United States Marine Corps In Afghanistan.
The Battle for Marjah
United States Marine Corps In Afghanistan.
The Battle for Marjah
The most decorated combat flight in U. S. history didn’t take place in a major battle. It was a photo-reconnaissance flight; the flight of ‘old 666′ in June of 1943.
Read about the Eager Beaver Crew here.
by James Brobyn
If you asked me what I remember most about my time as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, my answer would probably be a surprise.
I remember the smells more than anything. To this day, I can still smell the Iraqi towns and local foods, which trigger fond memories of exploring a new culture with my fellow Marines. Less pleasant smells include hydraulic fluid leaking from my Light Armored Vehicle and a platoon full of Marines after not showering for 45 days.
Those smells are harmless. The pungent odors of dead and decaying bodies, blended with the strangely sweet smell of explosive residue, are not. Years later, these smells still trigger guilt, bad dreams and regret.
Some people don’t ask me to explain why these odors elicit such a visceral emotion. Perhaps they are unsure or even afraid of what I might say next. But for those who want to hear what I experienced in combat, I will always continue. It’s a story I want to tell.
Read the entire article:
Not all wounds are visible! Raise awareness…
Last week’s video of Marines urinating on Taliban corpses went viral on the Internet. Among the responses was Lt. Col. Allen West’s ‘Shut Your Mouth, War Is Hell‘.
I agree the actions of those Marines do not represent the values we learn in the Corps, however, unless you’ve been shot at by the Taliban, Shut Your Mouth!
Here’s an insightful perspective from a Combat Marine and Purple Heart recipient…
“When you have witnessed your brothers-in-arms being killed, when you have had your very own brush with death, when you have endured deployment after deployment… In that single moment, when the dust has settled and you are the one left standing. Your emotions may or may not get the best of you. While certain actions may not be condoned and will certainly be frowned upon by many, they can be understood.
In war, our emotions can be like the venom of a baby rattlesnake… they can be released uncontrollably but at some point we will be responsible for our actions. This may be done publicly or internally.
We have all done something in our lives that we can now look back and say “what was I thinking?” War can bring out the worst in ANYONE. It has brought out the worst in me. Engage, reload and move on to the next target.”
Bruce Williams-Burden, former Navy Corpsman (RVN), wrote a book earlier this year year titled “Luminous Base”. The book is a well-researched collection of respectful and caring stories of Corpsmen killed in action. In April, I posted a review of the book here on my blog.
With Bruce’s permission, I am posting a chapter from his book which you will find very inspiring…
CHAPTER ELEVEN: “SHAY”
In the middle of February of 2010, I had received a copy of the “Proof: for this book from a firm that was helping me to self-publish my work.
Eager to find ways to market the book, I contacted Wally Beddoe who is the webmaster for popasmoke.com. He was on a business trip to Switzerland, and e-mailed me that he would read through my manuscript after he got back. I had sent this copyrighted material to him because I felt if he didn’t think it was something the website could or would want to advertise, then I had to rethink my marketing strategy.
Several days later I received his e-mail filled with an unexpected enthusiasm for the book which pretty much surprised me. In his letter he wrote:
What a fantastic job you did! As I read through the pages, I kept thinking “It can’t get any better than this”, but it did! It kept getting better and better… You really have a talent Sir! YOU NAILED IT! What you did for those Corpsmen is nothing short of heroic in itself. I will help promote this book in a big way. I really loved what I’ve read and I have more stories to go through. You have a gift in capturing the meaningful bits of a story. I’m very proud of you!
Semper Fi Doc!
This was a very welcome endorsement to say the least. But what happened next brought my self-publishing process to a screeching halt. In my original manuscript I had commented on how my only regret in writing the book was my inability to connect with and write about a female corpsman who had flown MEDEVAC or CASEVAC missions.
Wally must have read this part as he immediately wrote to me and asked if I wanted to write to a friend of his currently serving in Afghanistan who just happened to be a female and a corpsman and had her Combat Aircrew Wings! My fingers could not write to her fast enough.
|Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Shannon Dittlinger|
I have to admit that I am not one who is prone to believe that something’s in life are just random and not because of a higher purpose. In this case I felt that Shannon was meant to be in this book mostly because she knew Petty Officers Minjares and Ruiz, the two corpsmen who died in Iraq. They would have wanted not only their own story to be told, but also those of their teammates in Iraq and now in Afghanistan. What makes me believe this to be true was that I was introduced to Shannon three years to the month that they were killed.
In order for this chapter to be written we had to rely on e-mails. Early on I sent her a customized questionnaire which I devised so that I could learn about her and what it was like flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At first it was hard for her to face what she called “the demons” inside as they caused her to face some of her feelings, especially about the loss of MJ and Manny. This is very understandable. What helped her I think was that as we wrote to each other and she learned more about me and my time flying MEDEVAC in Vietnam with the PURPLE FOXES (HMM-364) her trust in me grew. Besides, as she wrote, how can you not trust a fellow Fox?
Within two weeks, Shay had provided me with more insight, personal perspective, and trust with her personal story than I thought she would or could for that matter.
Along the way I had to learn new phrases and colloquialisms, one which would temporarily interrupt our communications train. This occurred when after 36 hours of not knowing why my e-mails were failing to get thru to her she wrote back that she was “Out of River City.” This communications shutdown takes place whenever someone is KIA and before the family is notified. Letter from the war zone that today only takes seconds, took four days in Vietnam.
As I put together all the pieces of the mosaic that makes up her story I realized that it would be best for her to tell her own story as often as possible. The funny part to me, which on the other hand I very much respect and understand, is that she is so very humble and does not see herself as anyone or anything very special to be written about. To me, she is a patriot and a hero.
HER PERSONAL SIDE:
Shannon’s nickname is “Shay” which was given to her by her sister Sherry. Her father was a door gunner on a Huey and served in Vietnam with the 1st Air Cavalry and is her hero in life. There are two other men in her life who she loves that have a connection with the military. One of them is her grandfather who served in the Navy and was at Pearl Harbor on ‘The day of Infamy”.
The other man is her husband Timothy. He is an Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC) who was deployed over to Afghanistan with the 2nd MARSOC (Marine Special Operations Command), INDIA Company. They worked in and around Herat, Afghanistan from September of 2008 to March of 2009.
This is her response to a question where I asked her to provide any information she wanted to about herself her and or her family. Her words I feel, exemplify the spirit and character that it takes to be a mom, a wife, and someone who is willing to sacrifice the good life for her country, her flag, and for all who live in he United States:
“Where to start… so as you know my dad is my hero, serving our country, and when he got out he started working for UPS and he retired not to long ago in upper management. He was gone a lot but showed me how to respect a job well done, and that things don’t come easy and you have to work for the things you want, and that there is a certain amount of sacrifice that has to be made to take care of your loved ones. He taught me that the work I produce is a direct reflection of my name, and asked me what kind of name do I want to have.
He showed me so much and taught me about motorcycles and hot cars! Particularly anything MOPAR! My very first car was a ‘67 Plymouth Barracuda fast back, German jet black high glass paint she was sweeeeet! (that was the car that we built.)
But my mom took care of us, showed us love, and discipline, and how to be young ladies. She taught us to be respectful of others and of ourselves; she taught us right from wrong and trusted that we would choose right. She showed us that a successful family is more than 4 people in a house. IT took someone to pull it all together.
I remember one thanksgiving we had just moved to California and she cooked all day to make it special for us, and we wanted to use paper plates and sit in front of the couch… we were not being appreciative at all. But we set the table and had a wonderful dinner in the dining room that to this very day I remember. I am thankful for the things she did for us.
I have mentioned us a couple of times, and a family of 4, so I have talked about my Dad my Mom but now the best one is my Sister, Sherry or “Bear” as I call her. We were standard sisters growing up her the big sister and me the pesky little sister. I looked up to her and wanted to be her; she was so smart and had the cool clothes and was talented; she played the flute and could draw and was a majorette. She went away to college when we moved to California and I had to get used to being without her.
