August 6, 2010
We have a #SOT (Support Our Troops) effort going on today to get the word out on the two
free ebooks I wrote about combat induced PTSD.
I thought I'd give you a bit of background about how these books came to be
I was a grunt with the 11 Cavalry in VN in 67-68.
We operated in the Iron Triangle, Central I Corps, The Cambodian border , helped retake Bien Hoa in 68 Tet
then the Triangle again
We worked with the 173rd, 25th Inf, 101st, 3rd Marines, Korean Marines, 196th Lt Inf, then with the 101st
again during Tet.
In "When Our Troops Come Home" there's a description of the
first time I got blown up.
This photo was taken after I had been dusted off to the Second Surgical Hosp.
The people I talked with later said it looked like a booby trapped 500 lb bomb we had detonated in a separate
What saved us was that most of the force of the blast exited out the side of the embankment we had just come
During Tet 68 our mission was to retake Bien Hoa. We went in with
the 101st and retook it.
The last time I got blown up was 8 days before I was due to leave country. We got into a fight on our way
out of the Triangle.
I was a track commander on 32. We took a direct hit by an RPG through the front of the track.
The blast blinded my driver and loaded me up with shrapnel.
My driver was incredible. He was seriously wounded but did exactly what I told him on the intercom. Like
we were in the motor pool.
I got my wounded off, picked up another driver and gunner and we went back in. Turned out to be a long day
The Army sent my body back to Oakland in 1968. It took me years to understand that I died
in Viet Nam.
I turned 20 in Jan 68 on the Cambodian border. I came back to the world in March. I was 100 years old.
I learned very quickly never to talk with a civilian about what I had seen, and heard, and smelled, and done
in Viet Nam.
There was no such thing as PTSD in 1968. There were just a bunch of crazy, whacked, dope smokin' vets coming
back. All the papers said so.
So I sucked it up. Got married. Eventually started a company at 23. Made it work. Looked "successful" to
I had an edge. I didn't sleep more than 3-4 hours. I filled my business life with frenetic activity so I
didn't have time to "think".
I remember driving alone from Salem to Portland on I-5 and screaming as loud as I could over and over to
keep the memories away.
I took up distance running thinking that if I ran far enough and fast enough that I wouldn't be able to think
and maybe I could sleep.
I was married to a wonderful woman who did everything in her power to try to understand what was happening.
I wouldn't tell her anything.
I'd wake up screaming in a cold sweat. All I ever said was it was a bad dream.
Then I would get dressed for the office and leave for the day. It was usually about 0430.
I'd drink coffee and have breakfast at an all night restaurant. I read a lot: Ed Abbey, Alan Watts, DT Suzuki,
others. Many others.
By 1977 or so I felt like my chest was going to explode all the time. I couldn't run far enough or long enough
to keep that gripping fist feeling out of my chest. I went to my doc. He looked for symptoms.
I never said anything about being Viet Nam. My doc was a civilian.
By 1980 it was very clear to me that something had to change. The choices I had were insanity or suicide.
For some reason I began to write
At first it was poetry of a kind. Short, abrupt blasts of thought put to paper. Then a paragraph and a page.
I found that I could get some relief from the grip on my chest if I sat and wrote something so, I kept writing
- for three years.
During that time I began to do business with clients in Anchorage, Alaska. And I wrote. But there was no
let up in the constant chest grip
On a trip to Anchorage I heard a radio blurb about something called a Viet Nam Veterans Outreach Center that
I took a chance. I kept a copy of my writing with me all the time. I took it with me to the Vet Center.
It was a truly eerie sensation walking through the Vet Center door. I was pin stripe button down for business
all the time. My civy camo
The vet at the desk took a look at me, then my eyes. He said, "Welcome" and got up and walked to an office
in the back.
The guy who came back with him looked like a cowboy, really. He asked me to come on back. His name was Farrell
He was the team leader at the Vet Center. And he really had ben a cowboy in New Mexico before Viet Nam
Farrell was a Marine. He had been a door gunner on a Marine gunship in I Corp. He was the first combat vet
I had met since 1968.
I told him what it felt like in my chest and asked him to take a look at what I had written to see if it
looked like I really was going crazy
He looked at the manuscript for awhile and said that, no I wasn't going crazy, and I had come to the right
I believed him. Being able to look into another person's eyes who knew not only my words, but all the impacted
feelings gave me hope again.
That was in late 1980. At the time the only approach to treatment of PTSD was rap groups.
Vets would meet once a week at the Vet Center and talk and listen and try to help each other with our pain.
