Hello again! I have been a bit task saturated this week, so I apologize for missing out on presenting more transition content. I will fix that next week- I promise! I did manage to bang out a column for the North County Times. Here it is:
So there I was. All good military stories start that way —- even the true ones.
So there I was. I had experienced a jarring moment of clarity and recognized that I had PTSD. After quickly going through things like denial and blame shifting, I decided that I did indeed have a problem —- and in typical Marine Corps fashion, it was up to me to figure out what to do about it. Waiting around for someone else to show up and solve your problems is not how Marines operate, so I swallowed my pride and picked up the phone.
I called the Deployment Health Center on Camp Pendleton. They were surprisingly supportive and had obviously received plenty of calls from pensive Marines who, like me, were seeking help but were not quite sure how to go about it.
“Come on down,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “We’re here to help!”
So down I came. The center, next to the Wounded Warrior battalion and just down the road from the base hospital, is specially designated to help Marines and sailors returning from combat deal with the stresses associated with deployment and the return to society. In typical military fashion, it is an unassuming “temporary” building that has been in use for years and will likely be there for many more years to come, but in its own quaint, utilitarian way, that is perfectly OK. What it looks like is not nearly as important as what goes on inside.
In I went, and as I walked down the passageway I was instantly conscious that all eyes were upon me as I passed by Marines and sailors and civilians. I felt a little uncomfortable, particularly considering the enthusiastic reception that I had received on the telephone only a few minutes before.
I found the door I was looking for and went in. Several Marines were seated in a small reception area, and they warily glanced in my direction, then quickly looked away. Odd.
At the reception counter, I was met by an obviously efficient and experienced receptionist who unflinchingly looked me squarely in the eye and asked if there was anything she could do for me.
As I explained that I was there to arrange for an appointment her features softened, and she smiled. “Sure!” she said. “We’ll set you right up. Please fill out these forms and bring them back up as soon as you are finished.”
So I found a seat in the waiting room and started writing. As I did so, the tension flowed out of the room, and the atmosphere subtly changed.
It changed because when I walked into the room, I was perceived as a personification of the institution that is the Marine Corps —- a senior officer and an authority figure who was intruding into the sanctuary of the Deployment Health Center, where people who were not seeking help are outside the circle of trust.
As I penned my answers to the questions on my clipboarded form, however, my threatening stature as an instrument of authority evaporated, and it became clear that I was not looking for people who were seeking help. I was joining them.
During the year and a half of Wednesday afternoons I spent at the center, I noticed something. I must have seen hundreds of others seeking help, but in all of that time I saw a grand total of one other officer seeking treatment, and one senior enlisted Marine.
No wonder I was viewed with distrust when I first showed up; so few leaders sought help that to see someone like me in the building was surprising. I was a statistical outlier, but not because I was the only one of my age and rank who suffered from PTSD. There are many more like me.
But they stay away.