When Tim and I moved from Okinawa back to North Carolina she knew we would be deploying. So she packed up her house and they moved 4 miles down the road from me to help with the girls. Now there is a sacrifice! She works on base now as a dental hygienist.
The unit she is assigned to is 2/8 and they were out here with me for the first half of the deployment. She went to her first memorial for the lost souls of 2/8; she said it was the most humbling moment of her life that the average American would never know!
So as we grow so does our family. I have mentioned my Husband a few times in our previous conversations, He is one of my strongest supporters, (my dad is a close rival on that one) but he is also a Corpsman. He is a Chief Petty Officer who is currently assigned to 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion, part of Marine Special Operations Command in Camp Lejeune. He is the leading Chief Petty Officer. He was here in Afghanistan right before I came out. He is an amazing father and a wonderful husband, who for the last year has had the glorious job of being both mom and dad. It’s hard being dual active but we have managed! Having my sister right down the road has been a God send!
Now for the light of my life the reason I breath… my children Halie Renee who will be 15 on the 22nd of this month, and my daughter Victoria Ann who will be 9 on the 13th of April.
Halie is the socialite of the 9th grade who loves to read and help people. She is tall and skinny with big blue eyes and would save the planet one animal at a time, and just may do it!
Victoria or “Birdie” as we call her, is my little dancer, just won their first trophies for placing first in a dance competition, she is on cloud 9, long brown hair big hazel eyes and all the love and hugs anyone could ask for! Truly the perfect match and both are the most beautiful children in the world.
Of course there is one other special little girl that is just as beautiful as those two; that would be my niece Madeline named after our grandmother! Little Maddie is my princess, loves anything sparkly and pink, and following in her big cousins footsteps she loves gymnastics. Her and the girls are so close that Maddie has no idea that her Halie and Birdie are not sisters, and that’s the way Bear and I want it!
HER PROFESSIONAL SIDE:
Shannon Dittlinger is a Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman which is an E-8 or the equivalent to a Master Sergeant in the Marines. This is a far climb from when she first enlisted in the Navy in 1993 while in Omaha, Nebraska. Her recruit training took place in Orlando, Florida and was quickly followed by Hospital Corps School at Great Lakes. Training to be an FMF corpsman though, did not happen until 1998.
Her many duty assignment have included the Naval hospitals in Orlando, Camp Lejeune and on Okinawa. She also served with the 2nd Force Service Support Group (FSSG) on Camp Lejeune, and the 2nd Marine Air Wing (MAW) at MCAS New River also at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
In May of 2005 Shay was selected as the Chief of Naval Operations’ Shore Sailor of the Year and in July was meritoriously advanced to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. This selection afforded her the opportunity to travel with the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.
From January to August of 2007 she deployed to Iraq to serve as the Leading Chief Petty Officer for the Casualty Evacuation Team attached to both HMM-364 (PURPLE FOXES) and with HMM-161 (GREYHAWKS) which were located at the time at Camp Al Taqaddam which is often simply called “TQ” by those serving there.
Shay is one of those who like to lead from the front so she flew MEDEVAC/CASEVAC missions while she was deployed to Iraq. But in order to fly, she first had to “earn her wings” by going through very extensive training which she explained to me in the following:
“….There was an entire syllabus that we had to complete; just a few of the things covered were aerial safety, NATOPS, night vision lab, swim qualifications for helicopter egress, common injuries found in combat and overcoming the distinct difficulties in caring for the wounded while going 100 knots and banking hard right.
The Course I attended was not only educationally demanding but was physically demanding as well with rigorous daily physical training and many litter movement drills.
Upon completion of the course we were awarded the CASEVAC Course Identification Number (CIN) Code B-300-5000, which entitled us to be awarded our Combat Aircrew Wings. We then had two additional courses added on which were focused on Critical Stress Incident Management and on Operational Emergency Medicine with live tissue training. All together the best training I have received yet.”
The Al Taqaddum Airbase is located in central Iraq approximately
74 kilometers West of Baghdad. It has two runways 12,000 and 13,000 feet long respectively. In August of 2004, Marines dedicated the airfield at TQ to Lt. Col. David S. Greene who was a reserve Marine AH-1W Super Cobra pilot flying with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775, MAG-16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. He had been killed in action on July 28, 2004 while flying in support of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force by small arms fire.
At TQ, there were approximately twenty-six corpsmen who were assigned. They each had a job, especially when it came to flying or regulating the care of casualties in their TAOR.
I asked Shay to provide me with an idea just what the process was that took place when they were tasked with a MEDEVAC mission. One of the first things I had to decipher was what the meaning of a “9-line” was. Once she explained it I realized it was yet another example of how much more organized and regulated things were today than when we flew in Vietnam.
A 9-line in simple terms were the nine critical lines of pertinent information given to the CASEVAC/MEDEVAC pilots and crew regarding the mission they are about to undertake. This written information includes:
Line 1: The grid where the casualty is located
Line 2: The radio frequency of the ground unit
Line 3: The type and number of casualties
Line 4: Any special Equipment such as extra litters, special extraction gear, etc. that may be needed
Line 5: Whether or not the patient will be litter-bound or ambulatory
Line 6: Defines the security at the LZ
Line 7: How will the LZ be recognized (pyro, smoke, panel)
Line 8: The nationality of the patient(s)
Line 9: Are there any terrain hazards in or around the LZ
There was another explanation I needed to learn and that was in regards to the terms DASH-1, DASH-2, and DASH-3. These three terms were the designations given to the order in which MEDEVAC aircraft would be launched. Such as if DASH-1 and its crew were ready to go but had an engine issue, then DASH-2 would go in its place. DASH-2 backed up DASH-1 and in turn DASH-3 backed up DASH-2.
That being said Shay wrote me the following description of a MEDEVAC:
“From the MEDEVAC stand point, you have a watch in the ready room, monitoring all the communication devices and waiting while everyone else is going about their daily business. Then without a second’s notice a MEDEVAC 9 – line is received.
A “runner” would then run to our signaling system (the FOXES and GRAYHAWKS used a traditional ships bell) and would ring the bell.
Then everyone would sprint to the flight line where everyone has a job to do, from pulling the dust covers off the bird, to firing her up. Those not on the schedule to fly, line up at the edge to make sure that nothing is needed; the Corpsmen to make sure the ground unit isn’t requesting any additional gear, the mechs in case they had to trouble shoot, the comm to ensure we can talk, everyone had a purpose.
We spun two and sometimes three birds. As everyone is getting ready to roll, the watch scribes (writes) the 9- line on two papers, the runners in unison run to the two primary aircraft, standing at the end of the “shoot” right before the flight line. Yet another integral part of the operation is the Marine who directs the runners to the two primary birds. The crew chief would normally receive the 9- liner and report to the pilots the grid and location, then he would relay to the Corpsman how many and how bad.
DASH-1 would then roll to the edge of the helo pad. I remember looking out the back to find our escorts; you see if there was only one Cobra, it was as safe as combat flight can be, but if there were two cobra’s, well we were about to go play in Hell’s backyard.
If for any reason DASH-1 can’t launch, DASH- 2 is all ready set, as they were ready to roll at the same time as DASH-1. They would move into the primary position with DASH-3 now spinning and preparing to go just in case luck is not on our side and something would happen to DASH-2.
I wish I had a way to get it to you, but I have a great video you hear the bell, then the buzzer, and you see everyone run to the flight line, then you see the runners go out and the director telling them which bird, and the pass of the 9- line and the roll out. It was better orchestrated than synchronized swimming, but it wasn’t rehearsal, that’s how it was done every time for every bell that rang, less than 4 minutes.
In flight, you review your gear, make sure everything you need based on the 9-line is accessible and easy, and you make sure you have the gear the ground unit requested ready to be tossed out as soon as you land.
The pilots get you as close as they can and then you wait for your signal that it’s safe. My partner and I had an every other turn process; one time I would run out, the next time he would. So as soon as you land, you break ICS and run to the patient. Your partner would go to the end of the aircraft and keep eyes on you and the surroundings and relay what you are doing to the pilots.