For some that brought relief. For me and others it just opened a massively infected wound, and we couldn't
get the feelings to stop.
In mid-1981, after several months of rap groups I went back to the team leader and told him we had to do
We talked for awhile and decided that we would co-facilitate a combat debriefing group.
The purpose of the group was not going to be just to talk about what happened, but to find a way to bring
some closure to our experience.
We had no idea how we were going to do it, but we did know that it had to be done.
Fareel went through his client list and identified the most serious PTSD cases he was working with. There
were 20 of us.
We put out the word that we were going to have a combat debriefing group, and what the intention was. There
were 17 of us that formed that group. These were some hard core folks.
If I recall correctly in that group of 17 there were 28 Purple Hearts, 23 Bronze Stars, 4 Silver Stars, and
a Congressional Medal of Honor.
These were folks who had danced with the Banshee.
The first night together everyone gave some background on their trigger time and how their life had been
Basically it sucked to be us.
We all got to look into each others' eyes. At the end of the evening we agreed that we were going to do this
this thing, whatever it was.
Farrell and I covered one wall of the conference room with butcher paper.
Each week when the combat debriefing group met. I would read a short section from (what is now) When Our
Troops Come Home.
Then we would go around and talk about how each of our experience was similar or different from what I had
The stories began to be told. The anguish began to flow. Vets held vets while they wept their rage, and loss,
and guilt for surviving.
We kept a plastic trash can in the center of the circle. Sometimes a vet would need to puke to get through
the rest of his story.
At each session, before we closed, we went through a lessons learned, like an after action report.
We made notes on the butcher paper we had taped to the wall. At first they were just notes about dates and
times and events.
[O]ver the 15 months our combat debriefing group was together we realized that there were patterns in our
There was a timeline from when we arrived in country to the point when we passed through the Acute Trauma
Threshold and became survivors.
We began to create a sort of map of our common experiences. Finally we had a physical diagram of the process
of being traumatized in combat
It was an extraordinary accomplishment for this group of warriors. I was the scribe. I copied down what we
From that diagram we were able to flesh out and describe the process of going from an 18 yr old American
kid to the initiation into the military that is basic training
Then to Viet Nam and the Immersion in Absurdity of combat that nothing could actually prepare us for.
Then there was the one specific event that changed us forever. The day when feelings became more lethal than
a Claymore mine.
That was the day that we turned off all the breakers on all the feeling circuits. From then on "It don't mean
nothin'" We became Survivors
The model that was developed by the group of Viet Nam Veterans in that combat debriefing group is what is
described in the free ebook "Life After Combat"
So that's how it started, not just in our combat group in Anchorage, but all over the country. Vets helping
It's why Viet Nam veterans, and those that lived through those years, are absolutely committed to today's
warriors and their loved ones.
We remember when there was no help. We remember the years of bitter, self-imposed isolation.
We remember the nightmares and the desperate need for the adrenalin fix to confirm that we were still alive.
We remember the utter boredom of being away from combat and the fear of going back in.
This is the difference between veterans and survivors:
There is all the same concern now as there was among my generation about being man enough to take the pain.
How manly do you have to be to take the pain of an impacted tooth before you have a root canal done? A day.
A week. 10 years.
That's the thing about PTSD. It's impacted anguish. It rubs a blister on your soul.
I refused to ask for help for 13 years. Many of my bros have waited longer than that. Some still wait.
Maybe you need to wait because of your career, or your security clearance, or nobody will understand, or
until you get sober, or straight.
We understand that. You can run, but you can't hide from an impacted tooth. Same Same with PTSD
Do what you have to do. But when the time comes know this:
There are thousands of us who understand what you and your loved ones are living through. We will help.
There are now trained counselors both in and out of the military. They will help.
There are resources online, in your local community. Unlike 40 years ago. Help is right here, right now.
By the same code that you live by: "No warrior left behind. Ever. Ever", we are all here. Waiting for you.
It's your choice; it's your turn.
There are new warriors taking the field, filling the ranks every day. They will carry on the fight and the
At some point a warrior must choose to turn from the past and prepare to come back Home.
Of course your guilt comes with you. That's part of the PTSD.
I can tell you from my experience that survivor guilt is also an easy excuse to avoid doing the really difficult
work necessary to recover
Consider this: There is a generation of warriors that we will not allow another generation of warrior to
endure what we endured.
Warriors are recovering and returning to their loved ones every day. Like everything else we do, undertaking
the journey requires a decision
Our mission is simple: Our mission is to Bring Our People Home. You are our mission. Semper Fidelis
Our time is ended. Go in peace.