I received an email last week. Almost two pages long and with only enough sentence breaks to count on one hand, it was coming from a place I knew all too well and recognized instantly the heart of a military wife who wanted to lose control but knew she was all that stood between her husband and heartbreak.
She told of a nightmare reminiscent of one I had lived through just a short time ago with added trauma I have come to understand. I have learned there are many forms of combat, not all on the frontlines of a battlefield, but all can manifest themselves in ways only those who have lived through them will ever fully comprehend.
Serving with the 4th Infantry Division, her husband had deployed to Iraq in 2005 and spent a year in combat before returning as someone she was no longer sure she recognized. As he struggled to find his way back to her, he continued to work on post, and to ask for the help he knew he needed in dealing with the nightmares, the anger, the uncontrollable rages, mood swings, and the suicidal feelings. His commander said there was nothing wrong with him another combat tour wouldn’t fix, and didn’t do much more than tell the couple they needed marriage counseling. On R and R from Iraq for the birth of his child, he attempted suicide with the anti-depressants he had been prescribed while he was in Iraq. A judge ordered him to a military behavioral hospital and when he was released the mood swings, rages, nightmares and anger only grew worse.
He was again told he would be sent to a military hospital for treatment, and his wife was told she would be able to follow him shortly thereafter. He was sent to Ft. Stewart, Georgia, where he was immediately placed in the behavioral unit of the Army hospital on post. The doctor there, rather than recognize the problem, saw the soldier as the problem, accused him of “malingering” (a common military command practice) and told the soldier he could not get out of deploying to Iraq. The soldier’s request for conscientious objector status was not even considered, and he called his wife to let her know he would rather die in the states confined to his barracks room than return to die in Iraq; he was holding the rest of his pills and refused to tell her which barracks he was in.
She could have broken down, and after enduring months of nightmares, abusive behaviors and rage by her husband, she could have walked away her heart was stronger than all of that and she began making phone calls, getting no answer at the number listed for the ambulance service or the staff duty desk. Finally she reached the MP station and they were able to find him. He was placed in the hospital and the ridicule continued. Seeking guidance from many organizations who offered to help, she soon learned she was on her own. An attorney managed to have the soldier released. At first he was ordered to stay on a cot in the battalion headquarters, unable to remove his uniform or even shower. The day before she contacted me, he faced a summary court martial and was given 30 days confinement and a less than honorable discharge. He managed a quick call to her to let her know it was almost over, and wasn’t able to say anymore. She was left on her own to find out where he was incarcerated and how he was doing. He eventually contacted her. He’s safe and being cared for, and with time off for good behavior this soldier is almost home.
For this couple, the worst is over, or is it just beginning??
I know the nightmares, I know the anger and I know the mood swings. I also know how it tears your heart when you realize how little most people understand. Watching the changes that come to a soldier who has waged a war for peace that is far more difficult sometimes than the battles fought on the ground in Iraq, it sometimes feels as if all sides are working against that peace ever taking hold.
We watched our love ones go to war, knowing the apprehension, but loving them for doing what they believed they must to keep us safe, to give to their country and to honor the service of those who came before.
We ached for them while they were gone; never sure when a phone call might come and when they did return alive we ached again, wondering when the rest of the person they had left behind in the war zone would finally catch up and come home too.
The price they paid for their freedom was greater than most will understand and theirs is a freedom many others will fight to dampen, afraid of what that freedom represents.
It’s not about who is to blame for an immoral, unjust war. It’s not about who is responsible for ending the war, or who should receive credit for the work that eventually brings us peace. It is about recognizing our personal responsibility in the madness and about accepting our role in bringing about the changes needed to repair the damage.
It’s not about why a soldier enlisted to serve, not when their conscience is torn apart by the abuse of that service; abuse from all sides until all sides begin to work together to end the war and put into place programs for reconciliation and recovery for all those affected by what we have faced in the name of freedom and human rights.
It is about reconciliation. It is about recovery. It is about doing what is right within ourselves to see that the changes we implement have a lasting impact for peace, and for healing.
It’s about understanding what has been given, setting aside what can be taken, working together to make things right.
It’s about the need for peace.
MONICA BENDERMAN is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war and the destruction it causes to civilians and to American military personnel. Please visit their website, www.BendermanDefense.org to learn more.
Monica and Kevin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org