From the Deckplates: You Can Overcome PTSD

By Hospital Corpsman First Class Farid Pezeshkian, U.S. Navy

Our first deployment was nothing like the movies. Day after day we patrolled, hoping to see some enemy combatants so maybe we could get into a firefight and do our jobs. One day, a group of kids we had befriended ran to my patrol base asking for a doctor. They had done this many times, usually for minor injuries that required routine treatment, so I grabbed my rifle and walked to their compound.

This time their call for help was serious. There were roughly 30 adults crying and screaming over a rolled-up rug. Inside the rug, I found a lifeless young boy and immediately started CPR. After about 20 minutes, still unable to revive the boy, I told the family there was nothing else I could do.

That was the first time I had given anyone CPR. That incident haunted me. I did not save that child. My job as a hospital corpsman is to save lives, and I couldn’t do it. We finished our deployment and returned home, and I brought with me thoughts of the young boy I could not save.

I was in bad shape, though I did not know it. I drank and partied almost every day of the week. I barely slept.

I decided to redeploy. Three months after returning from my first deployment I was getting ready for my second. Less than seven months after leaving Afghanistan, I was on a plane headed back.

 

My Second Deployment

To my surprise, I ended up in the same area as before. It felt like I was back home. I knew everyone, including civilians and the soldiers. I deployed with a small embedded training team (ETT) of 60 Marines and Sailors split into an army team and a police team. The deployment tempo and safety were different from the first time. There were not as many coalition forces in the area, so the Taliban roamed more freely.

During this deployment, I shut down emotionally. I barely talked with my family even though we had more opportunities to connect with home.

Fast forward five months and our brother team was getting ready to head home. We had seen zero action apart from some minor improvised explosive devices. We had a farewell party planned two nights before our brothers left; BBQ pits were heating up, and some members of the team were at the gym.

After supper, I headed to the computer lab before going to say goodbye to my brothers. As I finished, a Marine ran in, screaming that some Marines had been shot on the police side. Even though it didn’t make sense to me because we were inside the base, I ran to that side.

A Taliban member had dressed as a police officer and infiltrated the base. Once inside, he opened fire on the gym, killing three Marines and severely injuring another. At the scene I was ordered by my major to stand by for a squad of Marines to go in and clear the area. It is an order I regret following.

Two days before they were to return home, my brothers were killed. Could I have saved them if I had gone to the gym instead of the computer lab? Was I just going to keep failing the ones who need me most? These were thoughts and questions that raced through my head. After that incident, I shut down completely. Once postdeployment leave was over, I talked with a buddy who is a psych tech about the things I had seen and the thoughts I was having. That is when I saw my first psychiatrist.

 

Getting Help

Commander K helped me get deep into my feelings and slowly exchange my negative thoughts for positive ones. After receiving therapy, I now know there is help for individuals suffering from PTSD. Seeking help, however, can be frightening for some people; I know it was for me.

I was not ready to admit my faults to a total stranger. I did not want to relive those traumatic experiences. I almost gave up after a few sessions and told Commander K everything was great. He knew I was lying, but he didn’t call me out on it. Instead, he came to my office weekly to “chat.” Those small conversations helped me gain the courage to go back to therapy. Two psychiatrists and two psychologists later, I hope my experiences can help other people battling PTSD.

Along the path to recovery, challenges will arise. They come in all forms, shapes, and sizes and are unique to each individual. That’s the time to look in our toolbox for help. PTSD is a constant battle, and for some, it will never go away completely.

As service members, we must look out for signs of PTSD in our brothers and sisters and guide them to the toolbox. Those suffering from PTSD should not be afraid to ask for help. Help is out there, and it works. The outcome is worth the journey, no matter how difficult it may seem.


Petty Officer Pezeshkian is deployed on board the USS Rushmore (LSD-47).
 

 
 

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