While on deck you get the turn over from the ground unit, just as quickly as you can; a lot of times this is happening while you are running back to the bird. They make very large targets, and are much harder to hit when not sitting still. Your partner helps get the patient (s) into the litter stanchions, as you toss the ground unit that helped you move them on, off the bird, which was sometimes easier said than done.
Then you begin your primary assessment. If there is only one casualty you and your partner work together, one taking half of the body and the other partner the other half; you work together as a team. You treat and document depending on the severity, sometimes you only have time to treat. The admin will come later.
Some things in life just never changes, start the breathing and stop the bleeding… that’s still true today. Once those have been accomplished, you continue to assess and treat then reassess and treat. Normally before you know it your there, and your moving them off the bird, into the medical facility. While giving them the Cas during the turn over, you let them know what the ground unit told you and what you did for them en-route.”
As a side note, in September of that year, HMM-161 returned from Iraq along with their CASEVAC bell which best symbolized their mission in the area. They took the bell with them rather than leave it for the next squadron because the CASEVAC missions temporarily were going to be turned over to the soldiers of an Army Blackhawk detachment at Al Taqaddum.
The casualties on the MEDEVAC are flown, based on the extent of their injuries or illness, to the specified level of care they require. In MEDEVAC/CASEVAC terminology a “Role II” would be the same as a site that can provide Level Two care to the patient.
This is better explained in the response I received after one of the questions I put to the Chief in an e-mail was asking her to briefly discuss the kinds of medical facilities to which they deliver their casualties. In her reply she said:
“A main one is an FRSS which is called a Role II medical facility; this is a life or limb type facility.
In Iraq that was the normal first place for concentrated medical treatment, but in Afghanistan if you can overfly the FRSS to get to the Role III without risk of life or limb, then you overfly.
Role III is a more robust medical treatment facility with sterile surgical suites, emergency department, intensive care unit, and holding wards with an enhanced ancillary capability. Anything over that, we Evac them out of the theater and both areas go through Lundstuhl, Germany.”
I asked her response to whether or not she felt prepared enough for the war and what she had to contend with to which she said:
“I felt prepared both mentally and physically. But really, can you ever receive enough training to know that you have enough to go into combat? There is risk in everything we do, you plan and train to mitigate the risk, but can you ever be fully prepared to be shot at?”
The next line of questioning dealt with that very subject; her risky and dangerous missions.
“ ….. My first flight in Iraq was in mid-January. We lifted off and went out for operational engine checks and functional checks on all of the equipment. I think the final count that day was that we took 7 rounds into the aircraft; multiple through the front windshield, one through the floor and out the top, one bounced off the stub wing and thank God it was armored since that was by where I was sitting. We also had one in the back skin up and out through the transmission and rear engine.
We also landed in a couple of hot zones where my flight partner would grab me as I ran back onto the bird yelling at me because he could see the rounds striking the ground around me. We have had to egress quickly out of the LZ for Close Air Support to come in and drop 500-pound JDAMs….. You know normal combat stuff.”
(The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit that converts existing unguided gravity bombs, or “dumb bombs”, into all-weather “smart” munitions.)
“On 24 February 2007 a massive IED Attack occurred in the town of Habbaniya causing a 175- patient mass casualty. The entire section for both day and night was activated as it happened right at sunset. The obvious overflow at TQ’s Role II was apparent and we were moving 8 urgent/ urgent surgical per bird to other facilities in our AO. Each section and every aircraft that night saw bursts of small arms fire, and several reported single rocket attacks; but due to the fast and evasive maneuvers of the pilots, all aircraft returned safely to base. Each of us knew that was the same kind of attack they utilized just weeks prior when they took down MORPHINE 1-2 with Petty Officer Minjares (MJ) and Petty Officer Ruiz (Manny) on board.
In Iraq as the LCPO for the CASEVAC team; I took the first flight out, and got shot up! We switched aircraft, then went out again to the IED Blast and picked up 3 Urgent Cas and 2 Angels (KIA)) We made a routine flight from the Role II to the Role III… then took one last flight where we had to switch to night vision goggles on the way back. Although it was a long day I was confident that I could then ask my Sailors to do what I had done; Lead from the front!
My HAC all day was none other than Colonel Sean Killeen, so when we shut down the final time on the flight line I looked at him and said, “Sir, I know I asked you to show me the ropes, but did you have to do it all in one day?” He smiled.
Colonel Killeen is a great leader! In fact before the Foxes left theater (we still had 3 months to go) I wrote him a note in which I told him that in all my years of serving, I had finally found a CO (Commanding Officer) that I wanted to emulate. He is kind and fair, firm and approachable, and thrived by taking care of those he leads. A good Man. I’m proud to have served under his leadership.”
As to how many missions did she fly in Iraq, Shay, in her humble and simple way said:
”Too many to count and without my flight log here I couldn’t even begin to tell you, I can tell you that in a period of 7.5 months my team of 26 Sailors responded to and evacuated over 1200 patients. I don’t count my time there as what I did but what we did.
On the aircraft we flew as a pair, we had specific partners for the entire time. My flight partner was HM1 (FMF) Jerry Blankenship, who in addition to being an outstanding Corpsman, was a qualified aerial observer (AO) on the CH-46 which was an added bonus for our team. He has just recently retired from the Navy.”
When I asked about flight rotations the corpsmen flew, I got back the following:
“In Iraq, we had a rotation; one day you started on DASH-1, the next was DASH-2, the next was DASH-3 and the next was admin. When you were not flying you were doing maintenance on your equipment, checking your supplies and doing inventory. When you are not doing that, you are studying for advancement or your Fleet Marine Force warfare qualification. If all of that is done then you are PT’ing, playing spades, dominos or Halo. (that was Manny’s favorite) or just hanging with your friends.
In my team, I took the most females that had gone out for that mission and there were 8 including me. That caused some pain as I paired each of us with a male, since there are physical restraints and safety concerns; I wanted to make sure each team member was as safe as they could be. Please keep in mind I could have paired two females together but I chose not to. I didn’t think it was a smart thing to do based on the mission. Some of those guys with full “battle rattle” (battle gear) on, were very heavy!
I then brought up the politically sensitive topic of her being a female and how, if at all, it made any difference to those around her. She only seemed to discuss her time in Iraq.
”Yes and no… By the crew, absolutely not; being a female had zero impact on my ability to be an effective member of the crew but by the civilians, yes.
The way some of the local national men looked at me made me feel uncomfortable at best, but for the most part, it was my partner that was treated more different by the Locals than me. One day in mid-March we responded to a young lady who had been to the market to get groceries with her husband, and who was 5 months pregnant when she was shot through the abdomen. My partner being a male was not allowed to touch her; her husband would rather have had her and the baby die than be touched by another male. But since I was there, I was able to examine her and provide the life saving treatment that allowed both her and their baby to live. So being a female made a big difference that day.”
Being a corpsman, especially a female corpsman, may provide a significant source of comfort to Marines as well. I had asked Shay to tell me about any other missions that stood out from the others:
“Saving that mom and baby was absolutely amazing! There was one other one that sticks out pretty well. I can’t remember the date but it was in April 2007, when my partner and I responded to an urgent MEDEVAC for a US Marine. it was my partners turn to run off the bird; as I watched him run back, I grabbed the litter with him and helped set the patient into the litter stanchions. We lifted off, I was handing my partner stuff and as we moved his flak jacket so we could do our assessment, his religious medallion that he fastened to the inside of it, sparkled a little and caught my eye. Anyway he had a gunshot wound to the leg, and my partner had the bleeding under control and was dressing the wound. I raised my visor so I could talk to him. I leaned over to ask him to squeeze my hand, as I wanted to see if he comprehended what was going on. As I reached for his hand so he could, I noticed how scared he looked. He then squeezed my hand and smiled a little and took a deep breath. When we got to the Role II he did not want to let go and almost took my flight glove with him! I reassured him they would take great care of him at the TQ surgical unit and he let go.
The best part about it was that our home base was on TQ, so after shift I was able to walk over and check on him. He was fast asleep, but the Doc’s told me he was going to make a full recovery. I guess that fact that even at his most scared moment, I was able to make him smile, and even if just for a second to a deep breath and relax.”
