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The Solitary World Of A Vet
by Ray Starmann, Editor-In-Chief, US Defense Watch
November 12, 2017

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Millions of vets are and have been successful in all endeavors. They are doctors, lawyers, business people and a thousand other professions.

Not all have PTSD ... not all are the troubled, brooding, street corner homeless guy ... although they exist and need help desperately.

April 5, 2017 - Retired Tech. Sgt. Chris Ferrell, a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury after combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, displays a mask he painted in Hanover, PA. The mask, which bears the initials and dates of death of his teammates, Tech. Sgts. Tony Campbell and Adam Ginett, is a form of art therapy employed by therapists to help PTSD patients verbalize past traumatic events. It is one of the therapies that will be used at the Air Force's Invisible Wounds clinic scheduled to open at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
April 5, 2017 - Retired Tech. Sgt. Chris Ferrell, a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury after combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, displays a mask he painted in Hanover, PA. The mask, which bears the initials and dates of death of his teammates, Tech. Sgts. Tony Campbell and Adam Ginett, is a form of art therapy employed by therapists to help PTSD patients verbalize past traumatic events. It is one of the therapies that will be used at the Air Force's Invisible Wounds clinic scheduled to open at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

No matter how successful a vet might be materially, more often than not, vets are often alone, mentally and spiritually each day and for the rest of their lives.

Vets’ stories are all different, but some elements of the common experience exist.

Many vets experienced and saw and heard and did things unimaginable to the average person. They also lived a daily camaraderie that cannot be repeated in the civilian world. In fact, many vets spend the rest of their lives seeking the same esprit de corps that simply is absent from their civilian lives and jobs. They long to spend just 15 minutes back with the best friends they ever had, friends that are scattered to every corner of the earth, and some to the afterlife itself.

Vets are haunted by visions of horror and death, by guilt of somehow surviving and living the good life, when some they knew are gone. They strangely wish sometimes that they were back in those dreadful circumstances, not to experience the dirt and horror and terror and noise and violence again, but to be with the only people a vet really knows, other vets.

Civilians must understand that for a vet nothing is ever the same again. Their senses can be suddenly illuminated by the slightest sound or smell or sight: sights of death all around, a living version of Dante’s Inferno; sounds so loud that they can only be described as Saving Private Ryan in surround sound on steroids; smells vast and horrific; rotting death, burning fuel and equipment, rubber, animals and…people. The smoldering ruins of life all around them. 

An unidentified U.S. Air Force veteran in solitary thought about some aspect of his service that might involve PTSD or just internal reflection on an event that he cannot properly discuss with a non-military loved one or friend. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen - June 22, 2016)
An unidentified U.S. Air Force veteran in solitary thought about some aspect of his service that might involve PTSD or just internal reflection on an event that he cannot properly discuss with a non-military loved one or friend. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen - June 22, 2016)

All vets have these thoughts nearly every day. Some may experience them for fractions of second, or for minutes at a time. They replay over and over again like an endless 24 hour war movie.

Part of the solitary world of the vet is being able to enjoy complete bliss doing absolutely nothing. This is a trait grating to civilians who must constantly search for endless stimuli. Unbeknownst to them, the greatest thrill of all is just being alive. A lot of vets have an Obi-wan Kenobi calmness. After what they went through, how bad can anything really be?

As King said to Chris in Platoon, “Make it outta here, it’s all gravy, every day of the rest of your life – gravy…”

So many, if not all vets walk around each day lost in their own special story. They were once great actors on a giant stage with speaking parts and props. Maybe they were heroes and now they aren’t anymore. Maybe they helped save the world and now they can’t. Maybe they gave orders and now they take them. Maybe they thought that they could accomplish anything and now they know they can’t. Perhaps their lives now are smaller and slower and sometimes in the vet’s mind, just incidental, even though they’re not.

Most civilians are oblivious to the solitary life of the vet. But, it’s there. It’s the same eternal and universal philosophy, whether you fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan. The experiences may have been different, but the emotions are the same.

A problem with the solitary world of the vet is that the vet has a hard time explaining what he or she did to those who didn’t serve. Some vets want to talk, but they have no outlet. Maybe their only outlet is watching a war movie or reading a book about the conflict they were in.

How often do people say, “Grandpa never talks about Korea.” That’s because Grandpa knows no one can understand except other vets. That’s because Grandpa knows most people don’t care.

March 16, 2017 - Jeremy Yellin, a former fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps, visited the Officers Club aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Yellin, a World War II veteran, shared his war story and how he dealt with being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to service members and DoD employees. “I didn’t know I was sick,” Yellin said. “The service members and veterans that commit suicide today don’t know they’re sick.” (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Zachary Orr)
March 16, 2017 - Jeremy Yellin, a former fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps, visited the Officers Club aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Yellin, a World War II veteran, shared his war story and how he dealt with being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to service members and DoD employees. “I didn’t know I was sick,” Yellin said. “The service members and veterans that commit suicide today don’t know they’re sick.” (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Zachary Orr)

Part of this taciturn mentality is that vets speak another language, a strange and archaic language of their past. How do you talk to civilians about “fire for effect” or “grid 7310” or “shake and bake” or “frag orders” or “10 days and a wake up” or a thousand and one other terms that are mystifying to the real world?

You can’t.

All of this adds to the solitary world of the vet. Some are better at handling life afterwards than others. Some don’t seem affected at all, but they are. They just hide it. Some never return to normal. But, what is normal to a vet anymore?

So, when you see a vet sitting by themselves at a restaurant or on a train or shopping at the grocery store alone, take a moment to speak with them. Take them out of their solitary world for a moment. You’ll be happy you did.

 Ray Starmann, Editor-In-Chief / founder of US Defense WatchBy Ray Starmann, Editor-In-Chief
US Defense Watch
Copyright 2015

Ray Starmann, the founder of US Defense Watch, is a former US Army Intelligence officer and veteran of the Gulf War, where he served with the 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry, and after the conflict with the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry, the descendant of General Buford’s cavalry division at Gettysburg.

Mr. Starmann was a contributing writer for several years at SFTT.org, founded by the late Colonel David Hackworth. He has also written for Fox News, the Daily Caller, Military.com, World at War Magazine, Strategy and Tactics Magazine, the History Channel, Greystone TV and the Hallmark Channel. His articles have also been published on: WND, PJ Media, Pamela Geller, Dinesh D’Souza, Info Wars, Natural News, Allen West, Mark Levin and Larry Elder. He is also a graduate of Southern Methodist University, where he received a BA in History.

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