Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Today is a day to reflect

It’s a difficult thing to consider; the loss of a family after a divorce. The familial structure a man has been a part of for 22 years before it broke apart. You miss living with your children, not seeing them at breakfast before school, nor after work, and missing out on carrying their limp little bodies to bed after they’d fallen asleep in your lap. Knowing you won’t be there when they fall playing outside in the snow, and when they come home from school or cross country after besting their record time with a huge smile on their faces. And you aren’t there at dinner, when everyone prays aloud, then asking each other what the best part of their day was. You think of those things as you sit at a table with a bunch of empty chairs, it’s quiet and lonely.

When I got up this morning I looked out across the fresh snow in my yard and I didn’t see my nation’s Colors furling in the wind. I tried to picture standing in my old house while my children slept in their beds, looking out the front window at the garden wherein lies the flag pole I erected in the memory of my father and all those who’ve paid the definitive sacrifice. When I reflect on my own service, I remember thinking of my niece, my family, my wife, asleep in their beds back home as I cleared bunkers and shelled out buildings in South West Asia, I’d picture them dreaming good dreams as I clutched my rifle, praying that I would return home and could join them, hold my niece, and lie with my sleeping wife.  It’s a difficult thing to consider today, how many times I prayed I would return home, not to leave again, to be safe.

My heart aches for those whom didn’t get to come home to the arms of their loved ones. I feel for those left at home alone when their loved ones did not return. Today I stand here looking at an empty yard, my children someplace different, my wife no longer mine to hold. My world has changed and I will change with it, I will adapt and overcome. I will move on as I should, there will be more days spent with my children. But today is a day to reflect, and reflect I will. I will be sad. I will be hurt. I will remember and I will be proud.

Lest we forget the valor of our young boys and girls on this Veterans Day

I was going through some old packages the other day I’ve had in storage when I came across a picture of my basic training company. It was almost shocking how young we all looked, just boys I thought, young pimple faced kids void of any hint of facial hair. We were all prideful then, new soldiers, clean pressed uniforms, and we all had a stoic look upon our faces. I remember clearly standing on those risers waiting to get our picture taken and I don’t remember feeling as young as I look in the image I now held in my hand.

Little did I know the impact that my service would have in my life, even had I known I wouldn’t have been able to relate it to anything, it wouldn’t have made any sense, and at that age I would have refuted it anyway. I remember after I had left the military post tours in Panama and later South West Asia, my little sister enlisted; I was afraid for her, for the loss of innocence she would experience, she was excited, bold, seeking adventure and honor in the name of serving after her father and her brother, me. She would go on to become a field nurse, imbedded with a forward troop maneuvering through city streets in Bagdad in the early morning hours. She would witness horrific injuries, patch up her fellow soldiers, meet her husband and the father of her two children on one of those missions. He himself would be injured during one of his many tours behind enemy lines and receive a Purple Heart for his sacrifice. That said I am proud of my little sister, it is because of the bravado and untested nerve of young men and woman in our country that has made our country what it is and for that I am grateful.

It seems to me that these days boys and girls are not given the recognition they deserve. I think they come off brash and over confident, but that is natural, that is driven by our own needs to survive. I wonder how many people realize how many under age children served in the military around the world from the very beginning, from powder boys whom served on gun boats to the some 250,000 British teenagers whom fought alongside their countrymen during World War One. They sought adventure and many just to escape the bleak and dismal conditions at home at the time. Nonetheless they all joined and fought and died on the front lines, in the trenches and it was easy even though technically the law said you had to be 19, many didn’t have birth certificates then so at 14 if you met the height requirement you were in. Even in Homer’s Iliad he spoke of the valor of boy soldiers serving in the Trojan War, victims not only of war but of the destruction of youthful possibility. It is true, innocence is lost among the ravages of conflict, and it is a dour environment for any youth, young men or woman to be. That being the case it should not be forgotten that among so many forgotten heroes here and abroad, regardless of their age, sex or religion, they fought because they believed in the sanctity of freedom and a peaceful legacy.

