On this Veterans Day, I catch up with Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple. We first met in May 2009 just days before he deployed to Afghanistan. Rex had started a blog, Afghanistan: My Last Tour, and agreed to include a weekly radio series for WUSF 89.7FM, the National Public Radio affiliate for the Tampa Bay region.
Temple used Skype and morale phones to communicate and he never missed a week, unless he was on a mission. He took listeners inside makeshift Afghan schools, along the winding, mountainous roads and through congested intersections in Kabul. He introduced us to Afghan Army officers, women and men, and to members of his team.
Temple returned in April 2010 after his year-long deployment with an Embedded Training Team and retired June 1, 2011 after 28 years of military service.
But, as he told me during a radio interview earlier this week, he’s still dealing with incidents and images from Afghanistan.
REX TEMPLE: There were some things that we didn’t talk about on the radio, things that I didn’t write about. Things that I saw that at the time – it didn’t bother me then but when I came back. At night, I did, I had some nightmares. I had some of these flashbacks, but I reached out and I got help and I’ve been going through therapy now for a year for some of those things.
BOBBIE O’BRIEN: You’re finding you’re not alone there aren’t you?
TEMPLE: I think the hardest thing was to admit, okay, there’s a problem here, that this isn’t right, but there was also a fear of reaching out and asking for help.
Before I departed Afghanistan, I know some of the soldiers would fill out the forms, but because they wanted to see their family everybody knew – okay – well – no if you check that block it’s going to delay it because you’re going to have to see a mental health counselor. And so I was really surprised, and I’m not trying to poke the Army in the eye, but this happened routinely because the priority for these soldiers was I’ll deal with these issues later. I want to see my family.
I was different. When I came back and had my post deployment, I admitted yeah I’m having trouble sleeping, I’m having these nightmares, these vivid images and I need help. And I got help.
O’BRIEN: You are really putting yourself on the line there and I guess, it’s an individual step you have to take. Making it public is a huge step. What are you feeling?
TEMPLE: It’s a sense of relief because knowing if I can help one person out there who is going through the same thing and I know that many of the soldiers out there and Marines they experienced a lot more combat and saw a lot worse things than I did.
Now, I was Air Force. I had 62 days of Army training it really didn’t prepare me and I think the military recognized that because we were one of the last Embedded Training Teams to participate in Afghanistan. But, still the point remains that I still had to perform as a combat soldier and seeing dead bodies and watching a villager die in front of my eyes has had a big impact on my life and those are the memories and images that I’m having trouble erasing, but I’m dealing with it.
But, I think, there’s a lot more people out there who are not dealing with it, who are afraid to speak up. There’s embarrassment. There’s shame. There’s fear. But, if I had a message to my brother and sister veterans out there and you’re feeling anything like I was experiencing, something is not normal, reach out and get help.
Initially, I thought maybe it was the “ops tempo” and that had a big part of it, but there was also PTSD symptoms.
O’BRIEN: There’s a lot of misconception out in the civilian world or even in the military when it comes to (post traumatic stress). It comes in a lot of gradations. Each individual experiences it differently. Is that what you’re finding?
TEMPLE: Yes. I guess the way my therapist explains it is like all of your memories and things you experience you have in your brain and it’s like a file cabinet. And so, you file these things accordingly. But when you have something that’s really abnormal, it’s misfiled and until you can place it in that file and be comfortable with it, then, you’re going to continue to experience this. And part of it is being able to talk about it, reliving it and why does that bother you.
When I saw the bodies of my Afghan soldiers in the back of a pickup truck – why – why does death bother me? Things like that.
O’BRIEN: Did you resolve why that particular image bothered you?
TEMPLE: I’m not sure how to answer that. I feel like I’m really on thin ice here.
TEMPLE: At the same time, I feel relief and I am doing this because I want to benefit the other people out there.
O’BRIEN: You’re reaching out to veterans who are there who aren’t necessarily the ones coming forward because it’s easy to dismiss those symptoms or hide them?
TEMPLE: Yes. I think they fear for their career. They fear being labeled. And, I’m here to tell you that it’s not, it’s not going to hurt you. It’s going to benefit you. If you value your marriage, your children and your life then reach out and get this help. There’s a lot of therapists – they’re doing it pro bono. You have through the VA and through the military.
You can listen to the WUSF radio story HERE.
Filed under: Air Force, Deployment, PTSD, Radio, Veterans | Tagged: Afghan National Army, Afghanistan, Afghanistan My Last Tour, Air Force, Embedded Training Team, NPR, postaday2011, Senior Master Sergeant, SMSgt. Rex Temple, Veterans Day |