April 03, 2012

We used to joke about PTSD in the army. We used to call it the “€œnew backache,”€ meaning something doctors couldn”€™t prove but would get you out of work. Malingerers aren”€™t appreciated in the military. The ill were called the “€œsick, lame, and lazy”€ who were “€œon the biff.”€ Commanders asked to see “€œbiff chits”€ for soldiers trying to get out of physical work. PTSD was the ultimate get-out-of-jail card. After seeing the head doctor, nobody could touch you.

Not knowing what PTSD actually was, some wanted PTSD on their medical records so they could get out of the war. They”€™d yo-yo in and out of the medical center and were called “€œwretches.”€ They were not missed when they left the army. Some loved the job so much they avoided doctors. One of the only times I found myself talking to a doctor was after receiving the anthrax vaccine. I felt fine and went off to lead an eight-mile loaded march. After two miles I fell over. The flu-like symptoms they had warned of hit me like a truck. I was bedded down for a few days, after which I got on the plane to Iraq.

Being mortared is frightening. The enemy knows where you are but you can’t see them to fire back. They rain metal bombs on you. Some of us didn”€™t mind this after a bit. It happened so much it got boring. Some would treat the attacks as cigarette breaks. They”€™d sit with Iraqis working for us and chat in broken English about Manchester United.

“€œI count myself lucky. I left with all my limbs and no nightmares.”€

I miss it; I believe every soldier does. There’s something beautiful about soldiering, something you can fall desperately in love with. It’s a feeling you get. The last time I felt it, I was flying low in a helicopter over the Iraqi desert at night with a rifle in my hand. The warm air around us filled with fumes from the fuel. The rotor’s hypnotic hum was broken with radio squelches and laughing soldiers whose eyes and teeth caught the little light there was. You feel something there, and nothing compares to it ever again.

Five percent of British soldiers who served in Iraq suffered with PTSD, compared to twenty percent of the Americans who had longer tours of duty. Where we had six months they had up to fifteen. It’s hard to see soldiers break down. I only saw it once. The one soldier who I know suffered started being affected after intensive bombing.

When this soldier suffered, some idiots called him a coward. He was sent home and soon after left the military. He missed it so much he tried to get back in. He was told he”€™d have to be clear of PTSD before he got back in, so he’s going to do just that. He’s no coward.


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