second sergeant came back I’ve been out of the loop on a bunch of stuff. I do know he’s had marriage problems. He’s got kids that he’s not allowed to see, which probably adds to a lot of crap. He’s having financial issues. He doesn’t really have a place to stay because his wife left, but he’s still getting paid as being married, so he can’t stay in the barracks. So he’s living with other people off and on. Can’t afford gas right now so he’s carpooling with somebody. He’s taking it pretty hard. He came to me and said, “Hey, I feel like I’m under the microscope. I feel like they’re trying to push me out the door.” But he doesn’t have anything solid.

He’s been late 12 times, so they’re trying to Article 15 him for that, and then they’re gonna try and chapter him on Patterned Misconduct or something. So I thought, “Okay.” But then he came to me the other day and said, “I think they’re gonna try and chapter me for being late so many times, but I’ve got a profile for sleeping.” And I never knew it.

He didn’t know either. But he went to a doctor and found out that actually he’s got a profile for oversleeping. I was like, “Oh, that’s weird. I’ve never heard of it, but whatever. If you can provide that profile, then you should be in the clear.”
Editor’s Note: Reese went on to clarify that his soldier’s profile was from a medical doctor, but he did not know who, because the doctor had not informed the soldier he was being put on profile at the time.

…Right now, they’re going through a whole thing where profiles that you get are pushed into the system, and you can log in and print out your profile, but I know a lot of doctors aren’t giving actual physical profiles out. They’re putting it on the soldier to go out and print it out and give a copy, which is weird.

I know a couple other people that have a profile but can’t print it out. So they’re like, “Where do I print it out?” And they were given a list, how to log in and print it out, but then they can’t. And then they’re having to run when they’re not supposed to run, or lift when they’re not supposed to lift.

[These are soldiers] in my unit. Because I get soldiers, “Hey sergeant, I’ve got a profile, but I can’t get to it.” Well, if you don’t have it on you, it doesn’t exist according to our command, so if it’s not on you, then you don’t have it. So find a way to log in and get it. Otherwise you’re going to be doing what the command wants. I know when I went through [myself] only a few months ago, they said, “Here’s your profile. We’re gonna put it into the system. Thank you.” And I went back and I made several copies of it, so if I lost it I always had another one. But they apparently do not hand them out anymore.

I know I was in there in April of this year, and I got a hard copy of the profile, so some time after April, [is when it started to change].

Mine was no running, no jumping, walk at own pace and distance. I have plantar fasciitis, so it’s bad for running.

So they said, “Okay, one month, no run, no jump.” And then, “Hey, you’ve got a PT test.”

I was like, “You can’t do that.” And my platoon sergeant, while I was sitting there, after my pushups and sit-ups, and I was getting ready to go do the run, they said, “No, you go stand over there and make sure people don’t cut the corner.” So I wasn’t able to finish. Then I got flagged for PT failure. Okay, cool. They always had a copy of my profile, and I said, “Look, I can walk, but that’s it.” And on a temporary profile you can’t take a Record PT test.

…The next month I was on profile recovery, and came up on another PT test. And I said, “Okay, fine, cool.” I went and did it, and I finished it. I did all three events, and I ran in, and it was all good. I said, “Hey look, I passed.” That was in May.

I failed [the one before]. It was a flag stating that I was a PT failure and I would have no positive actions, that anything good that came along, I wasn’t gonna get. So they did that, and then the next month, I passed, because I saw it on the DTMS. It’s a little thing that pops up in your AKO that says all the trainings you’ve done, and it told me I was a PT failure, and I thought, “Wow, that sucks.” I checked my promotion point worksheet through HRC, and they said, “Nope. PT failure.” So I was like, “Okay, so I’m not promotable now because I’m a PT failure.”

Editor’s Note: Reese clarified that his profile was setting work restrictions pursuant to his plantar fascia.

It got aggravated during a run, and I had to sprint to catch up, and then I hurt myself. The ankle popped, and I went in. And I didn’t go in for the plantar fasciitis in the first place. But when I told them what the symptoms were on the one foot, and what happened on the other foot, they said, “Here’s a brace for the one foot, and here’s a one month profile for the other foot.” And I said, “Oh, wow, okay.” But everything straightened itself out.

