Category Archives: PTSD

Articles dealing with my own struggle with PTSD and that of others

Perchance to Sleep: A Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I found out on Friday that I have moderate to almost severe sleep apnea. I have had terrible problems with sleep since returning form Iraq in 2008, in fact my problems sleeping started while I was still in country. I battle PTSD and that has been a big part of my sleep problems the constant anxiety, nightmares, night terrors, and exceptionally vivid dreams, even those not dealing directly with Iraq, war, or military service.

In 2015 I had a sleep study that did not detect the apnea, though it did link my sleeplessness to neurological issues related to the PTSD. That being said different medications have only marginally helped me sleep and over the past few years I have had two emergency room visits from flying out of my bed and smashing my face against nightstands, including one that my face broke. My dad always did say that I was hard headed but I never thought about it being that hard.

Anyway, for over a year Judy had been complaining about my loud snoring, this is something that had become worse over the past couple of years. She is profoundly deaf without her hearing aids and she even tried wearing ear plugs that would give her and extra 30-40 decibel protection. Since without her hearing aids she has a loss of something over 70% the decibels should have allowed her to sleep, but my snoring still intruded. So we moved me into our guest bedroom while I waited to see the sleep doctor and get set up for another sleep study. I did the study in the middle of August and got the results Friday. I will be getting a CPAP machine in a week or so and I look forward to at least not struggling to breathe in my sleep even if I still deal with the other PTSD related issues. It is no fun waking up exhausted and hopefully the use of the machine will help me sleep better.

Admittedly a machine will not help much those nights when my brain refuses to shut off and I cannot get to sleep because I am either in a state of anxiety or creativity, but that is life.

Anyway, on other subjects I am thrilled that the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees and I do hope that they will go on the defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. As far as the remarks of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on the controversy created by President Trump involving a Gold Star mother I have a number of thoughts from different angles, clinical, social, political, constitutional and historical that I hope to explore this week because the controversy has exposed some issues that could threaten our republican form of government and our democracy. Because of this and to avoid writing something quickly that could be interpreted wrong I am going to reflect and read some more before I write about it.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, PTSD

Home Away from Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Neil Diamond once expressed a thought that I often wrestle with in his song I am I Said, dealing with the subject of what is home. We great day today with our German friends in the town of Loehnberg which is near the cities of Limburg, Braunfels, Weilburg, and Wetzar in the German state of Hessen. This morning we went with our friend Gottfried to see the town and the castle which belonged to the House of Hessen and Nassau, then we went to Braunfels to see the town and castle, and finished in Wetzlar.

All are fascinating towns from a historic and architectural point of view, many of the houses and buildings have the exposed wood beams that one might find in Tudor period houses in England, while the churches all show different aspects of Romanesque or Gothic design; the castles also represent the periods that they were built well. Laneburg, which is here in Loehnberg was built in the 1300s and destroyed during the Thirty Years War. It has been restored and is used for many events but the city has tried to capture what it was while renovating it. Weilburg was one of the principle castles of the House of Hesse-Nassau, along with Schierstiein in Wiesbaden.

The area is mostly an agricultural center with mines for precious stones and mineral springs scattered throughout. The Lahn river winds its way through the area creating a river valley with steep hills on either side flowing to the Rhine where it ends.

It is a beautiful area, Judy and I have been coming here since 1985 and truthfully it feels the most like home away from home than anywhere we have ever been. Part of this is because of our friends Gottfried and Hannelore and their family, through which we have gotten to meet and know a good number of other people in the area. Likewise, having lived in and visited the area many times I understand the dialect of the people here better than any place in Germany with the possibility exception of Bayern.

When Gottfried Judy and I returned home I decided that I needed to walk and I got in about 10.5 kilometers in 90 minutes walking up and down the hills of the town and on the trails that meander through the town, the farmlands, and the forests around it. The weather was beautiful and had we not had a planned dinner engagement at a great brewery restaurant in Braunfels I might have continued until it got dark. It was exhilarating. But I digress…

We had a great time at dinner, the restaurant, Brauhaus Obermuhle was excellent and I had a great Kuferschnitezel, which is a schnitzel a different type of gravy than I have ever had toped with onion rings. Now I am not a fan of onion rings but combined with the pork cutlet, spices, and gravy, it was an amazing taste experience. Likewise, and probably more importantly, I drank one of every beer they brew except the Hefeweizen so I can give a full report to my brewmaster and friends at Gordon Biersch when we return home. The Pils was very good, and I had a blonde bock and a brown bock, followed by a dunkel, and a Saison. The Dunkel wasn’t bad but was a bit sweet for my taste, the Bocks were both excellent as was the Pils and Saison.

