Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Friday, May 7, 2021
In Russia, May 9 is Victory Day, the annual celebration of defeating the Nazis in World War II. I am happy to celebrate dead and defeated Nazis any time. But May 9 has a new significance for me.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
This evening I had the chance to speak with several staff members of Paws for Purple Hearts: an organization that provides and trains service dogs for recovering veterans.
The people I spoke with train dogs to be companions to veterans and provide training for veterans who bring the dogs into their lives.
My daughter is a clinical consultant for Paws for Purple Hearts. She asked me to speak to the group about my experience serving in the military during and after the draft and the Vietnam War, and then returning in 2007 and deploying to Iraq.
I spoke about soldiers I served with in both time periods: how they were the same and how they were different in the 1970s and 2010s. Paws for Purple Hearts works with veterans from our recent wars and from the wars of the last century. Soldiers, like all of us, are shaped by the society we live in. The difference in the experience of draft-era veterans and current veterans is most evident to me in the subject of suicide.
I told the group about how suicide was treated in the 70s and in the 2010s after I returned from deployment. It was so different. I wrote about it here. Suicide was condemned by everyone in the 70s. The soldiers I knew who took their own lives after Iraq were treated the same as combat deaths.
In both the 70s and the 2010s, I knew soldiers who could not stop their hands from shaking and were kept on limited duty so they could retire. They were combat veterans suffering with PTSD but wanted to finish their careers. The military is certainly better about dealing with PTSD now than during the Vietnam War, but the kind of person who becomes a soldier has trouble dealing with personal weakness. So it is important to deal with soldiers as individuals who need help but do not want to feel weak.
I got a lot of good questions in the Q&A. One was about how counselors could best work with older veterans. The soldiers who served during the draft era in general and the Vietnam War in particular often deeply mistrust the government and authority. I knew and know many veterans of that era who felt betrayed and abandoned by the government that sent them to a hopeless war. I said it was important to acknowledge the importance of their service and the sacrifice they and their friends made. Being part of the welcome home they did not get 50 years ago could help establish trust.
Next time I go to Richmond, I hope to visit Paws for Purple Hearts in Ruther Glen, Virginia, near my daughter's home.
The Mission of Paws for Purple Hearts:
Paws for Purple Hearts improves the lives of America’s Warriors facing mobility challenges and trauma-related conditions such as PTSD and TBI by providing the highest quality assistance dogs and canine-assisted therapeutic programs; and by building public awareness about the important role dogs play in helping Warriors along the road to recovery.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
In Cold War West Germany in the 1970s we wore our masks at least two hours every week while working and training.
I can still remember the relief I felt every week taking that sweaty rubber gas mask off.
I felt that way this week when President Joe Biden confirmed that vaccinated people do not have to wear masks outdoors or when with other vaccinated people.
Europe is now welcoming vaccinated Americans to visit.
In the 1970s, I did not like wearing the mask, but wore it because that was my job. During the pandemic I did not like wearing the mask, but it was necessary to keep the epidemic from getting worse.
Now we are moving past the mask and life is returning to normal.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
I am part of a Facebook group called War Movie Zone. I read posts looking for other people's views of war movies that I loved, liked or hated.
Because there are fans from all over the world with a variety of backgrounds, I get perspectives on movies that are interesting, even when I disagree.
When someone mentions a movie I saw one or two or five decades ago, I try to remember how I saw the movie the first time in contrast to later. The same movie looks very different to the veteran approaching 70 years old than the same movie did to a 12-year-old in a Boston theater.
I recently watched "Battle of the Bulge" with one of my sons. I first saw it in a theater in Boston in 1965. My twelve-year-old self saw a vast drama of arrogant Nazis stopped by ingenious Americans. Since that time I spent nine years a tank commander and last in a war zone in 2010. The big Hollywood drama looked much smaller in 2020.
In 2014 I took my son to see "Fury" in a local theater. Compared with the 1965 movie, Fury used actual Sherman tanks and even had a fully operating German Tiger tank. It had a lot of contrived Hollywood drama, especially at the end, but I saw the movie several times, delighted with the way the crew joked, and talked and fought with each other.
My favorite war drama ever is "Band of Brothers." I have read the book and had the unusual (for me) experience of liking the HBO drama better than the book. When I deployed to Iraq in 2009 we watched a lot of movies in pre-deployment training. Soldiers, both now and when I served during the 70s and 80s love to make fun of war movies. But I never heard anyone make fun of Band of Brothers.
Look up War Movie Zone on Facebook if you want strong opinions about war movies.
Thursday, April 15, 2021
In 2012, I was on a roster of soldiers who were supposed to deploy to Afghanistan with a Pennsylvania National Guard Stryker Brigade. President Obama cancelled the deployment. It was the fourth and last war I volunteered for.
Nearly all of the Afghanistan veterans in my unit agreed the country is beautiful. Many wanted to go back. During the 20 years this war lasted, many did go some on multiple tours.
Now the longest American war is over. President Biden said we will be out by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the attack on America that led to our invasion of Afghanistan.
The British and the Russians both suffered major defeats in Afghanistan. The country has a reputation as "the graveyard of empires."
My fondest memories of the deployment that wasn't was training with these guys:
Saturday, April 10, 2021
Next month I will be talking to a veterans support group about PTSD in the 70s Army and during the Iraq War. It was fun to try to put my military career in 100 words:
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