I Survived. My fight against PTSD.
I am a 40 year old mother, wife, and disabled veteran of the US Army. It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I could share this story. This may be triggering for some, and I apologize, but it is something I need to get out of my head.
I was a medic in the Army, as such, while I never had to pull the trigger; I had to see the aftermath of war. It didn’t matter what side they were on out there…once they came through the doors of our hospital, we had to treat them all the same. It didn’t matter whether they were combatants, innocent bystanders or children who were caught in the crossfire, when they came through our doors, they were a patient. Period. It’s the children who stay with me. I can still see their sweet faces, along with all the medical accoutrements that were needed for their individual medical needs. They have never aged. In my mind they are still the same now as they were then…sweet, innocent, and in need of our help. For all the varying opinions of what we were doing in Iraq and why, the one thing I can say is that I made a positive difference. I did my best to harm none and other than one altercation (with another soldier), I never laid an angry hand on another person.
I have friendships that have lasted till this very day. We have become sisters. We have been through so much together and have helped each other become stronger in the process. They are the reason that I will never regret my service. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, the one accomplishment of which I am the most proud….but the one thing I will never do again (even if I were physically able).
The reason I would never serve again is simple…the culture which permeates throughout the entire military complex is one in which women are objects. If we are lucky, we are seen as “one of the guys”. We are told from day one that we are not “females”, we are “Soldiers/Marines/etc.”. This should have been my first clue, but I was too proud that I was continuing the family tradition of service. During my first enlistment, I had an NCO who would verbally berate me, wrote me up for the slightest infraction, and literally made my life hell. Within thirty minutes of arriving to work, this man would have me in tears. One day, I finally worked up the courage (or was pissed off enough) to ask him outright, “Why do you hate me so much?” His reply was “Because you’re a female in that uniform!”. Needless to say, as soon as that day’s ass-chewing was over, I asked to take a break and instead of getting something to eat, I went straight to the Chief Wardmaster’s office and told them everything that had been happening. He was immediately escorted from the ward and received a 72 hour psych discharge. I had incidents with other male NCO’s but none as severe as this and all were seemingly karmic-ly returned to the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, my commander in the National Guard who was a problem as well. At first he was a little too friendly…when the level of friendliness was not reciprocated, his demeanor changed. By the time it was all said and done, I had the sworn statements of my entire squad, platoon sergeant, and several other members of my platoon stating that the commander had been singling me out for punitive reasons. I took all of these to the Battalion Commander. Since this was a very new unit, I was (in my opinion) nice enough to ask for an Honorable Discharge from the National Guard in exchange for not pressing Sexual Harassment charges against him. It was granted.
After 9/11, I reenlisted in the US Army. I was stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky. in the 86th Combat Support Hospital. Four months after I went back to active duty I was sexually assaulted by another NCO (not in my unit). I had met him online and had talked for several months. During an ice storm, he had even crashed in my barracks room and was a PERFECT gentleman (he even folded up his blankets after sleeping on the floor and left without waking me up). The night of the assault (Friday), I had been the designated driver for some new members of the unit. I ran into him at the club and he was obviously intoxicated. After ensuring that he was not driving, he said he had nowhere to crash. I told him if he couldn’t find anywhere safe to stay, he was welcome to crash in my room again. Thinking he would be the same gentleman who I had helped before, I foolishly left my door unlocked.
I was still recovering from a pretty bad case of bronchitis and had taken some medication with Codine and fallen asleep. When I awoke, he was on top of me. Every time I protested, he would bite me. Eventually, he pinned my arms above my head with the pillow over my face. I was too petrified to scream anyway. I did not want everyone else in the barracks to know what was happening to me. I was ashamed and mortified. I don’t remember most of the rape. I do remember that when he was finished, he rolled over and fell asleep. I don’t know how long it was before I attempted to move. I was terrified. Eventually I was able to get out of my bed, but instead of going and telling someone, or simply calling the police myself, I fell asleep in the corner of my room on the floor.
On Monday I tried to go to work, teaching a combat lifesavers course. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing; I couldn’t focus on the material I had known like the back of my hand. At lunch, I told one of the other soldiers that I was going to go talk to our platoon sergeant. He could tell something was terribly wrong, and eventually I told him I was raped. My platoon sergeant was a good man who always had my best interests in mind…the real definition of a leader. By regulations, he had to report the assault. I spent the next several hours at the ER and then at the CID office being interrogated. Yes, interrogated…as if I were the one who did something wrong. The next day, I was brought back to the CID offices and interrogated again. By the time it was all said and done, it was beyond obvious that they were not going to prosecute my rapist. Exhausted, exasperated, and defeated I uttered the words that I knew would make the interrogations end. I told them “Fine, he didn’t rape me. Can I go home now?” I was allowed to go. I was so humiliated that I couldn’t even look my platoon sergeant in the face. The way I was treated by the CID agents (male and female) made me feel far worse than my rapist
The next day my unit informed me that I was to report to JAG…CID wanted me prosecuted for attempting to make a “false sworn statement”. Thankfully, the JAG lawyer listened to my story and was immediately swayed to not only choose not to pursue charges against me, but to fight on my behalf. She was a bull dog! She went up her chain of command, which then went DOWN the CID chain of command. The soldier who raped me said it was consensual…but he was married. JAG wanted him charged with adultery (there are still regulations against adultery in the Uniform Code of Military Justice). However, CID and his unit did nothing. He wasn’t punished in any way. Needless to say, it shattered my faith in the military justice system. I tried attending the rape survivors group on base. Of the seven other women there, six were assaulted on base and every single one of them had the same exact experience with CID. None of our attackers were prosecuted.
I have since been through countless hours of “therapy”, numerous medications, diagnosed with PTSD, and now have a service dog. I have recently returned to college and I’m slowly gaining my life back, though it will never be the same. I still distrust authority, being questioned by them causes immediate flashbacks, and I still have intimacy issues. I am working on them, as best as I can.
Someday, I’ll share more about my life…but for now…this is something I’ve never shared publically. This is my fight against PTSD. Getting it out of my head and productively written out is a step for me. I am still proud to have served in the United States Army; I know I did good things that changed lives, even if I will never know the full outcome of those changes. But I will never forgive those in power who prey on the victims while rapists walk free in their ranks.