US Army veteran, Infantry, one deployment
Editor’s Note: Ryan is a white Army veteran in his mid-twenties from California, who served in the Infantry and completed one deployment to Iraq. At the time of the interview, Ryan was serving his last year in the military, with a pending ETS date. By the time we followed up with him in January 2014, he had been successfully discharged and had moved away from Texas.
I was born in California, raised in California, moved to Portland when I was about 19. [Enlisting was] an escape. I had a reason to believe it was a life change for the better. Education, the GI Bill. And also life experience and the prospect of being exposed to a part of the country I’d never been exposed to, having been raised in super-liberal West coast. And also the more platonically intimate connections with other men.
…It’s difficult to get quality care. There’s more of an attempt now than there had been in the past. But in a way, that makes it more complicated. There are so many different agencies and options, I tried to go to the R&R Center, it’s just basic mental health triage on post. It took me a few weeks to build up, to get to the point where I could go. And I walked in, and then walked out, the first time. And then finally got a friend to come with me, and go in. And it was basically nothing they could say they could do for me. It was like, “Well, unless you want to kill yourself, you have to go back to your primary care” who I’d have to make an appointment with and wait a few weeks for.
When I go to the doctor’s office, when I go to my clinic, you have to fill out one questionnaire before you go in, where it’s like, “Do you want to kill yourself?” You’re asked by a couple lower enlisted before you see your PA, again, if you want to kill yourself. And there’s other series of questions, a really long list, that’s kind of invasive. Really personal questions. And I’d just become really jaded, and I’m like, “Fuck you, man. I’m not telling you.” And then, by the time you get to your PA, there’s such a stress on [suicidality]. Nobody really cares about preventing you from getting to that place, there’s no effective damage control.
…Through that process, I was trying to get out of network coverage to see a mental health provider that’s not in the immediate area. And it was like pulling teeth. This counselor was TriCare approved, and it was all set up with the paperwork. I had already been seeing her through the Army OneSource, it gives you 10 free sessions, and I think that’s amazing. But at the same time it’s only 10 sessions. Ten sessions or three months, whatever comes up first. And it’s like, I hope you’re well by then.
So, I was trying to get an extension. It was difficult. I fought, I got into a number of fights with these civilians who I’m talking to, who just didn’t want to do it. And I eventually had a lieutenant colonel come in the room, and I explained the situation, and he’s like, “Yeah, it’s no problem. Go ahead and do it.”
This was the second time I went to R&R Center. I finally got to talk to somebody. I waited around for about an hour or two and then was escorted to another building and asked a bunch of really basic questions. And, then she’s like, “Well, what do you want?” And I said, “Well, I want you to do this for me. I need the extension.” And she just fought me. She’s like, “Well, why do you want that? Why do you want to see somebody outside?” I guess somebody less motivated to achieve those goals would have been blocked. Would have easily been just turned away and forced to seek whatever was accessible on post.
Editor’s Note: Ryan continued by speaking about what made him wait to seek mental health care.
It’s kind of known that the R&R Center is the first step to getting locked up. “Going to the fifth floor,” that’s what they call it at Fort Hood. It feels like there’s these traps, it’s so easy to say the wrong thing, and all of a sudden you’re locked up. And going to the R&R Center also has a lot of stigma, soldiers that couldn’t really take it anymore would resort to there. They would show up to the R&R triage and just be like, “I want to kill myself.” And then they would be locked up and the chapter process would begin. They didn’t know what to do when I showed up and said “I need to talk to somebody.” And then personally coming to the decision that maybe I need help. That’s kind of a hard position to get to, getting to the place where you could ask for help.
…I got the out-of-network extension. But even that was time-capped. I can’t even remember how long it goes, I need to find out. But it wasn’t indefinite, and it wasn’t even six months. They tried to push me back to my primary care, my PA—who initially recommended me to go to the R&R, and then I got pushed back to my primary care. That process was a few months of bouncing back and forth. Even the R&R Center will push the Army OneSource. The R&R Center will be like, “Call Army OneSource, and get your sessions.” And that’s usually locally. If it’s not internal, then it’s local. Which is just a sea of mental health providers that are just, in my opinion, leaching off of the Army OneSource program. I just don’t think [the criteria for providers] are extensive enough. I haven’t seen it be very effective for soldiers, they don’t feel very comfortable or they don’t walk away with much. It’s a very flag-waving, uber-patriotic group of people. Who I think are also terrified of losing a soldier under their care, and are also kind of waiting for an excuse to get that same soldier locked up.
I’m really fortunate that the person I’m seeing was sought out from somebody at Under the Hood, who had done all this research, and found me somebody who was understanding. And I can tell her a lot of stuff, I can be completely honest about my life. But out here—and even more so on post, if you see these counselors, they have to report anything, if you want to cause harm to yourself or others. But also, they have to report a violation of UCMJ, it’s a condition of accepting TriCare, for mental health for active duty. So if I were to say that maybe I had an illegitimate marriage, or maybe I was speaking out against things that I didn’t agree with in the military, that could be held against you. It’s their obligation, just as much as it’s an obligation to report you if you’re gonna kill yourself, it’s their obligation to pursue disciplinary action if you’re in violation of UCMJ.