On this day, let us not forget all who’ve served,   let us not forget the mindful commitment to all of us and the sacrifice so many boys, girls, young men and woman and all those who’ve given so much to preserve the rights we all share to live out a peaceful and fruitful existence. Thank you veterans, for gauging the value of your very own life against those of us all and making the sacrifices you have.

Yes I was young then, when I look at those pictures of my youthful face, I remember all too well every moment I spent in conflict, I remember calling out my mother’s name in prayer more than a few times.  And asking for quick delivery of the souls of my friends and colleagues to a grander place than where I stood, and where they laid, taken too early as it were. I remember you today and every day.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is it our job, is it our place?

I was sitting at the table in the cafeteria at work where a number of my co-workers and me enjoy conversation while we eat our sack lunches. Though it always seems too short it’s our only respite for the day. In the cafeteria in one corner there hangs a television which is almost always tuned to CNN. And on the scroll along the bottom of the screen are highlights of the trouble ensuing between the Iraqis’ and the fanatical IS militants.

As the conversation turns to Iraq, there are a number of folks at the table whom voice their steady opinion that we (Americans) shouldn’t be over there, that we ought to let them take care of each other and eventually we won’t have to worry about it. I believe that if my co-workers were able to let their machismo relax a little and actually think about their statement they’d see the fault in it. But that never seems to happen here, the conversation wells up and the energy turns critical and as it usually happens, being the only veteran at the table the looks and the question seems to land in my lap; “What do you think, should we go over there and kick some ass or should we just let them all duke it out?”

Now I doubt any one of the men at this table might actually “go over there and kick some ass…” if they’d be given the chance, and I don’t think those are our only choices either. And to be honest I don’t really think it is our business at the moment, however we have invested ourselves in that country the last twenty years and it would be a shame if we stepped out on them now, leaving them to the much more heavily armed IS. That being the case I explained to my co-horts that if I stood on my front porch at my home, looking out over the neighborhood and happened to watch as some small group of men pushed their way into one of my neighbors house, I could not ignore it. “What would be in it for you?” A co-worker blurted out. I looked at him and told him that I could stand there and watch those men take over my neighbor’s house and property, I could let them push my neighbor out into the street and I might even offer him my couch if he had no other place to go. I don’t really know him very well though; in fact I wouldn’t even say we were friends. And his property doesn’t butt up against mine; it’s at the end of the block, so I really have nothing to gain from it.

However, as the following days pass I feel a little less comfortable with allowing my children to play outside if I am not around. I close my garage door when I am not standing at it and make certain my doors and windows are secure, I mean you just never know right? The group of men who’ve pushed their way into my neighbor’s house have their right to believe what they want and it’s not my job to persecute them for it or for their behavior. I am not a cop and it’s not happened in my back yard. Then I began to think, If those men believed it OK to do what they did, might more men believe that that behavior is all right, what if more men like them come around and see that they can get away with the same behavior, might they not try the same thing to another neighbor of mine and eventually what is happening at the end of the street might now be happening next door?

Suddenly it appears that my very own home and property is at risk, my way of life is threatened by those men at the end of the block. And by the time they move to the house next door to mine there will be many of them. The tables will be turned and life as I know it will be in danger. It will be too late. The time for action will have passed long ago. What I might have gained or retained; peace of mind, a feeling of security, freedom to live as I have for so long will have been erased before I had a chance to preserve it. The time to have done something will have been apparently erased. And I begin to think that I should have done something when I first saw them enter my neighbor’s home. I should have gone knocking, when there weren’t as many of them, I would have gathered my friends and protected my neighbor, standing up to those men in the beginning. Sure they have a right to believe whatever they want to, but they can seek another place to practice their beliefs. And it’s not just about my home; it’s about having a conscience and heart, it’s about looking out for those whom are vulnerable, and showing those whom seek to take advantage of others that they will be opposed, that they cannot walk in and take what they want. It’s about preserving innocence and freedom.