The airwing element where Shay is currently deployed is made up of squadrons from MAG-40. A composite aviation unit out of MCAS Cherry Point, MAG-40 is the combat aviation element for the Marines supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.
|Dittlinger and LT Loffgren with PEDRO our Air Force medical evac bird!|
This group is composed of two CH-53 squadrons, along with one light attack helicopter squadron, one AV-8B Harrier squadron, one Osprey squadron, one KC-130 tactical aerial refueling squadron, one unmanned aerial vehicle squadron, and an aviation logistics squadron. MAG-40 deployed to Afghanistan in the spring of 2009 and falls under the command of the 2nd MEB.
Because a squadron of Osprey helped make up its composition, I had to ask her if she had flown on one yet or if any had been used in a MEDEVAC/CASEVAC mode. She wrote:
“In one of the e-mails you asked about the V-22 (Osprey); it’s a neat aircraft with unique capability and could, if assigned, provide a CASEVAC mission. Currently we do not use the V-22 in that manner, not to say we haven’t, because we did launch the V-22 one time out here with a CASEVAC HM on the back. HM3 Matzke went down south and picked up a small child who had been severely burned; it was a non-battle injury, but we transported the child and a family member to our Role II for care. He said he didn’t have to do much as the ground Corpsman cleaned and dressed it nice and the flight was extremely quick.”
I also asked Shay what her mission was and their role as it stood in Afghanistan;
“Here my job is a little different; I run the Patient Evacuation Team. They sit at the Command Element and run the watch station for MEDEVAC. They work with the ground unit and ISAF/ NATO Forces to get the aircraft launched and out to the grid and to the right location for care, then they follow the Marine/ Sailor through the medical facilities until they are released back to duty.
“My primary mission here is not flying but patient tracking and working with ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) and NATO forces on patient regulating. My team receives the 9-lin, then processes it, works with Regional Command (South) as they source the aircraft, and then assign the medical facility all the while my team is communicating to the ground unit that help is on the way.
Then they follow the patient all the way back to Return to Unit whether its here in Afghanistan or back home with their parent command.. To date we have tracked over 1100 Active Duty, and over 400 ANA (Afghan National Army), LN (Local National), ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) and EPW (Enemy Prisoners of War).
We answer any questions the higher headquarters has and we ensure the ground unit knows help is on the way. My other half of the job out here is the Assistant Health Service Support Officer. We sit in planning meetings that are planning all of the major operations in Helmand Province and ensure that the right medical facilities are where they need to be and the right medical staff is available.
My current team is exactly 50/50, but because it’s a watch floor, (big computers and techno-war fighting) gender does not come into play. I say techno-war fighting but a lot of important things happen on the watch floor as they coordinate everything in the AO. They can see what’s happening here in this position and divert aircraft for assistance or re-route a convoy based on a situation or launch HIMAR’s (High Mobility Artillery rocket System) in support of a fire fight in this section. This is “Big Picture Orchestrating” with focusing on all the things that we can do to help the warfighter on the ground and get them what they need to succeed.”
Although her role is quite different from the one she had in Iraq, she still flies on the heavies” (CH-53’s) at times. As part of her job, as the Assistant medical planners she has to ensure the right care is available wherever they are doing operations.
|POPASMOKE / SSgt Terrance Clark|
Shay travels throughout her AOR doing what she does. She recently went to Forward Operating Base Delhi which is located in the Helmand Province of Southern Afghanistan near the town of Garmisir. It’s in an area that was made famous by the UK’s Prince Harry who served there from late to 2007 to early 2008.
Shay sent me a photograph that was taken of her while she was flying on a CH-53 resupply mission in Marjah during Operation MOSHTARAK. In the photo she is intently looking down thru the hellhole as they are offloading much needed water and food. In her flight goggles one can see the reflection of the tail gunner.
In regards to flying CASEVAC in Afghanistan: “Out here in Afghanistan, we fly solo as we are out here in a tertiary billet so we don’t waste Corpsmen or fly people unnecessarily, it’s just not safe! If called upon to provide medical care and I need help, then the AO or rear gunner would be able to assist. As for the kinds of patients we evacuate there are all kinds: Urgent, Urgent Surgical, Priority, Routine; US and UK Active duty, and all other coalition forces, Local National, and Enemy prisoners. That is for both Iraq and here.
In March of 2010 I read a story about a British pilot who was struck in the head by a bullet during a firefight and still managed to safely land a helicopter full of casualties, medical personnel and troops. After being wounded, he refused to give up control of his Chinook (C-47) and flew the twenty or more souls on board back to Camp Bastion.. I e-mailed her the interesting article and she wrote back the following:
“Very true.. this happened not too long ago. In fact, they were able to land safely at the helo pad at the hospital we call Nightingale. The only down point was that the Chinook was so big it took up the majority of the helo pad, so we had to shut it down for a few hours before we could get it out so that other birds could land.
Camp Bastion is about 2 minutes away from my base… we are all connected and that’s where our injured go as well. It’s a great hospital! It’s the Role III that I was telling you about that we have here.
Oh, as a side note,
As we were doing our drill for our insert into Marjah I used that scenario for our training.”
The discussions turned to her flying MEDEVAC missions once again and I asked her if she could discuss her worst mission. I knew for her it might not yet be possible and from her reply I guess I was right.
“I really don’t think I can. Not because of the demons, but every time we flew it was because someone was hurt. We saw a lot of bad things, just like you did, we took rounds to my aircraft on my first flight out, suddenly sun light where there was none, to crawling into blown up humvee’s to pull out the wounded because at 5 foot 3, I was the smallest one and could wiggle my way to the wounded. I remember so many that I don’t think singling one out would be fair to the memory of the crew, the ground unit, or the member that we picked up. We landed in farmers fields, where the gunner said one second he could see me and the next he couldn’t then I would pop up again and he could see me then he wouldn’t, only to get the wounded out just before Close Air Support came in and dropped some serious fire power that rocked the ground and the Phrog. We landed on roads and moved multiple casualties from IED’s and car accidents. Any time we launched it was trauma and trauma was bad.”
Not everything that happens in war is negative, even in the war in Afghanistan. Shay had sent me a picture where she is surrounded by Locals and is holding the hand of a little girl. I did not understand the significance of the photo she had sent me until I receiver her answer to my question
|Shannon and Hilya in Nowzad after the MEB cleared it!|
“What has been your biggest eye-opening experience since you arrived ?
“You are so going to think its a cliché but remember that little girl I sent you a picture of? That was Hilya she is 8. When we first got here Now Zad was one of the worst areas in our AO. It was a guarantee to have amputees from that area whenever there was a 9-liner from a unit. In November we did an operation called COBRA’S ANGER, and about a month later that picture was taken. As you can see I wasn’t wearing any Personal Protective Devices… She ran to me, held my hand and pointed out the store her father was able to open and about the dinner she had the night before, but her eyes lit up when she showed me her school that she was allowed to go too. (I had an interpreter with me) For me it’s all about the kids and the ability for them to have just the basics, food and the option to go to school and learn.
Even in Iraq one of the most significant memories I have, was one of our last flight, We were out to get a Iraqi Policeman and we were flying low and there they were, just outside playing with a ball. It was the first time I had seen kids outside playing. So many of the things people take for granted, like walking down the street without the fear of being blown up, being able to have the option of going to school, being able to go outside and kick a ball, so many of the freedoms that come natural to most of us just don’t exist here, at least they didn’t until we came to help. I told you it was cliché! “
The last question I put on all of my other questionnaires was in regards to what advice would you or do you give to someone who wanted to fly MEDEVAC?
“Wow! What to tell someone who wants to do this mission… get assigned to the MAW, and go for it. IT is by far the most rewarding experience I have ever had. I spent the day with HM2 Wenck last week on Friday when I went down to COP (Combat Outpost) Dehli located on the edge of Darvishan (Helmand Province). After his two tours with Manny in Iraq as CASEVAC HM’s, this is his first time as a VICTOR unit Corpsman (Grunt Doc). All he could say was how different it was. You have to love to fly, have the desire to help and the courage to go in when everyone else wants out.”