…My counselor I see weekly has diagnosed me for depression and anxiety. ‘Cause those are the only two screenings that I specifically requested. But that hasn’t really translated into work yet. And I’ve also asked for those same screenings from my primary care, and he said that my personal therapist is just gonna do it. So there’s some kind of communication that I need to push, for [the Army] to recognize them. ‘Cause I make an appointment any chance I can to see my primary care, ’cause it takes so fucking long. It takes a month for me to get in there. And this last time I’d been looking at medications, finally thinking that maybe that would be a possible solution. And he gave me one drug, it didn’t work, gave me another drug a month later, ’cause that was the next time he could see me, was in a month.
I saw him a month later, and he gave me something else, and he said, “Well, why don’t you make an appointment with our psychologist, who just came in. And come back in two weeks,” which is this week, “and then make an appointment.” So I had to wait two weeks to make an appointment to see my psychologist, who I still can’t disclose everything to, to get a military-stamped diagnosis. How are you gonna fucking give me drugs if I can’t tell you what’s going on in my life? How you are you gonna appropriately diagnose me or find the right medical treatment, if you don’t know everything about the condition?
Editor’s Note: Ryan confirmed that his primary care provider, his PA, had assigned him medication for depression and anxiety, but he had not seek a psychiatrist at that point. He said that he was under no medical oversight while trying psychotropic medication for the first time.
We started with Paxil. And that made me insane. And then we tried Effexor. When I took the first one, the Paxil, I was crazy. I was kind of cracked out, I talked to my mom for six hours straight, just rambling. And there was a period where she kind of found it entertaining, she was like, “Oh, this is kind of funny.” And then she got really concerned, ’cause I guess I hadn’t talked to her, ’cause I’d been depressed, shut down.
I wanted to tell my doctor, “These drugs don’t feel good. I don’t want to take these any more, but I don’t know if I can just stop. Or is this a normal feeling? Are the first few days always kind of crazy.” And I can’t get ahold of him. I don’t have his number. I had to make an appointment for another month out. I’m not just gonna keep taking something. For a month, before I fucking know if it’s good or bad, before I know if I’m doing it right.
I probably could’ve just gone to the ER. But I called my counselor, and I was like, “I’m feeling kind of crazy right now”’ And she said, if it doesn’t feel good, then don’t do it. So I didn’t, I stopped.
I’m waiting [for follow-up now], I got an appointment. I walk out of his office, and I make an appointment on the appointment hotline. I kind of just stay on the books.
[The PA] said just walk in and say I have a follow-up with him, even if that is breaking the rules. He was like, “Hey, just come in, tell them you have an appointment with me, I’ll come out all angry and pissed off, because you’re not supposed to do that.” He told me to just come in anyway, and that he’ll yell at me initially, but that he would probably remember my face. And tell him that I need to make an appointment with the psychologist, and that he would remember. That’s what he told me to do.
Editor’s Note: Ryan also clarified that he did not receive any diagnoses upon being prescribed medication by his PA, or anyone else he had seen at the time. He added that he had never been on profile for any of the care he has sought.
…When I went in that last time I asked him is if [medication] triggers the release of the drugs, or is this a direct drug? And he’s like, “I don’t know.” He’s like, “Dude, I took one class. I took four credit hours. Every PA has to take four credit hours in pills,” in mental health drug therapy. He’s like, “I’m not qualified for this. So I’m gonna send you to this other person.” So, okay, yeah, I saw this psychologist who wants me to do that. So it was impressive that at least he said he didn’t know, but at the same time half of my buddies are on meds right now. Everyone I know is on something and most of it’s from the PA.
…My commander stumbled upon [my treatment]. ‘Cause I’m the company Armor, and so his boss, my commander’s boss, the battalion commander, was gonna come down to check out the arms room—I have millions and millions of dollars of equipment that he’s actually accountable for. So, all of a sudden he starts freaking out and pretending like he cares, and he is trying to schedule an appointment, but I had my doctor’s appointment.
Every Friday I have to leave work just a little bit early, so I can get down to Austin and go see my therapist. So this one Friday, he wanted me to stay behind. And I was like, “I can’t. I have an appointment.” Which is this big, very heavy word in the military, ’cause if you miss an appointment, you could be just fucked up really bad. “Abusing post resources.” So he was like, “Well, what’s the appointment for?” …And I was like, “Head stuff.” And he’s all, “What type of head stuff? PTSD and TBI and shit?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know, no. It’s just head stuff.” And I was like, “Hey, if you want to talk about this, Sir, we can buff it out. But I have an appointment on Fridays, where I have to leave at 14:30.” And then he kind of backed off. But I’m pretty sure he forgot about it since then. He has no fucking idea. When I first told my first line supervisor that I was seeking care and I had gone to the R&R Center without consulting them, they were mad at me! They were really upset with me not talking with them about shit.