The folks that the IS militants are persecuting over there; the Yazidis’ have been practicing their simple religion for over three thousand years. The militants speak of a belief and a religion they want to cover the region in is just a few months old and is being built upon the persecution of others and utter violence as retribution for non-belief. Yeah we have been there before haven’t we, and we will be there again. But as Americans we know the power and value of freedom, we know what it means to be persecuted after all that’s who we are, the down trodden, the persecuted and the banished from around the world. We have built a life for ourselves here and for those seeking solace and comfort. No it’s not our job to take care of the rest of the world. But it is our duty as Americans to stand up for the little guy, for those who can’t stand up for themselves. That’s what I believe. That’s what I stand for.

It’s not a job for everyone, that’s why we volunteer, that’s why we don’t require every girl and boy to serve. It’s your right to protest, it’s your right to hope and pray and wish for peace. And it’s our job as American soldiers to step in and confront the bullies and eliminate those forces that threaten our way of life here and abroad, and by doing so, giving peace a chance to grow. When we have protected our shores then those who choose to carry a more passive torch, can step up and feed the hungry, pray with the needy and bandage the hurt. And together we can hope to make our world a better place for everybody.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dont Tread On Me

As a veteran of the United States Armed Services and a patriot of my country, I am not averse to speaking out in support of our Land of the Free. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t stand on a soap box and I don’t chase down folks to argue my points to, but if I am standing in line at the local gas station and I hear someone begin talking smack about America, I might speak up and respectfully defend her. I gave an oath to do so and that didn’t end when I completed my tour of duty and removed my uniform.
I am also a motorcyclist, I ride an old beat up cruiser from the ‘70’s, it is scratched and dented, and dirty and loud but it is my ride and it has carried me over many miles without fail. On this bike I have a sticker, it is yellow with a coiled snake in a patch of grass drawn on it and the words below the snake read…”Don’t tread on me.” It is small, 3 x 5 inches or so. I take pride in Gadsden’s flag; the meaning for me behind the flag as I understand it, is that I won’t go out and pick a fight with someone but if you threaten me, those I love or the land I stand on, I will strike to protect it. As a soldier I took a similar oath to my country when I joined the Army and I hold that oath very close to my heart to this day. Love it or leave it, this is America, and there is no free’er country in the world. In no other place on earth can I, given the opportunity simply by asking for it, and stepping up to work for it, attain whatever level of success I wish. Not to say it isn’t difficult at times, I know this more than many having suffered for years with PTSD, not everyone feels like they may have been given that opportunity, but here in America you have the choice to be or not to be, to speak up for or against the establishment and to live wherever you want to. You can go to school or sit at home and grow flowers to sell on Saturday mornings in the city park if you wish.  But you will have to go after it, nothing is free, including the freedom we enjoy in this country to do as we please. And it’s the soldiers who’ve paid for that freedom.
Unfortunately in recent history there are those who’ve tarnished that ideal for those of us who wave Gadsden’s flag. Please don’t let a couple of mislead, dare I say mentally anguished people destroy a symbol constructed to gather those whom believe in our country to fight together for her. God bless the officers whom were ambushed and whose lives were stripped from them and their families. These men donned a badge and took an oath to serve and to protect this country’s citizens, how dare these two villains pass judgment on them and take their honorable souls from our lives. God knows these two officers and they will stand by each other’s side to protect us forever more from another place, God bless them. As for the other two, they will be damned and suffer the consequences.
Some folks in the media have gone on to equate Gadsden’s flag to radicalism because of events such as this. It’s time to focus on the villains, and the mechanism that began these events, not the symbol. It is a symbol of strength and pride, bravery and commitment, let’s let that stand, lets pray for the victims of this latest event and reclaim the flag as something we can be proud of, not allowing the villains to discolor it and nor the media to change its meaning.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Questioning our service, our sacrifice.


