All men are created equal, and some of those men become brothers. The United States Military has a unique way of defining the term ‘brotherhood’, and once that is embedded into a soldier it is never eradicated. After almost 8 years of war in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, and countless special operation teams I have made a few friends along the way. Some of them left the war on their own terms, to move on and build a family and start a new chapter in their lives. Other friends were not so lucky with the terms of war and left it for a final resting place after a proper burial. While working as a Firefighter and Advanced Paramedic I have seen my share of death and destruction, and even after countless severe incidents it seems I can not forget a face. During war I found death to become more personal. With each and every soldier or U.S. contractor I performed medical treatment on I became instantly attached to them, no matter where they came from. This is the medic in me I never knew existed until that first mortar attack in Basra, Iraq 2005. You hear often, how difficult it is for a combat veteran to come home from war and ‘turn the switch off’, well for me I have a difficult time turning the medic off. This is definitely the reason why I continue to support and advocate for Veterans at home, it is a brotherhood that runs deep within me. It seems the day you land in hostile territory is when the brotherhood (sisterhood) begins, with each and every person around you. War seems to kick in some dormant gene of unity when your fighting together on the same side. For most, once that gene is activated it is always alive and kicking deep within your soul. Guys like me bond to war, not because of the danger or awesome artillery to play with, but rather the brotherhood that keeps you sane and grounded. The choices we are often faced with abroad during conflict can often become a life and death situation, and it is the brotherhood that embraces us and instills trust in our actions. The best description as to why veterans miss war is a TED Talk by journalist Sebastian Junger. If you have time for a powerful 13 minute video please check it out below.
Last weekend was the first time since coming home that I received a visit from Mike White and Matt Deem from my last team in Afghanistan Task Force DragonSlayer. If you have read my book you would be decently familiar with these two. http://www.amazon.com/The-Strains-War-Gage-Amsler/dp/1514259699 Mike is from Georgia and Matt is living in Germany right now with a new wife. These are also the two guys who discovered the land race cannabis plants with me back in October, 2012. Matt flew in for a couple of weeks for a sanity visit of sorts. Not from the wife, but to visit his veteran buddies here in the States. They rented a car and took a long road trip, and made some great memories. When they finally made it to my place for a few days we made the best of it during a Michigan snowstorm. I was a great time, but one thing that bothered me was that Mike could not partake in smoking cannabis with Matt and I. Mike is currently dealing with the VA regarding his extensive medical care and is only allowed to use a massive prescription cocktail of pain killers and psych meds. Mike is also a Paramedic and is fully aware of the situation he is in, yet due to his complex PTSD he still drinks alcohol enough to numb the world around him. As much as I wanted him to smoke down with some great Animal Cookie Kush I grew, we all knew he was a slave to the ‘VA Horror Story’. Currently the VA hospital rules state if he is found to have cannabis in his system he will lose all VA medical care. The government is currently controlled by big business such as medical care [including psychiatric] and chemical companies [pharmaceuticals], and in turn the government funds and runs the VA hospitals. People/Patients = profit for Big Business [ie. Government]. The $greed$ that a select few forcefully run this country with is literally sickening. But let me digress.) In my opinion, and that of a very large and educated community, cannabis IS the gateway to a healthier life if it is medically warranted. In which case, almost every Veteran who served in combat and every person who has been diagnosed with PTSD or related symptoms can have the opportunity to heal with cannabis if they choose. I have been witness to a countless number of people who have used cannabis, legally or not, to self medicate and self regulate because no one in the world knows you like you do. The laws were started to protect one person from another, where in history did it become about protecting us from ourselves if we each, for the most part, are a rational and educated person? Mental illness should not, or should never have been treated as breaking the law. Of course if someone else’s mental illness harms another person then there may be consequences, but it should always be understood that if there was no illness then would the crime have still been committed?
After coming home from war it takes each Veteran a certain amount of time to transition back into civilian society, it really depends on a plethora of variables that only that person can understand. Post-war veterans are in desperate need of help in this area. The sooner they are looked after the better chance of healthy transition, but this is absolute purgatory for some….especially for me. I do not believe a veteran ever fully returns to pre-war status, you just can’t turn that off completely. This is why mental disorder/illness is such a tragedy, it is a wound that never heals. Every veteran who has seen the face of war will never truly transition 100% into civilian society because they will always have a certain percentage that remains soldier. I personally carry a large percentage with me, some by choice but mostly due to my own complex-PTSD. I am an absolute believer that with the use of cannabis (or other natural medicinal alternatives) a large percentage of people would recover from a traumatic event/s much quicker and easier. There have been studies in this country and abroad on PTS and the transitional stage afterward and they all point to the same conclusion. I can certainly attest that the best way to obtain knowledge in this area is to speak with the combat medical personnel, especially frontline medics. In my opinion, this small number of elite personnel right here could give an unimaginable amount of information on the effects of PTS among soldiers and veterans. In fact, this is part of my research goals. I am eager to start speaking with other combat medics, and document their stories and personal and not so personal. Not just the gory sick and twisted stuff we all secretly want to hear, but the convictions and triumphs both mentally and physically. Also, how they are transitioning, their current status and their goals. I am hopeful this can become a reality someday, because really…no one can relate to a veteran combat medic like another veteran combat medic, it’s just that simple.
After a number of deep conversations, and a few days of catching up Mike and Matt took off for another stop before heading back home. I missed them even before they left and it simply felt great to be a part of something so strong, because no matter the size of your team there is always accountability among brothers (sisters). A quote I like say’s “Blood does not define brotherhood”. I very much believe that, like in the military or overseas on a team somewhere in combat, that there is your best safety among Small Team Accountabily both on the ground and in your head. We often hear of buddy checks, but what does that really mean for a combat veteran? It is of course situational dependent, but for the most part it really is a head check. While in combat we subconsciously make sure our team mates have their shit together, because like the old saying your only strongest at your weakest link. Through training alone soldiers understand this very quick and quite well. In combat, if your battle buddy has his mind wrapped around his lent divorce or his kids not knowing their father anymore then a flank is dropped and it could mean life or death in a matter of seconds. This is another trait most veterans carry with them for eternity. Now, after coming home a lot of us vets continue this and make it a tradition to do buddy checks, especially with the high number of suicides we hear almost every day. Like I said, I can’t seem to turn the medic off. Since releasing my book and going public with my life story I have had several people, both civilian and veteran contact me with their story or current situation. A few have done well for themselves, but most are struggling with one or more demons and just need to find some common ground with someone who truly gets what they are saying. In war, I have spent a number of nights talking someone down from a tough moment. I am sure there are several combat medics who can attest to this, we were at times the first line of defense for mental injury as well…a sort of field psychiatrist, but it was mostly just being there to listen. I encourage everyone to have at least one buddy to check in on, someone you know that needs it from time to time. This not only builds a greater bond, but also gives the sense of safety and encouragement on both ends. Define who is a part of your small team accountability and go from there, it’s simple and highly affective. Of course the greater your team the greater your sense of self preservation. As long as we have a purpose in life the passion which drives it will be the fuel. If that purpose is lost the passion is simply in limbo until it has an apparatus to run. So find a purpose, it doesn’t have to be epic or a life’s journey, just something that is important to you and discover your own passion that drives it…and go from there.
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Be well my friends –
My first team in Iraq and first attempt at a meme.)
“When I go home, people ask me, ‘Why do you do it? You some kind of war junkie?’ I won’t say a word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand it’s about the men next to you… and that’s it. That’s all it is.” Beautifully stated in the 2001 film, and Mark Bowden novel, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War.