Founder, WarRetreat.Org, devoted to helping with the aftermath of war through movement, breathe, and yoga. Army wife, long time mental health advocate, writer, specializing in military and veteran outreach for film and books. Projects include Restrepo, and High Ground.
Years ago. It was a hot summer day, and I ran outside to bring the trash cans in. I didn’t have any shoes on, because I thought it’d be quick. But I was wrong. As though watching for me, a neighbor approached and asked about the war. She, like others, knew my husband was in Afghanistan. It was a difficult time for us, and the thought of danger was always with us.
But her goal wasn’t a conversation. Rather, her plan was to score an ideological point. Every question she asked, underscored her opinion of the fruitlessness of it all.
For those of us with loved ones in the game –war is crap. If you ever want to feel like shit, try dropping your loved off to be deployed. Every time we hear the word “deployment,” we fold a little, but we spring back because we have to. Sure, we’re scared, but we only show it when we’re alone. What helps us through is the closeness of others who have been through the same thing. I know that I can always look to a veteran or their spouse, regardless of their generation, and find support. This is a wonderful thing.
As for her insistence that it was hopeless, fruitless, foolish, or pointless –we don’t think in those terms. This doesn’t make us shortsighted, rather, we see something deeper. A service member’s commitment to serve is one that makes their lives, and all those who they touch, a bit more meaningful.
I felt attacked. A simple act of bringing the trash in resulted in someone fruitlessly trying to trash us, as I stood on the asphalt with bare feet. At the end of her rant, I told her to read the twelve books on Afghanistan that were sitting on my kitchen table. Perhaps under another circumstance, I could have spoken to her about what I think. But someone who takes a low shot at a barefooted person just trying to bring in the trash cans can’t be reasoned with.
Today, it’s been announced that the 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade Team is sending 600 paratroopers to Poland and 3 Baltic Countries. I hope everyone remembers this about Blue Star Families:
A few friends and myself, are having an online fundraiser for Operation Purple Camp. OPC, a program of the National Military Family Association sends military kids to camp, for one week, free of charge in the summer. We hit the $500 mark, and we’d like to get $200 more.
What’s being left out of so many campaigns for veterans, are services for military kids. In one study in California, 70% of high school students who had a deployed parent were doing fine. But 30% were not. And 1 in 4 kids thought of suicide. Secondary PTSD is a very real thing, and we must not forget: kids serve too. Operation Purple Camp gives all kids who have experienced a deployment to come together, and have a great time, with the secure knowledge that others like them have been through some of the same things.
A week of summer camp is the minimal payback we can give. It’s payback for the number of moves they’ve had to make, for doing their best in school when they know Mom or Dad is in danger. It’s what we owe them for taking care of a parent –who might not be the same person they once knew. And it’s our debt to a whole generation of kids for whom war is a personal event. One week of laughing, hiking, running, singing, and being with others who’ve had the same experience is the least we can do.
$2, $5, $10. Whatever you can afford. Please donate by going to our fundraiser: Send Military Kids To Summer Camp. All donations are tax deductible. NMFA is a 501(c)(3).
StoreThe first time I saw Fred Phelps and the Westboro Church was at the end of the Rose Parade. Bringing up the rear, right behind Santa were the sign toters telling us we were all going to hell. Year after year, he and his crew would show up, bringing their particular brand of fear-inducing Christianity to the parade that was otherwise scented with flowers. He knew no boundaries: part firebrand and peacock, he picketed the funeral of Mr. Rogers, as well as service members who died in combat (he had a particular hatred for those in the military).
Last week was Fred’s turn to offer himself to the Lord. What happens there is between him and God. I’ll leave it at that. But here on earth, Fred will be remembered by how much he hated. That’s a pretty lousy legacy to leave, and fools are those who decide to maintain it.
His vitriol to the men and women who served our country, his mockery of their deaths, managed to galvanize parents, sons, daughters, veterans, friends, and total strangers to come together as a community. We witnessed an outpouring of love for families of the fallen, much of this led by the Patriot Guard Riders in towns across America.
We had a chance to show Fred and his ilk that love is stronger and more unifying than hate.
That, my friends, is powerful stuff. Simply put: it’s victory.
Contractors –some veterans, some not, journalists, and their families go through war too. And often,post-combat programs in sports, outdoor recreation, the arts and counseling, are geared solely to veterans.
I’d like to suggest that organizations find a way to non-veterans others into their programs. Whether it’s a private military contractor or a journalist, each needs recovery and restoration from war. This blog was started when we held the first WarRetreat for combat journalists (in Cambridge MA), after Tim Hetherington passed away. And what we read is that journalists might go in and out of war for decades, without having access to mental health services –especially since so many are freelancing now. Similarly, Sebastian Junger found out that journalists don’t have training in first aid –nor are their medics in many of the places they cover. Hence, RISC was born.
While this won’t be popular –especially with those on the left, the staffing of war is complex, and it’s very much related to politics. But I’m asking that organizations find space for contractors who fulfill roles traditionally held by the military, but are now being outsourced. It’s not whether we agree with policies -it’s putting service to others above the politics of war.
Yah, so it’s been awhile. We have no excuses. So sorry. But we have news to post about an upcoming Paradox Sport climb, and we want to comment on the last exit of Canadian troops from AFG. But first….
Yoga teachers post a lot of selfies on Facebook. We see a myriad of photos –from what they’re wearing to class (in case you can’t wait), to proof that they can touch the back of their head to their ass, or lodge their foot in their crotch. But more hilariously are the number of “Likes,” or comments. This validation of the ass to head selfie is either a form of politeness, or truly, yoga is full of narcissists. Or maybe they just need a foot to the crotch. We can only say, “We will file this extraneous information into its proper place.” It must be like an itch. Ommm…. click click click.
