Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wounded Warriors Push the Envelope

Physical touch between American males is problematic outside certain prescribed circumstances like shaking hands, or an equivalent high five. Bear hugs between male family members or warriors are acceptable providing each is comfortable with it. Other than that, males do not generally touch each other except in violence or physical competition.

For the American male the physical touch with an adult female is heavily infused with sexual overtones. Not so for women touching men. Women have a greater ability to segregate sexual and non-sexual touch. Accordingly, women reap benefits of touch for which males are often self-exempted.

Both of the preceding paragraphs are generalizations. And true to any generalization, there are plenty of individual exceptions. I know this to be true as I am both a Sheepdog and a massage therapist. I work most of my day in a testosterone laden law enforcement environment. And, I’ve spent the last ten years as a massage therapist with mostly a female clientele.

The American male warrior environment has a hard time accepting the alternative world of massage, yoga and meditation. But, times are changing. Witness the recent “Warrior Couple Readjustment Retreat” for U.S. Marine families trying to cope with the stresses of warriors who left and returned with the baggage of war.

Fighting in Iraq took a heavy toll on Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Patrick, damaging his hand, injuring his brain and causing him to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. But Patrick's body wasn't the only thing hurt by combat. His relationship with his wife was wounded, too. The couple got arried shortly after he returned, but Patrick refused to talk to her about the war. Sometimes he yelled at her.

So the pair marked their first anniversary this past weekend at a Marine Corps retreat that took a decidedly unmilitary approach to saving arriages: Combining classes in communication with massage therapy, yoga and meditation. It's an effort by the military to ease the strain on married couples when soldiers return to civilian life after long, repeated deployments.

Robin Seibert, 38, nods as she listens. After seven years of marriage, she knows the frustration that comes with a military marriage. But nothing repared her for her husband's three consecutive deployments, including the one that ended in April 2006 when a mortar round riddled his body with 100 pieces of shrapnel.

According to the article, Aaron Seibert, Robin’s husband, is “…battling mood swings and a flaring temper that come with PTSD.” Does it surprise me that Aaron “Doc,” a Navy Corpsman, has PTSD? Yes it does, and no it doesn’t.

I can call Doc an acquaintance because I met him three times on a social basis. And, I can tell you that he is tremendously loved by the warriors in the last U.S. Marine unit in which he served. Doc was still physically healing from his injuries and his limp was noticeable as he greeted his unit at Camp Pendleton upon their return from an Iraq deployment. The affection, with their subtle and not so subtle signs, was evident.

I am surprised that Doc has PTSD because on the occasions that I was with him he was friendly, outgoing, and conversational. I had no reference to his personality prior to deployment and so any subtle clues evaded me. Besides that, I had no knowledge of the dynamics of his private life.

On the other hand, I am not surprised that Doc has PTSD because the disorder is quite common for Sheepdogs, the warriors of our society. As LTC Dave Grossman writes in his seminal work “On Killing,” humans have a well of emotional strength that is sapped and often drained empty leaving the warrior psychologically injured.

I am also surprised that the U.S. Marines ventured out into the alternative world to help their people.

When you start getting into the whole mind-body thing and the touchy-feeling thing with Marines, you have to present it in a way they are going to get into it," said Cari Gardonne, who helped design the sessions.*

Human touch and the alternative healing world can help our warriors. Hooah to the U.S. Marines for recognizing those touchy-feely facts and doing something about it.

Links in this Blog:
Marine retreat aids war-strained couples

LT. COL. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army (Ret.) Director, Killology Research Group

On Killing

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