Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Bonnie’s blog, http://bonnietierney.blogspot.com
Just before I left work on April 2, 2014, I heard about another shooting at Fort Hood and it took me completely by surprise. The last shooting angered me beyond belief because it involved a military officer who happened to be a psychiatrist and a terrorist as well. Why would that shooting affect me so deeply?
Nearly 31 years ago, while I was a young lieutenant on active duty with the Air Force and serving in Frankfurt, Germany, I was one of the officers in charge of the identification and processing of the 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers that were killed while sleeping in the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983. I will never forget my involvement and what I witnessed in the tents in order to send our troops home with honor and dignity. My life was changed forever.
I wrote a book, about my experiences after I left the military. I separated from active duty as a major with prior enlisted experience, just one year short of a full military retirement because unknowingly I had PTSD. I was deep in depression when I wrote my book and had suicidal thoughts, but I wanted to capture the craziness I was going through for the mental health community. Getting into the head of a soldier is like playing “The Mind Game.” Simply put, for the most part the troops won’t let you in because they are afraid. Afraid to tell you that they are not only suicidal but homicidal as well. I know because I played that game too.
This shooting at Fort Hood had to be different – or was it? Five years have passed since the last Fort Hood shooting and that’s five more years of therapy for me. I’m in a better place now because of the treatment I’ve received from the Department of Veterans Affairs mental health team, so I process this information differently.
Today, I’m extremely concerned about the welfare of all our troops, particularly those who have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They play the mind game well while on active duty. Unfortunately, many still feel asking for help would be a detriment to their active-duty careers, so they hide their concerns and issues, blow up at their spouses when no one is around, take it out on their kids or yell at their neighbors. Most have short fuses and are angered easily. Let’s not forget about road rage — let’s tailgate and piss off the driver who cuts us off, maybe even go as so far to follow them home. In my case, several years ago, I used my car as a weapon to pin some teenagers up against a snow bank when they threw snowballs at my car. I chased them down and threatened to shoot them the next time I caught them throwing snowballs at cars. Was my reaction reasonable? Absolutely not,- and it’s this type of behavior that will get me killed.
The shooter is dead. No doubt it had to end that way for the soldier after the shooting spree because in his mind there was no way out. In that situation we think there is no way out, but there is! I wished I would have contacted VA when I was on active duty and in my last year before retirement. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help so I gave up 19 years on active duty and left the military. It took me a very long time to ask for help but I’m alive today because I did.
I wondered if today’s shooter was suffering from PTSD, had mental health issues and was equally as reluctant to ask for help. I wonder so many things now. Even if he didn’t suffer from PTSD, anyone who resorts to gun violence and taking the lives of innocent people is crying for help.
One final thought. Today’s troops are fighting a war in an urban environment. It’s not like the guys who fought in Vietnam in the jungle. Simply going through a door can be an upsetting event for someone who has experienced trauma; driving down the highway can trigger events too. Don’t play the mind game– nobody ever wins. Ask for help.
With a Heart of Love, Bonnie J. Tierney.
Bonnie Tierney served on active duty with the Air Force, both in the enlisted and officer ranks, from 1973 – 1992. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University. She is a disabled veteran currently serving as facilities management administrative officer for VA in Denver, Colo.