Editor’s Note: Reese testified that he did not receive a medical evaluation before his month-long profile ended. The profile simply ended and was supposed to be replaced by ‘profile recovery,’ although with no paper profile documenting the specifics of that. The only treatment he received was what he had outlined thus far.

…It just expired. It expired and I went on profile recovery, which is supposed to be two times the profile length, where you’re supposed to just walk it, or try and run a little bit. They gave me inserts for my shoes, but that doesn’t really do anything.

I just had my profile that ended on a certain day, and they said, “Okay, you got two months.” But that never happened. They just said, “Hey, PT test.” Okay. Cool. Let’s go.

I said, “I’m on profile recovery, but I’m gonna take it because I know they’re gonna take my score either way, so it doesn’t really matter.” I just bit the bullet and did it. There wasn’t much to it. I said, “I don’t want to be flagged anymore,” and had awards coming that I should have gotten, so I wanted to make sure I was straight.

Editor’s Note: When asked, Reese said that taking this PT test definitely put him at risk of re-injury.

Because I didn’t think it was 100%. It’s probably still not 100%, but if it starts aggravating again, then I’ll just go back and get it checked out again. See if they can do anything else.

But I’ve been in nine years, and I’m used to it.

There’s a female [in my unit] that has the same profile I have, running at own pace and distance. She falls out with the rest of the profiles and does her profile walk. Guys that can’t lift, can’t do anything. One of my soldiers is on profile for a torn rotator cuff, and his surgery is scheduled next week, so I’ve got him not trying to do anything that will aggravate it. But you tell him, “Hey, no pull ups,” and then he’s over there trying to do pull ups. It’s like, “No man, stop. I’m not gonna be the one that gets hammered if you hurt yourself any worse, so just stop.”

Another guy has a chest muscle that he pulled, and we get pretty good leeway, when it’s PT time. The platoon goes, and they do their own thing. We’re not under the first sergeant’s eye all the time, but when we are, they ask, “Why are these guys standing over here? Why are they just stretching?” “Well, he’s on profile, he’s on profile.” “Well, they need to be doing something.” So do abs, or do sit-ups. Or do the dying cockroach, just put your arms and legs up in the air.” They can’t do anything else. We try and keep everybody that’s on profile covered.

Since I’ve been in, there’s a stigma with being on profile. It’s that you’re a shitbag. You don’t want to do the work, so you’re gonna go get on profile, and sham out of doing anything. But I’ve noticed a lot of our guys, they say, “Hey, I don’t want to be a shitbag. I don’t want to be called a shitbag, so I know I’m on profile and I’m getting looked at, but I’m still gonna do the work.” And we say, “No man, you can’t do that.” It’s not that we don’t need the help, which we do, because we’ve got 15 people, at least, on profile.

So I say, “You can’t lift. You can’t run, but can you lift?” “Yeah.” “Okay, cool. Help me.” But they say, “No man, we got it.” Alright, cool. I’m not looking.

You go and do the work, but I’m not gonna look. Job gets done. It’s not the right thing to do, I don’t think, but job’s gotta get done one way or the other.

It’s not right to have them on profile and actually do the job, even though they think they can. But it’s not right to have them out there lifting and picking up the 300, 400lb things that we have to pick up and move. Here’s the job. I’m gonna go over here, make it happen. Roger. Moving on. Job’s done. I come back and say, “Okay. I know y’all lifted and you’re not supposed to, but I figure if they’ve got enough people to help lift, then it shouldn’t be too much of a strain.” And one guy with a bad shoulder, he’s got a good shoulder on the other side, so he can lift with that one, so he did. But I just don’t like doing that.

Editor’s Note: The conversation turned to the Fort Hood policies on profile violation and stigma. Reese testified that he did not think most soldiers in his unit were aware of MEDCEN-01 or SURG-01. He also stated he had never been briefed on either policy.

