Forces are being readied for possible US intervention in Syria. These same forces have been engaged in constant combat for over a decade. They are tactically and technically prepared for whatever mission the Commander In Chief assigns them. They will carry out this mission with the honor, sacrifice, and dedication America expects from it’s warriors.
But their success will come at tremendous personal cost.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Beware The Coming Storm, veterans preparing for their next deployment rarely try to unpack the emotional pain and suffering from their last one. Experiences and emotions from multiple deployments get jumbled together in the hidden recesses of veterans’ minds, becoming less comprehensible to the veteran and intensifying the confusion he or she will face when these emotions escape.
Compartmentalization, stuffing emotions and reactions away and focusing on the task at hand, is an absolute requirement for success in combat. De-compartmentalization, pulling those same emotions from the dark recesses of your brain and consciously experiencing them, is an absolute requirement for successfully moving on with life after combat. Without taking that step, a veteran lives in one world while reacting to emotions from another.
A veteran has to decide to de-compartmentalize–and it is not an easy decision to make. An upcoming deployment is a reasonable excuse to keep things bottled up. Why let your guard down when you’ll soon be back in the fight?
Until chemical weapons were used against civilians in Syria, it looked like that excuse was going away. This would have provided an opportunity for veterans to unpack their burdens from the last decade. They could have started to move on with their lives after combat.
The possibility of another military intervention returns that excuse to the forefront of the minds of the men and women who will be called to fight.
There is no doubt they will prevail, but what is this nation going to do to help them when they return? The burdens they’ve assumed by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will be exacerbated by whatever missions they carry out in Syria. These additional burdens will compound the challenges our veterans will face when they do finally return from combat and try to move on with their lives.
Do we think the current system of Veterans Administration and unorganized non-profits (Unorganized as a unified tool for returning veterans to locate and use. Many non-profits themselves are extremely well organized) is up to this task? Have we effectively ushered the current cohort of veterans home from combat and helped them move forward in life? I don’t think so.
Addressing how to take care of the men and women of the military when they come home from yet another battlefield is something our nation needs to consider. Personally, I think we have to act in Syria. But we, as a nation, also have to consider the impact another fight will have on our military personnel. This is not just starting another war. The war in Syria, if it involves US troops, is effectively a continuation of the last decade of warfare for our military. Wars of this duration, fought by the smallest percentage of the US population ever, are unprecedented in our history. And so will be their impact on the warriors we send to fight.
They are not disposable heroes. We know they will face threats on the battlefield and we prepare them to survive those threats. But what of the challenges of re-adjusting when they come home? I think we have an obligation to prepare them for to face those threats, too.