Brian served in the Army for 25 years.
5 years National Guard and 20 Active Duty in the Army. He was an OH-58 D Kiowa Warrior Helicopter Pilot. Brian’s home base was Fort Drum, NY, and has served in Hanau, Germany, Fort Hood, TX, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and 2 tours in Iraq.
Brian retired from the Army and with retirement came the struggle of transition from military life to civilian life. Brian tries to explain his hyper alert behavior, low stress tolerance and persistence that everything must be perfect to someone who isn’t or wasn’t in the military. “Pretend you have to drive to Virginia for PA every day for work, a 6 hour drive (over the fence) there and back and people are shooting at you the entire time you are driving. We are so programed to be in survival mode, to keep ourselves and our buddies alive. It is how we think, even when we come “home””.
“Those of us in the profession of arms…our job requires doing everything right, to the absolute best of our ability. If you don’t people are going to die. When you come home, you can’t shut that off. Certain deployments were hard and affected me. I wasn’t aware of it. It made me into a very stoic person. I lost a lot of my zest for life, my smile and laughter. I put a lot of blame on myself. I didn’t like who I was. I hated looking in my own eyes, because when I did, I didn’t like what I saw. I became callous, closed off from my life.”
Not realizing that his actions and beliefs were part of what was tearing his life apart as well as the root of the problem, which was Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) from a deployment years ago.
“I had to launch one day, and my co-pilot was waiting on me, he had a radio call coming in, a SUV on north end of city was hit by RPGs. We needed to destroy the SUV. I made an almost near fatal mistake….not having situational awareness before we entered the nightmare.
As we were flying and when I went into a climb, it felt like the whole city opened up on me. I yelled to wingman to break, I didn’t want him going down with us. I thought we were going down for sure.
I did some of the craziest maneuvers that night that I have ever done. When we finally got clear, I remember being out over the desert again. I was in shock. I never saw anything like it.
I remember a Toyota truck with heavy machine gun on the back, a DSHA 12.7 millimeter machine gun, it looked like softballs coming at me. My computer screen is lighting up, everything is dinging. My co-pilot kept asking me if I was ok. I finally snapped out of it. Going 110 knots, I didn’t think we would hold it (helicopter) together. But we did.
Once we got back and landed we looked it over, that was the day I decided there was a God. It was an absolute miracle. I dropped to my knees and started crying. We were only hit 1 time. It was impossible. We flew threw everything they shot at us and we were only hit 1 time. I thought we were dying that night for sure. It was unbelievable. To this day I still believe that was impossible.”
Once home “It was a struggle to shut so much of my time in the military off and it took my current life falling apart, hitting rock bottom, for me to finally see and realize, I have to save myself before I can do anything else. I look at every day as a gift. I’m no longer not looking at myself in the mirror.”
22 years of my life has been about a career, money, nice house, toys, etc. Ya know what? People could say “I had it all” but all that doesn’t mean anything when you don’t have your family and your life is falling apart. I don’t care about material stuff at all anymore. I am looking at different ideas of helping people. Something to get fulfillment.”
Imagine the untold stories of countless other veterans who may struggle. PTSD is not a disease, it is not contagious, but it does need to be dealt with.
May God bless America and all those who defend her.
Kim Lengling is an author and Co-Chair of Project Support Our Troops and Co-Founder of Embracing Our Veterans, a PA registered non-profit helping veterans and their families in need. She can be reached at [email protected]