Almost daily, we receive reports of the devastating impact of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) on our men and women in uniform and the terrible side-effects on their families and friends. The US Army is aware of the terrible cost of PTSD as evidenced by the 2010 US Army Report on Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention.
Many publications suggest that the origins of PTSD are unknown as evidenced by this recent commentary from a government organization:
“The cause of PTSD is unknown, but psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved. PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters). Having been exposed to trauma in the past may increase the risk of PTSD.”
While this may be true, there does appears to be a clear linkage between PTSD and the effects of increasing IED (improvised explosive devices) attacks on US and Allied military forces serving in Afghanistan. While many believe that PTSD is a psychosomatic discorder, it is becoming increasingly clear that concussion-like head injuries are contributing to PTSD and its debilitating physical and mental consequences. The US Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that between 11% and 20% of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan may have PTSD. If so, this is an alarming number – almost of epidemic proportions.
SFTT has long argued that ill-fitting military combat helmets afforded little protection to our men and women in uniform. The US Army has been painfully aware of this problem for sometime as evidenced by their decision some years ago to implant sensors in helmets to track trauma related injuries. Recently, we have been told that a “simple tweak” in the amount of padding in combat helmets would reduce head trauma injuries by 24%. Why did it take so long to realize we had a serious problem? More importantly, how long will it take our procurement process to get better protective gear to our troops in the field.
Try this one on for size if you find yourself in an airport terminal during this holiday season – introduce yourself to a servicemember in uniform, thank them their service, and ask if there is anything you can do for them. Most will be surprised, nod humbly, and refuse. And off they’ll go on the way to or from a flight. But if you want to know what it’s like in Iraq and Afghanistan, be persistent and engage them in discussion – you’d be surprised what you might find out.
Here is what I learned at the airport:
A 20-year old Private First Class serving in the Army had just completed his mid-tour two-week leave and is already seven months into a twelve-month Afghanistan deployment and his next stop was Atlanta, then Manas Airbase, and finally Bagram; he looked miserable. The leave period ended too early and he never really had a chance to wind down or relax. Hailing from no-where Missouri he joined as a sense of duty, to “see the world”, and get out of the rut and cycle of unemployment, “… it was a dead-end street.” “I’m a cherry rifleman and my squad’s mission is to patrol for IED’s while the platoon leadership works with the locals trying to convince them not to emplace IED’s. We normally find three to four on every patrol. We lost two squad members since we deployed. The MRAP’s we have can’t operate in the sector we are assigned. So we ride them as far as we can on the trails after they’ve been cleared of mines and then we dismount and walk. And walk like forever. The kit we wear is way too heavy, so we scrap half of it before we leave the wire. I spent almost two hundred bucks before we deployed for M-4 magazines, because the one’s we have issued to us, jam. The springs in the standard issue magazines suck. But chow ain’t too bad, we get one hot meal a day in the COP, no real complaints there. But, we all stink though because we only get to shower about once a week, but hey that’s the Infantry.”
A 31-year old Sergeant First Class serving in the Army was on the way home from Iraq due to an emergency leave situation. This being his fourth tour, third in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, he seemed non-pulsed when I offered him my thanks for his service. Getting him to say much more than what he did reveal is understandable given the circumstances and the anxieties he faced. “Since we got to Iraq, we’ve been sitting around on our hands. The Iraqi’s we are partnered with never call on us, even when there has been an up-tick in bombings and attacks against the public and security forces. It’s crazy. We can help. There are still bad guys outside the wire that are doing harm, but we just monitor the situation. So why are we there? Don’t know. Send us home or let us join some of our division units deployed to Afghanistan and get into the fight. My guys are getting in trouble on the FOB, and now getting fat and out of shape. Everyone has cell phones they buy from local vendors and try to keep in touch with loved ones back home – but that “tether” makes it worse. Everyone is on at least their third deployment and their home situation, if they have one, is awful. After I get back from this leave, back to Iraq and only nine months to go. I’m going to try to keep my guys focused so that no one does anything too stupid. Gotta go, thanks for the Starbucks.”
A 23-year Marine Lieutenant (out of uniform, but his high-and-tight haircut gave him away, and I asked him if he served) recently redeployed from Afghanistan and heading home for some “turkey and fixings”. I had two questions for him, one “did your unit make a difference during its seven-month tour in southern Afghanistan?” And two, “what would have improved your unit’s performance?” “On your first question, definitely yes. It was tough to get the Afghan Security Forces to lead, but slowly, and with pressure, they did and are becoming better. But, it was, and still is a very tough slog. I was part of the second set of Marines that cycled in and out of the area we were assigned to. It was rougher for the first battalion on the ground. They set us up for success and I think we did the same thing for the Marines that followed us. Time will tell, but I think we are running out of time. On your second question, probably maintenance, especially servicing the MRAP’s. We can’t turn wrenches fast enough to keep them in the fight outside of the wire. We have a huge graveyard of destroyed and inoperable vehicles and MRAP’s in Camp Leatherneck that we use as a junkyard looking for parts. Bet you didn’t know that for every MRAP deployed in theater you need three contractors to service and maintain an MRAP. And if you have to recover an MRAP outside of the wire, which happens all of the time, forget about getting a contractor out of the wire to recover the damn thing (it’s not in their contract), so we have to call the Army. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have enough MRAP’s for the mission, which is often the case, well then, I tell my Marines to march, and so we do.”
