I’m currently in northeastern Poland, where I’m attached to the 3-278th Cavalry as the squadron’s behavioral health officer. When I’m not treating soldiers, I work out, read, write, and travel like mad on the weekends. I am continuing to do some work via the internet and telephone back in NY and NJ, and I (of course) am teaching an online course for Rutgers. I receive a lot of email each day; I was recently asked questions pertaining to the military by a few former students/supervisees.
I joined the Army on February 29, 1996 and went off to Ft. Knox for basic training in late April. I served with the 2-102 in NJ for the next six years. My unit was activated shortly after 9/11 to guard four Hudson River crossings (and really, provide assurance to commuters in a region that had experienced an intense collective trauma). I sat on the inactive ready reserve (IRR) list for another two years before earning my honorable discharge in March of 2004. That same year, I began working as a counselor and started treating veterans who were in treatment for addiction.
Basic training was wonderful. I adored my drill sergeants and learned that the single most important aspect of leadership is being a role model. I met two life long friends and one wonderful mentor. But I didn’t like getting up early, shaving, doing menial tasks, getting shit from people, cleaning my boots, and cleaning weapons. The Army was good for me from 19 to 21 and then a bit tiresome after that. I was glad to get out when I did.
I rejoined the Army in August of 2014 because I was so horrified by the story of one of my students at Rutgers. I was directly commissioned as a first lieutenant in the US Army and PA National Guard. My unit these last five years has been in Elizabethtown, which is about 20 minutes east of Harrisburg. There have been moments where I’ve been able to really help soldiers and do some excellent work, but much of the time has been spent reading and being slightly irritated that I was not being utilized more. On Aug 31st of this year, I was placed on active duty and sent to Ft. Bliss, Texas, for premobilization tasks before arriving in Poland.
I served six years as an enlisted soldier. I was a tanker who only saw the inside of a tank two or three times after basic, as I spent the remainder of my time in the battalion’s S-2 (intelligence) and S-3 (training/tactical operations center) sections. Then two years on the IRR and now a little over five years as a medical officer. In my 13+ years in the Army, my only active duty time (aside from annual summer training) since basic training was during that aforementioned period following 9/11, the 2015 Papal visit to Philadelphia, and my current time in Poland. My experience has provided me with a fairly limited view of the Army, but I believe I have a strong understanding of the institution and its strengths and flaws. That is certainly helped from talking to other soldiers, treating veterans, reading books, watching documentaries and movies, and devouring first hand accounts, news, and opinion pieces.
I have at least one play in me about the Army. I don’t know if I have any other military books in me, but I am sure that I’ll be talking and writing about the service for the rest of my life. All of this is a prelude to the purpose of this piece, which is to compile a list of my favorite articles from the last year and half into one place. For people who have a family member whom is in the military (or was in, or is thinking about joining), you might find this helpful. For current or aspiring therapists who want to work with servicemembers and veterans but have no background, I urge you to read all of them. And then contact me about books and other media to absorb.
I wrote four of the articles, and all but one of the rest come from either the New York Times or the Washington Post. You should be aware of my background and biases – I’m a social worker and college professor. I lean left on most social issues. I do not see glory in warfare but I am supportive of necessary killings. I am concerned about the politicization of the military and I get particularly irritated by politicians who claim to be supportive of servicemembers and veterans but then don’t pay those servicemembers properly and fail to fund the VA as well as other educational benefits. The modern fetishization of the military alarms me, because it ruins the term service and creates an elevated class – one that can neither be properly debated nor criticized.
When I rejoined in 2014, the Army specifically told me that the institution was serious about addressing untreated PTSD, sexual assaults, and suicide. I was thrilled to be a part of the potential solution. I soon realized that while the military pays strong lip service to alcohol problems, heavy drinking is still very much part of the culture. If it is not outright encouraged, it is often glossed over or covered up. From what I can tell, drinking, sex, shopping, gambling, playing video games, and working out seem to be the top methods of relieving stress. No major progress can be made on untreated PTSD, sexual assaults, and suicide without confronting alcohol abuse. I remain unconvinced that there is a change coming.
While these articles focus on some positives (three of my four do), most discuss the issues I’ve raised in the last several paragraphs, but in a more detailed and eloquent fashion.
I wince when thinking about my views when I was 20, but then, I was 20 and had met few people, hadn’t read many books, and seen little of America and almost nothing of the rest of the world. And I suffered from the virility, arrogance, impulsiveness, invincibility, and ego-centrism of youth. My focus is not just on what are military does or how servicemembers experience it, but how it affects them and their families. And our society. And what comes after.