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Dear FRONTLINE,

Both 'A Company of Soldiers' and this week's show, 'A Soldiers Heart' were fantastic. As an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve, I took a company of engineers to Kuwait then on into Iraq on the heals of the 1st Marine Division in March 2003. Unfortunately, I had (2) Marines drown while attempting to cross a canal to recon the opposite side. They were our only casualties and their loss will never be forgotten.

When we returned to Kuwait in mid-May in preparation for redeployment to the States, we went through a process that they called 'decompression'. Our Navy chaplains did a great job talking us back into what we were potentially going to feel and experience back home. These group sessions were basically 'check your rank at the door' sessions where all could share their thoughts and feelings. This was truly out of the norm for Marines but I was impressed with the effort put forth by our superiors in recognizing that some of us were going to have issues.

I recall filling out the mental health / physical health screening forms in Kuwait. I thought that the whole process was very relaxed, non-threatening and very positive and professional. In watching the show, I recalled filling out the form and related that to my wife. I told her that my concern at the time was for the head injury that I'd received in a non-combat related HMMWV accident in April. I discussed this w/ a doctor there and he assured me that I could get assistance either in California or through the VA if I had any problems.

When we returned to California to out process and prepare to return home, we had several more decompression sessions that I felt were very productive. However, after a week of being at Camp Pendleton, we were all ready to get back to our loved ones. Upon returning to the cheers and banners of homecoming things went well for most of the 165 Marines that I took over to Iraq. However, I had some Marines that didn't adjust well. One started boozing pretty hard and we were able to get him into rehab via the Navy at Great Lakes in Chicago. Once back home, we coordinated w/ the local mental health professionalís organization and had even more decompression sessions at the reserve center.

That November, we were informed that we were tagged to return to Iraq. Since my 2 years as commander were almost up, it was my executive officer's time to take command and lead them back to Iraq. They departed for Kuwait/Iraq last August and just recently returned to the States. This time, they had combat related casualties. Two bulldozer operators died when their dozer rolled into the Tigris River. A suicide car bomber attacked one of their trucks in a convoy. Six Marines were injured. Four of these ended up at Brook Army Med Center in San Antonio. (I was able to visit the remaining Marine last weekend in conjunction w/ reserve duty in Texas).

These Marines are going to be coming home possibly this weekend. I've already offered my video taped copy of your show to help them in their decompression sessions. For most of them, this will be their second homecoming from Iraq. They've done a great job serving their country; I hope that this is their last homecoming from Iraq.

Mike McCarthy
Morton, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE,

On last night I watched this program, like so many other war documentaries. However I was not aware how different this one would be.

Thank you for making our society knowledgeable of what happens to our young men and women that give their lives to protect ours. I have a friend that is in the Army and now I understand why he does or say some of things he does. He is now doing another tour in Iraq and only God knows how deep the scars are now.

Slidell, LA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I just watched the most important show that PBS has ever aired. 'the soldier's heart' Thank you!

Two years ago, I met a veteran at college who had served in the U.S. Army, he served in Haiti and Panama. He was struggling with alcohol abuse and obviously isolated and falling deeper into the hole that the military has been burying veterans in for decades. Was there a lot of drinking? You know it. Was there loss of every relationship he ever attempted? YES! Was there anyone taking care of his problem at the VA? no...and one of the reasons was shown on tonights broadcaste...military personnel can't and won't exhibit a weakness, so they lie when anyone asks them,"Are you ok?"

I figured out what his problem was after a few months. ...

For some reason known only to God, he connected with me and we started to talk.

When I was sure that he had PTSD, I got on line and tried to find out all that I could. I found a Vietnam Veteran that had written a book about PTSD. I e-mailed him to ask for advice. I told him about my friend and he told me then that what I had been doing was what needed doing. Talking, hanging out almost every day, not pushing him into where he didn't want to go. I had encouraged him to go to the VA to get help and he started the meds for it. The Author then assured me that everything that could be done for my friend was being done and for me to keep doing it.

One night a call came from my friend. There had been a death in his extended family. He was devistated. I and my daughter went right over to his house and sat with him. After that, whenever he felt paranoid or restless, we would go over and keep him company. He also started calling his problem PTSD.

Two years ago, my friend had been staring at a wall. When I heard the Marine on tonights PBS show say that sometimes he would just sit and stare at a wall and that he wished he would die soon, his words came out of my TV and slapped my face. My friend must have been thinking that when I saw him staring at the school building wall. Was my friend near the end of his rope then?

I will ask him the next time I am sitting in his livingroom and we get on the subject. You see, he is now my best buddy and he will answer me truthfully...because he trusts me. And that is essential to those who SUFFER with PTSD. Trust is what a Soldier, Marine, Airman or Sailor will respond to best.