Anyway, when we were finished we returned home, talked on a wide range of subjects and eventually turned in for the night. Judy and I a both continuing to expand our German language abilities and except with each other we spoke little English, and even then I would find myself addressing her in German. Honestly I think that immersion in a language and culture is the best way to learn and appreciate foreign lands. As I have said before, I have gotten good enough over the years and because speak with a mixture of the Hessische and Bayriche dialects, most Germans don’t realize for a while that I am an American.

Tomorrow I will get a long walk or run in and we expect to travel to the university town of Marburg which is significant for a number of events that you will get to hear about tomorrow.

So have a great day, or night, or whatever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, travel

A Stamtisch, a March, and a Memorial: Time in Munich

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post before turning in for the night and getting ready to drive from Munich to see old German friends in the area north of Wiesbaden, in the German state of Hessen where we spent much of my first tour in Germany from January 1984 to the end of December 1986. My friend has battled prostate Cancer for a few years and told me that his doctor has given him bad news. I can only imagine that it has spread, so this part of our visit may be more somber than usual.

Today was a good day, we slept late, had a last dinner at our favorite restaurant here where one of the women Judy has become friends with sat us at the Stamtisch which is a table reserved for customers that are regulars. Today we shared it with a number of older German men, all locals and had a nice talk. Afterward Judy went back to the hotel while I went went walking. Today I left the S-Bahn at Rosenheimer Platz, which put me near where the Burgerbraukeller once stood. That place, where Hitler and the early Nazis gathered to overthrow the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1923 was the beginning point of what is now known as the Bier Hall Putsch. Hitler and his storm troopers marched from there, across the Ludwigsbrucke, through the Isar Tor, to Marienplatz and the Rathaus, and from there turning North up Theatnerstrasse, to Residenzestrasse to the Odeonsplatz where they were met by a contingent of well armed police. The Nazis began a fight when the police refused to give way and were repulsed with casualties. Hitler was uninjured but was arrested, tried, and convicted for his role in the putsch, serving a minimal sentence of nine months in prison, free to receive visitors and write his book Mein Kampf.


It is always weird for me when I go to these places, to think that not even one hundred years ago that Hitler and his followers attempted to overthrow the German government right where I was walking. Of course Hitler changed his tactics to get enough of the vote so that President Paul von Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint him Chancellor, and of course the rest is history.


This was the second of two days where I walked and visited places that are important in history so that we do not forget. Yesterday I went to the National Socialist Documentation Center near the Konigsplatz. This is a great place to go for anyone serious about studying the Nazi era. Like all museums in Germany it pulls no punches about the country’s Nazi past and just how evil it was while also confronting the same threats from similar people today.

I wish that I could have spent several days there doing nothing but studying and reading original documents and records from the era. The center is build where Hitler and the Nazis made their headquarters in Munich in the years before the seizure of power, the Brown House. Around it the Nazis either occupied or built other buildings to house various party offices, including the SA and SS. I walked around that quarter of the city, and also went to the Monument to the Victims of National Socialism, which are commemorated by an eternal flame. I only wish that more Americans could take this in and then apply the lessons to our own genocide of the Native American tribes, American Slavery, and America medical experiments in Eugenics, Medical sterilization, and infectious diseases which involved human subjects, mostly African Americans. If we did we might have fewer memorials to the perpetrators of these crimes and more things about remembering the crimes and the victims, rather than hundreds of monuments dedicated to the mythologized and sanitized past in which we remember the perpetrators as military heroes or great Americans, even those that rebelled against the United States in a war that cost about three quarters of a million lives.

But anyway. The hour is late, and yes I have more to write about my time in Munich, including a this evening at the Neil Diamond 50th Anniversary Tour Concert at the Olympia Halle, but tomorrow is a travel day.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, travel

“A New Way of Seeing Things” the Value of Travel

Judy with one of the barmaids that she has gotten to know the last four years at Oktoberfest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Mark Twain once wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

We are in traveling in Germany for the Oktoberfest, to see friends, and for me to visit some historic sites. I have to admit that I do love traveling. If I had unlimited time and money or was paid to travel I could easily imagine spending at least six month of every year away from home, preferably with Judy and our Papillons, all who travel well.

For me travel is an adventure and it always has been. When I was a child and my father was in the Navy I was crushed when he retired because there would be no more moving to new places. Even as a child I was infected with a wanderlust that I have never tried to treat. Even when I go to a familiar place I try to find new places to go, especially to when history was made. This week was no exception, and yes there will be more before this trip is over.

