When the First Sergeant for the Mental Health Advisory Team asked me if I thought we were doing a good job, I told him I didn't think we were being creative.
The only thing I want everyone to understand about all these stories, is that you don't have to suffer anymore. Yes, the VA wants to help. It's not the same as how we were treated while we were in. Anyone prescribed Motrin while in the military knows what I mean. The medics used to pass it out like candy.
For me the hardest part about being through a war, is the living that comes along afterwards. I had a recurring dream in Iraq about being shot in the chest for about a week. I knew I was going to die over there. I don't know what happened to change that fact. Or maybe I do. I had a purpose.
I've been feeling like the walking dead for a long time now. I hope, I can begin to live again, now that I want to believe I actually made a difference. My grandfather was an alcoholic and I know he was almost killed by a grenade attack in Guyana when my father was a small boy. I know the suffering he must have endured. I was the guy everyone came to when they couldn't deal with it anymore. I only wish someone could have been there for my grandfather. Then maybe I could have more than those, few memories.
SSG Pogany once sent me a picture of a soldier taking care of his 2'X 3' patch of Bermuda grass in the middle of Iraq. The medics of 1-22 4th ID had roses around their aid station in Tikrit. We all had to find something positive that made us feel better.
Now that you are back home, yes, you've gotta get a hobby, get off of the couch, learn a new language, get some jet skis, use that GI Bill, become a big brother or big sister, get that truck you always wanted, get a good feeling job, invest time and energy into something that brings a smile to your face. Because, it is better than sitting around wishing it were you and not the other guy. No, you don't have to die in a war to give your family everything they need. (I'm speaking of the life insurance benefits.) You can do it alive, and be there to enjoy it with them. Now go out there and do something positive for someone.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
The writer, who appeared in FRONTLINE's documentary, "The Soldiers Heart," was part of a new military initiative called combat stress control teams -- groups of mental health specialists deployed on the frontlines alongside the fighting forces in Iraq.
The program "The Soldier's Heart" was extremely thought-provoking and informative. It was very difficult for me to watch because my son was in Iraq for a year and has returned to the states quite different than when he left.
I'm writing this message as a form of therapy for myself, with tears flowing because this whole ordeal has been a 'privately painful' experience for me as his mother, and I don't know how to reach him. Everyone thinks I'm so strong, and I'm basically a rather positive person, but this situation with my son sometimes makes me feel like my heart is breaking in two. Thanks for the prayers of family, friends and church associates - I have to believe that my son is going to be okay.
Also, the program on PBS made me aware of counseling resources that are available to our returning soldiers.
Thank you for this broadcast. You are helping to educate society about the longlasting effects of war.
In May 2004, I lost my husband Jeff to suicide, only 39 days after he returned from Iraq. He suffered emotionally from this war and was not able to come out of it. He was ashamed of the feelings he had. We didn't know where to turn. It's a shame that the system that he believed in so much seemed to let him down in the end.
Soldiers and their support systems (families, friends,etc.) must be educated about the need to talk and to get help to heal from the experiences of war.
Thank you again for your enlightening broadcast.
The piece, “A Soldier’s Heart”, was excellent. Having served in Viet Nam with the 1st Marine Division, an epiphany of clarity emerged with every passing minute of the program. I recalled my seven years of nightly sweats, after returning home; my alcoholic stupors for a number of years, and my need to drown out and somehow sublimate, and detach from those memories of what occurred so many years ago.
The person that returned from Viet Nam was not the individual who had enlisted two years earlier. My parents noticed the change; my wife noticed the change, and the unfortunate consequence is that my children, now grown, never had the opportunity to ever discover the person their father was, before his tour of duty. That is the tragedy of war in the modern era. A part of me, my naiveté and wholesome goodness, was left in the hills surrounding LZ Ross, where I was stationed.
So now, some thirty five years after returning, it appears that what I had thought, and summarily dismissed, is, in actuality, the cross that has been carried all these years. A portion of that cross has been laid down, as I have a better understanding of myself, and I now must try to make up for the lost time and opportunities and heal those hurts that were caused by me to my family, and pray that somehow they understand.
It's been 35 years since I returned from Nam. I was lucky, in a way. I returned with all my body parts. But, my soul was badly damaged. The only person in my family who understood was my step-father (WWII Vet). Had it not been for him I would of shattered into a million pieces.
