As you can imagine, over the last 624 days, I have heard so many stories of Benny's time on deployment. I have heard some hilarious stories about he and his unit, humanitarian stories about their interactions with the locals (especially the kids) and yes, horror stories that my mind will never fully comprehend. But of all the stories I have heard, I know it is less than 20% of the stories he has in his memories. Some stories, for him play over and over as if it's a movie reel inside his head. Some stories, he has completely forgotten about until something, or someone, triggers that memory.
I have listened to his buddies tell stories from their perspective. Stories of him or their unit. I could listen to their stories for hours. Well, the happy ones at least. The sad ones, are hard for me to grasp. To understand. Sometimes when he is telling me about the bad stories, I try to close my eyes and imagine what he is saying. But I quickly open them because I realize that my mind is not prepared for the realities of war. And let's face it, most civilians are not prepared for the realities of war.
That is why we trust and believe in the warriors like Benny and his brothers, to go do the dirty work for us. We don't have to relive the memories of Bradley's on fire and people being stuck inside, or hearing over the radio that another unit was ambushed and there are multiple casualties. We don't have to remember the sounds of mortar rounds being launched at us while taking cover in a stairwell for hours or only being able to army crawl on a rooftop because an enemy sniper has you in their crosshairs. We sleep in peace at night because our country's warriors have chosen to bear the burden of war.
And unfortunately, war doesn't end when the warrior returns home. If anything, war becomes more real. It becomes a slow motion picture played over and over. Every mission. Replayed, trying to figure out what went wrong, or right. What could have been done differently. Or simply remembering when the problems of the First World were a distant thought and all you cared about were the men on your left and on your right. Remembering when you were part of a brotherhood that had one common goal, defeat the enemy and make it out alive. But also a brotherhood that had one underlying belief, you were prepared to die so that your brothers come home.
At what point have our veterans 'paid' enough?! At what point have they shouldered enough burden?! When is it our turn, the civilians, to step up and do for them?! We owe it to them. Every good night's sleep we get, is because they bear the load of war.
PTSD is a military-wide epidemic. Just remember, you are hearing accounts from an outside perspective. Imagine, for just a moment, that you were actually the one involved in the stories and not just hearing about them from a third party. War is not pretty. It is not glamorous. But it is necessary.
Editor’s note: This letter, while written in 2017, was submitted to the Progress this week in recognition of National PTSD Awareness month.