If it’s not posted up in the company, on our bulletin boards, they’re probably not aware of anything.

I just read the handout that I was given three months ago from [Under the Hood]. I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty good.” It’s in my leader’s book, actually. To somebody with a profile, I say, “Hey, take a read of this.”

My guys, I’ve showed them. The other guys in the section, I haven’t showed them yet.

[My first sergeant] is pretty adamant that if you don’t have it on you, it doesn’t count. Even if he knows a guy is broke, limping around, if he doesn’t have his profile on the giant run day, if it’s not on him, he’s gonna be out there running with us, whether the first sergeant knows that he’s got a profile or not. That’s the only thing. He’s pretty strict on, “Have it on you. If you don’t want to do it, have it on you.”

I don’t think [the printing issue] has been brought up to him. Everything is dealt with to try to keep it at the lowest level, fix it before it goes up that high.

Or he’ll tell them to go back to the TMC and get and print one out so you can have one, which is the answer I’ve been giving to most of my people. And if you can’t get it, go back and tell them, “Hey, I can’t get it. Can you help me?” If they can’t, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Editor’s Note: Reese went on to describe what could be done to enforce these policies at Fort Hood.

…Like anything, it’d have to be put out by higher. The only time we get to do anything, or get told not to do anything, is because they actually come out and they say, “Hey, don’t do this,” or, “Hey, go by this.” General Campbell, or especially Sergeant Major Coleman, he gets a bone and starts tearing it up, and it’s what happens.

We’ve had a couple of deaths in our unit already this year. Three, I think. They were actually motorcycle deaths, and because we’ve had so many of those, he’s gotten up in our kool aid a lot more about, “I want to know this, I want to know that,” talking about putting restrictions on. Like a curfew for motorcycle riding, so if he gets wind of something, or is told to put something out, he might actually do it, which would actually put it down to our first sergeant, and make us have to do it.

The only thing that I noticed that they really cared about was when the rumor was going around that Sergeant Major Coleman had a DUI. They blasted out on their Facebook with General Campbell saying, “No, this didn’t happen.” Somebody starts a rumor, and you come out and squash it really hard. Maybe something like that. Blasting it on the Facebook, blasting it on whatever comment site they have for the PA, the Public Affairs officer. I worked in that area for a while. In their meetings, they are going to say, “Hey sir, this is what’s going on. We should probably talk about this.” “Okay, cool.” Their news people, inside Corps. That might work.

There has been a person [in my unit] that was hurt, but didn’t go to get any help because of thinking, “I don’t want to be a shitbag. I’m just gonna do my job. Look, boss, this is what’s going on. If you can just spare me some leeway, so I can get some recovery on my own, it should be good.” And a lot of times, it works out, for me anyways. If somebody’s hurting, we try and make sure they go and see somebody. And if they won’t, then that’s on them. We can’t really say, “Hey, you’re hobbling around. Go.” That was actually done to me by my first sergeant. In our runs, I was hobbling too bad, and I made the formation look like crap, so he said, “You’re going to sick call.” “Roger. Got it.”

But as far as actually saying, “Hey, you should probably go get it checked out.” “Roger, sir. I’m good, I’m good. No, no problems.” And they’re still struggling. That’s up on the person themselves. We can’t really say, “Hey, go. Go get checked out.” But we will if we see somebody hurting, we’ll advise them strongly to go. Probably order them to go, I’m not sure.

…The thing I hear most from other people is, “I don’t want to be like so-and-so, who’s riding their profile for…” Somebody hurt their back, and back profiles are really tricky. Back injuries are tricky in themselves, but you can’t really tell if somebody’s faking, so they’ll go get a back profile. “Oh, I can’t lift. I can’t walk. I can’t run. I can’t do this. I can’t do that. I can’t wear my gear. I can’t wear a helmet.” “What the hell can you do, man?” “Nothing, sergeant.” Okay, then go in the corner. Blink in cadence, do something. But a lot of soldiers, they don’t want to look like that guy over there that’s, “One, two, three, one, two, three.” It looks stupid. It is stupid, but you can’t do anything if you’re on a dead man profile.

