I have a soft spot…okay…so I have a few soft spots, but let’s not go there today. Today I want to talk about soldiers (probably my number one soft spot) and the impact their service can have on them (beyond the extended separation from family – which I think is, in-and-of-itself, tough). Specifically, I want to talk about the enduring wounds that soldiers carry from exposure to combat situations.
I must say at the outset that I myself am not an expert on this topic – all my observations and statements today come from my experiences and observations with family and friends and from reading others’ data; but,as I said – I have a soft spot and I remain concerned about the extent of the impact military activities have had on the soldiers, their families and society.
When I was much younger (about 18 years old), I met a former Marine who had been in Vietnam. He was a good ten years older than me and, at the time, tremendously alluring and fascinating. He was the first Vietnam vet that I had an opportunity to ever talk to – well, mostly I listened and he talked. That was my first real understanding of the difficulties of being a soldier and going into combat. Prior to that I knew intuitively that it had to be hard to be a soldier, but it wasn’t palpable until I heard this poor tortured man’s stories. I didn’t know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time, but I could see the outgrowth of it in this young man. Decades later I know much more about PTSD and the effects of combat on soldiers (which ultimately has a ripple effect on their families and society as well).
In The Forum today there was an article about Memorial Day that led with the following line, “Suicide is killing more soldiers than actual combat, Dan Stenvold, North Dakota Vietnam Veterans of America president, told spectators at a Memorial Day ceremony Monday at Riverside Cemetery in Fargo.”
Did you catch that? Suicide is the reason for more soldiers’ deaths than combat. It made me want to vomit. Aside from so many of our soldiers coming back with physical wounds and struggles they are also faced with a struggle that goes deeper. The thought of soldiers coming back bearing a burden so great that it sometimes results in suicide is unconscionable. We must be able to do more to heal the wounds these soldiers feel.
I cannot fathom what it is like to be a soldier. Once I put on my son Noah’s Army gear (Fort Drum, 10th Mountain) for all of five minutes to get a feel for the weight they wore and carried – that was enough to make me realize that I would have made Private Benjamin look like a brutal warrior. I cannot fathom the realities of combat…I cannot fathom having to shoot other people or having to watch friends get injured or die…I cannot fathom not knowing if you will ever see your family again… I cannot fathom armed conflict. We ask a lot of of our soldiers…most days I wonder if it is too much.
I am a soft spot for soldiers and I am deeply saddened to hear that suicide among soldiers continues to be an issue. Surely, we can do more for these wounds. We owe them relief from the pain they are experiencing. It seems such an unfair outcome for someone who has given so unselfishly for our country.
On June 12th at 7 PM at the West Fargo VFW, one of our own (a North Dakota native), Christopher Cannon, will hold a charity event called, Comics for Courage Laff-a-thon. This event will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. The cost to get in is $10. The Wounded Warrier Project assists wounded veterans in assimilating back into civilian life.
I am personally asking each and every one of the folks who read my blog to attend this event with me on June 12th. This is one small thing you can do to help improve the lives of soldiers who have given us so much. And make no mistake, it isn’t just the money you’ll pay to get in that matters – it is you showing up…it is your support. I believe that showing up is the very least I can do and I hope you will join me.
Also, I want to remind soldiers and their families of the Community of Veterans website (now renamed to IAVA) that is linked to my blog page. This website has many resources and links to resources specifically for Iraq and Afghanistan vets.
So, you know where I will be on June 12th and I will hope to see you there. It is time we all stepped up to do whatever we can to start addressing these deeper wounds of soldiers bear without complaint.
Day three hundred and thirty-one of the new forty – obla di obla da