It is ironic that Donald Trump suggests that veterans suffering from PTSD are weak. He obtained several deferments from the draft during the Viet Nam War. He said “strong” soldiers do not suffer from PTSD. See ABC news report. The implication is that weak soldiers do suffer from PTSD.
That is nonsense. It is also simplistic. I do not mind admitting that I suffer from mild PTSD. Loud, unexpected noises will make me jump, or simply unnerve me a bit. I cannot stay around loud, unexpected loud noises. PTSD comes in degrees. It is not black and white. I know many veterans suffer from far worse cases of PTSD than I do. They are not weak and neither am I. We did our part, without hesitation or reservation.
One of the highlights of my Army career was seeing so many young men and women voluntarily enlisting in the armed forces during the two wars. I was a commander of a basic training unit for a time. The Drill Instructors appreciated the steadfast courage of those young men and women enough that hazing or harassing at boot camp was at an all-time low.
I feel sorry for persons like Mr. Trump who have never experienced the selfless sense of duty that compels us to stand up for our country and our comrades. We faced our fears. We were well-trained and well-lead. We loved our country and we profoundly trusted our fellow soldiers. Mr. Trump talks with shallow understanding. He has not served one minute in a war zone. I still feel like my time in Iraq was one of the best experience of my life. One of the good guys, the word “strong” comes to mind, was Paul Clevenger. He committed suicide a year or so after we came back. He was a good, young soldier. The war affected us all in different ways. There is no weakness in facing your fears and following through on your commitment. So many soldiers exceeded their comfort zone. There was a young, Junior League, female JAG lawyer who went on a convoy for the first time at my request. Just a few weeks from the end of her tour, she hopped in her HMMWV with a smile, as far as I knew. She never let on that it was her first convoy. She never let her fear show.
There was the very young soldier who would never go out on a convoy. He was scared. But, you know, he was always there at work, everyday, on time. He stayed late working many times – to avoid forcing soldiers from distant FOB’s to make an unnecessary return trip. There was the young captain who went home on his six month break and did not come back. No one blamed him or accused him of anything. We all knew he had done his best, he had pushed his limit. All these soldiers were brave in their own individual way. War is too complicated for simplistic criticisms.
The Battle of Ia Drang Valley illustrates the complexity of war. The first battle is well known from the film, “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson. But, the book We were Soldiers Once and Young includes the follow-up battle. A sister battalion, the 2nd Btn of the 7th Cavalry Regt. left the scene of LTC Hal Moore’s battle to move toward a faraway Landing Zone (LZ). The 2/7th was commanded by LTC Robert McDade.
Unlike LTC Moore, LTC McDade was new to his battalion. A Battalion included some 700 soldiers. He barely knew his soldiers. The 2/7th was ambushed just a day or two out of their starting point. The battalion fell apart, in part because LTC McDade withdrew from his men and the battle. He made little or no attempt to coordinate there actions of his soldiers. The fight devolved into dozens of different, smaller battles. The men of the 2/7th were fighting with no coordination from higher headquarters.
LTC McDade was not a weak person. Far from it. He was a combat veteran of WW II and the Korean War. But, the thing about combat is that it is such a stressor that generals and historians alike cannot predict when and how certain persons succeed, while others do not. I think it likely that not being bonded with his men was a factor. Hal Moore was famously close to his men. LTC McDade was new.
War and PTSD involve people. When you discuss people, by definition you discuss varieties and differences. Even in war, most importantly in war, we cannot pigeonhole the human condition. LTC McDade was not weak. My friend, SGT Paul Clevenger was not weak. The true weak one is the one who dares to discuss things he cannot comprehend.