You can purchase Luminous Base on Amazon.
by Wally Beddoe, 2010
This report considers the moral issues associated with killing in a war. To add flavor to an otherwise mundane report, we will hear first-hand thoughts from Marines I have interviewed for this paper who have killed in war and how killing affected them then and now. For the purposes of this paper, just war theory, while an extremely important framework and is referenced, is not covered in depth. We can assume killing in a just war. Finally, we will conclude with my arguments supporting or opposing killing in war.
WHAT IS WAR?
Encyclopedia.com defines war as “armed conflict between states or nations (international war) or between factions within a state (civil war), prosecuted by force and having the purpose of compelling the defeated side to do the will of the victor. Among the causes of war are ideological, political, racial, economic, and religious conflicts. Imperialism, nationalism, and militarism have been called the dynamics of modern war. “
One cannot research ‘killing in war’ without encountering the terms “jus ad bellum” and “jus in bello”. According to Wikipedia, jus ad bellum are a set of criteria that are consulted before engaging in war, in order to determine whether entering into war is justifiable. While jus in bello concerns whether a war is conducted justly (regardless of whether the initiation of hostilities was just).
WHAT IS KILLING
Killing is an event that causes someone to die or the act of terminating a life. The rules of jus in bello aim to minimize the destruction in wars and protect civilians and non-combatants. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states “Soldiers are only entitled to use their (non-prohibited) weapons to target those who are “engaged in harm.” Thus, when they take aim, soldiers must discriminate between the civilian population, which is morally immune from direct and intentional attack, and those legitimate military, political and industrial targets involved in rights-violating harm.” (“War,” 2000)
In nearly every article I read about killing, a distinction was made between combatants and non-combatants. Killing a combatant was allowed (not the same as murder) but killing non-combatants is an evil, and is never allowed.
FIRST HAND ACCOUNTS
Since my research is on killing in war, and in order to gain insight into the killing perspective, I asked some Vietnam Veterans, friends of mine, what they thought about killing in war. These Marines all had similar stoic responses that it was a matter of survival and that killing was necessary to protect their brother Marines. Marines, especially during Vietnam, were psychologically trained to kill. I was expecting a response to be more in line with stories of horror, mental sickness, guilt and emotional trauma but that’s not what I received. With the exception of my good friend Gordon Boswell, the killings by these Marines were (generally) up high in a helicopter whereas the killing Boswell did as a reconnaissance sniper was on the ground, up close and extremely personal. Boswell was himself shot on three separate occasions. Perhaps there is an emotional separation of sorts, if that’s possible, when the killing is not one-to-one.
Gordon Boswell, 1st Force Recon, Sniper, Vietnam, 1970-1971
“Taking another person’s life in skirmishes (fire fights, ambushes) didn’t bother me then or now. The overwhelming fear and adrenaline to survive takes over; you want to protect the rest of your fellow Marines. It seemed like everything happens in milliseconds; up close and personal. I can’t remember most of the details of these. Now when you are looking at another human being through a scoped weapon, you know that when you squeeze the trigger, his life is going to end and usually there was enough lag time to recover from the recoil and see the “pink mist”. It didn’t bother me then but now these memories have come back to haunt me. While the rest of the world is sleeping, I have nightmares in 3-D color, restless nights, pacing the floor and the f**ked up sweats at night. Bos~”
Mike Amtower, USMC, HMH-463, Vietnam ’68-‘69
“Look at it this way —- when someone in a wartime situation is shooting at you and doing his level best to kill your silly butt, the best, and only thing you can do, is shoot back and suppress his fire, or return the favor. It comes down to a simple matter of survival. I always had the feeling that the safest place in the world was about 6 feet long, 4 inches square at the rear, with a pair of handles and a butterfly. If it was bucking in your hands and the rounds were landing anywhere near the fool shooting at you, he was apt to change his mind. The sheep, sheep dog and wolf scenario was and is a good analogy.”
R.T. Foster, USMC, Helicopter Squadron, Vietnam ’68-‘69
“There is no shame, there is no guilt and no you would not understand.”
Bruce “Howdy” Mayor, USMC, HMM-161, Vietnam ’69-’70
“At the moment you are aiming at the muzzle flash or the movement in the bush or the target running across the rice paddy. Because of your training you sight the target and squeeze the trigger. It is not until you are returning to base that the thought of what just took place enters your mind. Yes, it grabs you like nothing else, but then you realize that muzzle flash was aimed at you or your fellow Marines. That movement in the bush was someone trying to get a better shot at you or your fellow Marines. The person running across the rice paddy was warning the rest of his squad or telling them to open fire upon you or your fellow Marines. You don’t talk about it because there is nothing to say, it is part of war, the ugly part. You came home and hopefully so did your fellow Marines.”
John “J.D.” Barber, USMC, HMM-263, Vietnam, ‘70/’71
The first time I fired back, the fire stopped coming from where I aimed. Not sure if I killed anyone, but odds are I did. The incident caused me to think about what I did. What I came away with was this; they were trying their best to kill me and my Brother Marines around me. I did what I had to do to protect them and myself. I also thought a bit deeper to my time in Vietnam. If I didn’t kill anyone directly, I was responsible for many deaths, just by what we were doing. Such as dropping off Marine Grunt’s, Sniper’s, Recon, etc. and then supporting them and their mission. When it comes to actual war, WWII was the last time we actually fought one. True war is unconditional. You fight it to win it, and you don’t worry about who is killed or what is destroyed. All you have to do is look at the Pacific war (number of Japanese POW’s) or the war fought by the Army Air Forces (Dresden, Tokyo, etc.). Just my thoughts on a very deep subject.
Fred Whitehurst, USMC, HMM-265, Vietnam ’65-‘67
“We have a saying and I still stick by it today. KILL THEM ALL AND LET GOD SORT THEM OUT! I’ve seen too many dead Marines to have any regrets for any gooks I may have killed.”
John “Ace” Hunt, USMC, HMM-265, Vietnam ‘69
“Wally, I never gave it one thought at all. … I looked at it as they [enemy] are so ruthless, and do want to kill you, so kill them at any chance you had, which I did, and as many of them as I could. Think I did a very good job, on top of good jobs. I made sure of that. Yes killing, even in War, is a rough thing, but it’s them, or you, and your Crew, plus whoever you’re hauling around at that time. I would NOT hesitate one second to pop a gook anywhere, and at any time. If they were running, pointing at me, or shooting at me, trying to hide, they suddenly blew up. Then, I’d look for any more to pop. I do not regret it, not one bit, just wish I had had more opportunities, and that can be printed at anytime, anywhere. If I had it to do over again, I’d do a much better job, that’s for certain. Just hate that my flight time ended as early as it did. Semper Fi.”
UNDERLYING ETHICAL POSITIONS
Aristotle, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is probably among the triad (Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine) of those responsible for the origination of the Just War Theory.
In his work, Augustine asked whether a Christian can ever justify killing another, given the Biblical imperative to “turn the other cheek.” Augustine’s answer was this: One can use force, not to protect oneself, but to protect one’s neighbor. As the scholar Jean Elshtain, author of the highly regarded book Just War Against Terror, explains:
For early Christians like Augustine, killing to defend one’s self alone was not enjoined: It is better to suffer harm than to inflict it. But the obligation of charity obliges one to move in another direction: To save the lives of others, it may be necessary to imperil and even take the lives of their tormentors. Thus, according to Augustine, if only you are attacked, you are obligated to turn the other cheek and die, because personal self-defense is immoral; only if someone attacks your neighbor’s cheek are you permitted to retaliate. (Brook, & Epstein)
According to author Darrell Cole in his book “When God Says War Is Right”, fighting justly in a just cause is not an evil, but a good – an act of love – that is pleasing to God; fighting unjustly is an evil for which there is never an excuse.