Well what did I learn? For starters, not much has changed for a grunt – too much heavy equipment to hump, out-of-pocket expenses to purchase reliable equipment, food is marginal, and showers are non-existent. Second, senior NCO’s have deployed to the point of being numb, and want their troops to be either gainfully employed, re-missioned to the fight in Afghanistan, or redeployed home because FOB life in Iraq is sapping morale and increasing the odds of indiscipline. Third, while Marines are making a marginal difference in a small slice of Afghanistan, Afghans are still hesitant to lead. And finally, the MRAP actually requires a sustained maintenance and logistics tail, an effort which is currently under-resourced (i.e. lack of parts, recovery assets, contractor umbilical cord) and as a result negatively impacts the mission.
Still curious about what, if anything, you can do during your holiday travels when you see someone in uniform, and you don’t have time to engage them and thank them for their service? Stand there and clap they at least deserve your applause.
Editor’s Note: The following story was recently received by SFTT. We have not been able to determine the veracity of this story, but regular contributors to SFTT believe that many details “ring true.” SFTT has taken the liberty of changing some of the more obvious details of the story to protect the identity of the author.
This story in no way reflects negatively on the TSA and the awesome responsibility it has in protecting our transportation security. Nevertheless, the scene described below – if true – suggests that our limited TSA resources might best be channeled in a more efficient direction. We salute our brave troops returning home from the frontline and applaud their common sense and restraint in dealing with the “stupid.”
SFTT welcomes stories from our military forces serving in harm’s way and their family and friends who wish to “Share a Story.”
As the Chalk Leader [army speak for 'in charge'] for my flight home from Afghanistan, I witnessed the following:
When we were on our way back from Afghanistan, we flew out of Baghram Air Field. We went through customs at BAF, full body scanners (no groping), had all of our bags searched, the whole nine yards.
Our first stop was Shannon, Ireland to refuel. After that, we had to stop at Chicago, Illinois to drop off about 100 folks from the Illinois National Guard. That’s where the stupid started.
First, everyone was forced to get off the plane-even though the plane wasn’t refueling again. All 330 people got off that plane, rather than let the 100 people from the ILG get off. We were filed from the plane to a holding area. No vending machines, no means of escape. Only a male/female latrine.
It’s probably important to mention that we were ALL carrying weapons. Everyone was carrying an M4 Carbine (rifle) and some, like me, were also carrying an M9 pistol. Oh, and our gunners had M-240B machine guns. Of course, the weapons weren’t loaded. And we had been cleared of all ammo well before we even got to customs at Baghram, then AGAIN at customs.
The TSA personnel at the airport seriously considered making us unload all of the baggage from the SECURE cargo hold to have it reinspected. Keep in mind, this cargo had been unpacked, inspected piece by piece by U.S. Customs officials, resealed and had bomb-sniffing dogs give it a one-hour run through. After two hours of sitting in this holding area, the TSA decided not to reinspect our Cargo-just to inspect us again: Soldiers on the way home from war, who had already been inspected, reinspected and kept in a SECURE holding area for 2 hours. Ok, whatever. So we lined up to go through security AGAIN.
This is probably another good time to remind you all that all of us were carrying actual assault rifles, and some of us were also carrying pistols.
So we’re in line, going through one at a time. One of our Soldiers had his Gerber multi-tool. TSA confiscated it. Kind of ridiculous, but it gets better. A few minutes later, a guy empties his pockets and has a pair of nail clippers. Nail clippers. TSA informs the Soldier that they’re going to confiscate his nail clippers. The conversation went something like this:
TSA Guy: You can’t take those on the plane.
Soldier: What? I’ve had them since we left country.
TSA Guy: You’re not suppose to have them.
TSA Guy: They can be used as a weapon.
Soldier: [touches butt stock of the rifle] But this actually is a weapon. And I’m allowed to take it on.
TSA Guy: Yeah but you can’t use it to take over the plane. You don’t have bullets.
Soldier: And I can take over the plane with nail clippers?
TSA Guy: [awkward silence]
Me: Dude, just give him your damn nail clippers so we can get the f**k out of here. I’ll buy you a new set.
Soldier: [hands nail clippers to TSA guy, makes it through security]
This might be a good time to remind everyone that approximately 233 people re-boarded that plane with assault rifles, pistols, and machine guns-but nothing that could have been used as a weapon.
Whether you are on active duty or retired, a friend or family member we encourage you to share your story. As proud Americans we salute our heroes and thank you for your courage and sacrifice. We want to hear from you and so do our readers.
Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation established by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training.
In the past four-plus years SFTT'S active campaign has focused on ensuring America's frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.
Donations and contributions from concerned Americans help fund the SFTT website.
Includes rare footage from Hack's memorial service at Fort Myers Chapel and burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
All donations received from purchasing of The Hackworth Memorial DVD go to Stand For The Troops a 501 (c) 3 non-profit, non-partisan apolitical foundation established by Hack and his wife Eilhys to make sure that America's front-line forces—the kids Hack loved out at the tip of the spear—always have the right training, leadership and equipment to meet their assigned missions and make it home alive and in one piece.
December 23, 2009: The law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed the final motion with the Federal Court in Washington, DC in the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) on behalf of the SFTT’s editor for forensic records held by the Department of Defense (“DOD”).
October 16, 2009: The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issues report to Congress calling for “independent expert assessment of Army body armor test results.” This damning report of US Army body armor test procedures is the outgrowth of a two-year investigative and educational campaign by SFTT to seek fair and impartial test procedures.