…I’ve thought about how do we get more people to actually say, “Hey, I know this is gonna sound like crap, but I need to go [get help].” …I can see it. Lots of my buddies can see it. But we’re pretty lenient with it. We say, “Hey man, there’s no harm in going to get your back, your leg, your head, whatever, to go get it checked out.” But it’s still there, everybody still jokes about it, no matter what it is. “Oh, look, your knee’s jacked up, you’re spending too much time on it.”

The Army’s always gonna be full of jokers. It’s not gonna change, probably not even if there was a disciplinary action for it. It’s like the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell thing. “Oh, my God, now we’re gonna have gays in the military, or they can actually say, ‘I’m gay.’” Who cares, man? Who really cares? I don’t care.

But there’s still the jokes. People are gonna see things the way they want to see them.

You can try and open it up and say, “Hey, you can go do this if you need to. There’s not gonna be any repercussions for it, no one’s gonna think differently of you.” And there’s still gonna be your handful of people that do it. So, I wouldn’t know how to change anybody’s mind…

I know that when people come to me, and they say, “Hey, I’ve just had it, I’ve tried everything I know, I don’t know what else to do.” Then I say, “Hey man. Check this out. Did you know that they have this? They’ve got the resiliency campus. I’ve got this brochure here. Check it out.” They say, “Oh wow, cool. I think I’ll go and try that.” I don’t hear anything back from them. It’s not that I push it, but I’m so busy, I really don’t remember who asked for anything, or who said they were gonna go somewhere. If it’s not on paper, and I haven’t made a note of it, I don’t remember who went anywhere. So as far as making somebody try and find their point, it’s all up to the person.

…I know a lot of guys who have our slight PTSD. And everybody does. Slight—it’s certain things. Loud noises. Since we’ve been back, since November, I’ve gotten a lot better, and I can’t believe that used to bug me. Like, dump trucks: on the first deployment, bad ju-ju. I’ve gotten a lot better now. I can deal with being next to a dump truck and not freak out. Other people I’ve talked to, especially 4th of July, just yesterday sitting out in my backyard. Pop pop! Then, pop pop pop pop! The initial [snaps] is like, “Oh God!” Unless it was right outside my gate, and then I would be looking, “Who’s doing that?” Grab my gun and chase them down.

But there’s a lot of people that claim PTSD but don’t have it, or don’t have it as bad as they say they do. And there’s people that don’t claim they have it at all, and you can tell, by just watching them any time of day that they’ve got it. But as far as them getting treatment, and how it’s treated, I don’t know.

Editor’s Note: The conversation turned back to the soldier Reese is concerned about in his unit, and whether he felt he had the power to do anything to help him.

I’m just the Team Chief. Given the acting section sergeant title for a little bit, there’s not really much I can say to anybody higher that’s gonna change anything. I could talk to him and try and get him to see things a certain way, and see how the command sees him, so he can try and change a little bit, if he can change. I can’t say whether he can or not. But that’s the only benefit I got, is that soldiers actually look at me like, “Hey, you’re a human. You talk to us like we’re human. Can this happen?” But I actually get more people to get the job that we need done, and they all come to me, “Hey, sergeant, worried about this. Hey, what about this? Hey, can you help me with this? Can you give me an idea on this?” “Yeah, man, yeah.”

I know it’s a big issue and it’s been hammered into us that, “You gotta watch people, you gotta watch your butt, you gotta watch your soldier, you gotta watch this, you gotta watch that, you gotta watch your spouse.” Okay, got it. So a lot of us, we still joke about it, but we still do it, because it’s been put down to us that, “Hey, this is your job. You watch out, you take care of these kids.” Okay, cool. If I don’t see something, and somebody else sees something, and they bring it to me, then alright, cool, I didn’t notice. Thanks. I’ll keep an eye on it.