The right ethics leads to individual (and societal) survival, prosperity, happiness; the wrong ethics leads to misery, poverty, death. This is true in every field but is especially true in the realm of war, as the present struggle has made clear. We are losing the war on Islamic Totalitarianism because our leadership, political and military, is crippled by the morality of altruism, embodied in the tenets of Just War Theory. The moral code inherent in Just War Theory defines rules that undercut, inhibit, and subvert any hope of success in war, because it demands that one regard one’s own life as the sacrificial object of others. The moral code of rational self-interest, by contrast, defines principles to attain the values that one’s life and happiness require—including success in war and national self-defense. Altruism is the morality of defeat, and rational self-interest is the morality of victory. (Brook, & Epstein)
In his 1977 book “Just and Unjust Wars”, Michael Walzer argues that the individual acts of killing that occur in combat are morally justified by the collective right of self-defense. He dismisses the idea that soldiers require an individual moral justification for killing other soldiers in war. Instead, he holds that all soldiers act merely as constrained agents of their respective warring states. Still, Walzer’s collectivization of soldiers’ agency does not lead him to dismiss the moral importance of principles of individual self-defense. In fact, his argument is based upon the individual moral right to kill in self-defense.
The way that Walzer relates the right to kill in self-defense to the moral justification for killing in combat is complex. He begins by assuming that all persons possess the rights to life and liberty. He then asserts that communities of people, such as states, possess those same rights in virtue of the rights of their members, and that the collective analogues of those rights for states are territorial integrity and political sovereignty. He therefore concludes that a state is justified in defending its territory and sovereignty in the same way that an individual person is justified in defending her life and liberty. Walzer, however, notes an important distinction between the defense of individual and collective rights. Whereas individuals can use forceful non-lethal measures to resist minor violations of their rights, states often do not have that luxury. When states forcibly defend their rights, their citizen-soldiers usually get killed, which presumably violates those citizens’ rights. This, in turn, presents a challenge to the very concept of collective self-defense. For, if states derive their rights from the rights of their citizens, yet their citizens’ rights are violated in the course of defending their states’ rights, and then it appears that the violation of individual rights would undermine the legitimacy of exercising collective rights. Walzer counters this problem by giving an account of why the killing of citizen-soldiers in combat is not a violation of their rights. He does this by arguing those individuals’ collective roles as soldiers cause them to lose their individual rights to life, so that their deaths are not a violation of rights. In this way, Walzer is able to hold that the right to kill in self-defense directly justifies a nation’s recourse to war and indirectly sanctions the killing that occurs within the war. (Kilner)
It’s important as a Christian to understand what the Bible says about killing. “When we look at the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, we can see that these laws were given for the good of mankind. One of these laws is in verse 13: “Thou shalt not kill.” You may wonder if God said “do not kill,” why He would then decree that governments could send men to war to kill other men. The reason is that the Hebrew meaning of the word translated as “kill” actually means “murder” or “to slay someone in a violent manner unjustly.” So, in the Ten Commandments God is saying, “Thou shalt not murder.” Unjust premeditated killing with the wrong motives of hatred, vengeance, greed, jealousy, etc. is murder. Killing in self defense to protect oneself is not murder nor is executing condemned killers. The very founders of this nation were known to carry a Bible in one hand and a musket in the other in order to defend the freedom they sought here. The freedom to worship God was one of those freedoms they fought for and died for.” (Miller)
Members of the Unites States Armed Forces, such as me, all take an oath:
“I, Walter Beddoe, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (U.S. Code)
Because of this oath, we are morally obligated to kill if necessary to achieve the objectives of our Nation. Pete Kilner, Army Officer and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars says on his blog “If killing the bad guys is not morally justifiable, then all participation in war is immoral. I feel very confident that killing combatants who fight for an unjust cause is morally permissible and perhaps obligatory for soldiers waging a just war. In fact, I find that many people who oppose war on moral grounds don’t have a problem with killing enemy combatants of an unjust aggressor. “(Kilner-Blog)
Enemy combatants have an equal right to kill. “Enemy combatant’ shall mean an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy combat forces.” (Denniston, 2008)
My research suggests that the common position in nearly all camps is that killing in war is morally accepted and is therefore legitimate (ethical) to kill “enemy combatants” in war.
War. (2000, February 4). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/
Brook, Y, & Epstein, A. (n.d.). “just war theory” vs. american self-defense. Retrieved from http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-spring/just-war-theory.asp
Kilner, Peter. (n.d.). Soldiers, self-defense, and killing in war. Retrieved from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-41998-18346/unrestricted/etd.PDF
U.S. Code, . (n.d.). 502. enlistment oath. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode10/usc_sec_10_00000502—-000-.html
Kilner-Blog, Peter. (n.d.). Thoughts of a soldier-ethicist . Retrieved from http://soldier-ethicist.blogspot.com/
Being the webmaster for the USMC Combat Helicopter Association since 1997, I am familiar with many of the members, squadrons, aircraft, stories, terminology, bases, etc. so “Cleared Hot”, like Marion Sturkey’s “Bonnie-Sue“, was an educational read for me.
Although I was a Marine stationed on a helicopter base in the early 80’s, I was too young to be in Vietnam but I am fascinated by the stories and admire the men and women who were there. Stoffey prefaces his book with a comment that if you were there, and saw it differently, write your own book. Speaking with other VMO-2 pilots who were there, I would have to agree with Stoffey. Each pilot has a unique story to tell about their experiences.
“Cleared Hot” took me away to a virtual visit to Marble Mountain Air Facility and into the skies over Vietnam. Stoffey does such an outstanding job keeping the reader informed, not assuming any prior knowledge. Following the different phases of his tours was interesting; from the UH-34D to the OV-10, the stories are really interesting and they give a very good general idea of what it was like to be a VMO-2 pilot in Vietnam. The helicopter and Bronco pilots were instrumental in supporting the grunts on the ground.
After all, in the Marine Corps, supporting the grunt on the ground is what it’s all about!
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U.S. Army Apache!!
In my philosophy class, the discussion of women in combat is on the agenda this week. So many people believe that if a woman wants to serve on the front lines, in a combat situation, why not? Women serve proudly and honorably in many disciplines in all branches of the Armed Forces today, but not specifically in infantry combat units. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to?
I found this posting (below) which included a response to that question from a combat Marine in Iraq. In my opinion, he summed it up pretty good.
— response from a combat Marine in Iraq —
Look. Whoever said this is a pogue and has never been in the field. Yes, it’s about the 120+ temperatures – it’s almost impossible to operate. Yes, it’s about the heavy body armor, and in full gear with backpack, hydration, weapon and ammunition, it’s more than 120 pounds for as long as the hump, 15 or 20 miles. But it’s really about more than that. It’s even more than about the ability to carry heavy weight for long distances in high temperatures. We don’t bathe for a month at a time. If we are doing MCMAP quals, we beat the hell out of each other, continually – every day, all of the time. Literally. Men beat the hell out of men, and get it back too.
Remember when I was in Fallujah and I had to jump off of the roof of the house? I was under fire, my unit was leaving and I had to catch the HMMWV, and I had on full body armor with hydration, SAW drums and SAW. And I had to jump from the roof of a house to the ground. I have had to tackle men in Fallujah who were assaulting us. Full grown men, attacking us by hand. Football style tackle with holds and moves on the dude while in full body armor.
Remember when I trained the SAW gunners before ___________? I would make them hit the road for a four or five mile run in the morning, full armor, to the range. Range all day, then four or five miles back. Screw PTs. Can you run and live all day in full armor?
You want to know what it’s like, physically, to be an infantry Marine in the field? Strap 120 pounds on your body and play men’s football for a season, and do it while being sleep deprived with guys dropping around you from heat stroke. Do squad rushes with full weight. And when you hit the ground, don’t pretend. Hit the ground.
Whoever said this is a f****** pogue. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’s trying to impress the women around him. He’s listened to what they’ve said for too long. Tell him I said that he’s a pogue and sits behind a desk. Time to get his ass up and hit the field with the infantry Marines. Then he’ll understand.”
