My Dear Friend
by: Carlette "Sassy" Satterwhite
Veterans Writing Workshop: Austin, TX
The war on Iraq has forever changed the mindset of my dear friend and so many other military personnel and veterans who served during this time in history. It is easy for people on the outside to talk about the war and their beliefs about what is right and wrong in their eyes. People are quick to judge military troops’ actions and have not lived one moment in his or her shoes in the war the zone. Speculations fill the airwaves and the media runs rampant with footage that leaves negative imprints in minds of people. Some footage has left people criticizing military personnel and veterans for the role they played during the war. Yes, the media is doing what they know best, but sometimes they may be fueling the wrong fire in their reporting on the negative aspects of the war. Many Americans are more wrapped up in what is going on with the war overseas rather than on some of the negative affects it has left on our military personnel and veterans’ states of mind outside of the war zone. Some of our troops do not realize they have a problem until they have an unexpected flashback triggered by a sound, action, smell, and so on.
Here is a story of my dear friend who lost his state of mind and is learning to regain control through writing.
My dear friend served in the United States Army during the Iraq war. He was this enthusiastic young man who loved his wife, two young boys, family, friends, and his country very much. After 9/11 he was ready to defend his country in battle to keep his country and family safe on the home front. During his first deployment he served with such courage and strength. When he returned home, things seemed to have changed a little in his attitude and behavior. The warning signs were present, but no one took the time to notice or address the issues. Everyone around could only look at him as a hero for fighting for his country.
Then the second deployment came less than a year later and he was shipped off again to fight in the war. This time more troops were being killed around him. The sound of gunfire and explosives going off was implanted into the depth of his mind as he did what he had to do to ensure the safety of his unit and survive another day to make it back home to see his family. He came back home for a second time and this time was totally different from the first time. My friend was no longer who he was when he first went off to war. His attitude and behavior had gotten out of hand. Little things seemed to set him off into a rage to the point where he would become confrontational as if he was looking for a fight.
One day he came by my job. He was shaking and he could not control himself. He told me that he blacked out and did not remember things from time to time. He was having flashbacks on being in the war zone. He blacked out over the Christmas holiday season and held his family hostage with a shotgun in their home, relatives later revealed to him. I recommended a doctor at the Veteran Clinic in the mental health department who he could talk with to help him deal with the issues he was experiencing. He started to receive treatment and then he got orders for a third deployment to Iraq and shipped out once again to fight in the war. I knew he was unstable and not in the right state of mind to deploy again. When duty calls the military does not have time to worry about the troops’ mental stability during war, or so military thinking goes. Well, my friend started acting out in the war zone and was sent back to his base. The military decided to release him from his active duty status based on his instability and state of mind. He was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When he came back home his marriage began to fail because he was a different man than who he was before he served in the war zone. His wife divorced him and his sons were taken away from him. He was arrested for assault and placed on house arrest at his grandfather’s house and was not allowed to go near his wife and two sons. When he got off the house arrest, I invited him to attend the second Veterans Writing Workshop in San Antonio, Texas sponsored by the Writers Guild of America, East Foundation because I felt writing could help him deal with some of the issues he was bottling up inside. He loved the workshop and he really got into the writing and was ready to go back home to write a children’s book with his oldest son. He told me that writing was helping him to find himself again.
I had not heard anything from my friend until his sister called and asked me to meet them at the mental hospital because my friend had tried to kill himself by taking various medications. He kept asking for me. His sister told me that he would only listen to me. I told her I was on my way. I left work driving like a bat out of hell trying to get to the hospital. When I arrived I was greeted by his sister, father, and mother whom I never met until that day. They expressed their concern for his safety and told me he always talks about how I help him and he listens to me. They asked me to please talk to their son because they did not want to see him attempt another suicide.
I was escorted into the suicide ward at the hospital and a nurse brought my friend to the lobby to talk with me. My friend could not be left alone, not even for a second, because he stated several times he was going to kill himself. I hugged him and asked him to tell me what had happened in his own words. He stated: “I cannot get the images and sounds of war out of my head, and my family thinks I am crazy.” I told him it was selfish to take his life when he had two sons that loved him very much and a family that cared and stood by his side. I asked him if he had been writing and he stated “no.” I told him that he needed to write because the Veterans Writing Workshop in Austin, Texas, was helping him deal with his issues through writing. Although the writing is not a cure for any medical condition it was a way for my friend to express and release his anger on the paper and be able to sort out his emotions and thoughts. I told him to pray and write and said I was going to bring him a list of bible verses to help him through this difficult time.
The next day I returned as promised with a list of bible verses. The suicide watch nurse pulled me to the side and told me what I had said the day before to my friend about writing really helped him to calm down and re-channel his emotions and thoughts. The nurse said after my visit he did not have any more problems with my friend talking about or attempting to harm himself. All he did was ask for a pen and some paper—and he wrote the rest of the night. I sat down to talk with my friend and he had several sheets of writing and songs he had composed after my visit the day before with his family. His mother and father were in tears to see their son’s passion for life return in such a positive way though his writing. My friend expressed joy in getting released from the hospital when it was time so he could accomplish positive things to gain control over his experiences in the military. Today my friend is still alive by the grace of God and the Veterans Writing Workshop sponsored by the Writers Guild of America, East Foundation.