And that happens more times than not that somebody says, “Hey sergeant, he’s being pretty anal over here.” We gotta go check him out. We talk to him. Find out this guy’s grandpa died two days ago and he’s stuck here. He’s about to start clearing, so he can’t really leave to come back, so he’s just a depressed kid. So we do what we can to help him, and try and fix things. Can’t really fix things with a dead relative, but we try and make him as happy as possible. That’s on and off duty. I’ve had guys come over to the house. Hey, let’s cook. You know, We’re gonna have burgers, dogs, We’re gonna watch a movie. We’re gonna go to the range. A lot of my buddies, a lot of soldiers at work love to go and just shoot. It’s awesome. Yeah. Steel. Target. “Pow! Pow!” It’s fun.

…Ever since I came in, I’ve been married, so I haven’t been into the barracks and been with the guys a lot, but I know there’s rarely NCOs that come in and say, “Hey, what’cha doing?” It’s been mandated to us that we’re gonna go, every weekend we’re gonna find out what our soldiers are doing that weekend, what they plan on doing. But when it’s mandated down to you, and you don’t do it, and you don’t make it seem genuine, it’s just yeah whatever, “Man, We’re gonna go do this.” Okay, cool.

Come around the next Monday and you’re like, so how was this? “Oh, we didn’t do that. We went and got drunk in Austin.” Dude, I asked you what you were gonna do. They say, “Oh well, we had a plan for this and…” You’re feeding me bullshit. I want what you’re really gonna do. A lot of guys care, a lot of guys don’t. But it’s just how you interact with the soldier, and I’ve got a lot of soldiers out here that don’t care. Like, “Here, take my pistol. Go over there, and end it. Because I don’t want to see you any more.”

I don’t tell them that. I did once. He didn’t. But the real bad soldiers, the ones that don’t give a crap about being in the Army, you get the, “I don’t give a crap about you because you don’t give a crap about me or your job, so you go over here.” That happens a lot. But still you talk to them. Like, “Hey, what are you doing?” “Okay, cool.” “How’s life?” “Yeah, that’s good.” You could tell I really couldn’t care less. But check the box. And if that’s what they give off to their NCOs, their NCOs gonna give it right back to them. So they have to change their attitude towards the work, then their NCO will change attitude towards them and actually probably give concern about what’s going on. Instead of being mandated to, “Care about your soldier. Talk to them. Find out what’s going on. Hug him.”

Editor’s Note: Reese also spoke about his experience in SRP over the course of his deployments.

The first time was in Germany. It wasn’t the easiest or most pleasant thing to do. It was, “Everybody get over here, get your shots.” “Alright, you done over here? Go over here and get your gear.” Okay. We got our gear. “Now sit here and wait, and make sure all this paper is done.” Okay.

Here it’s the same way. Except it’s more confined, and it’s all done in one day, basically. It’s not reinventing the wheel, they just got it more consolidated. Two, three days, then you’re done. Questions they ask, through SRP and Reverse-SRP, is basically the same things. They ask, “Did you have any accidents or incidents or injuries while you were there?” No. “Okay. How close were you to any mortar blast? Or rocket blast?” Too damn close. Well, I’m not gonna say that, because I want to get out of SRP, because I’ve been sitting in here for 3 hours, so I’m gonna be like, “Hey, I’m good. I dip a lot. I drink a lot. I smoke a lot.” “You want help?” “Nope.” “Okay.” “Bye.”

I don’t really know [who I saw in SRP]. It was some colonel. Coming through on the Reverse-SRP, there was this lieutenant colonel. She asked me questions… No, that was the 90 days after she asked me about my drinking and my smoking and my dipping, and whatever. “No.” Asked me about blasts. “Nope, I’m good. I got back.”

I’d hurt my back while we were down there, so they gave me Flexeril. But the guy that checked me in for the first Reverse-SRP said, “It says here that you were given Flexeril.” “Yup. Hurt my back.” “Still hurt?” “Yup.” “Let me write you a prescription.” “Cool. Thanks.” I’ve still got them. They make me stupid. I only take them on worst case scenarios. But I haven’t seen a doctor about my back in a year now.