It’s not easy when one partner makes a decision alone that affects both partners, especially when they are married. When I made the decision to enter the military I did so on my own, without really consorting with my partner though at the time we were not married. We were in love, and she decided to accept that decision. That was a long time ago and so many things have happened since then. We have served, and I did mean to say “we” because a military spouse, man or woman, lives with every decision their spouse makes, every aspect of their lives are affected by their spouses servitude to the military…good and bad. It is a difficult life for a spouse, it can also be exciting, but when that spouse is deployed things can turn stressful quickly, the spouse doesn’t always know where they are going, how long they may be deployed, and what if they are injured this time or worse. Then there is the household, the bills, the children, the spouse becomes the main representative and unofficial liaison between their husband or wife and their families. So yeah, I will use “we”, because let’s face it folks, in a marriage we are partners right, for better or worse, when one is down the other must pick up the pieces, and many civilian spouses have their own careers.
As is often the case, many military personnel marry young, then they grow with experience, they both get older and form their cognitive beliefs, understandings of the world around them, their faith may change, their perspective on the military may change. And what if that happens? How do you deal with that as partners, as spouses, friends, parents and lovers?
As most of have come to know, those of us who’ve been deployed to a combat theater, into a conflict or in certain areas of the world, those tours of duty can change a person, how they process and how they view the rest of their lives. In turn this affects the lives of that soldier’s families, immediate and extended. Sometimes the affects are very little and are accepted, or are managed, other times the affects are far reaching, to everyone around them. Sometimes it’s not what the soldier brings home emotionally as much as it is the repercussions’ of their tour and how that affects that soldier’s career. Once in a while a soldier decides to leave the military life, but like the old saying goes; you can remove a boy/girl from the country but you cannot remove the country from the boy/girl. No matter the circumstances’ that lead to a soldier leaving the military, there is life, that partnership and their spouse’s lives are forever changed.
An example might be for a soldier dealing with PTSD, that soldier and their spouse may decide that leaving the military is the best thing for them, and that may be the case, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the soldier has changed how they feel about the military, or their own service in said military. Their spouse may have left that life behind and taken with him or her, a bad taste in their mouth for that lifestyle, that organization or for the reasons that led them to leave. As with all large corporations and organizations go, not everyone is successful, and not everyone has a positive experience. Whether that is the case or not the very reason that soldier made that decision so long ago to enter the military may still be valid, that soldier may still miss that lifestyle, the brotherhood, the familial feeling from those fellow soldiers they served with. A man/woman cannot live as a soldier for very long and walk away without feeling like they have left behind some extended family, personal or not.
            As with any large conflict that affects one or both partners in a relationship, we need to work together and engage that conflict as a team, as partners. And sometimes we need to stay connected with each other and how we feel about the other’s state of mind or feelings. There may be new cognitive dissonance among the changes or the experiences that led to changes for one or both partners. Cognitive dissonance being those things that cause internal struggles because of a disconnect between how we feel about something, in this example it may be that the spouse no longer has a positive appreciation for the military because of “what it has done to their partner”. But they love their partner and want to support them. We all grow in different ways, and that may be a very real and very appropriate feeling for them, but it may not be for their partner. For someone to decide that they will enter the military, whatever branch that may be, they quite literally have to weigh their own life against the freedoms of their loved ones. Is their life worth freedom to someone else, to their neighbor, their children, and their partner’s? That sort of a decision cannot be weighed lightly, that is a sacrifice not everyone can or would choose to make. And that decision has nothing to do with organization that is just a vehicle.
            In the end, how we address a soldier cannot be measured by the job they took, the vehicle they chose, the branch in which they served, but by the kind of person they are, they must be measured by the sacrifices they have made and we as partners, spouses, friends, must be careful to make that distinction. Often when we are impassioned about something we tend to blanket react and that may come off as disdain for all that is military. Show focus for what you have issue with, but please be careful to not let that disdain cover the personal sacrifices that soldier has made, if that happens you may inadvertently shut out that soldier, leaving him/her feeling alone, and misunderstood. Then you will lose a connection with that partner, one that was formed around and forever threaded with the sacrifices’ they…and you have made.
            As in all aspects of our lives, civilian or military, we are in a constant search for internal consistency, balance. In a partnership/relationship, we are ever changing if we are both growing, and if we are both growing then we are always looking for that balance, and it may take both parties to find it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why the Suffering / Treatment for the Sacrifice.