What are your thoughts?
by Wally Beddoe, December 2009
University of Bridgeport, Psychology
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after someone has experienced a life-threatening situation. People with PTSD often can’t stop thinking about what happened to them. They may try to avoid people and places that remind them of the trauma and may work hard to push thoughts of the event out of their head. Feeling numb is another common reaction. Finally, people find that they have trouble relaxing. They startle easily and are often on guard. (NCPTSD, 2007)
My paper will reflect the symptoms, causes, treatment, and experiences of PTSD as shared by a few Marine friends diagnosed with the disorder; Marines who served one or more tours of duty in combat. Some veterans come out of the battlefield relatively unscathed. Others are so severely traumatized, it takes decades to manage. Earlier generations may have called the condition “Shell Shock”, “Soldier’s Heart”, or “Combat Fatigue”.
Writing a paper about PTSD when one has never experienced it is a tough assignment. I can only imagine the miserable environment of one suffering from this psychological disease.
According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 17% of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. In 1984, the National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study (NVVRS) found similar rates for Vietnam Veterans. But only about 40% of veterans with PTSD seek treatment. There’s still a stigma attached to PTSD, and veterans with PTSD just can’t get any respect. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the most debilitating injuries a soldier can suffer in war time. It is life-long condition that can be treated but can never be cured. It’s an ailment that destroys lives.
A 2007 study of combat-exposed Vietnam War veterans shows that those with injuries to certain parts of the brain were less likely to develop PTSD. PTSD involves the persistent reliving of a traumatic experience through nightmares and flashbacks that may seem real. Twenty percent to 30 percent of Vietnam vets (more than 1 million) have been diagnosed with PTSD, and a similar rate has been reported among Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans. Public health officials are currently tracking the disorder among soldiers returning from Iraq. Yet, while war and natural disasters tend to call the greatest attention to PTSD, it’s estimated that millions of Americans suffer from it as a result of assault, rape, child abuse, car accidents, and other traumatic events. (NIH Press, 2007)
BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR
When we study the brain, we learn about the Limbic System, which refers to parts of the brain (forebrain) that are closely associated with fear and response.
The Limbic System has a major role in producing emotion and motivated behavior. The amygdala, in particular, is strongly related to fear. In situations where true danger exists, such as in military combat, the amygdala’s rapid response may aid survival. However, disorder of the brain’s fear system can be very disruptive. An example is the war veteran who involuntarily dives into the bushes when he hears a car backfire. Another important part of the brain and Limbic System is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is important for forming lasting memories and lies inside the temporal lobes, which is why stimulating the temporal lobes can produce memory-like or dream-like experiences. (Coon, & Mitterer, 2007)
As defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-Fourth Edition-Text Revised (DSM-IV-TR), PTSD is an anxiety disorder comprising four major criteria:
1. Exposure to or witnessing an event that is threatening to one’s well-being and responding with intense fear, helplessness, or horror.
2. Symptoms of re experiencing, such as recurrent and intrusive memories, nightmares, a sense of reliving the trauma, or psychological and physiological distress when reminded of aspects of the trauma.
3. Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or reminders of the trauma, and the inability to recall parts of the trauma, withdrawal, and emotional numbing.
4. Arousal increases, as manifested in sleep disturbance, irritability, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance, or exaggerated startle response.
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. (A.D.A.M., Inc., 2009)
In order to present meaningful information about PTSD, I interviewed some of my good friends; Vietnam Veterans diagnosed with PTSD, and asked them about their experiences.
My first phone call was to a very good friend, Gordon “Bos” Boswell. Bos was a Force Reconnaissance Marine who served 23 months in Vietnam. He was shot on three separate occasions and medically evacuated by helicopter each time. Once, while in a very bad place called the Bo Bans, walking point with his best friend Christopher Six, Christoper stepped on a ‘Bouncing Betty’ mine. When triggered, these mines launch into the air and then detonate at about waist height. The explosion projects a lethal shower of steel balls and steel fragments in all directions. No words can describe the scene. Bos was yelling at his friend “Don’t die on me!” but there was nothing he could do. Christopher died in Bos’ arms. He then applied a tourniquet on another friend who lost his arm in the same explosion. “At this point, I completely lost it” said Bos. Four Marines died. Bos and two others were also shot or wounded. Continuous exposure to this type of environment challenges a human’s psychological tolerance.
When Bos was discharged from the Marines in 1971, he said he had no emotions [left] whatsoever. He was numb, like a rock. He attended LSU where there was protesting going on. He was embarrassed to tell anyone that he was a Vietnam Veteran. Even his girlfriend and future wife Cheryl did not know. The years following Vietnam were very hard for Bos. He suffered from rage, screaming nightmares of never-ending fights, and sweating terribly. “The slightest thing would just set me off” explained Bos. There were countless scuffles and fist fights. For six years he went to a mental health counselor. “He was no good and he had no clue” Bos told me.
Around 1995, Bos received some direction from friend and fellow veteran Michael Rodriguez. Michael suggested that either he ends up in a vet hospital or he gets help in an outpatient clinic that he could recommend. Bos followed the advice of his good friend and went to the outpatient clinic where he met Dr. Simpson. Bos was tested for PTSD and in 1996 was diagnosed with 70% disability due to PTSD and Agent Orange. Bos says he was shocked when Dr. Simpson told him “I hate to tell you, PTSD is a progressive disease, it doesn’t get better and there’s no cure for it”. Dr. Simpson treated the PTSD by prescribing Xanax, a medicine used to treat anxiety and panic disorder. “It definitely helps, makes me much more laid back” said Bos.
Bos wrapped up my interview by reiterating “PTSD is the real deal.” He added, “My wife has PTSD from putting up with my [antics] for the first 15 years of our marriage. She’s a good woman! These days I keep a level head, stay away from bad places because I can snap in a heartbeat. I take my Xanax with the morning cup of coffee and it definitely helps.” (G. Boswell, personal communication, November 20, 2009)
On Bos’ personal website, he writes “Sometimes, I awake in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, and I know I’ve been walking through the Bo Bans again; the place continues to haunt me. I wonder if some present-day Vietnamese ever sees the ghost of the young man I once was, wandering through the Bo Bans”.
In response to a PTSD posting on a veteran website I maintain, a few friends responded:
“Hi Wally, I was diagnosed with PTSD about 5 years ago. I didn’t know what it was all about and didn’t know I had it until I was asked some very emotional questions from a shrink at the VA. The biggest obstacle is admitting to yourself that you have PTSD. Once you understand what its’ all about you can start to manage the symptoms. There is no cure but you can function. I wear rubber band on my wrist and whenever PTSD interrupts rational thinking I snap the band. Most times that is all you need to break the thought pattern. The VA tries to drug you up but it doesn’t work for me. Only makes it worse. NO DRUGS FOR ME. PTSD not only affects the person but everyone that is close to you. I wonder how my wife and family were able to put up with me all those years.”
(Jardo Opocensky, personal communication, November 9, 2009)
“Wally, you will get lots of opinions but no answers except an acknowledgment that it exists in some form. I have one axe to grind: For compensation, the VA seems to seek one incident. Hell, we all can probably site 365 or more! That is my issue in a nutshell. Imagine driving the roads daily in Iraq and then coming home to drive on our highways, hit by an IED or not. PTSD? You betcha! I submit that constant stress, especially under threat of death or injury, can cause problems even more than just one incident. You have a secondary problem in that if the VA is going to pay for PTSD then everyone will put in for it, real, imagined, or fake. Let me share a personal experience. Last May, while out for a run, I was hit from the rear by a bicyclist. The fall broke my right shoulder and my arm. After six months of rehab I am back to running. Now, if anyone comes up behind me while running, I jump in fear. Am I suffering from PTSD or am I reacting as any normal person would? So, it is an issue that merits your study. Thank you. SF, /s/ Ray.”
(Raymond J. Norton, personal communication, November 9, 2009)
“Good luck Wally, I don’t know that the VA really understands it! The shrink I see at the VA has commented that the condition seems to be surfacing at a faster rate now among Vietnam vets than in the past. His theory is that the majority of us came back, threw ourselves into whatever we did the rest of our lives and functioned well as long as we stayed busy and were working ourselves to a point of exhaustion. Now that we are starting to slow down, more of us have problems. Mine is a mild case manifested by bouts of depression. Of course, many of my old Corps friends thought I was crazy anyway, so it might be hard to tell the difference.”
