American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

Our Warriors Today and “Combat Trauma”

In talking about Combat Trauma, one would be remiss if the caliber of our young warriors were not observed. What might a baseline reveal regarding the physical, mental & spiritual epicenter of this all-volunteer force? Who better to articulate the pulse of our young soldier than Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (Ret.), during his presentation on Veterans Day 2009.

In the Armed Forces the average age of today’s young Americans serving in uniform is 20 and a half years of age; making them about ten months older than their grandfather who would have served in my war. They are high school graduates; are all volunteers; they are brighter and better educated and trained to lead than any soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen, or marines of any other country in history.

They go to work wearing an eight-pound Kevlar helmet, a forty-five pound flack jacket, a sixty-five plus pound backpack, and today in Erbil, Iraq it was 112 degrees; and they’ll walk up those hills and down the other side without complaining.

They have been taught chemistry, physics, avionics, ballistics, and electronics, to operate and maintain the most sophisticated weapons and equipment ever designed by the hands and minds of man.

Today’s warrior can use his body like a weapon and his weapon as a part of his body, and he can take a life or save one because he is so remarkably trained. The images of today’s warriors going to inner Faith Services and/or Bible studies are not staged — they’re all real and initiated by these young warriors. When they huddle up in prayer circles before deploying on a mission they’re not preparing to go to play football, they’re going into mortal combat and they know that some of them are libel not to come back — and they do it because they have faith.

These same young men and women who wouldn’t share anything with their siblings while growing up now give their last drink of water to a wounded comrade, knowing they’re likely to have nothing themselves for the next day; sharing their only rations with a young Iraqi or Afghanistan child or half his ammunition with a fellow warrior.

These are the warriors of today. Many do not understand our elite young defenders or their passion to serve others who desire the same freedoms and liberties our forefathers so graciously entrusted to us.

Let us observe the statistical data from previous wars:

The average combatant during WWII saw approximately 40 days of actual combat.

In Korea, the average was approximately 180 days, but this is difficult to verify.

In Vietnam we saw an average of approximately 240 days of combat per tour. Most of us did one tour; some two, and very rarely three.

Now research is revealing that our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are experiencing over 310 days of combat ( “Day of Combat” is a day that you don’t know if you will live or die that day).

The various military branches have established specific informational guidelines to provide as a form of assistance for our returning vets. During this time service members often describe a wide range of emotions from excitement and relief to stress and tension. All these emotions are a normal part of a healthy transition from a war zone to that of the real world. However, many begin to distance themselves from others, showing disinterest, impatience, and being overly critical with others.

Nothing compares to the adrenalin experienced during deployment, the urgency of the mission and the survival of your team as well as yourself. These deployments or missions expose you and your team to stressful / life threatening situations (which most back home don’t understand). It’s during these situations you may have been shot at or seen death or injury to enemy combatants, civilians, or your own personnel. No amount of training truly prepares you to experience hot munitions invading your space and those around you the first time. How can you establish a “psychological normalcy” within this environment?

Figures from the US Army “Combat Experiences” (2003-2006):

  Afghanistan Iraq
Being attacked or ambushed 58% 89%
Receiving incoming fire 84% 86%
Being shot at 66% 93%
Seeing bodies or remains 39% 95%
Knowing someone seriously injured or killed 43% 85%

Needless to say everyone responds to these traumatic situations differently. Some report feeling upset, “keyed up”, or “stressed.” Continued recall about such events, as is experienced through what is known as “triggers”, are most common and need to be addressed.

The reality is that 40% of our returning veterans are having problems adjusting to their home environments, be it through depression, anger or aggressive behavior, self-blame, guilt, shame, self-medication with alcohol and/or drugs, or even suicidal thoughts. In addition to full-time military personnel, these “invisible injuries of war” also confront our local law enforcement, fire, and rescue personnel who experience similar stressors while protecting our communities.

These stress reactions can and will persist if some intervention is not taken. The continued struggles and ghostly memories of past events invade every area of life. Our relationship with family and friends will be strained, affecting the ability to function.

These are some of the complexities of “Combat Trauma”, however, there is a hidden casualty not seen in our Nation’s conflicts — our National Guardsmen. During the Middle East conflict the Guardsmen and women have seen more combat than they had previously during any other war. Of the 1.6 million warriors deployed during this battle more National Guard have served multiple tours than the “regular” armed forces personnel. These individuals have the additional stress of leaving their loved ones and careers for months or longer; not to mention that some of our guardsmen never truly experience acceptance from the “regular” Armed Forces because of the stigma of being “Weekend warriors.”

Never forget those in our Armed Forces, law enforcement, fire, and rescue who are involved in our National Defense. Think of the fearless men and women who put on the uniform daily to make freedom possible.

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