Your story "A Soldiers Heart" is on the mark. To borrow Bogart's line..."Play it again, Sam."
Keystone Heights, Fl
Frontline, your reporting staff is absolutely awesome. "A Soldier's Heart" was a very close look at the terrible price we ask our service members to pay. Having served in the the Army as an Infantry/Operations noncommissioned solider for 21 years I do believe the Uniformed Services are just now starting to wake up with regard to how we treat our service members after they return from an area of combat operations. Continue your work, you are truly the only production staff in the free world in addition to "Now" that delivers a message and news worthy topics that people can trust. Bravo!
It was amazing watching "A Soldier's Heart" as I have a good friend who returned from Iraq in 2003 and is experiencing the same exact emotions as a few of the soldiers who were interviewed.
I suspected something was not right and I've tried to speak with him about it but he hasn't been very willing to discuss as he is the type of guy who doesn't want to admit anything is wrong. I thank God for your program as I WILL do everything in my power to get my friend the help he needs and deserves. Your program may have saved a life tonight and I really appreciate Frontline and PBS for their timely and helpful programming!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!
WEST CHESTER, PA
"As soon as I saw him I knew that he was different." That's what my father, a WWII airman, said about his brother, a WWII infantryman, who at the age of 21 fought in the Battle of the Bulge. That brother died at age 52 after years of abusing pain-killers and alcohol. My father, now 85, experiences war related nightmares nearly every night.
When will we start counting every soldier, all their family, and the civilians who live in the battle zones as casualties of war? Perhaps when we do, we might try harder at keeping the peace rather than starting the war.
Cold Spring, Ky.
Thanks to Frontline for another outstanding report. "A Soldier's Heart" should be understood in the light of another revealing Frontline report, "Rumfelds War". The repeated recalls of Reservists and National Guardsmen(&women) to combat in Iraq is a form of "back-door draft", and only serves to highlight the inadequate preparation and mis-
management of the Iraq war.
As a former Marine Corps Reservist, I can well appeciate the feelings of Reservists looking forward to being recalled 2 or 3 times to active duty in Iraq over the course of a single enlistment.
New York, NY
I am glad I taped your program "The Soldiers Heart". It may help to let others see it to get more understanding about what is facing the troops upon return. I hope to show the video locally to my community if I can find someone who is not too repressed and incapable of looking at the issue.
My brother committed suicide. He was not in the military. He had some of the same I call unrealistic expectations of being "manly" and not admitting his range of feelings. I feel it is a problem in society to practice so much denial. The military fosters it and makes it worse.
As a Vietnam Vet I can attest to the lasting effect of War. These men and women are in for the long haul of conflicting emotional changes. Hopefully the Combat Stress Team early intervention will help many. I do question the return to battle as soon as possible. This seems like a expedient military decision rather than a real concern for the troops mental health.
I respect and support the men and women in uniform.
Thank you so much for the coverage on this subject.My Marine son will be returning home from Iraq soon and I have been thinking alot about how I should be doing research to help him as best I can.
The entire family will benefit from the very informative coverage you have provided.I always wonder how has this changed him? Soon I will know.
We are so proud of him and of all our military personnel. They do what they do for ALL of us.
Another powerful, heart tugging program by Frontline.
What these soldiers are going through....I can't fathom. And to think.....there are even more stories out there. My heart aches for them and their families.
This was a tremendous program. My heart goes out to these soldiers. They are asked to do a job against enormous odds and we should provide a commitment for their safe return and peace of mind. The mental health community has the research and services that can help soldiers and their families. It is a tragedy if we are not providing such care.
Thank you to the families that participated in this program and thank you to all of our soldiers, on and off the battlefield.
After watching "The Soldier's Heart" Veteran's Day and Memorial Day will never again be just another day off.
I've always had great respect for those who serve in the military but your program brought home the toll war takes on these people. I'm even more outraged that they are so grossly underpaid on duty and under-compensated when they are injured physically or emotionally. If they were paid financially for their sacrifice, bureaucrats would treat them the way professional sports teams treat their megabucks superstars. "Lets take a chance" wars would be way too expensive. Thankyou