“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” T E Lawrence
This week I will be part of a panel discussion entitled “Paths for Achieving Readiness Tomorrow” at the Military Officer’s Association of America “Warrior Family Symposium” in Washington DC. The opportunity came about through the Department of Defense’s Real Warriors campaign which I have been working with since 2011 when they did a video feature on my struggle with PTSD. The panel will be moderated by WUSA Channel 9’s news anchor Derek McGinty and will include a number of mental health care providers or program directors; I will be the only chaplain speaking at the symposium. The panel will discuss available and developing programs designed to provide insight, skills and assistance for veterans, service members, their children and families – to aid them through handling reintegration, combat/operational stress, and mental health concerns; and provide them and the community, the understanding of the art of being present.
I am a bit nervous about presenting despite having been very open and transparent about my struggles with PTSD since beginning this website back in 2009. That is not so much because I don’t know my material, or what to say, but rather because I am an introvert and find writing to be less stressful than talking about my experiences in front of a big group of people. Part of this is also related by my need for safety as I am often very anxious in big groups of people that I don’t know, and because I have so much emotional investment in the subject of getting those who deal with the trauma of war and their families the help that they need.
After some of my experiences in attempting to get help myself in the military mental health care system, some of which have been more damaging than helpful, especially recently I know how scary attempting to get help can be. Likewise, I fully understand the profound stigma that many military members, especially those of more senior ranks who have invested their lives in military service, feel when they admit to dealing with these issues.
While the military has attempted to get rid of the stigma of seeking mental health treatment, even for PTSD the fact of the matter is that the stigma still exists. A very senior enlisted leader in an elite community told me following the suicide of a true naval hero who suffered from untreated PTSD and probably TBI as well who we both served with: “it’s hard when they say if you have issues and they are known that you can still have a successful career, but you will never be promoted or selected to a critical position, again.” The ironic thing was that the leader that committed suicide asked me when he took command of the unit I was in “where does a chaplain go to get help?” He obviously knew the reality of the stigma, even for chaplains. Sadly, I have to confess that as a Chaplain, Priest and clergyman there is a huge stigma to being a broken or flawed clergyperson, especially in the institutions of the church and chaplaincy. We clergy tend to take better care of our other parishioners than we do of each other and most clergy, be they in parish work, denominational structures or institutional ministry report a sense of isolation and lack of care from men and women who should be their colleagues.
I did not expect this invitation and I do hope and pray that what I say will be of help to the attendees and to those that struggle with PTSD, TBI, Moral Injury and other combat trauma or stress related issues. I dream that when I retire from the Navy, whenever that happens to be that I will be able to be an advocate and spokesman for those who suffer from these injuries. Maybe this opportunity will provide me a network of sorts to prepare for that dream.
As T.E. Lawrence said that dreamers that dream with their eyes open are dangerous, because they may act with open eyes to make those dreams possible, and I am one who does that. I have ideas and experiences that I think can be of help to others walking this path and their families. Likewise, I have a passion for trying to get people the help they need and even more importantly provide a safe place where they know that they can be honest. Admiral James Stavridis said: “overall, I think that’s an obligation to share your ideas.”
My experience is a bit more diverse than your average clergyman, mental health provider or military member. I combine my theological, philosophical, ethical and pastoral care insights, with being a caregiver to those that suffer, while struggling with the effects of PTSD, sometimes more effectively than other times. All of this is tempered by the realism that comes from 33 year military career and my academic training as a historian; both of which enable me to place these things in a broader context.
So anyway I will follow up with something tomorrow night and hopefully report out on my experience at the symposium on Thursday, as I expect to be on the road late Wednesday night returning from D.C.
I do appreciate your thoughts and prayers.
4 responses to “The Opportunity to Act Upon a Dream”
Padre Steve. I believe you’ll do an outstanding job and shed light on an important issue long overdue for an extended discussion and some thoughtful reflection by our the military and our society generally.
Thank you Bill!
Padre Steve: First, I wish you the best during your panel discussion at the MOAA Symposium. I have been reading your blog pretty much daily after coming across it last January shortly after the death of Tom Sitsch. You see, I too had the honor and privilege to serve with Tom in Iraq in 2006. I was a Army Guard LTC who reported to TF Troy the same day Tom did, meeting him on the C-17 flight into Baghdad. We became close, serving side by side during my 6 month tour to assist in getting Troy up and running. As often is the case, Tom and I did not maintain contact after my departure back to CONUS. I was shocked to hear of his death last January, and still find myself thinking of the time we spent working together. He was someone I had immediate respect for and we shared our discussion of family and life back home as only those deployed together can appreciate. I find your blog postings incredibly stimulating both spiritually and intellectually, and have shared them with both friends and family who say the same. I’m now retired, and regret not having the opportunity to catch up with Tom once we returned to CONUS. Best wishes to you and thanks for the great writings. v/r Dave Ramsey
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Thanks as always for you comments, as well as your memories of Tom Sitsch. The time in DC went very well. I appreciate your kind words about what I write here as well.
Blessings on you,