They also will not just step forward and say that he or she has a problem...you have to notice that they have a problem and never let them feel that they are alone in their "hell". Tell them that they are loved.Tell them a million times if you have to. Tell them that you will be there for them day or night, But never, and I can not say this strong enough, never let them feel alone.

I keep telling him that when the men and women come home from Afghanistan and Iraq, they will need other Veterans like him to talk to. Veterans that will teach them that it's okay to ask for help

Get informed America! We all have to deal with PTSD. It's our duty to know what it is and to help the Veterans and their family's live with it. I applaud PBS's point blank look at PTSD.

Dee Thompson
Olympia, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am grateful for your show this evening, "A SOLDIER'S HEART" (which, by the way was a perfect title!) I have seen many people suffer deeply from SPTSD, which also affects the whole family and community of the person who is able to return home.

My own father came home in a straight jacket and to this day has nightmares and other prolelms. He dissappeared when I was an infant. We never heard from him for 25 years. There is so much denial and ignorance about the far reaching devastation of war. I see a great deal of secrecy and media-mind cotrol to convince us that, all the killing, torture and suffering (of over 100,000 innocent humans now-Americans & Iraqi's etc) is somehow OK. It's not. To be truly patriotic is to find the truth, admit the mistakes and right the wrongs. To truly support our "troops", our young men and women overseas-- is to bring them home to their families,where they belong and supply us with decent jobs, education and healthcare (instead of spending billions of our tax dollars on insane war).

We need more news like Frontline, to get to the truth and begin to protect rather than destroy humanity. Thanks again, for your intelligent and wise work.

Colleen Peterson
Eugene, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

I'd first like to offer my congratulations on a fine program. This one "A Soldier's Heart" was excellent, and very moving

. I never served in combat, but experienced a mental breakdown due to stress at the school I was in during my brief Navy career. The stigma one faces in the military due to a breakdown or PTSD, is one of the dirty secrets of the military. It follows you from duty station to duty station. Any requests for help is rediculed or ignored, until things reach a breaking point,and when it does then help is provided but by that time the military decides its in their best interest to discharge that individual, and like a defective cog in the miltary machine that person is discarded. Now we see budget cuts looming for the VA, how are they going to be able to deal with the coming wave of Veterans returning from Iraq? Is this how we pay them back for their service?

Christopher Reichl
Appleton, Wisconsin

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your story tonight was gut wrenching. I am a civilian and have no experience with combat. I am in fact opposed to the war, all war actually. But I am a person who practices compassions, and I have nothing for respect for the brave Vets who serve in the military and for the individuals who spoke out about PTSD on you broadcast.

The stigma of physiological treatment and healing is one I will never quite understand but itís here, not just in the military but in civilian society as well. We see it everyday on television; there are barely any PSAís for mental health (I canít remember the last time I saw one) but plenty of ads for antidepressants. Drug them, but by gosh donít talk to them!

The question is why needing help is so feared in our society. Why do we single out others as weak, lazy, or crazy if they need it? Why do we choose exclusion rather than inclusion? These are mad times we are all living in. Now more than ever we need a radical shift in perception. The tipping point is going to come and my hope is that it tips to a more peaceful, loving global community where basic rights and needs are met with compassion.

But for now need to take care of the Veterans.

Michelle Grant-Neese
Albuquerque, NM

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your Frontline story,"The Soldiers Heart", is an excellent piece of journalism!As a FMF Combat Corpsmen who served in Viet Nam, I wish to thank you for educating the public about PTSD.I suffer from PTSD ...it took me 35 years,4 marriages,and many other tragic events to finally get the help I needed.I hope that our troops returning from Iraq,& Afganistan get the treatment they will need to survive "back here in the World"....otherwise, they will suffer needlessly and in many cases, being misunderstood, will die for lack of proper care.

I still" fight the war "everyday and it is only thru consouling & support groups -offered by the VA- that I am able to survive, & live a half way peaceful life.I would like to leave you with two qoutes on war;Gen. Robert E. Lee(1865) said, " It is good that war is so terrible, less we become fond of it"...and finally, the one that really states the reality of it all..."Only the dead have seen the end of war"(Plato)

Hm2 "Doc" Hawkins; H-2/26;Nam 67-68

Larry Hawkins
Jacksonville, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for the powerful message in A Soldier's Heart. As a wife of a Vietnam Veteran (that thankfully got help) and a trauma therapist, the courage of Jonathan Shay and the other professionals to speak the truth was so helpful. I am glad to see that some of the soldiers have the great support of those trained to deal with this issue.

This is a must see for every family member of a veteran...and this begins in Basic Training, even if they never see war. The training is STILL there.

Excellent job...thank you.

Melissa Bradley
Brentwood, TN

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched your show tonight and I must say it was very informative. My son is in the US ARMY and is now serving in his second tour in Iraq. I did notice how he had changed when he came back the 1st time.he is in the 3rd infantry 1st brg. They were the ones who arrived 1st into Iraq.

