Inking up the blogosphere. And no, I don't glow in the dark. But thanks for asking.

September 16, 2009

Red Sky In The Morning

It’s been one of the hottest weeks on record here in the Pacific Northwest. The kind of heat that wrings you out and makes it hard to think. 85F by 6am, 108, 110 by midday…it affects the brain. The morning sun has been blood-red for the past few days, and I’ve had several moments where reality has seemed to fold over on itself—it’s the same sun I saw in the summer months in the Persian Gulf. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed between then and now, I’m momentarily back there again in flashes, blinking in and out, the hot wind not helping things. All week I’ve had this feeling of something ominous following me around. Sleep has been elusive, and my dreams have been filled with shipboard disasters and shadowy intruders. I’ve woken up at least once, swinging, absolutely sure there was someone standing over my bed. No bueno.

I think I’m over-receptive to dark news lately. So when I read this story about Sgt. George Nickel (thanks to Blackfive for putting the word out), it really tore me up. Here’s a guy that gave as much as he could be asked to give for his country, and experienced things that most of us should be eternally grateful we will never have to. Back home, he seems to be coping the best he can but unfortunately something in the night got the best of him. Losing track of his dog, Nickel’s reality folded over on itself. This is just my assumption of course, but his dog became a lost guy in his unit, the apartments turned into an unsecured complex. He did what he was trained to do—clear and secure the area, door by door. Because he had a weapon and was using it to shoot out the locks, necessarily the police became involved. And necessarily, they also have a responsibility to neutralize what they perceive as a threatening situation. Thankfully, no one was injured or this would have turned out to be a lot worse than it already is. Nickel is charged with felony counts of aggravated assault and discharge of a gun into an inhabited building, but most stunning and disgusting is Chief of Police Mike Masterson’s comment about the situation: “This is bizarre behavior….I don’t know what would push people to that (level of) of desperation.”

This makes me want to shriek and my head spin around. There’s no logic to what will trigger stress and survival mechanisms in someone who has experienced front-line combat, nor should those reactions ever be judged so publically by someone who has no idea what kind of hell warriors have gone through. It just further illustrates the lack of understanding of what our veterans are going through when they return home. In every war or conflict America has been involved in, returning soldiers are expected to just hang up their guns and go back to ‘normal’ life. Flip the switch. Forget their training. Transitioning from a warrior to a civilian is certainly a process that has to happen, but it can’t be dictated on other people’s terms. And as a nation, we are ignoring opportunities to help people transition, and showing great ignorance about what a huge issue it is. I suppose we’re just quietly hoping someone will invent some kind of pill. Issue solved, right?

My grandfather was in the Army in WWII, but his coping mechanism was to just bury it I suppose. Not once in the 25 years I was alive before he passed away did I hear him speak of his experiences, other than just the fact that he served. I only have a few physical remnants of it: shortly before he died, he was ill and he made a request that I come home on leave from Florida because he wanted to see me in my dress uniform. One of my grandmother’s prized possessions was an intricate lace bedspread that she crocheted during the time he was away—she claimed she nearly went blind making it. And at his funeral, there was a flag draped over his casket. It just makes me incredibly sad.

Sgt. Nickel’s story is just the latest of innumerable cases of vets returning home who need help and support. The trauma will never go away, but can be made manageable I think if every effort is made by family, friends, neighbors, communities and government to both understand what warriors are going through and get them the help they need. Heaping insult upon injury is not the answer.

God bless our warriors at home and abroad, and may He give them peaceful sleep and solace in the night.