I was like, “You’re not qualified to treat me. I’m not gonna come to you with my life problems. There’s professionals for that, and that’s what I’m doing.” They were afraid of having a soldier get locked up, be sent to the fifth floor, and have that reflect negatively on them. Although, my platoon sergeant now is actually a really good guy, and has stuck up for me to get mental health. He’s like, “Hey man, you need anything, let me know.” He’s been phenomenal, and it’s unfortunate that he’s stuck in this system. He had offered to come down to R&R and use his stripes, and he’s like, “Hey, if you need anything, I’ll be there in a second.” Which is cool. ‘Cause he had to navigate the same process, he’s on a bunch of pills, he’s got really bad PTSD.
…In the morning when we line up for PT formations, and you salute, the first sergeant will be like, “Okay, all profiles fall out to my right, your left.” ‘Cause platoon sergeants conduct PT. And then, all the platoons go off and do PT. But the fall-out rate, of the people falling out of formations, was like, another platoon. It was like 30, 40 people falling out. And last time I did PTs last week, one.
They’re getting rid of profiles. However they can. We chaptered out like, eight dudes, for not passing weight tape. Some of them, multiple combat tours. We were chaptering out dudes for disciplinary action, failing piss tests, everything. They just started cracking down. And specifically, the guys that had profiles. ‘Cause that looks bad.
Every company has to have a record of everybody who’s on profile. That record needs to be submitted through the first sergeant to the sergeant major, who keeps track of everybody in his battalion, so he knows what the combat fighting force is, and the limitations. It’s his job to keep that number low. But instead of keeping that number low by providing treatment, or maybe preventing [injuries] from happening, it’s like, “Get out,” because we have new guys coming in. We have new, healthy, fresh bodies coming in. And we just kick all the “broke dicks” out. That’s what they call it, “broke dicks.”
If you got a “broke dick” profile, it means you can’t do shit. It means you can’t lift anything over 25 pounds, you can’t walk more than a hundred meters a day.
The only guys that are actually going through the Med Board process and being chaptered out for their disability, is two of them, and they’re both E-6s, who have between four and five deployments each. There’s a certain amount of admiration there. Anybody who’s claiming PTSD from just one deployment is not taken seriously. My buddy Greg* got chaptered out for being fat, as opposed to the mental health care that he was attempting to seek. He was on the fifth floor and he got chaptered out for being fat, on short order.
They still get an Honorable discharge, for overweight, because technically it’s a failure of the military for not keeping their fighting force in shape. However, they don’t get all the benefits. His contract was ended prematurely, so there’s no separation pay, there’s nothing like that. I believe he has access to a GI Bill still.
…So a lot of times these soldiers will miss formations, will be sleeping in, just have a lot of objections to the system. They just start to challenge that shit. They get into domestic disputes, they’re not where they need to be when they need to be there. And they’re not good soldiers anymore. So they get a series of counseling statements, they start to get Article 15s, and then eventually they lose their stripes, and at that point it’s just over. When you see an E-6 reduced to a Private, they’re like, “Fuck it.” Everyone still treats them like a sergeant, which is kind of funny.
The Med Board process means they leave the Army on disability, which is an assumption that you’re getting care from day one, as opposed to having to navigate the VA system, and you have to validate your disability. The mentality of the company toward you [is different in MEB]. I only know of one in my company, an E-6 who was a Private. And everybody was like, “You’re still legit. We fought with you, you’re cool.” But there’s a couple other cases where they’ve completely given up.
Like Sergeant Carter* completely gave up. He went on a crack binge last week, and nobody knew where the fuck he was at. When he came into my platoon two years ago, he came from a Sniper Recon unit, and had gone on multiple deployments, super-high speed. He came to us with really intense physical training, really intense tactical training. When everybody was doing nothing, he’d sit down with us and show us tactics. And then he started drinking a lot and smoking a lot of spice, and then spice turned into weed, and he just totally gave up. But the mentality of the company toward him is that he’s a fucking piece of shit, because he gives us a bad name, because he comes up on the battalion list of criminal offences… But in my eyes, [his] conditions aren’t being addressed.
…[Soldiers] understand that by seeking care, or admitting that you’re not 100% super-badass soldier—it’s nearly impossible. It’s almost like forfeiting enlistment. Which is why I’ve kept my search for care so personal. I just don’t think there’s a process where you can get that care. They don’t understand that my appointment is treatment. I’m going to seek treatment, in almost like a physical therapy way. This is my emotional therapy, this is my treatment. And they’re like, “Well, how much longer do you have these appointments?’ And I was like, “I don’t know. Until I’m treated.”