Something that struck a note with me was the mother of that young marine had said. It was when her son put the earphones on a walk so she could hear a song. Not understanding this song I took him to a rock concert when he returned the 1st time. That group was there. To my surprize he became angry over it. He didnt want to listen to it and he meant it.

Those young men and woman have done so much for Iraq and democracy every where they should be proud. He also wouldnt talk about any of it. But when he was goeing back for the 2nd time he did. Not only shocking to hear but I could tell he needed to. When he was actuaqlly getting on a bus to leave for the airport with no more calls to make...Ill bet he called me 5 times in an hour. Your show granted to me some understanding into my son's heart.

Sheryl
Oak Grove, Mo

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for your broadcast. My Son returned from seven months in Iraq. He is only 20 years old but looks and speaks with the voice of a young man who has seen more than I will ever see.

He is a machine gunner, several months into the deployment he watched his best friend get blown to pieces by an IED. My Son tells me he thinks of him each and every day and cannot get the terrible sight of his death out of his head. He is angry, feels betrayed, drinking more than he has ever drank. His Dad and I are concerned, we have shared our concerns with our Son. He does not want to initiate help for himself because of the stigma. Previous to being a Marine he was quite willing to seek counseling for teenage issues that overwelmed him. My heart breaks for the family on your show this evening who lost their Son to suicide. The mental health of these men and women will need to be addressed, they are the future of our country.

I could go on and on but quite frankly I feel exhusted after watching your well done program.

Thank you on behalf of Moms of Veterans

Richmond, Vermont

Dear FRONTLINE,

as a vietnam combat vet who suffers from ptsd and other injuriesI can assure you that after reading on line "the soldiers heart" I have ordered the dvd for viewing since I missed it.If the dvd is anything like the comments I've read, then i await with baited breath to view it

.I can assure you that ptsd is something that does not go away, it in away get's managed w/alot of effort! To the people now coming back, "don't be asshamed to ask for help!! It took me over 20yr's to find out what was eating me up inside. I tell close people that I am similiar to the movie or the book,"Dorian Gray", that's me.

gerry yerves
freehold, nj

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you so much for your piece on 'The Soldier's Heart.' I only wish that it was mandatory to watch for all deploying & returning Service Members regardless of Branch.

My sister committed suicide after returning from her deployment at the end of '06 (and this compelling piece was released in MAR05). While I am Active Duty Army as well and also have two deployments completed in Iraq I KNOW that the message of getting mental help isn't finding its way to soldiers regardless of what DoD/DA says.

Plus, the soldiers that do manage to find the courage and go in for help are not receiving quality or even pertinent care. This is b/c my sister went in for mental help at my family's urging. The help she received was that effectively she was grounded from doing a job that she loved and she was assigned to a third consecutive overseas tour on top of her previous deployments & overseas assignments due to the needs of the Army.

While I would like to think the recent Walter Reed exposure of poor conditions will be enough to reform the care for veterans I doubt that this alone will ensure change, esp. in the mental health arena. It is up to Americans instead urging their Congressional Representation to support future military veteran bills on mental health & care to bring about change. Until then I will continue to serve and look out for my fellow soldiers as much as I can and hope that change comes soon now .

Heidelberg, Germany

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you, thank you, thank you for turning a lantern toward this issue.

My family and I sat there completely transfixed and I have explored the site to great depth. I personally needed the encouragement that I'm on the right yellow brick road because I'm an 'older person' who is now a full time student obtaining a degree so I can "Help" excactly in this area of PTSD and our Veterans and their families.

I'm reassured that my efforts are not in vain and I pray that I can help if only One. It's the least I can do for what they have sacrificially done/are doing for our country. I hope you have follow-up series in the works because I noticed that the interviews were taken in 2004. It would be great to see how far things have changed since then.

Belleville, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

This story really hit home! My fiance was a marine and had dealt with depression while he was active duty. Even though he did not serve during a time of war he was treated the exact same way these men were in your story.

I think it is terrible that our military is geared this way to treat the marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen in such a way. These men and women volunteered so I would never believe that it is out of cowardice that they have become depressed or have PTSD. These men and women are heros and need to be treated as such for defending our freedom and our country.

Fredericksburg, VA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Iwould like to respond, if I may, to Mr. Graff from Tennessee. He comments that "when you speak of the soldier's heart you are speaking about patriotism, duty and honor. The soldier's heart is about the gut feeling many young men and women have about service to their country, not the pain of dealing with the tragedy of war."

The struggles,the fear, the pain these soldiers go through, and the fact that they are reaching out for help, does not deny their sense of patrtiotism, duty and honor. There is no dichotomy here.It is all part of the soldier's heart.It takes true valor to acknowledge one's distress and to seek help.

Clara Coen
Chicago, IL

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posted march 1, 2006

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