I have served my country in a number of tours overseas in combat. I am one of a long line of family members who’ve landed on the beaches in France, or have parachuted behind enemy lines in Italy. They have served in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Beirut.  They have served in their respective units’ through-out the world. There will never be a lack of men and woman motivated by the American ideal to protect and to serve and keep the freedoms we enjoy.  Because of that, there will also never be a lack for need to treat these same men and women as they return and attempt to re-acclimate back into the society they fought to preserve.

This raises questions as to how to treat these men and woman, and in the end, after these soldiers have returned home, they are individuals, they are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, children of you and me, and they are confused. They are scared and they are unsure how to navigate a world without having to fight for their life every moment of the day. They are suffering from PTSD, and that’s where I propose EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) in the use of treating PTSD, either in conjunction with other cognitive behavioral treatments or as a successful stand-alone form of natural treatment. 

“There is a shared dream in all trauma therapy professions, which is to find a faster way to shorten the days our clients spend in agony”.  - Dr. Francine Shapiro (1999)

The loud hum and rumble of the tires from our squad vehicle washed over my ears as I rode along. I had my eyes closed, my head resting against the door and my face exposed to the open window so as to let the sun warm my face. No matter where you are in the world the warmth of the sun will always remind you of home. I was picturing my girlfriend back home standing in the cafeteria of my unit’s processing center, in her tight jeans and blue jean shirt and her chestnut hair. She looked at me, her steel blue eyes smiling, but her face was contorted, she tried to hide the desperation she felt as I picked up my duffle bag and stepped onto the bus. That was the last time I saw her until I returned from Southwest Asia, I missed her.

Suddenly I heard an explosion and before I could open my eyes I was thrown against the dash of my truck, our tires screamed and chirped as we slid sideways into a sandy ditch near a small village somewhere between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. When I opened my eyes we were surrounded by black smoke, I grabbed my helmet and jumped out the truck. I yelled at my driver to get on the radio and check in with the other vehicles. I grabbed my turret gunner and threw him into the ditch ahead of me and called out for a count of my squad members. We were escorting some signal corpsman and our lead vehicle hit a roadside IED, tore the rear passenger wheel right off the truck ahead of us, breaking the hand of the machine gunner as he flew out of the turret when the truck flipped over.

We immediately set up a perimeter around the vehicles and began taking inventory. Then I looked up and peered through the smoke. Standing alongside the road were three young children, and they couldn’t have been more than eight years old. They just stood there watching us. Often as you pass through these little villages it is normal to see children standing alongside the roads yelling and screaming and begging for candy, and it was customary for the soldiers to throw candy to them. Sometimes though, the children are positioned there as a distraction to draw the soldiers’ vehicles closer to the edge of the road in order to trigger IEDs placed there earlier. That seemed to be the case on this particular morning, I struggled to find some sense in using children in this way, but there is no sense to it. I saw that in Panama as well when Noriega’s troops would hole up in elementary schools and shoot out the windows at American soldiers from behind the school children. There’s no sense to the thinking of desperate men on either side.

There was always a sense of eminent danger lurking around every corner, near every building, behind every smile on a stranger’s face. You don’t forget that first experience, the next one just nails deeper into your subconscious. And when you think it can’t get any worse, that you’re in the shit now and you’ve experienced the most awful, there is always more. When the sun goes down and things get quiet, that’s when your mind really gets edgy, your eyes play tricks on you and you see things that aren’t really there, but sometimes they are, and you just can’t see them. Until they take a bite out of your leg just before you hear the actual shot.