Editor’s Note: Ryan was asked if members of his unit are aware of MEDCEN-01, and where pressure on NCOs to violate profiles comes from.
No. Not unless I’ve told them. Which, I’ve told most of them. But no…
The strength of their team, or their squad, or their platoon, is a reflection of their competency as an NCO. And there’s this constant wheeling and dealing and trading soldiers internally, and they usually end up in Headquarters, which is the platoon I’m in. So in my platoon a handful of us have these really intense, stressful jobs that require a really competent person. Accountability of equipment, and accountability of personnel, and supply.
Those are the three people in Headquarters that are really squared away. And the rest of them are just people who got kicked out of their platoon. And nobody wants to invest the time. That’s not a virtue that’s valued, like an NCO recognizing a problem with a soldier, and then walking with him to get the treatment and supporting him in whatever way he needs. That’s not valued as much as having guys that are just dedicated and have a “whatever sacrifice is necessary to accomplish the mission” mentality.
[NCOs] get credit for numbers. But I do want to do a shout-out, because I have seen some NCOs do some amazing things to cover down for soldiers. But it’s out of their hands. They only have so much power. Their power is basically lying and getting them out of work. Or, hiding them from the first sergeant, sergeant major, the commander, battalion commander.
Editor’s Note: The interview turned to address Ryan’s experience of SRP before he deployed.
It was another box to check. Pre-deployment, you have to get a bunch of equipment, specific to wherever you’re deploying. You have to get a thousand briefs. Like, “This is how you save your money when you’re deployed.” And you have to go through the SRP process. And those are all parallel, in most peoples’ eyes. They go through your medical records real quick, and they’re like, “Okay, any non-deployable conditions?” and they’ll give you all your shots, get you all your vaccinations up to date. Ask you that basic spreadsheet, “Do you want to kill yourself? Do you want to kill anybody else?” And then you’re good. I’ve never seen anyone turned away from the SRP process.
There was a soldier who had a bad knee, I don’t even know what it was, but it was really fucked up, and he had to go to surgery regularly. And he had sought care inside the Army, outside the Army, had diagnosis. And I think his personal doctor said it was a bad knee and he’s non-deployable, and so then it went up to the battalion commander, and then it came back to his primary care, saying, “You need to make this okay.” So he had to change the paperwork.
And so, when Ross* went back to his primary care, he was basically told, “Hey, you’re going anyway.” That’s when he went for civilian care, and then they said, “Oh, you’ll just get the care you need over there.” So at this point, he’d seen three doctors, and an Army surgeon, who thought he was trying to shitbag out of it, who thought he was just trying to get out of the deployment, and wouldn’t support him.
He ends up deploying. He had started the process of addressing the Congressional aspect for an appeal. But it never solidified, I guess. So, we’re in Iraq, and he got flown to a larger base a handful of times. And nobody knew what the fuck. And then, basically the answer was, “We don’t have what we need to take care of you here.” They were told, “We don’t have the medical equipment to give you or the time to fit you in.” ‘Cause we were shipped into the bigger base, and that same medical installation is receiving soldiers who are getting blown up, from all the smaller ones. So their priority list is combat loss, combat loss, combat loss. And then medical problems. And so he immediately goes to the bottom of the list, and they’re like, “Well, you know, we’ll stand by to see if x, y, z ever develops, and maybe we can take care of you.” And we came home before that day ever came. And then he got out of the army almost immediately after that, through just ETSing. He just waited for his ETS date.
They deployed him in Headquarters. He was a radio operator, so he would stay in the Headquarters, receiving radio messages, running the radio. But we received almost 300 rockets over ten months. You hear the incoming alarm and even then, a lot of the times, the rockets would come and there’d be no incoming alarm, or sometimes there’d be an incoming alarm and no rockets. So, there was a lot of fucking sprinting as fast as you could to a bunker. Soldiers diving out of a bunk bed, and sprinting, and there was a case of an NCO throwing soldiers out of his way to get to a bunker. So it’s this really intense thing. And he’s forced to dive out of the talk, and sprint to a bunker, and he couldn’t.
And he’d be gimping along. So everybody would be [in the bunker], would be getting head counts, to make sure everybody’s sure that should be there. And it would always be like, “Oh, no, Ross is on his way. He’ll be here in a minute.” You know, we lost a soldier who got hit by a rocket. My commander fucking got sent out of Iraq, because while sprinting to a bunker, he slipped on gravel and bit the corner of an air conditioning unit, and lost all of his teeth, and broke his jaw and shattered his jaw and shit. So, just to explain, even our commander, who’s supposed to be the big dude spazzed out and wrecked himself on the way to the bunker. He couldn’t get there.
Editor’s Note: Ryan reflected on how the safety or morale of his unit was affected by having at least one soldier present who should not have been deployed.