Judy and I also like meeting people who come from different places than us. At Oktoberfest this is easy because in addition to the Germans, there are people from around the world. For us those are some of the most interesting and pleasant experiences because we didn’t even try to script them, and in some cases, both at the Fest and a local restaurant near our hotel, there are people who now know us and give us friendly greetings. Of course it does help that we speak German, but even without that simple acts of kindness, friendliness, respect, and thankfulness go a long way to make the experience great.

I think that traveling as much as we have has been very influential in how we see and relate to the world and why we just shake our heads when we see people who have never been out of the bubble of home declare themselves experts about people they have never met and places they have seen. The prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness of some people bolstered by their ignorance saddens me because I know that a simple change of perspective is often all that is needed to open people’s eyes and minds to a bigger and better world. Of course travel is not a magic wand, there are some people whose prejudices, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness is only reinforced by traveling.

But Judy and I are not tourists. We want to experience where we are. Tourism focuses on seeing sites or doing certain activities will traveling, and that is okay to an extent, but it is more important and richer to discover what makes a people and a place what it is, to experience hospitality, and to extend a hand of friendship. Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

When you travel, especially to a foreign county it is somewhat humbling, not that there is anything wrong with that. You discover that things that were simple at home are either more difficult or different, and it doesn’t hurt to learn both how and why the locals do things. Learning those things has helped us back at home, because we talk much of what we learn with us because we found that it works. We love the mass transportation system, we like the smaller stores, and I like being able to do a lot of walking because the cities and towns are designed for it, unlike much of the United States.

There is a saying here in Bavaria, or as it is called here, Bayern, that “Im Bayern geht die uhren anders,” or in Bavaria the time goes differently. This is because even their fellow Germans often find the ways of Bavarians perplexing.

But anyway, that is all for today, it’s almost one in the morning here and we need to get up a bit earlier than we did today when my lack of sleep cause of the six hour time difference between here and now finally caught up with me.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, travel

An Accidental Activist 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I would have never thought that I would become a civil rights activist. I’ve been in the military my entire adult life and grew up in it as a child. I was raised with the concepts of loyalty, obedience, and honor as being central to my life. Likewise I have been a Christian pretty much all of my life, and a minister, priest, and chaplain for a quarter of a century. Typically when you mix military, Christian, and clergy the combination does not lead to one becoming a civil rights activist. 

But the long strange trip that has been my life to dates has thrust me into places that people like me seldom experience, much less live.  When I was in high school I was part of a school district that desegregated. There was a lot of opposition to it in the community, but my class at Edison High School, Stockton California, was as racially diverse as anyone could imagine and unlike many other places where the experiment went wrong, our class came together and made it work. Many of us have stayed in contact throughout the decades and our reunions are always well attended, we were, and still are, Soul Vikes. 

When left active duty to go to seminary and went into the National Guard, came to know what it is to be poor, to wonder where the next meal, rent payment, tank of gas, or money for prescription medicine might come from. I know what it is like to have a home foreclosed on, to have a car repossessed, to have bill collectors harass one day and night. To work full time with a college degree and not make a living wage because “good Christians” didn’t think seminary students deserved a living wage because they were not going to stay around after they were done with seminary. I know what it is to have lived in a crime and drug infested area in a rented house that did not have heat during the winter. I know what it is like to lose a job when mobilized to serve overseas, and have those that did it blacklist me among my profession when I complained to the Department of Labor when I returned home. 

Likewise, my profession as a military officer, first as a Medical Service Corps officer, and later as a Chaplain in the military and as a civilian hospital chaplain brought me into contact with people and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. I was assigned to help write the Army’s personnel policy for people with HIV and AIDS in 1987 and because I was the junior personnel officer I because the point of contact for every officer diagnosed with that dread disease. The experience made me realize that the people who got it, regardless of whether they were gay or straight were real human beings faced what was then a certain death sentence. So I started speaking up for them. 

When I was in seminary I worked for a social service organization working in the slums and barrios of San Antonio before moving to Fort Worth and for a time working as the administrative coordinator for a homeless shelter. 

When I finished seminary I ended up doing my hospital chaplain (Clinical Pastoral Education) residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. While most of my time was spent in the trauma-surgery department and the emergency rooms, I still dealt with many AIDS patients, some whose families rejected them, and if they were Gay, were also condemned by their families, pastors, and churches. While at Parkland I dealt with death every day, much of it violent, and I saw the vast disparity between those who had insurance and those who had to rely on charity or some kind of minimal government provided heath care program. 

