Their Hope Is That Their Experiences Will Help Soldiers To Heal

March 10, 2009

In the military, a General is consider a strong and stoic leader. They lead their Soldiers with a firm hand, most lead by example. The decisions that they make can affect the thousands of Troops in their command. They don’t achieve their rank by mistake, but instead by their actions both on and off the battlefield. They command respect from the Soldiers that they lead and their very presence can make the lowest rank Soldier shake in their boots. They are expected to be in charge, firmly making sound decisions without hesitation, with the hope that the decisions they make is the correct one. They serve as an example of what a Soldier should be, and they definately don’t talk about their feelings. Especially when doing so might make them appear to be weak.

General Carter Ham

Brig. General Gary S. Patton

Recently, two Generals opened up on national television and talked about their feelings, talked about the problems the faced in dealing with PTSD. Their hopes are that by doing so, they can help remove the stigma attached to seeking help for psychological problems. One of the largest hurdles that the military faces in dealing with Troops returning from combat, suffering from PTSD, is the social stigma that has always been placed on people who sought help with mental health problems. For military officers, that stigma is even more pronounced, as they’re looked upon as leaders.

Brigadier General Gary S. Patton and General Carter Ham, both have sought counseling to help them deal with their PTSD and they’ve stepped forward, to tell their stories and hopefully show the thousands of servicemembers serving, that it’s okay to ask for help. The emotional traumas that each man suffered from their time in Iraq, was more than what they could deal with by themselves, and they both readily admit that they sought help in dealing with these issues.

“One of our Soldiers in that unit, Spec. Robert Unruh, took a gunshot wound to the torso. I was involved in medevacing him off the battlefield. And in a short period of time, he died before my eyes,” Brig. Gen. Patton told a CNN reporter. “That’s a memory that will stay with me the rest of my life.”1

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General Ham was a commander in Mosul in 2004 and also dealt with a traumatic incident that haunts him even today. He was in Mosul when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb inside a mess tent. That incident resulted in the deaths of 22 people.

“The 21st of December 2004, worst day of my life. Ever,” Ham said. “To this day I still ask myself what should I have done differently, what could I have done as the commander responsible that would have perhaps saved the lives of those Soldiers, Sailors, civilians.”2

Even though both of them have been back from Iraq for several years now, they are both still dealing with some of the symptoms of the traumatic events that they witnessed. Both recognized that they were having problems and both sought help. Their hope is that by going public with their experiences, that others who are suffering from PTSD will realize that it’s okay to ask for help and seek it.

“I felt like that what I was doing was not important because I had Soldiers who were killed and a mission that had not yet been accomplished,” Ham said. “It took a very amazingly supportive wife and in my case a great chaplain to kind of help me work my way through that.”3

Immediately after returning from Iraq, Ham and his wife made the drive from Washington State of Washington DC. There was little conversation in the vehicle during that cross country drive. He didn’t talk about what he experienced and he still can’t talk to his wife about much of what he saw in Iraq. For Patton, it was a bit different. The stress of what he experienced usually came to him in the middle of the night.

“I’ve had sleep interruptions from loud noises. Of course there’s no IEDs or rockets going off in my bedroom, but the brain has a funny way of remembering those things,” Patton said. “Not only recreating the exact sound, but also the smell of the battlefield and the metallic taste you get in your mouth when you have that same incident on the battlefield.”4

While vast improvements have been made in the military when it comes to seeking mental health help and the military is working overtime to erase the stigma that goes along with it. Both Patton and Ham say that there is still a stigma attached when you admit to and seek help for mental health problems. That stigma has been in place for many years and it’s going to take a lot of hard work and people such as Ham and Patton stepping forward, to erase it completely from the military mindset.

“If you go ask for help, somehow you believe it or you might believe others think it of you, that you’re somehow weak. That’s wrong and intellectually we all know it’s wrong, but it’s still there. It’s still palpable in some communities,” Ham said.5

Both Generals would like to see a change in how PTSD is viewed by the military. Both have hopes that by talking publically about their experiences and battles with PTSD, that others will see that it’s okay to ask for help. Both emphasize how counseling helped them, and want other service men and women to know that it’s okay to come forward to seek help. That it’s the right thing to do and it will help them to be better Soldiers in the long run.

“We need all our Soldiers and leaders to approach mental health like we do physical health. No one would ever question or ever even hesitate in seeking a physician to take care of their broken limb or gunshot wound or shrapnel or something of that order. You know, we need to take the same approach towards mental health,” Patton said. “Know absolutely that your chain of command and your leadership in the military at our highest levels recognize this issue and want to encourage our Soldiers to seek out that mental health assistance.”

General Ham agreed, saying, “I think, frankly, I think I’m a better general because I got some help.”6

It’s fantastic that General Ham and Brig. General Patton are so willing to speak out about their experiences with PTSD and are able to acknowledge that they sought help to deal with the trauma. PTSD is not an easy thing to speak about, especially for someone in their position. To do so, both General Ham and Brig. General are doing what Generals are supposed to do, lead by example. So often, Soldiers look upon their leaders as unyielding and unbending icons of power that nothing whatsoever will shake. This allows them to appear more human to those under them and also shows that seeking help does not mean the end to ones’ career in the military. I think that by allowing their stories to be told in the media, General Ham and Brig. General Patton have shown Soldiers at all levels that they too are human and experience the same effects from traumatic events that everyone else does. Hopefully, by leading by example, they will be able to help change the climate in the military, to one that is more accepting of people seeking mental health assistance. I applaud both General Ham and Brig. Gen. Patton for their courage in allowing their stories to be told publically, in order to help the thousands of men and women serving in the military, who also suffer from PTSD.

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2 Responses to “Their Hope Is That Their Experiences Will Help Soldiers To Heal”

  1. Pages tagged "palpable" on March 11th, 2009 9:47 pm

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  2. Sgt, C.H. Brown on March 13th, 2009 7:32 pm

    That is good that General Ham and Brig. General Patton was able to get help, but remember they are Generals and will get the help that they need anytime.

    Ask your-self this, have they wretten too any of their men/women and explane how and where they got help and tell their men/women where that golden egg is?

    Yes Generals are the top of the crop, but whey are they sending men/women back into combat after the medical staff has made them unfit for duity? I have seen four cases like that here in Philadelphia, PA., and would like too know if any-one else has seen this in their area?

    I am a service officer and see a lot of soldiers come back with PTSD/TBI. This is a mean condiction and needs a lot of work, so if the commanders can get help and remain on actived duty, why can’t they pass this on too the new commanders that is taking there post?
    Generals if you have any Ideas about helping please pass it on.

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