…There’s this [feeling], when you just submit to the system, where they’re like, “Well, that’s just the way it is.” Like, “It’s too bad he got fucked.” And you know, he was a really good soldier. They knew it was fucked up, it did affect morale, very much so. Because our commander fucked him on this. He got fucked. There’s no reason he should be here right now. It’s not contributing anything to the operation, he’s not an able-bodied soldier. It’s like trying to push somebody around in a wheelchair in a fucking combat zone.
What’s funny though is they’re like, “Oh, well, women can’t cut it because they can’t maintain the physical burden.” But we’re still deploying soldiers who are medically diagnosed for not being able to hold the burden, but are still sent there anyway.
…We had Sanchez,* attempted [suicide]. And went to the R&R Center in Iraq, and they gave him a bunch of pills, he came back a zombie. Pretty useless, he couldn’t really function. There was a soldier who was successful at killing himself, a week before we came back. So we were in Kuwait, we had turned in all of our equipment. And some dudes still had live rounds, and he killed himself in his tent, around all of his buddies…days before he got home.
At that point, the entire brigade was together, essentially. So it was a brigade formation [afterward], which is a lot of soldiers, it’s like 5,000 soldiers form up and do this big ceremony of delivering and putting his body into the C130. And a couple people talk, the Chaplain talks, the battalion commander talks about how good of a soldier he was. And then that was it.
It was treated as a combat loss. It was treated as if he had been hit in an IED or something. It was the same ceremony but also kind of neglecting to look at why or how that happened. When we were in Iraq, we lost a soldier in an IED, and then immediately after that, there was a bunch of briefs and train-ups, on how to spot IEDs. And then we were a lot more aware, we changed our tactics and we changed the way we functioned.
When this soldier killed himself there was no change to the tactics… I could tell that some NCOs were like, “Hey, how you doing? You dealing with this situation okay?” And they’re like, “How’d you deal with that?” And, “What’s going on in your life? You doing okay?” But that would happen to maybe one or two teams in the platoon, and the rest of it, it wouldn’t. And it would happen with some platoons in the company, and then only in some companies in the battalion. So it was selective, just based off the character of NCOs. Which I don’t have much faith in. So if there was a change, it was on that level. It wasn’t on the brigade commander or anything, changing what may have lead to that situation, looking at why a soldier would make that ultimate sacrifice. Like, what was so unbearable about his life?
I think when they get [suicidal], you feel like there’s no way out. Like you’re trapped. And like you don’t have any more options. The military’s so structured. You follow this path, or no path. It’s the only way you can live. And anybody who tries to live outside of that is very quickly pushed back into it… The conditions that lead to that would be like, failed marriages, extremely early, premature marriages, that suffer from the stress of regular deployments; the combat.
Primarily being deployed in a fucking place where you’re forced to kill people, you don’t know why, and you’re forced to fucking watch your buddies die, and you don’t know why. Even to the mentality of the day-to-day, you’re living in a world who’s foundation is violence and domination. And I don’t think those are very natural ways to live.
Short of the very specific experiences some soldiers have gone through in war, I blame the structure more than anything else. And just living in the military life is so detrimental to somebody’s soul…the environment in which a human is supposed to live couldn’t be farther from the environment that the military embodies.
Editor’s Note: Ryan also reflected on what it was like to live and work amongst the local community while deployed to Iraq.
Everybody who was on our first deployment were warmed up to the locals. We’d always go to the dining facility and steal a bunch of Gatorade packets and waters, and energy drinks, and even food, which is kind of a big thing. You’ve got enough shit to worry about before you go on a patrol. But to remember to keep your pocket full of granola bars is… There was a lot of soldiers who would do that—they’re almost always the new soldiers, all the first deployments. And hand those out and take pictures with the kids and make sure to give the kids water.
But the guys who had been around longer, and had more deployments, were so detached. And they used a lot of ways to detach, like the Islamophobia and racism, to dehumanize. I think a lot of the newer guys were a lot more compassionate. A lot of the older guys that were there, they’d just learned that that’s what it’d take. ‘Cause we weren’t in hand-to-hand fire fights. We were being rocketed and then supporting air strikes. And so there wasn’t so much of a personal [combat element].
…The deployment before, which would’ve been two years prior, in ’08, was very similar to the 2010. But the 2006 deployment was fucking a lot different than both of those to follow. That was a lot more of kicking in doors and so much chaos and so much not knowing what the fuck is going on and just kind of being on their own and having to make decisions.
‘Cause that was the biggest thing, we didn’t know who was a fucking friend and all. You’d have these kids come and give us this flatbread, trying to feed us and stuff, and then later that night we’d get rocketed. We’d be like, “What the fuck?” It is so easy to combine, ’cause all you see is Iraqis. You see a nation. And they don’t see a nation. They see either tribes, or… What later came out, but wasn’t spread enough, was that it wasn’t even Al Qaeda, it wasn’t even these big, heavy words we heard about, but it was terrorist cells. So there were three terrorist cells in operation, and our whole point was to disrupt smuggling from Iran. And I could mentally distinguish between a smaller operation of a handful of individuals who could get their hands on this equipment and launch it at us. But most other soldiers either weren’t made aware of that, or could care less, and would just say, “Oh, the Iraqis are attacking us. Why are you giving them water?”