When I came back from Iraq suffering from full-blown PTSD I came to understand what it was like to suffer depression, hopelessness, struggle with faith, and contemplate suicide. I also came to know what it was like to be ostracized and then kicked out of my church, and be sidelined by other Navy chaplains. 

As I struggled during the early stages of returning home and dealing with the craziness of PTSD my first therapist asked what I was going to do with my experience. I told him that regardless of the cost I would be honest and speak out. I started doing that with PTSD but soon as I was struck by how unjust I felt that I had been treated, and seeing others being treated the same way because of prejudice, whether it dealt with mental health, race, sexuality, religion, social or economic status, I began to speak up for them as well. Speaking up for the LGBTQ community, women, and Muslims, got me thrown out of the church I had served for 14 years as a Priest, but that only hardened my resolve to fight for others, even in my own neighborhood. 

That has continued now for almost a decade since I returned from Iraq. All of the experiences I had before then came more sharply into focus, and if you read this site regularly or scroll through my vault of over eight years of articles you will see how over the years I have continued to become more of an advocate for civil rights. But I think that this is something that my faith as a Christian and oath as an officer to the Constitution demands I do. The German pastor and martyr to the Nazis Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. That means that I have to fight the battle. 

Many of the causes that I fight for are not popular in Donald Trump’s America, but one cannot give up and be silent just because it is unpopular. Mahatma Gandhi said: “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

I have become an activist, I didn’t plan to become one, it just happened as a part of a very long long strange trip; one that is continuing in ways that I could never had imagined. When people ask how that can be when I am still serving as an officer I believe that my answer is found in the words of the German General, Ludwig Beck who died in the attempt to remove Hitler’s from power in July 1944. Beck wrote: “It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

So anyway, here I am an accidental activist. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, healthcare, LGBT issues, Political Commentary, PTSD

Bomb Threats and Terror: Flashbacks to the Baader Meinhof Gang


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The last week was stressful for me. I am dealing with a contractor who is causing problems, and I had a number of other issues going on at work. Likewise, as you know from my last two articles, I was dealing with people in the neighborhood who were and still may be working to make sure that the kids in our neighborhood don’t have a safe place to play. Of themselves they would have been stressful and time consuming but not anything that would amp up my anxiety level. 

But this week, my base and another one nearby were the targets of a significant number of bomb threats, in fact on Wednesday we had five separate bomb threats on my base and I ended up spending over half of my day in our Emergency Operations Center. Now I know that for most Americans that bomb threats are of little concern, mainly because they have never really experienced actual terror threats in their neighborhoods that impacted their daily lives for months on end. Bigger events like the 9-11 attacks are a different matter. 

Most Americans live in a nice cocoon of comfortable safety were  terrorist bombs are something that blow up in other countries. But my life, and that of my wife have been different from most Americans. For almost three years we lived with the very real threat of being bombed, kidnapped, or killed by members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, or as it is sometimes known as the Red Army Faction when we were stationed in what was then West Germany during the Cold War. Not only them, but by Muammar Ghadafi’s regime was was sending out terrorists bombers who were bombing places where Americas congregated, clubs, and shopping areas.

Of course I also dealt with the possibility of being blown up by Improvised Explosive Devices during much of my tour in Iraq. So for me, and to some extent Judy, a bomb threat is a source of real anxiety because on two occasions we barely missed being blown up by Baader-Meinhof bombs in 1985, and two years after we returned from Germany the aircraft that we flew home in was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie Scotland by a bomb planted by Libyan terrorists. 

When we lived in Germany in the mid-1980s the threat was real and as I said on two occasions, once at the Frankfurt Post Exchange and once at Frankfurt International Airport, we almost ended up in the middle of bomb blasts that killed and wounded a good number of people. The threat was such that before you got in your car in the morning or started it, that you looked to make sure that there was nothing suspicious. When you entered a base, not only was your identification checked, but your car was inspected. Units on the base had to supply soldiers to patrol the perimeter of the base, and as a young officer I often had to be in charge of the overnight patrols. 

Likewise, because of the threat you remained observant to things around you even when out in town. One Saturday in 1986 while walking through the parking lot at an early version of something like a Wal-Mart in Wiesbaden, a place called Wertkauf we noticed something unusual. As we walked toward the store there was a van that had it back hatch open and a number of people sitting in it. For a moment our eyes locked that the people in the van watched us until we got out of site. Both of us noticed the obvious suspicion and hatred in their eyes. But we went in and did our shopping. When we left they were gone. We mentioned to each other how strange it was but we went home. The next day we went to dinner at a restaurant downtown and as we past the main Police station, we saw a wanted poster for Baader-Meinhof/Red Army Faction members, so we went in and made out report, which the Polizie took seriously and interrogated us for over two hours. Most of these people were arrested and tried for their crimes after they lost sanctuary in East Germany when the wall came down. 

