Anyone who has ever been in the military knows that we train, all the time. We train when we have better things to do. We train HOW to train. We train basic, simple tasks, over and over, and then we do it again…in the rain.
Some of the tasks we train make sense, like basic rifle operation, while some are outdated, like probing for mines with a stick. Disclaimer: It might be useful IF that situation was ever encountered, right on up there with how to survive a shark attack (The Army doesn’t teach this, but I can’t speak for the Navy).
As much as Soldiers hate it, they know it makes sense. In combat, the complex warrior tasks of shooting, moving, and communicating need to be instinctual, or lives can be lost.
Why, then, doesn’t the military train soldiers to fight the psychological enemy, which follows each one of us home, and in some, interferes with daily function, leading to diagnoses of PTSD and other disorders?
Why do some soldiers have PTSD, and others return to relatively happy, productive lives?
Kevin E. Lake is the author of “Off Switch,” a fiction book loosely based on his own experiences in Iraq, and the struggle through the military health care system. When asked what the military can do before deployments to lower the instance of PTSD, Kevin’s answer was quick and precise.
“Weed out toxic leadership,” Lake says, although he spoke about a previous leader with admiration. “The military needs to focus on retaining leaders like First Sergeant Humphrey, and give the walking papers to the supposed ‘leaders’…if they shirk the obvious responsibilities of a leader and a Soldier, they’re shirking the ones that aren’t so obvious, and this is where the lower-ranking will suffer.”
One of the goals of “Off Switch,” he says, was “to show what happens when Soldiers suffer under toxic leadership, and how that affects their home lives and their total psyche, and how hard, if at all possible, it is to overcome that experience.”
Other approaches to protecting Soldiers are more direct. Coach Ken, Trauma and Empowerment Coach and founder of Traumanon, believes that exploring past traumatic events may hold the key to coping with combat.
“By contacting as many past traumatic events as possible,” says Ken, “The Soldier’s ability to understand the mind would enable him to understand what is happening in his mind during a traumatic event. Additionally, the feelings of fear would be diminished and replaced by rational, analytical thought.”
Coach Ken is the author of the upcoming book, “Combat Livesaver for the Mind: A Practical Guide to Reduce the Emotional Effects of War Related Trauma.” He believes that military members could benefit from empowerment coaching upon their return as well.
“Educational coaching programs have no stigma,” he says, referring to the hesitancy of some service members to seek treatment. “When a soldier says he is seeing a coach to help him, he is commended.”
It may be a long time before psychiatrists understand the mysteries of PTSD, and it might be even longer before the military machine adjusts to the needs of its service members, but we owe it to our troops to prepare them for every battle – especially the ones within.