[Reverse-SRP] was pretty bad. They do all the medical stuff, like TB and re-check your vaccinations, and go through the same shit, “Were you exposed to any concussions?” And then, when you get to the mental health part, there are questions like, “Do you have dreams about Iraq?” And it’s like, no shit, motherfucker! I was there last week, dude, like, yeah! If I spent ten months in Disneyland I’d probably be dreaming about Disneyland, you know. And I said as much, ‘cause I answered a lot of those honestly. I was like, ‘”Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” A lot of the questions were like that, “Do you want to hurt yourself, do you want to hurt somebody,” you know, the red card.
…So we spent like, two weeks in Kuwait, after we’d come back from Iraq. And you know, you have to turn in all of your equipment, and you’re so close to being home, but you’re not home yet. And then finally, you get on the flight, and I don’t even know how long that flight is. I did it four times, I can’t even remember. But you fly from Kuwait to Europe, then Europe to the States. And there’s a big ceremony and then they put everybody in the barracks that night. After the ceremony some people were able to go home, the married men were. But they put everyone in the barracks, you can’t leave a 20-mile radius. You’re not allowed to drive, you’re not allowed to drink. You’re not allowed to do anything because you have to come back to work the next day, and do SRP. So like, you can taste it, you know.
And so, the SRP process can be a three-day process, or it can be a one-day process. It’s up to you. When I went through it, and I filled out the forms appropriately, I was put off to the side, which is also a very alienating process. Because it’s in a gymnasium, the whole SRP process. It used to have it’s own facility, and they moved it over to this gym. Where it’s basically these little walls, these tiny little walls, blocking up. And you have to sit in the open, with the bleachers full of soldiers waiting for their turn to be called, staring down at the people who are getting treatment and whatnot or waiting in various lines. So the mental health care line, you go through your initial evaluation, and then you either walk out—’cause it’s the last stage. You either walk out of SRP, or you go into another line. And if you’re in the Other line, then you’re gonna be there for a while. And you have to talk to somebody, a lieutenant colonel or colonel, mental health provider.
When I talked to my woman, she was actually in BDUs, she was one of the seven uniform services, not OSHA, she worked for the organization that sends people, mental health care providers to environmental disasters internationally. And the Army didn’t have enough providers, and so they called upon them. It was one of these federal agencies, and she was wearing BDUs, which is hella old school. And I was like, “What are you doing?” And so I’m talking to her, and I revealed a bunch. And I was like, “Yeah, I was cutting in Iraq, and like, I don’t feel too hot right now.” I was just really honest. But when I mentioned the cutting thing I had to be very clear, like, “I don’t want to right now. Like, I’m not saying this [right now]—but I’m saying this is what lead up to where I am at.” Even though it happened again shortly thereafter. She’s like, “Well, okay. A lot of this is kind of normal reaction.” So at the time, I was going to AA. And I had a group of friends that I was gonna go connect with. And she was like, “Okay, well, that should be good. Just come back to the next stage of Reverse-SRP.” And I was like, “Okay.” So I walked out.
There was nothing significant enough on my records to have somebody follow up on me or make sure I followed up on the process. And you have to go back immediately, three months, and then six months, I think. And I went to the three month one, and I was like, “I’m still pretty fucked up. I’m having a really heard time adjusting.” And still no result. I was given an Army OneSource card. You know, “Call these people.” And I was just left alone. And finally, by the time I went to see them the third time, I was like—every time I went through this SRP process, I would be going into the second room. And I talked to this dude, and I was like, “This whole process is fucked up.”
His records didn’t even show anything I had said in the prior. And I was like, “I need fucking help, man. Like, I need—I need help. And I don’t want to fucking get handcuffed and put in a small room with no sharp corners or objects. Like, I just need to take care of this.” And he was the one person that was finally on par. The other two were civilians, the first one was a uniformed service-member. And the rest of them were all civilians. And I think it’s pathetic. There’s no way the people are getting the care they need. It’s not done in the way that is appropriate. All they’re really looking for is, “Do you want to kill yourself or somebody else?” “If you were involved with a concussion, then we’ll send you to the TBI clinic.” And, “Can you sleep?” That’s a big one.
…I believe everybody had come back with some form of PTSD, that it’s a sliding scale. Everybody comes back a little bit more twisted. My company is right next to the division parade field, so every time there’s a big ceremony they’ll shoot off these massive canons, with these blanks. These fucking massive cannons, “Boom,” and you feel the shock-wave. And every time that happens, in my company, everyone ducks, and your heart-rate goes up, and your pupils go crazy and shit. Normal people don’t do that… But I guess what they’re trying to find out is, is your PTSD so bad that it affects your ability to be a soldier? That’s what they’re trying to find out. Does it affect your ability to do your job on a daily basis?
