This is from Anthony Swofford’s memoir, Jarhead, first published in 2003 by Scribners.  Like many accounts of war, it details the problems of sleep disturbance, and how sleeping pills and extra physical activity don’t have the same effect on sleeplessness as they would away from a battle zone.

Once the air campaign begins, I never sleep through the night.  Three hours is the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep I experience, and this occurs during a bogus patrol when Johnny says, “Let’s get some sleep,” and we take off our helmets and flaks and sleep in wet sand.  If a Scud altert doesn’t interrupt our sleep, someone screaming from a nightmare or wide-awake anger and fear will awaken the entire hootch.  Doc John Duncan passes out sleeping pills to those who want them, but I’m afraid of sleeping through a valid alert, and anyway, the guys who take the pills wake up just like those who don’t.  The synthetic chemical for drowsiness is not as strong as the naturally occurring chemical called fear. (pp. 185-186)

Mr. Swofford describes young people doing the best they know how with the situation they are given:

Another night, after we return to the hootch from a Scud alert, Dettmann starts weeping and won’t stop.  We tell him to stop, but he won’t or can’t.  Combs, near the breaking point himself, takes [him] outside and thrashes him for a good hour, but throughout the exhausting cycle of bends-and-thrusts and push-ups and bear crawls, he continues to cry.  Goerke, a bit of a humanist, joins Dettmann outside and insists that Combs thrash him as well, because even though Goerke isn’t crying, he wants to cry, and isn’t it the same thing? he asks.  (p. 186).

So, same place, different decade: longer tours, a more differentiated battle environment.  Yet military personnel in the U.S. are being asked to serve longer tours with less rest and relaxation.  And there is no really good program for PTSD treatment at the VA, nor is the existing program ramped up to meet a new demand.

Write your Congressional Representative . . .

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