This was my life for a period of time in a foreign land far from anyone I knew or loved, don’t get me wrong, I knew who my soldiers were, I knew who they had to be at the time, but like me, that wasn’t who they were before then. And we loved each other on a different level; we depended on each other for our lives.

Experts say the months just after a service member leaves the military can be a particularly disorienting and even dangerous time. When these vets operated in theater among their colleagues, they were housed and worked in a very tight knit community, and once they return home, that is no longer the case, they are among so many in a society whom don’t understand what it means to be a veteran, or know little about the military. And it’s under these circumstances that these vets must learn to live again. So now we stand in the grocery store trying to decide which milk to get. It seems like such a simple task, and it would be if our lives depended on the outcome of that decision.

Survival was ingrained in our minds for so long at such intensity that we have become lost, maybe forgotten how to operate under every day, mundane, civilian circumstances. And once in a while if I am walking along and a car backfires or there is a really loud noise I know to stop, drop down and seek shelter, click safety off and scan my AO for the enemy. The trouble is I don’t have my weapon, and I am huddled down in the corner of the Holiday Station Store in Hopkins.

This is a common scenario for many returning soldiers both men and woman from overseas. They have sustained either MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) and/or are suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). So what happens with these soldiers then, some go on to being treated at the VA medical center or seek help threw a private therapist. Some can’t keep a job and end up homeless or worse, commit suicide because they can’t get the help they need or are just too paralyzed by the trauma that haunts them and they can’t function even on a basic level. As was reported by Bill Chappell in an article in NPR online recently, there were 349 suicides among returning soldiers, that’s 54 more than the 2012 combat death record.

Those whom seek out and find help; often times are subject to a traditional form of treatment called Exposure Therapy. The idea here is that by emotionally and consciously exposing them to the effects that caused there affliction, they will eventually succumb to a numbness of that responses they would normally show, like standing them in a dark room and flicking the light on and off repeatedly, after a while the light won’t bother them and they will be able to function with that flicking of the light on and off. The problem is that treatment doesn’t quell the cause of the affliction, only the symptoms. The response will still be there, just more subdued…along with their other cognitive functions. This is also used in basic training to make the soldier more comfortable in combat; again, the problem here is that once they’ve completed their tour(s) and return home, these skills don’t serve them well in regular society. This way of processing is adverse to that of the way society operates.

Soldiers are trained and accustomed to searching out the obscure, looking through the trees at the trees that are slightly different than the others. Their survival depends on seeing the hidden, working in difficulty. That is not how the majority of society operates today. Walk into a department store and everything is obvious, these are the jeans on sale, everything is laid out so that you can walk in and purchase what you came for without having to decipher complex decisions. That is not always an easy transition for soldiers to make. That causes stress, trust is not given freely, and suspicion is rampant.

So how does one help a veteran, a soldier, someone suffering from PTSD? The studies suggest that EMDR (eye movement desensitization response) may be the very thing they need, as a stand alone or in addition to cognitive behavior therapies. EMDR seems to have a broader positive result and shorter treatment period as shown in a study conducted by the Journal of Clinical Psychology, wherein it was stated; using participants with PTSD have found significant decreases in a wide range of symptoms after two or three active treatment sessions. Treatment effects are well maintained at follow-up assessments. For example, one study reported an 84% remission of PTSD diagnosis at 15 month follow-up.

It seems that most of the treatments used today focus on the symptoms and triggers for the effects of PTSD as opposed to treating the source or the physiological switches in our brains. Think of the trauma trigger like a light switch, exposure therapy might have you flicking the light on and off rapidly, exposing you to the strobe effect therefore numbing you to that experience. EMDR might work like removing that switch eliminating the experience altogether. This would make EMDR though arguably in some circles, superior to the other in that it affects the root cause of the dysfunction.