But they’re not even looking at the long-term. [PTSD] gets worse over time. Carter* didn’t really get bad until years after his last deployment. It escalates, and there’s not even a tracking process for that or a case worker. You’re on your own.
…I’m more aware than the average soldier, so if I can’t remember [the PTSD trainings], I doubt anybody else picked much up. But…it was probably something along the lines of, “Keep an eye out for your buddy.” It was the ACE card, “Ask, Care, Escort.”
Editor’s Note: Ryan was asked if he wanted to say anything about the post-traumatic stress symptoms he’s experienced.
I don’t know—I guess I still have a stigma about it. I’m afraid to say that like, yeah, I’ve got PTSD. ‘Cause even in the activism community people always hold it on a scale, of like, “Well, were you in Fallujah?” A then I’m like, “No. I wasn’t in Fallujah.” But my therapist pointed out to me last week—she said, “You’d been through some trauma,” and I’d been like, “What trauma? I really don’t think I’ve been through any trauma.” She’s like, “Well, did you go to sleep knowing you were gonna wake up?” And I was like, “Not really.” Just being in an environment where you can die at any moment.
…Sleeping, sleeping tremors, convulsions in my sleep. And I’ve started drinking again, after a long period of sobriety. My depression, I’m just emotionally unstable. And I mean, it could be any number of things but as far as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, things specific to Iraq, I think maybe the dreams and the tremors…are all I can see the direct relation to. I mean, I don’t know.
The more aware I am of this shit, the more damaging it is. That seems to have been the progress of my work in IVAW and Under the Hood and stuff. The more aware I am, the more vulnerable I am… [Some] people are more vulnerable or maybe people who held on to more, through Basic Training, held onto more of that individuality or their soul. Or maybe their soul starts to speak to them more as they go on. But I feel like now I’m more of an individual person than I ever have been in the military, and so when I see the bullshit, it’s more painful, I see it more often, it’s basically incorporated into everything I fucking do. You know every time I fucking drive on post, it’s like I’m victim to this fucking barrage of shit.
But I see my friends who have a lot more contract time than me, and they’re shut down and they shut down from the truth of their heart, or whatever for their own safety. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what the majority of the military is doing. A lot of these soldiers and these NCOs are like, shutting down, which makes them even worse. They start to embody and contribute into that fucking bullshit.
…[Multiple deployments] sets the standard. It’s expected. How has it affected them? That they’ve spent more time in fucking a warzone than they have Stateside? They’re more familiar with that, they’re more comfortable in Iraq. I hear that a lot. A lot. Where, “I just want to go back.” I wanted to—immediately after coming home, I was like, “I want to go to Afghanistan, like, right now.” I tried really hard, and I was almost successful, in kind of hacking into all these different enrollment programs, and trying to get my name on a list to go to Afghanistan, ’cause it was just like, “I don’t want to deal with this shit,” ’cause I don’t have to deal with this shit over there… End adjustment, because I’m already adjusted to that style. Just life, just going to the store, crowds and loud noises, being surrounded by people who don’t understand. And it’s an option to go back. There are aspects of Iraq that I miss. Just the camaraderie between specific soldiers and stuff.
…I was really good over there. I was an asset. I was a radio telecommunications operator for my platoon, the platoon armor, so I kept track of all the commo equipment—anything technical, all the commo, all the weapons systems. Maintenance, odd daily operations, all that shit. I was the platoon sergeant’s gunner, so any time shit would go down, he would be like, running the show. So I’d be going between being prepared to find my weapon and light some shit up, and then making sure his radio is operating. ‘Cause that’s the biggest thing, communications. And his commo was always straight. I couldn’t help but think, “People are going to Afghanistan and I can help them.” I was an EMT Basic as a civilian, I have this combination of shit that makes me great as a soldier.
Editor’s Note: Ryan said that he had taken the ANAM pre-test prior to his deployment, but that he was not post-tested upon his return. He also shared reflections on the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the military.
I mean, I was never blown up, and I never got hit. So I think if I did check that box, then they would send me back to that process.
My platoon sergeant had TBI really bad, before he even deployed. He was kind of my buddy, too. We always called him “Crazy Eye,” because one of his pupils would be extremely dilated, while the other one was really small, often after sneezing and yelling. He had TBI really bad, and he had to take enough pills to kill a horse, on a regular basis. And it was funny that that wasn’t even considered a non-deployable condition—despite the effects that had on him.
…You can’t see a female in a dining facility without everybody going apeshit. And that mentality carries through, where you start to hear, “Hey bro, are you gonna hit that?” There were a bunch of females in my installation that were always in packs, and I’m really glad for that. A lot of them were queer, but that wouldn’t have saved them. Actually, I think it almost made them more of a target.