But, the process is you tell a doctor what they want to hear. So you get out of there, because you don’t want to be there. Which is not really the best thing. I think it’s because you’re herded in a line throughout the entire thing. You get sent in front of a doctor, which you finally get to see, or a counselor, or whatever they’re called, after waiting for two and a half hours in a stance, making your cycle. All you want to do is get out because it’s already two o’clock. I’ve missed lunch. I just want to get done. So you tell them what they want to hear. I don’t know if making it a more one-on-one process, which is not the only way, would be better. Then people would actually say, “Hey, yeah, doc, this rocket blew up, right there, man. And it freaked me out.” Or, whatever the case is, they’d actually feel a bit more honest, instead of, “Okay, I’m here, check the box, check the box, check the box.” The SRP process sucks.

I don’t know who [the SRP providers] were. But I never brought up any issues. They never wrote any kind of issue down. So it’s, “Whoosh,” out the other end.

Since we came, and before we left, they gave us the cognitive test, whatever that is. Sit there at the computer and click buttons. Before I came in, I was a bull-rider, so I’d already had a lot of concussions. So it really didn’t make any difference to me, but I scored the same as guys that were fresh out of high school.

Editor’s Note: Reese confirmed that the test he had received was the ANAM, which he was tested on before his second deployment. He was never given a post-test.

When I got to Fort Benning after my first deployment, anybody 26 and over had to go to a TBI class, and then we fill out the questionnaire. Then you sit there and you do little computer clicks. And the math problem. Still, I thought it was kind of funny. I suck at math anyway. So I take a while to answer the questions, and there is no change between my first one and my second one. But if we did it afterwards, I don’t know how that would have been—because we didn’t do the little clicky-clicky afterwards.

[TBI testing] was just during in-processing, when we first got there, to the base itself. You had all your people that had to go through all the in-processing briefings, and then if you’re 26 and over, you’re going over here. So they made all of us old people got in formation, went over there, did our thing, and went back, and completed in-processing.

We’ve also had to do [a TBI training] on a computer. It gives you a certificate. Can’t remember what it was, but we had to sit, and we had to log in, and do this training, that we know what it looks like, we know how to treat it. That we know that we need to get them to a doctor if certain things have happened. We all go through, and we click the thing, get the test, print out our certificates, return to the platoon, and they’re like, “Alright, cool, you’re good to go.” At least in my unit, I know everybody had to go and do it. That’s the only real training we’ve had.

July 5th of last year, we had a massive amount of rockets hit our file. I think it was 17 in total. They actually caught some that were still on rails. It would have been worse. The one that almost took us out was within 50 feet. But we were inside a building. It wasn’t really a hardened building. It was like an adobe. But we had a generator and a T-wall. It hit at the base of the T-wall that was separating our place and another place. It was actually concrete reinforced. Everything in our shack, the door swung open, the shrapnel hit the door, things fell off the walls and all the dust that was in the ceiling rafters just decided to come down. That was pretty awesome. Scared shitless, but it was pretty intense.

I got run over, actually, by a soldier coming in after the alarm started going off. The guy stepped on my ankle and just ran right for the stairs. Luckily I was in boots, so it didn’t really hurt. But yeah, we had ten people on duty that night. We had eight people on duty, but two others were there to play X-Box with us, so that was the worst night we had. That was as close as I got to a blast.

Editor’s Note: He clarified that he did not think he had a brain injury from that blast exposure.

Probably not. We were pretty insulated from any blast. It’s not like being there at ground zero, with the pressure. There was something to push the pressure away from us. The only thing that happened was, like I said, a door swung open, crap falls down from the rafters, and things fell off the wall. But still, it was really close, you could smell that smell really bad. That blast was really bad. Everything went out the window.

…My wife might be able to tell you [if I have any symptoms], but irritability, yeah, I think so. Forgetfulness, definitely. If I don’t write it down, I forget anything… For short term, definitely.

Me and a buddy, we were talking about something, and he said, “My give-a-fuck is busted.” …I was like, “Man, I’m the same way since we got back, it’s just been blah.” And he was like, “Yeah, man. It’s right on.” So we started hanging out more because we could associate with each other better, and we’ve both gotten a lot better as far as I can tell, but it’s still just, “Hey man, this is whatever.” And it’s like, “Yeah.”