In my own treatment of PTSD I tried to focus on the root cause of the symptoms, I had been treated by various facilities using differing methods, only after implementing EMDR into my treatment program did I experience extensive and positive results. The triggers had a less of an effect on me, as an example if  a car were to backfire I wouldn’t simply be numb to the sudden noise but would process the experience differently, noting it, even responding to it but not in a hyper sensatory manner. I think the power and proven results of EMDR for so many is too valid and important to not incorporate it in a much wider spread approach than it is today. It does not require the client or veteran in this case to conduct homework and it has been suggested repeatedly that fewer sessions might be in order to enact fruition. According to Spector and Read in The current status of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, EMDR has increasingly been proposed as an effective therapeutic procedure for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although medications such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) has been used to treat PTSD with some success, along with Prozac and Zoloft, particularly when treating depression there can be lots of side effects to using medications, and these tend to only address the symptoms and not the core issue, the very body of the cause to PTSD. According to the Center for PTSD, EMDR therapy can lessen the symptoms of PTSD (National Center for PTSD 2011), though the actual contributing factors of the treatment are fodder for argument among clinical and psychological professionals.

EMDR has been used and well documented to treat the rescuers and emergency personnel after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and the Oklahoma Bombing. In fact, it’s inexcusable that many Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. The question we all need to come away with some sort of conclusion to is whether or not EMDR as a treatment option is better than no treatment, and there are case studies after case studies that suggest this to be the case. Furthermore as with any treatment, the outcome is only as fruitful as the patient is motivated to be well. EMDR used in conjunction with other treatments or as a stand-alone treatment doesn’t require drugs, or live-in therapy centers, and the effects of the treatment have shown in just a few sessions, and often times dramatically, with far reaching and positive outcomes.

That is why I propose that we enact a program to train personnel to work in the VA centers and satellite offices nationwide through-out the Veterans Affairs system, to use EMDR in their therapy programs. EMDR has shown very short term positive effects without medicinal treatments. With enough of the properly trained staff we could positively affect so many more of our brothers and sisters, fathers and children and families’ in need.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Another hero has gone home

When he smiled, you couldn’t help but smile, when the mood was grim, he cast a warm glow upon it. He was a boy, a brother, a friend and a son to us all. He carried himself with pride always, was a devout friend and family member and was a positive influence on everyone whose presence he blessed. He was also a Marine, and will always be a Marine. Caleb served his country with dignity and honor, remember today, for like his namesake, another Hero has gone home to rest. We salute you. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Semper Fi!

In loving memory of Cpl Caleb Erickson

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

From the front lines to the shadows.

On a recent weekend morning I found myself interviewing some apparent homeless people in St Paul. This is their story.

Walking near the railroad tracks along the river below St Paul there are a few men and one woman, there is a dog, mangy, dirty, and vigilant in its watch over the people he follows. This group looks disheveled, grungy, dressed in multiple levels of clothing, two or three coats, mismatched mittens, worn out boots and each one of them carries a bundle or a backpack with various implements attached below it and a bed roll strapped atop the bundle. The air is bitter cold, its 7am, the sun is just coming up and the temperature hovers around freezing, that’s not including the wind-chill from the breeze coming off of the river. Each exhale from their lips seems to crystallize and fall to the ground as they walk. They have to walk at this hour, it’s always coldest as the sun rises and if they were to remain sleeping at this hour they might freeze to death where they lay. They’ll sleep in the afternoon when the temperature is at its warmest.

