Temperatures of desert heat, wind blowing and dust kicking up, American soldiers have made their way into Iraqi territory. Nationalism is ideal, fear is the reality. Bravery is sought after while trying not to miss home, until trauma settles in.
Psychology professor Dr. Jennifer Sanftner explained varying degrees of trauma and how they can affect soldiers through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“PTSD is someone’s reaction to trauma outside of rational thinking,” Sanftner said. “Many times the disorder appears as flashbacks, dreams, or memories.”
Some individuals think it is best to suppress their thoughts associated with war, according to Sanftner.
“In order to stifle the images in their minds, some turn to substance abuse,” Sanftner said. “Others feel personal shame and find it hard to sleep most nights.”
“It doesn’t make for polite conversation. People usually change the subject when you tell them the kinds of things you’ve seen,” Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) enrollment officer Captain Bryan W. Morgan, 32, said.
Censoring his thoughts is something he feels he has to do sometimes, Morgan said, but he still remembers.
“The first time I saw a dead body, I saw the doctors carrying a guy on a stretcher. I thought he looked pretty limp. But I realized what had happened,” Morgan said.
In 2005, Morgan, a 24 year-old infantry officer, was deployed for 31 months, 16 months in Ramadi, near central Iraq and 15 months in Baghdad. The lasting effects, he said, are something he tries to deal with.
“I try to keep a level head,” Morgan said. “And I’d like to think I’ve gotten my PTSD more under control. I just need to remind myself sometimes not to overreact.”
Controlling ‘combat mode’ can sometimes be difficult to deal with, but Morgan said he is able to take a deep breath and keep a level head.
“It is my job as an ROTC officer whether I am wearing my uniform or not to carry myself with a sense of professionalism and to help serve,” Morgan said.
Sophomore computer science major Jordan McKee, 26, said most days he would rather not think about his lasting effects with PTSD.
After basic military training in Ft. Knox, Ky., McKee was sent to Freiburg, Germany for further training until he was sent to Iraq in 2005 as a cavalry scout where he also escorted explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) experts.
McKee was on call 24/7, he said, and most days he did not get much sleep. He remembers a specific day when the Humvees were on a convoy and he had been fighting sleep, and after blinking once he could not believe his eyes.
“I hear this noise and I see the cabin of the Humvee filled with smoke,” McKee said. “It was like time had just stopped and everything was in slow motion. We start rolling and I hit my head off of the roof. That was the last thing I remember.”
Everyone in the convoy survived and there were no serious injuries, McKee said. But he remembered seeing the vehicle after the attack and his initial reaction.
“I started laughing hysterically and all I thought was, ‘Let’s do that again!’ I still can’t explain why I thought that,” he said. “We were lucky.”
McKee said he remembers seeing a trash bag on the side of the road one day and thought maybe he’d kick it.
“There was a pipe bomb inside,” McKee said. “We followed the command wires to the end where we saw a card with Sadaam Hussein’s face engraved on it in gold leaf, I doubt it was anything meant to be too friendly.”
Fortunately, the EOD squad was able to neutralize the bomb, McKee said.
During his tour, after McKee witnessed the remains of many Iraqi civilians and witnessing the after-effects of fellow American soldiers who had stepped on landmines, he knew he had seen too much, he said.
“Before I made my way to Slippery Rock, I was a drifter,” McKee said. “Do you know those transparent overlays on a map? Imagine yourself walking and seeing nothing but the landscape of the Middle East, I couldn’t escape it.”