Personal life, probably [has been affected]. I know I wasn’t the easiest person to get along with when I first got back, but thankfully, the unit did send me on a marriage retreat, and we were actually able to talk and do a bunch of stuff that. Sitting down and talking was the main thing, like, “Hey, look, I just went through this.” “Okay.” “I’ve been through this, this and this. This is why I’m like this.” And once it’s understood, then it’s, “Oh, okay, cool.” Or, “Now I know where you’re coming from.” The thing just kind of went from butting heads to meshing really good. It was weird.

Editor’s Note: Reese also knew of suicides and high-risk behavior at Fort Hood, and shared his reflections on the effects of multiple deployments.

I think there was a guy that tried to kill himself in another company. I don’t know who he was. This most recent guy rode his motorcycle without all his protective gear. And that’s pretty stupid, pretty suicidal, if you ask me. But as far as actual suicide attempts, no. People talk about it. People joke about it, but nobody that I know has actually tried. Some of our soldiers have had family members that did commit suicide, but those people don’t really joke about it that much with the rest of us. If they bring it up, “Oh, my aunt committed suicide,” or, “my brother or sister,” then we say, “Okay, man. Sorry.” We’ll go joke about it over here, but we’re still gonna joke about it.

I know guys that were [deployed] back to back. You go in, you come back, maybe not even for a whole year. Then you turn around and go back again. I know that wore on them. It wore on their families. They divorced, actually, over it. She cheated, he cheated. Split. I know some people that, it was just one deployment, and she cheated, and he said, “I hate your face. See ya.”

But multiple deployments, definitely. Morale really sucks. Like, “Oh my God, I’ve been here before, and I’m gonna be back.” Especially if you’re going to the same place. I’ve been to Iraq twice. I know people that have been there four times. I was kind of pissed off, because I wanted to go to Afghanistan. Get the other ribbon. People aren’t very happy to keep having to go back and do it over and over. It’s not a happy thing to be doing anyways. But at least you get paid for it.

…It’s mandatory we get [MST training] every quarter, or something like that. It’s about the same as everything else in the Army. We make jokes about it, and I think that now they’re doing an actual play. They get people to come out and do acting things, and they go out and show us the wrong answer, and they show us the right answer, and they get help from the audience to find out what the right answer would be, and those are pretty good. Pretty helpful. Because it gets people actually talking about it, not being afraid of it. Afraid to speak against it if it happens. And not to commit it… Those are pretty helpful.

I know [soldiers] that have claimed assault and rape, but none that has ever been substantiated. So, nobody really knows. So I just…one ear and out the other.

They went through all the process to say, “I was raped by this person.” And they get people to try and back up their story, and the person that they’re trying to get to back up the story is like, “That’s not the way I remember it. I remember you were drunk as hell and you were like, hey.” But as far as what actually happened, I don’t know. The person that talked to me about it couldn’t really give a straight answer, because there was too much alcohol involved.

Editor’s Note: In wrapping up the interview, Reese shared his reflections on what kinds of care his soldier needs.

I think he needs to continue his counseling, definitely. He’s got a group session that he goes to every week, at least once a week. He’s getting that over at the R&R Center. He’s still got his ASAP appointments to make, and he does that every week. He needs to keep doing that, definitely, because he’s shown to be a lot better, especially coming out of group. When he comes out, he’s easier to be around, he’s a little bit more smiley. Just from my standpoint, the dude is really good at what he does. As an NCO, I’d hate to lose him from a team. But if he’s gonna be not fully there, then he can be a genius at what he does and he can still hinder the team. So I’d rather have somebody who’s got their head in the game instead of halfway out.

But I don’t know if he wants to stay in. If giving him what he wants would be the best thing, or getting him out so he can spend more time getting help. But then he’s gonna have no money, so he might not go. So I really don’t know. But personally I think he needs to keep getting the help. And stay in the Army. He can, for one, keep getting the help, and for two, so we can keep people learning from him. That way helps us more.

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