We all see these folks once in a while and wonder where they are going, why are they here and why don’t they just get a job. They may tell you that it’s difficult to get a job when you don’t have a place to live, a place to shower and sleep each day, a place in which to prepare for a day’s work. Would you hire someone that looks like this, would you trust them with a job? Jason is the youngest of this group, he is 29, he has long scraggy hair, his hands are strong, he has wide shoulders and deep concerning eyes that spend a lot of time scanning the horizon, he appears suspicious and rarely says a word. He also walks with a serious limp; it looks like his left foot canters out to the side just a bit allowing his ankle to roll forward each time he steps. I asked Kevin about Jason’s leg, Kevin is a big man, he stands over six feet and might weigh in at 230lbs, but it’s not in his stomach, he looks like a wrestler, and he is very soft spoken, smiles a lot too and likes to crack jokes about lawyers. He told me that Jason tripped when he tried to jump onto one of the rail cars last year and broke his ankle, he went to the free clinic but they said he needed surgery and he couldn’t afford it. Kevin said it is ironic since Jason served three tours in South West Asia, he was in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he was in the Marines, he was a squad leader and lost a few men in a couple of his teams during his time over there. He never sustained any injuries when he was in, but when he came home he couldn’t hold a job anymore, he’d lost his patience and his ability to navigate daily life without the parameters of fear and threat to respond to. Kevin is a veteran, he served his country, Jason says he speaks of it with pride and doesn’t hold anyone to blame over his misfortune, he just can’t handle regular life anymore. Says nobody showed him how when he came home.

Kevin’s story is not uncommon, in fact with as many young men and women as we have coming home now from overseas as we do, we have even less jobs to offer them. These men and woman have learned skills most of us never will, they served our country and the country of those less fortunate, providing a safe environment for children to go to school, making certain our way of life remains free from tyranny, religious persecution and terrorism. They stood in the street of Fallujah fighting terrorists from all over the world; they watched their brothers and sister fall beside them, watched as their counterparts fell before them in the name of some misguided religious zealot. And now they walk on the outskirts of downtown, and along the trails in the suburbs trying to survive within the shadows, battling scrutiny from society and ghosts of their experiences overseas.

It isn’t only the young and uneducated vets that end up in this place, it also happens to more distinguished vets like AF Colonel Robert Freniere; ( http://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/01/06/air-force-colonel-goes-from-pentagon-to-homelessness.html?ESRC=army.nl) with three graduate degrees he served as an aide to pentagon brass before retiring. Now Colonel Freniere is homeless too, he has no obvious injury or major battle scars, but he has fallen into a place that seems to be flooded by educated and uneducated vets alike, who despite trying just can’t seem to get hired, even with all that they have to offer. The Obama administration has said it’s a focus of theirs to place these vets back into the workforce, but they aren’t the ones hiring them, a politician’s promise doesn’t put food in their bellies or a roof over their heads. It comes down to the responsibility of the business that fly the American flag outside their doors to seek out and open their doors to these men and woman, to welcome them back into the world they fought so bravely to secure. It is also the responsibility of the educational institutions’, and to each and every one of us to recognize these folks, whether or not you agree with their sacrifice, it is still a sacrifice; these men and woman did not serve us, to protect our freedoms and our rights to practice the religions of our choice, for a profit, they didn’t do it for the fame, they did it because they believe someone must make those sacrifices, they did it because they were able to stand up, look into the face of danger and apply a value on freedom, that value is and was their very own lives.

Kevin made that sacrifice, and continues to do so. He isn’t bitter, but takes pride in that he helped protect the belief that we all are entitled to the opportunities’ to make something of ourselves, so that his little sister back in Fargo and his boyhood buddies can go to school and study whatever they want to, he sacrificed himself so that they, and many of the rest of us wouldn’t have to.

v  The names I used in this post, Jason and Kevin, are not the real names of those individuals, but they and their stories are as they reported them to me. The one I named Kevin showed me his dog tags without hesitation.

v  According to the National Coalition for the Homeless

Ø   One fourth of all homeless are veterans.

Ø  40% of all homeless men are Veterans.

Ø  3% of homeless veterans are female.

v  According to the Department of Veterans Affairs

Ø  85% of homeless veterans completed high school, compared to 56% of non-veterans.

Ø  There are approximately 131,000 veterans whom are homeless on any given night.