By Nick Lutton, Guest blogger and member of the National Guard
This week I’m attending the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium for the first time. I kind of got here by pure luck, the way most of the cooler things in my life have happened. The company I work for is supporting the event, and there was an open spot for a guy who writes, edits, lifts heavy boxes and can eat good Tex-Mex. I fit right in. When I first signed on to do this gig I didn’t realize it was going to affect me in the way that it has so far. I initially thought, “There goes my diet and blood pressure.” What I mean is this Symposium is going to be deeper than I thought.
For example, I met one of the main presenters yesterday. CW3 James Hume is a wounded warrior who is here to talk about wounds that have affected so many of my fellow servicmembers coming back from OIF/OEF. He has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As we were talking, I realized I went through very similar scenarios in my head. My friend has gone through similar scenarios too. Since coming back, I’ve been violent, I’ve been depressed, I get easily frustrated and lash out. My friend still refuses to drive on highways. I tend to avoid heavy crowds. I’ve had nightmares. I crawled into a bottle. I know other friends who have too.
I joined the Army prior to 9/11. I remember standing in formation, as a young private, and the drill sergeant asking everyone why they joined the United States Army. Every single one of us joined for the college money. It was a different time then, we all had a different way of looking at the world. I hadn’t given a thought as to who our biggest threat was. Of course, 9/11 changed that for most if not all of us. I stayed in the Army for patriotism, and I would do it all over again.
I first deployed to Afghanistan in June of 2003. I was part of a 20 Soldier team that conducted Public Affairs missions all around the country. I volunteered for every mission I could. I first met my buddy with the highway problem during this deployment. I’m not releasing his name because I don’t have his express written consent. We’ll just call him “Highway.” So Highway and I were constantly travelling, we ended up in several hairy situations that I can only describe as the first real time in my life that I was actually scared for my life.
When I got back home, initially I thought I was okay, but PTSD crept up on me. It hit me like a frying pan to the back of the head. This was the first time I became violent towards a significant other, after that incident, I sought counseling and I co-created a group at my university for Veterans so that we could be around people who understood what we had gone through. I deployed again in 2006 to Afghanistan and came home a different person. I initially had what I call jumping spells at night. I would almost leap out of bed, but I don’t remember the dream exactly. My relationship suffered and I eventually got a divorce, drank more, had another violent outburst, and eventually sought serious counseling. The counseling has helped me calm myself. I’ve always felt, my counselor believes, and my ex agrees that I might have PTSD, which brings me back to James and the Army Wounded Warrior Symposium.
James is a well-spoken man, and he does his best to describe what he is going through. It’s tough, it’s tough to watch, and it’s tough to listen to. Not because his voice hurts my ears or anything, but because I know. I know the pain, the embarrassment, the feeling of let down from the actions you have taken. I know the frustration.
If you are a Veteran, a wounded warrior, a spouse or Family member of either, you should read the blogs, read the information on the Symposium, make plans to come to one of the Symposiums if you can, learn about AW2 or contact your local VA or Military OneSource and get help.