Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 13, 2012

Lifelines: Warriors lean on each other during, after battle

By Terry Wooten

---- — "Fear, helplessness, guilt and numbness speak for all wars. When you make it home, who can you talk to that will understand. You either scare people or they don't believe what you're saying.

It's not healthy to let war experiences stay bottled up inside you. The pressure continues to build, and unhealthy issues begin to show up.

Find a mentor, somebody that's been through what you've been through. They can help guide you through this, and relieve much of the pressure."

-- Larry Lelito

Larry is a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran, and I stood up against the war. He's not just helping me build a garage; we're building a friendship, and telling each other our stories.

His tales are a lot more gruesome than mine.

We've developed a deep respect for one another. Larry believes that if it hadn't been for the peace movement (not the protesters against the veterans) the war might have dragged on a lot longer, with many more dead on both sides. He still mourns his dead companions, and has a deep respect for the Vietnamese people.

A few weeks ago Larry took me to a veterans' group session as his guest. I was nervous about what my reception would be like, but I was made to feel welcome. I don't like writing war stories, but veterans don't like carrying the memories around in their heads either.

We have a whole new wave of veterans coming home, trying to deal with what they experienced. There's help. It's a peer-to-peer support organization of trained combat veterans called Buddy-To-Buddy, and can be reached at (888) 82-Buddy or (888) 822-8339.

Larry Lelito

Veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan

are going through pure hell.

Their suicide rate is at an all-time high.

What's happening

is spouse abuse, divorces, abandonment

and homelessness.

Guys I work with

joined the guard,

got married

and started having a family.

They were taken away

from their family and job

for a year,

and became combat veterans.

They returned home,

tried to adjust

and reacquaint themselves with their families.

Their employer let them back.

Finally, they got on their feet

and rolling again,

then got orders for a second deployment.

It becomes a real emotional burden.

After a second tour

guys might not have a job.

The wife is fed up,

and the kids don't know their dad

home with a lot of issues.

The family starts patching things up,

and here comes the third deployment.

It's like going out on patrol

and getting hit

with a slow motion Improvised Explosive Device.

After what I'd experienced in Vietnam,

and did

because it was my job,

I wouldn't associate with another Vietnam Veteran

until the 1980s.

Didn't want anything to remind me

of my past.

I was highly exposed to Agent Orange.

There was an Agent Orange conference

in Gaylord.

My wife, Theresa, said we should go

find out about this.

Probably thirty vets were there.

I felt real uncomfortable,

but toughed it out.

I got to talking with a couple guys

and felt better.

Vietnam Veterans of America

was starting up.

We formed one in Traverse City,

kind of like the VFW,

but our own organization.

I started going to meetings

and paying dues.

We found out we had a lot of problems in common

with anger, hyper-vigilance,

nightmares, flashbacks

and not trusting being around people.

What was this?

Why were we all so similar?

We hired a clinical psychologist,

a combat wounded veteran.

He'd devoted his life

to studying post-traumatic-stress.

We held meetings

once a month.

He mentored four of us

on all the danger signs.

The Great Recession hit

and my construction business slowed.

I had more time on my hands,

and started going to more veteran meetings

to meet up with guys.

At one meeting

a soldier from Camp Grayling came.

He spoke about needing combat veterans

to help

young guys out

returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Me and another guy volunteered,

and got started with this outfit

run by the National Guard

and the University of Michigan

Psychiatric Department.

I took my training in St. Ignace,

and started getting assigned

to military outfits

trying to help.

-- Terry Wooten