The Hidden Pain Among Us

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- In this day and age, young Airmen are being asked to do much more than technical school trained them for. Years of combat operations, stress and pain have become the new normal. Airmen and combat operations, two words usually reserved for Air Force pilots, are now a daily occurrence for all career fields.

Unfortunately, we do not always maintain a combat mindset, and often miss the signs of our fellow Wingman's pain and scars from combat.

Let me tell you a quick story about one young Airman who struggled in silence.

When something needed to be done, his name was the first spoken. Stellar in his appearance and performance, he often volunteered to work extra hours. He was very excited about his imminent deployment to Afghanistan, but nervous about what he would be doing. His tasking required combat training beforehand, as he would be working closely with the Army.

After completing his deployment and returning back to our section, everything seemed normal. He smiled all the time and constantly stated he was glad to be back. One day a co-worker came to me and spoke about how much this Airman was drinking.

He was concerned that his friend never used to drink before being deployed, but was drinking every night now. Not too long after, this Airman started to fall asleep at work, and was displaying over the top irritation with co-workers.

The Airman was counseled concerning these issues, and he continued to state everything was fine. Knowing something was wrong, I took a few moments to speak with him about my story.

I told him that I was also in combat, and later was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I spoke about the nightmares every night and how jumpy I was all the time. I relayed to him how hard it was to come forward, not wanting to be "that guy" or appear weak. After sharing this with him, he agreed to go with me to Mental Health to see someone.

In this day of text messages, emails and Facebook, we often overlook the uncool skill of interpersonal communications. Reintegration classes are not the final answer...personal contact and genuine concern for our fellow Airmen is the key. Just talking to someone and relating to them as more than just another warm body really does make a difference.

This Airman got help and returned to duty stronger than before, and in the long run the Air Force is stronger as well.