By C.A. Seller
CA: Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Reactive Armour. Gulf War veteran and social activist for veterans issues. Thanks for joining me. To begin with you were born in a southern state, as socially conscious as you are I imagine that was hell. Can you tell me a bit about your youth?
RA: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the middle son of three brothers. My father was a trainer for Pizza Hut in the ‘70s so we moved around too much. We lived a short time in Georgia before moving to St. George, Utah where I spent most of my youth. My parents were not socially aware nor active in politics so I grew up ignorant and uninformed of the world around us. I was the poster boy for an idyllic life which began to unravel at the age of 5 when my parents divorced twice. My mother started drinking and soon became an alcoholic. We lost the restaurant my father bought and then we moved back to Kentucky when I was nine years old.
CA: How old were you when you joined the army?
RA: I was 20 years old.
CA: What appealed to you?
RA: I remember singing songs glorifying military service and longed to join in my youth. But it was practical reasons that led me to join. I was a new father about to be laid off and didn’t have many other job prospects.
CA: So it’s safe to say you didn’t join up out of any sense of patriotic duty? What year was that?
RA: No, it wasn’t out of patriotic duty. The year was 1989.
CA: I know your MOS (Military Occupational Skill) was 11 Bravo. Infantry. Also known as “grunts.” Was this your first choice?
RA: It was my choice to a point. Between the recruiter’s hard sell and an $8,000 signing bonus I signed up to join the infantry. It scared me to do this so I asked him what were the chances of deployment. He said probably zero as there were no wars being fought at the time. Had I been socially conscious I would have known better. While his statement was factual there were deployed forces around the world in actions not classified as wars.
CA: I think the army slogan for recruitment was “Be All You Can Be” back then. What year were you deployed and where?
RA: It was the slogan then. I remember my wife at the time teasing me with that slogan many times. It also became my rallying cry when I faced tough times in basic training and my deployment to the First Gulf War in 1991.
CA: How old was your son at that time?
RA: My first son was born the day we crossed the demarcation line, on February 17, 1991.
CA: That line being between Iraq and Kuwait?
RA: It was the line on a map that denoted a change to a combat zone.
CA: There is a gravity to your answer that impresses me of the power of generals. This battle was described by many as a “turkey shoot” when retreating Iraqi forces were burned alive and bombed. You have mentioned to me that your brigade were responsible for 24,000 kills. You were a ground soldier through all of this?
RA: I was a ground pounder marching everywhere in training. But two weeks before we were deployed I had an opportunity to train as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle driver. My vehicle kept winning mock battles during offensive training in the desert so we were awarded the point position for our brigade. Yes, our brigade was credited with over 24,000 kills in three days during the 100 Hour Ground War. It was a turkey shoot, we had orders to kill everything in our kill boxes.
CA: How many people do you think you killed? (This is a macabre question but I believe pertinent to understanding exactly what war is.)
RA: I was a driver so I didn’t pull the trigger. But, on the dawn of the ground war on our first engagement I saw some silhouettes on our left flank and reported it to my track commander. One of our vehicles fired the warning shots and they kept coming so we were ordered to kill them. The next day according to out after action report we learned we had killed 30 Iraqis’ trying to surrender. I carry the guilt of that everyday, some days it is unbearable.
CA: I am sorry. When did your Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) begin?
RA: Thank you, it began as soon as I retuned home. I started having the usual flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and delusional thinking immediately. The most troubling and least known side effect of war are the dissociative fugues where you lose your identity. The first time I entered a fugue state was at work (since I was a deployed veteran my last job had to hold my position until I returned home) while dunning a CNC angle iron machine. I forgot my name, identity, and where I was. It felt like an alien planet with no connection to my surroundings. This lasted about 20 minutes and then everything whooshed back. For the first two years I couldn’t go into a grocery store by myself for fear of the fugues. One time I was at the grocery with my wife and collapsed in a cry fit on the floor and could not be moved. A crowd gathered and my wife screamed at everyone to go away and the manager came over and moved them away. He put up signs around me as I cried lost in myself for over an hour in the aisle.
CA: Fucking awful. What did you do about your symptoms?
RA: I started drinking heavily and raging. In 1993 I tried to get help from the VA (Veterans Administration) but was turned away many times over a decade.
CA: You are great writer and have written extensively on PTSD and veterans affairs. What are some of the projects you have participated in?
RA: Thank you again. I write a blog on living with PTSD, served as an associated editor for the Military Experience and the Arts, served as director of the Veterans PTSD Project, and founded the largest online veterans and family PTSD support group.
CA: Outstanding. I imagine all these projects have helped you be as sane as can be expected given your circumstances. What are some of your thoughts on war and PTSD as social phenomenon?
RA: War is the failure of diplomacy and of our politicians creativity in leading. PTSD is killing our veterans at 22 to 55 a day depending on where you get your statistics. As a social phenomenon, we have vets taking their lives on Facebook. Social media is a double edged sword, a boon for the trolls locked on their targets vilifying the vet and vindicating their rage against war. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our overloaded system to help those that served. Everyday I see posts and then the comments scrambling and sharing to find the vet safe and sound. There are organizations just for this purpose.
CA: What are some of those organizations what services do they offer?
The latter is the organization I founded.
CA: Awesome. In closing is there anything else you’d like to say?
RA: I don’t know what else to say other than if you have a veteran with PTSD in your family or know one, they deserve for you to take charge of learning more about their condition and to check in with them regularly. Do so before it’s too late.
CA: Thank you for your time and insight.
RA: You are welcome and thank you for taking the time to get the message out.