I was, like many others, shocked to hear of the death of SOC Chris Kyle. Many others, especially those who knew him, are far better suited to write about him. I never had the chance to meet him or his friend Chad Littlefield, who was killed alongside him.
I would like to discuss why I am quite simply dumbfounded as to how this happened, and then I would like to discuss PTSD. This is a difficult article for me to write on a number of levels.
For a veteran of the Iraq war - a Marine veteran, no less - to kill a man he knew had once fought alongside him against a common enemy is unconscionable.
I have never encountered an American military veteran who found justification in (objectively) unjustified violence. I have never encountered someone who I could tell was dealing with problems after a deployment who thought that hurting others who had done nothing to deserve it was a solution. Although veterans are often exceptionally skilled at the application of violence, they do not apply it to every situation with wanton disregard for its effects.
If anything, those fighting a battle against themselves did just that - they only wanted to hurt themselves or punish themselves - to hold themselves accountable for situations over which they had no control.
I don't deny that people who fall outside these statements exist, only that they are so few in number as to be exceedingly rare.
For me to bring up the fact that the VA told me I had PTSD in conversation with people who have never been in the military is quite uncommon. It is not a point of pride and the greatest frustration comes from dealing with those who haven't been there. Some pay lip service to veterans out of politeness, some genuinely mean it - but neither group was there with us, and all look at us differently.
I don't want to be seen differently. I don't want to be looked at with pity, fear, disgust, or mockery. I have had life experiences, ones that resulted from my choices, as have you. I joined to help people and wasn't always able to. That's my problem and not yours. It's not anything I have ever used as an excuse to lash out at anyone else, verbally or physically.
But it's easier to put someone with PTSD in the "crazed war veteran" box than it is to put real thought into their character or motivations.
I don't know why Mr. Kyle and Mr. Littlefield's killer (ym"sh) did what he did. Maybe we'll know tomorrow or maybe we'll never know.
What I do know in my heart is that his actions cannot be reconciled with the simple acronym "PTSD."
In the past few weeks, I've seen a number of news stories regarding "war veterans with PTSD" who have unjustly taken the lives of other people - a park ranger, a police officer, and a 14 year old girl.
In each case, headlines loudly proclaim how PTSD is the cause of all of this, and the articles lay out neatly for us that these men were veterans who just couldn't handle life after such intense combat.
When I dug deeper, I found that these articles were not entirely accurate. I will say that the Seattle Times did a good job investigating Barnes, but none of the news outlets that quoted the Seattle Times mentioned anything more than that Barnes was kicked out of the Army after a DUI and weapons charges.
So here we go, in alphabetical order.
- Benjamin Barnes shot four people at a party and then murdered a park ranger (Park rangers are some of the coolest people on the planet, by the way). He was in the Army and was deployed to Iraq in 2008. He was in a headquarters company and did not receive a CIB, CAB or CMB, which would have indicated that he saw combat during his time in Iraq.
- Michael Stewart shot six police officers who were serving a drug warrant on his house. One died. Stewart was in the Army in the mid-1990s as a communications tech and did not see any combat. He was stationed in Germany for part of his enlistment. Rough times. In one article, he is referred to as a "decorated Gulf War vet."
- Sean Warner injected a few teenaged girls with heroin, and one died. He was a Navy Corpsman who was deployed to Afghanistan. Finally, a real combat vet, right? No. He was a laboratory technician who may have been assigned to a MTT, probably providing medical support to US Army soldiers who were training/advising Afghan soldiers. It's possible that he saw combat, but photos of his loadout in Afghanistan do not indicate to me that he was doing the work of a field corpsman.
Barnes was a lowlife who had thuggish tattoos and posed shirtless with crappy guns. Stewart saw no stressful service whatsoever. Warner's parents had "drug and alcohol problems," and he somehow grew up to have drug problems after joining the Navy to learn more about drugs. They were losers before they joined the military, and they were losers after they left (or were kicked out of) the military. Despite what has been made out to be by the media, it would seem that none of them have known the combat or stress they are supposed to have known. None of these "men" saw what some of the men I know have seen.
I know men who have lost limbs and men who have lost eyes. I have seen the emptiness in the eyes of a fellow Corpsman who had just watched his best friend die, despite the Corpsman's best efforts to save him. I've sat and talked with Marines as they described watching their friends get ripped in half.
And yet, the friends I refer to here, the Marines and Sailors I knew and deployed with - they do not murder park rangers, do not shoot at police officers serving drug warrants, do not shoot up little girls with heroin. They are police officers, truck drivers, military contractors, business executives, roughnecks, IT guys - and many more are still on active duty.
I see a major problem with the way PTSD is addressed in our society. Especially in the last few weeks, the media has allowed, or perhaps even encouraged, the idea that anyone who ever served in the military and now has "problems" is suffering from PTSD. The takeaway for the general public is that combat vets are crazy and not to be trusted, when the reality is that combat vets are some of the most well-adjusted people I know. They've seen the worst the world has to offer, and are determined to enjoy and make something of the rest of their lives.