It’s a cultural change that needs to happen. And I don’t know how that can exist. Can you punish it out of them? Because the Army can implement whatever change they want, but these people are not gonna change until they want to, or until they’re absolutely forced to and observed changing. And for something as intense as their daily interactions with females…it’s a ways off.
…I mean, I’ve heard stories of soldiers that I was with in the deployment before. They would call this thing, called “eggs and bacon,” on the net. They’re doing enter and clear operations for villages, looking for terrorists or whatever. And somebody calls “eggs and bacon” on the net. Probably internal squad, ’cause you have different freqs. And they would call the squad, that code, and everybody else would come around and surround the building, and just be like, “eggs and bacon, building 27.” And then, everybody would surround the building whoever had called it, would be in there having their way with somebody in the building. And then they would tag out or just leave. And there were occasions where they would just fucking burn the house down, as they walked away. Throw a bunch of frags in there, like grenades and shit. And these are dudes that are fucking teaching the SHARP class. You know what I mean?
I never heard “eggs and bacon,” [personally], because we never did mounted ops. This was the deployment before mine. And when I asked a soldier—a buddy of mine, who I actually kind of looked up to, and I heard that he was a part of these. And I was like, “Hey, what do you know about that?” And he was like, “It is what it is. Shit happens in Iraq.” And then implemented a dozen other people that were in the platoon that deployment.
But this last deployment, the MST and the sexual harassment was limited to like, any woman on the base having to walk by a crowd of other dudes and be hollered at.
I didn’t know about any assault [on deployment]. I think assaults may have happened, but I didn’t hear about it, or I didn’t see it. We just saw reactions to it, all of a sudden a policy would change. They’d be like, “Hey, nobody out after dark on this base, anymore,” or not out after dark without two people. And no women out alone.
…Most of [veteran friends] are unemployed still. Everybody who’d been out in the past year—well, except for one, Niles.* Niles* got out on being fat, but his brother works at the VA. And he knew what he was doing, he got all his paperwork for his disability squared away, and then saw the prospect to get out earlier, under this thing, and literally ate his way out of the Army [to get an overweight discharge].
Editor’s Note: Ryan reflected on his experience as a gay soldier, and specifically how that affected his health care in the military.
…The dude I talked to, when I went to R&R in Iraq, he was a major. And I saw him for three sessions, and he eventually came out to me. And he actually did his dissertation on DADT. And he’d been gay in the military for 25 years. And I was like, “How the fuck could do you that?” Also he sexually harassed me. You know, tried to go down on me.
…Even STD testing [is affected]. Luckily some of these civilians that work at the clinic, are amazing and very informed. I do [feel comfortable being out] now, ’cause I don’t care. ‘Cause I’m willing to pick that fight. I’m more empowered, I’m more informed, I won’t stand for that shit. Where, in the past, I lied.
Rowan,* a woman who I love to death, her and I talk all the time. I go into my STD test, and it takes like, three hours, ’cause we’re bullshitting. But she tells me about soldiers that come in and have like, anal warts, and have no explanation for it, because they’re still not comfortable about disclosing it. So, there are a lot of soldiers who are having unprotected sex and don’t feel safe…can’t talk about it. Not good stuff to go on.
It’s dangerous stuff. And they had the HIV outbreak recently. Seventeen people seroconverted, in the last three months. Those are just soldiers. That’s not even civilians in the area. That’s a huge number. That’s the biggest number Fort Hood has had, ever, in the history of Fort Hood and HIV. I wonder if they’re gonna try to backfire that shit to DADT.
Editor’s Note: The interview turned toward Ryan’s thoughts on how families are doing amidst current conditions at Fort Hood.
Not that great. I mean, I was talking to my buddy last night, who’d been in this awesome marriage, and they got this beautiful daughter. And he’s considering divorce now. [I know of] maybe one or two healthy marriages. I can’t think of many. But this is my criteria of healthy: them not cheating on each other. You know, sleeping around with countless dudes, going out with countless women, getting into domestic disputes, getting into physical altercations with each other. [Those happen] often. Even the soldiers—these men are coming back with black eyes and shit. And everyone’s like, “Oh. You got beat up by a girl.” And I’m like, “Well, I guess he must have deserved it.”
Editor’s Note: In closing out the interview, Ryan shared what he thought it would take to get soldiers the care they deserve, and the right to heal.
It’s not making sure there’s enough care when they come home. It’s not sending them away. It’s not having an environment where they need [care] at all. I think an environment where a person gets the care they need is where the care is not needed.
Are these treatable conditions? Some of these guys, are they gonna ever be okay? Are they ever gonna come back? History doesn’t say so. Based on the homeless rate of mentally disabled veterans from Vietnam.
Who went on one tour, and maybe two, as opposed to five and six. Our streets are gonna be flooded. I keep telling people that. They don’t believe me. But I joke about it—it started as joking, and now I’m kind of preaching. I’m like, “Hey dude, ’cause you’re gonna see most of these dudes on the street with a fucking can, asking for change,” and they’re gonna be an Iraq vet.