So when these threats occur, especially when they appear to be well coordinated in order to maximize the disruption, I get amped up. My mind goes back to those days in Germany and Iraq. But not only does my mind go back to those places, but it imagines the reality of what could happen if whoever was calling in the threats was also intent on actually killing people. Sadly, it wouldn’t be that hard to kill a lot of military personnel in an attack around our area, there are far too many soft targets, and as a matter of course I pretty much avoid them, even when there are no broadcast terror or bomb threats. When I do go to them I am on high alert looking for things that might be out of place. Hypervigilance is a part of my life with PTSD, and bomb threats only make me more hyper vigilant. 

The threats we had this week were all false alarms. Thankfully no one set off any actual bombs, but at the same time I wonder if the strategy of the callers is to lull people into a sense of complacency, thinking that there is no basis to the threats. If so that would be a good strategy, because people might stop taking them seriously, opening a gateway for a real bomber. 

The Navy has put out a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever has been behind this weeks’ threats. Personally, if I ever found out who was doing this I would do my best to have them locked away forever. 

Thankfully my stress level has gone down over the past couple of days, with Wednesday being the worst day this week. I stil might have to deal with fallout from my contractor over the weekend but I am prepared for that. So until tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, PTSD, terrorism

There Are Still Nightmares: Reliving the Inner Terror of War 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It was a good but exhausting weekend and yesterday at work was very busy and challenging. So this I am posting just a note today.

Saturday night, or rather early Sunday morning I had another of my high definition Iraq nightmares. Very realistic and terrifying. Once again I found myself being attacked while in a HUMMV and being thrown out of the vehicle with enemy gunmen closing in. During the nightmare I threw myself out of bed and looked up to see a gunman dressed in black with an AK pointed at me, so I tried to tackle him and when I awoke in a very groggy state I found that I was wrestling my television to the ground. All of this in my sleep. It took about thirty minutes to calm down. Minnie, Izzy and Pierre all came in to check on me and the left. Izzy gave me a short snuggle and I finally got back to sleep in enough time to get back up, go to breakfast and finish my sermon preparation. 

I find it amazing that ten years after I departed for Iraq that I still relive my greatest fears from when I was over there, traveling with small groups of American advisors and Iraqi troops throughout the badlands of Al Anbar. I was always afraid that our tiny convoys, usually just two or three HUMMVs and maybe an Iraqi vehicle or two would get ambushed by an IED and attacked. Being so small and mostly away from big concentrations of American troops with significant firepower we were very vulnerable. We got shot at from a distance a few times, mostly in Ramadi, and couldn’t return fire because we couldn’t see who was shooting at us. 

While we were there I seldom slept, even when we were back at our home base at Ta Qaddum to plan our next mission. That base was relatively secure but it had taken rocket and mortar fire before we got there. Thankfully that had ended but it was always in the back of our minds when we heard gunfire coming from the nearby town of Habbinyah. I remember doing a run around the airfield one day when I heard gunfire coming from the town with me in plain view of it. I ran faster than I think I ever have before to get out of the line of sight. T. E. Lawrence wrote of his time with the Arabs in the First World War “We lived always in the stretch or sag of nerves, either on the crest or in the trough of waves of feeling.” Those words well describe my time in Iraq. 

My nightmares include fragments of what happened as well as my fears that thankfully never materialized. Over the past three years I have ended up in the emergency room twice, once with a broken nose from these episodes. I suppose if I had been sleeping in my own bed, which I am not because my snoring has gotten so loud that Judy, who is profoundly deaf could not sleep even wearing ear plugs that took another 30 decibels off her hearing, that I would have gone to the ER again. In the guest room I didn’t run into my nightstand with my face. Even so it is not fun. 

In the past I have quoted James Spader’s character Raymond Reddington from the television series The Blacklist. Reddington told an FBI agent who had seen his fiancée murdered: “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing that you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.” 

That being said I am not depressed or in a funk and life is relative good. I am rather fortunate, despite the often terrifying reality of living with my PTSD and these bloody nightmares, things could be a lot worse. I do have nightmares but at least at the moment they are not dominating my waking hours.

Tonight I plan on watch the Major League Baseball All Star Game. I’ll write about that for tomorrow before moving on to other things. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under iraq, PTSD, Tour in Iraq