Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 5-26-2023
“How many people can say that they know the look in a person’s eyes who is already dead? Mind made up. Ready to go to heaven. Ready to end it all, and then he did. I will never not blame myself.” -EaE
Everyone asks me why I wrote my first book that was published in July of 2021; Unseen: Uncovering the Invisible wounds of Military trauma. My textbook answer is that I did not like what I had seen so far with the military/ veteran trauma literature. I also hated most of the war movies that I watched after my Afghanistan deployment. And why do I hate the war movies? My textbook answer is that they do not portray PTSD accurately, and they do not portray military and veteran struggles accurately. This is all true, and I still stand by it. But let me give you a more real and raw answer. I hate war movies, because war is NOT entertaining after you have been to war. War, is seeing all of the most ugly and horrific things that humans can do to each other. And then, coming back home from war is hearing an endless tirade of nonempathic people telling you: “Well, you signed up for it.” Or “You know what you signed up for….”. News Flash! A 17-21 year old barely adult (I was 18 when I enlisted and 21 going on 22 when I deployed), does not know what they are signing up for. There is a reason the military recruitment strategy goes for that age range… and if you have not figured it out by now, then just think about it really hard for a few minutes.
Another Memorial Day is about to come and go. There will be people that suffer through the memories of those they have lost. Men and women that have died in battle, men and women that have died by suicide after being exposed to insurmountable trauma and mental illness. People that have served will remember them. People that have stood by their loved ones that have served will worry about them. And then, there will be people having vacations and BBQ’s while wishing people a “Happy memorial day” and sometimes mistaking it for Veterans Day… which isn’t until November. Meanwhile the Military & Veteran suicide rates continue to rise, yet again. The once ‘awful’ VA medical systems are even more awful after the pandemic, which makes getting healthcare and mental healthcare take even longer. All the good Providers are leaving, they are burnt out after attempting to be the backbone of a ‘broken system’.
Why do People enlist or Commision into the Military?
It’s best not to make assumptions. I will list a variety of reason’s people may choose to sign up for the potential horror that is the Military.
- They are poverty stricken (studies indicate the one theme that rings true for enlistees is many are in lower socioeconomic brackets).
- They are terrified of going broke due to the economy & inflation so they decide to serve for the stability that is offered with the Military & Veteran benefits.
- They are coming from ‘Broken homes’; Abuse & domestic violence traumas that lead them to flee out of desperation.
- They may want a deeper sense of meaning/ purpose and believe they can find it by serving their country and others.
- Their Family members have served and they are already accustomed to the culture of living on base and/ or traveling a lot.
- They are bored and adrenaline hunting, or perhaps curious about the Military lifestyle and wanting to test themselves.
- They’re self destructive and potentially facing incarcaration if they continue down a path of ‘too much freedom’ that leads them to make poor life choices. (And there have been cases in U.S. history where people were given only two choices: jail or military)
No, we do not know what we signed up for though
You cannot know something until you live it. I think we can all agree on that. People do not know what marriage feels like until they are married. A person does not know what parenting is like until they become a parent. A person will not know what college is like until they go to college. So of course, a person does not know what military service feels like until they are in the military. No exceptions. “You knew what you were signing up for” is never true, because before you signed up for it, how could you know? You had an idea of it. You may have had some ‘third party knowledge’ based off what other people told you. But, you did not know. Do not feel guilty for enlisting and hating a career that you could not predict. And, what makes the military harder than almost anything else in this world? The fact that once you’re in, there is no turning back. You must live that sacrifice you made to the fullest, while other’s get to control the narrative of you life.
They can station you anywhere, they can put you with any coworkers they want, they can decide ‘no you are not being harrassed by your leadership’ even if you are. They can withhold orders to another duty station. They can deploy you in week’s notice to a foreign country of their choosing. They can make you work for extreme periods of time with no overpay. They can wake you up in the middle of the night and raid your barracks room without a warrant; just off of a ‘hunch’ that some commander has based on rumors. They can make you stand for hours in extreme heat until you pass out. They can make you get back to work right after you saw death before your very eyes. They can make you work through grief and trauma; as a matter of fact they usually insist that you do. They can withhold your vacation leave no matter how desperate you are for a break. You cannot complain about any of it. You cannot quit, quitting and running away (AWOL) could mean prison time. That’s the true entrapment right there. Over the years, I have heard many people counter these hardships with arguments about ‘how their job is so hard too’. But, the bottom line is, a civilian can quit. A military member cannot. We sign up hoping for the best, and never being able to fathom just how bad it can get.
“Happy Memorial Day…???”
I have written a blog a couple of years ago already that stated a fact: It is NEVER a Happy Memorial day. So what can you say instead? To Military members and Veterans? I would suggest: “I am sorry for your loss if you happened to have lost anyone, and if you need anything I am here”. Because that is what a Memorial truly is. It is remembering those that have fallen. It is respecting and honoring the fallen, as well as being there for those that grieve them. Remember those that have given the ultimate sacrifice.