Another batch of Australian troops, albeit, in training and support capacities, have now been in Iraq for several months. Our troops get deployed every-which-way to peace keeping missions and the like, but to war zones it is a different matter.
I was reminded recently of a previous article I wrote on this where Sydney Morning Herald article by Kevin Johnson from 2012 titled: "Troubles veterans pose special risk for US Police" raises the real issues associated with highly trained and vastly better trained urban warfare veterans who for whatever reason, "have lost it!"
Johnson reported that the US government is funding an unusual national training program to help police deal with the increasing number of volatile confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.
There appears to be an urgent need to defuse crises in which police faced tactical disadvantages against mentally ill suspects who were trained in modern warfare as even SWAT teams are finding themselves without the experience to tackle such ex-military personnel.
There also appears to be no data that specifically tracks police confrontations with suspects now or formerly associated with the military. But a 2012 army report issued found that violent offences in the service were up 1 per cent while non-violent offences increased 11 per cent between 2010-12.
Another recent Sydney Morning Herald article provides explicit examples of where such highly trained former military people have created havoc titled: Trauma of Tours may link US tragedies. What is in evidence is that the volume of violent incidents involving military personnel off base that has ratcheted up to a level never seen before.
Clearly there is an issue and it not only applies to the USA, rather it applies to everyone nation where war veterans return home and are somehow expected to settle back into routine civilian life although programs to de-program these military people have been put in place.
Recently we have heard about unseen medical cancers from military employment such as jet fuels. But these particular programs are based on the latest psychological analysis and the work "Invisible Wounds of War" - Psychological and Cognitive, their consequences, and services to assist recovery' and the 2011 HSR Impact Awardee, details a 2007-08 study of returned war veterans. The recommendation was that PTSD or major depression care would pay for itself within two years, or even save money, by improving productivity and reducing medical and mortality costs.
This has been an Australian issue since the return of the ANZACS after WWI and it has been well documented. Perhaps the best known portrayal in popular culture was the mini-series titled "1915" was where Scott Burgess who played the fictional character of Billy Mackenzie who returned to Australia a seriously scarred man.
The US Hollywood Blockbuster series on the fictional character of Rambo shows another side, a more militant aspect of those invisible wounds. Here acts of violence are the order of the day in drawing attention to an inability to fit back into a civilian role. I see in these popular films a way forward for those who remain troubled and finding it extremely difficult to return to civilian life might be assisted.
Military has what it takes
The one thing that the military has in spades, is that of entrenched discipline and in kind, respect for the Commission (in the British Army, The King's Commission, the Badge of Rank). There is a unique loyalty associated with one's immediate commander, someone to whom a solider respects and feels an uncommon accountability. When in trouble this person went in to bat for them and it illustrated a special bond between commander and the man on the front line
This is sometimes evidenced elsewhere too, such as in a work place where a particular shop steward (Union representative) who over many years looked after his colleagues in the work place and often protected them, visited them when in hospital. Likewise the sporting field. It is said that former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell evidenced this kind of respect and loyalty to those who played with him.
It is in this unseen and illusive context, something that cannot be quantified or empirically measured, I feel might demonstrate a way forward. It starts however, not when a war veteran is de-mobbed (returns to civvie street) but as soon as they get off the plane or ship back home.
The person who fills this role "unseen or illusive" role, be it the commanding officer or that special someone in their platoon, needs to be "at the ready and contracted well, to be so available" whenever required to receive phone calls, meet with his or her people and become the de-construct agent "before a situation gets beyond the order of normality".
It may be that a troubled war veteran needs only to be given a directive by that special someone each new week to "go to work, do your job, come home after each day" and together "we'll work this through". Moreover, many a war veteran's wife or partner has been beside herself in worry and or fear for themselves and the children, and that "someone" receive those disparate phone calls and become the authoritative calming figure.
It is this "personal" area that requires further attention rather hands-off clinical work in a fancy office where appointments is the body language of "distancing by the professional". This is one of the issues that needs attention, that the war veteran feels he/she is not forgotten but an integral part of what was and had been.
Military chaplains can sometimes fill this role. In most situations it's because they were there with the troops in such war zones. These roles are not easy to fill and resorting to a class situation with a professional 'by the book psychology' outfit from the city misses the mark completely.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html