So really. Stop it. It just makes you look like this.
“I had 20 years of combat journalism – and no medical experience,” he disclosed to my surprise when I recently followed up with him on the phone for the first time since Hetherington’s heartbreaking death. “Some (of my colleagues) are cavalier, most are fatalists.” -Sebastian Junger, interviewed by Lauren Wissot in“Filmmaker Magazine”
One of the projects sparked by Tim Hetherington’s death in Misrata, is an effort to provide advanced life saving skills to journalists who venture into dangerous conflicts.
RISC is a multi-day course available for free, which takes journalists through scenarios to save the life of their colleagues –and perhaps even themselves. RISC originated in NYC. Another course will be offered in Istanbul. Mike Kamber, a NY Times journalist and a good friend of Tim’s, has hosted the course at the Bronx Documentary Workshop. RISC has expanded to London, and soon, Istanbul.
Wissot asks Sebastian about PTSD, and whether or not RISC addresses this. They did, in London, but with mixed results. Addressing PTSD is not straight forward. First, not everyone develops it. Second, even those who do have it, might not want to be reminded. But, RISC should keep trying because PTSD is like a pernicious weed.
In 2011, WarRetreat sponsored a retreat for combat journalists in Cambridge MA. Led by Dave Emerson, the program offered 2 days of yoga, acupuncture, massage, and talk about how PTSD manifests itself in the body. It was a very much welcome respite for the group, which unfortunately was cut short by Hurricane Irene. Perhaps WarRetreat needs to get back into the business of having our own WarRetreats. Or, perhaps RISC can change things up.
I wonder if RISC would consider it as a transition piece between the end of the class, and going out beyond the doors. Say, 20 minutes. A quick series of gentle yoga movements that call attention to body and breath awareness, while asking them to notice if they’re relaxing or clearing their mind, might be a gentler way to address the effects of trauma on the body. Plus, everyone will feel terrific when they leave. It might keep people open to the idea that PTSD does manifest itself in the body, and there is relief. In addition, if they have a teacher, it needs to be a person who has been through war. There’s just no two ways about. A person like Chris Eder, or Randy Hamlin, are leaps and bounds more accepted in any community that has been through war.
Rivers of Recovery offers fishing trips in communities across the country. Guided by veterans, or supporters, the fishing trips make a huge impact on the lives of everyone who participates. Regardless of physical or emotional challenges, Rivers of Recovery accommodates everyone. A community builds as the hours, days, and weekends go by. Men and women talk about their lives, the find others who understand and profound changes take place. From there, the healing begins, the understanding that there is a tomorrow and they are not alone. Edgar Duffey, in the video below, calls it a game changer in the world of therapy. Movement, Breath, and Community.
“You see your boys in front of you getting engaged. All you could is sit there and watch while your boys get messed up. I have never been so utterly scared in my entire life ever.”-SGT Edgar Duffey, US Army Veteran, speaking for Rivers of Recovery
A note written by Michael Stoltz, executive director of the nonprofit groups Mental Health Association in Suffolk and the Suffolk County United Veterans, pushes back at the incorrect assumption that no one learns to cope and live with PTSD. He writes in Newsday:
“There have been far too many losses of our soldiers by suicide and other causes — even one is too many. But there are also veterans and nonveterans who have courageously found paths of recovery to happy and full lives despite PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
Make no mistake, this journey contains many challenges, and there is no single solution. However, both the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration and the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD note dozens of evidence-based practices and “promising practices” that have helped.” To read more, go to Newsday.
For Valentine’s Day, we asked those who serve veterans after war through innovative programs, “What’s War?”
“What is LOVE?
Love is what I feel when I take a moment to feel my breath and my sensations… to look at a bird or the clouds… to feel the sun on my skin… to smell or taste a warm cup of strong coffee… to notice people around me and to offer a smile… When I take a moment to really pay attention to my internal world and to what is happening around me, my mind goes silent for a few seconds. Then I feel real, deep, endless love. And that is always followed by the bubbling up of gratitude for everything life has given me — from my family and friends and everything they bring to me life, to the fact that I live in a democracy that cares about its citizens’ well-being, to the opportunities I have had to serve others, whether in the military or a nonprofit that supports veterans… And in those moments of feeling love and gratitude, I invariably re-commit to love and generosity and service to this world we share and each of its inhabitants.” -Dyan Ferguson, U.S. Army Veteran, Co-Founder, Honoring The Path of the Warrior
Dyan is one of the founders of the organization, “Honoring The Path of The Warrior.” They take combat veterans into the great outdoors, introducing them to white water rafting, hiking, and teaching them stress reduction through yoga and meditation. These free retreats are in Northern California. “The intent is to provide Veterans with connection, community and tools that support them in using their own strengths and experiences to find a meaningful and productive path in civilian life.”
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked the movers and shakers of the veterans service organizations, this essential question:
“To me, love is the foundation for all things that we feel are worth fighting for – our friends, our family, our country – and for Team RWB, it’s our way of showing love for our veterans as we believe THEY are certainly worth fighting for. Without them, love would be a little bit harder to understand and appreciate. For that, we can never thank or love them enough!” -Ryan Moline, Team Red,White, & Blue, Chicago Chapter
Ryan is part of the dynamic Chicago chapter of the national organization, Team Red, White, & Blue. Team RWB‘s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activities. Through RWB Chapters & Communities, the Veteran Ambassador Program, and Veteran Athletic Camps, the organization engages veterans from all backgrounds and abilities, to help them regain a sense of camaraderie and community.