(Bob Quinter, personal communication, November 9, 2009)
“Wally, I was diagnosed in the 70s and went to some VA outreach programs that showed me that there were a lot of really messed up people that made me feel like I was OK… Realized that half the battle has just understanding why I felt and behaved the way I did, I wanted to be away from people especially crowds; did not want to stay in one place too long; felt like I was tuned in to a different world than most other people. After flying as a Gunner on the Huey gunships, it is very hard to go back to the States and be able to replicate the adrenaline rushes. Closest you can come is Police work which I did for four years. Alcohol allowed me to get to sleep at night. Once I had some spare time on my hands the PTSD started to get me freaky and so I went to the VA and after 2 years of meds and meetings my wife told me I’m almost able to get along well with others. Two weeks ago I started bleeding internally and when I went to the VA my doctor said the Citalopran that I was taking could in some cases cause life threatening internal bleeding and she took me off all my meds pending the results of an upcoming colostomy; Back to the beer. Semper Fi, Phillip D. Moss, VMO-2, 1968-1970.”
(Phillip D. Moss, personal communication, November 9, 2009)
A publication by the Psychopharmacology Unit, University of Bristol, United Kingdom, reflects best what I found repeatedly in my interaction with my veteran friends, which are the parts of the brain affected by PTSD.
The publication states “PTSD is a highly disabling condition that is associated with intrusive recollections of a traumatic event, hyperarousal, avoidance of clues associated with the trauma, and psychological numbing. The field of neuroimaging has made tremendous advances in the past decade and has contributed greatly to our understanding of the physiology of fear and the pathophysiology of PTSD. There appear to be 3 areas of the brain that are different in patients with PTSD compared with those in control subjects: the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the medial frontal cortex. The amygdala appears to be hyper reactive to trauma-related stimuli. The hallmark symptoms of PTSD, including exaggerated startle response and flashbacks, may be related to a failure of higher brain regions (i.e., the hippocampus and the medial frontal cortex) to dampen the exaggerated symptoms of arousal and distress that are mediated through the amygdala in response to reminders of the traumatic event.” Further, the analysis read in addition to the high rate of PTSD exposure to combat exposure, risk for PTSD is also higher when a physical injury has been received. For example, two to three times higher rates of PTSD have been found among injured Vietnam veterans compared with non-injured veterans. (JRRD, 2007)
Kolb (1987) proposed a neuropsychological explanation of intrusive memories and associated psychophysiological arousal in PTSD. He has supplemented a two-factor learning theory that PTSD results from both classical conditioning of extreme emotional responses to traumatic stimuli (i.e., fear, terror, anger, rage, sadness, guilt, and indignation) and operant conditioning of emotional numbing, withdrawal, and avoidance of traumatic stimuli (Kolb, 1987). He proposed that PTSD results from excessive traumatic stimulation that overwhelms the capacity to process information efficiently. Such stimulus overload occurs when the … capacity to process information signaling threat to life overwhelms the cortical … processes concerned with perceptual discrimination and effective adaptive responses for survival (Kolb, 1987).
TREATMENT: USING PRINCIPLES TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
Cognitive Behavior Therapy – Exposure to memories and reminders of the original trauma
-In the 1980’s, Dr. Terence M. Keane and his colleagues found that exposure therapy was effective in treating the PTSD symptoms of Vietnam War veterans. Exposure therapy, previously known as imaginal flooding therapy, involves carefully exposing the patient to prolonged and repeated imagined images of the trauma until the images no longer cause severe anxiety. In Keane’s randomized clinical trial involving 24 Vietnam veterans, Keane found that exposure therapy was effective in reducing many of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms, including nightmares, flashbacks, memory and concentration problems, and irritability.
Other treatments include:
Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), which is very controversial.
Critical Incidents Stress Debriefing (CISD), which is immediate treatment of trauma; and also very controversial.
Exposure; Facing the situation or object that triggers anxiety (memory and cue dependency).
In flooding, feared stimuli are presented to the patient at full intensity, not gradually.
Medications such as Anxiolytics and drugs that reduce anxiety like Valium and Xanax
Antidepressants (Tricyclics and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
My research indicates that while there may not be a solution to PTSD, approaches to controlling the effects of PTSD include communication, education, research & development, medical, and therapeutic efforts. Most important is that veterans or PTSD sufferers communicate with others if they feel they may have PTSD. Understanding PTSD and knowing what the options are for treating it is very important. Active-duty troops must be educated and made aware of PTSD and can recognize the signs in themselves or their comrades. Continued research and development is vital to learning more about the brain and how it processes fear and stress. Medical research and drug testing must continue. Research available therapy opportunities for dealing with PTSD are also critical. Dr. Keane suggests cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to access emotions associated with the traumatic event and promote emotional processing. It is this emotional processing that is viewed by many experts as the essential ingredient for treating PTSD.
I’m grateful to my Marine Brothers who supplied information pertaining to their PTSD. I believe communication is a large part of the dealing and healing process. The more we know about PTSD, the more we can help those who suffer from the symptoms that cripple lives of veterans and their families, co-workers, and friends.
Coon, D, & Mitterer, J. (2007). Introduction to psychology. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
NCPTSD. (2007, May 22). P common reactions after trauma. Retrieved from http://ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/fs_commonreactions.html
JRRD. (2007). Posttraumatic stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder-like symptoms and mild traumatic brain injury. Retrieved from http://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/07/44/7/kennedy.html
Kolb, L. (1987). A neuropsychological hypothesis explaining posttraumatic stress disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144: 989-995.
A.D.A.M., Inc. (2009). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved from https://health.google.com/health/ref/Post-traumatic+stress+disorder
NIH Press. (2007, December 26). Study suggests some brain injuries reduce the likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder . Retrieved from http://www.gluvsnap.com/news/New_Online_Features_Translate_Vision_Science_to_Everyday_Life%20_51.html
I recently finished reading Marcus Luttrell’s story “Lone Survivor”. Marcus (Navy Cross), a Navy SEAL with SEAL Team 10 in Afghanistan, recounts the horrific engagement with the Taliban and the heroics of his teammates as they fought back to back high in the mountains against an enormous enemy force in Operation Red Wing (2005).
Marcus and his team were extremely upset that the Taliban were responsible for the killing of Marines in the area and were intent on putting a stop to it.
The first half of the book, an insightful story itself, takes the reader to the beaches of Coronado California where only the very best survive the rigerous training hopeful SEALs endure. After graduating and receiving the SEAL Trident, dozens more skills courses and qualifications follow before Marcus deployes to Afghanistan with his SEAL teammates.
“Lone Survivor” is one of the best stories I’ve read that portrays the patriotism, dedication, talent, and devotion of the finest young men America has to offer. Fighting ruthless enemies in a foreign land under restrictive ‘rules of engagement’ provides for a dilemma for SEAL Team 10.
Back home in East Texas, Marcus’ folks receive the news that he is MIA. You will read about how Texans come together to support their neighbors while waiting for further news.
Hand Salute to the men of SEAL Team 10 and all others lost in Operation Red Wing in Afghanistan. Gone, but not forgotten.
Buy the book, it’s a very powerful MUST READ.
[ see also Marcus’ speech at the NRA ]
[ see also Marcus’ YouTube Today Show interview ]
You can write to Marcus via his publisher at the below address:
c/o Little, Brown and Company
237 Park Ave
New York, NY 10017
Received this via e-mail. Love the video…
“I fell out of my chair laughing at this video:
A US Marine at a roadway checkpoint, bored to tears, talking to a Baghdad-bound Iraqi taxi driver. You have to understand Marine humor in combat is a little on the sick side, but very funny. This lad’s sarcasm and cynicism is profound and hilarious. This is why the Commandant of the Marine Corps tried to have the Marines pulled from Iraq and sent to Afghanistan , because the lance corporals were complaining that they had no one to shoot at. Of course, Secretary Gates turned him down, so now the Marines are passing the word via cab drivers for the insurgents to come out and play.”