Halfway Home: Silver Star Recipient Talks About His PTSD

Sgt. Tommy Rieman sat in the gallery during Pres. Bush's State of the Union address when he recognized the Silver Star recipient.

Sgt. Tommy Rieman was awarded a Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and courage under fire while serving in Iraq. But, he will do something that takes as much courage this Saturday in Sarasota. He will discuss living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The free symposium will start with a documentary “Halfway Home” that features the soldier and others struggling with PTSD and examines the military culture that stigmatizes mental health.

Rieman survived 11 wounds while guiding his team through multiple attacks in Iraq December 2003 and President Bush recognized his bravery.

“Tommy Rieman was a teenager pumping gas in Independence, Kentucky when he enlisted in the U.S. Army,” Pres. Bush said. “He was on a recognizance mission in Iraq when his team came under heavy enemy fire. For his exceptional courage, Sgt. Rieman was award the Silver Star. He has earned the respect and gratitude of our entire country.”

And Rieman is proud of his country and the Army. So much so, he agreed to be a part fo the Army’s video program called Real Heroes. But while on his second tour in Iraq, his situation changed and he considered suicide.

Sgt. Tommy Rieman, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, is awarded the Purple Heart by Col. Michael Ferriter during a ceremony at Devil Field, August 6. Rieman was also awarded the Silver Star and Army Commendation medal.

“I was just fed up. So, I loaded a rifle and played with the idea of taking my life for several hours at night,” Rieman said during a telephone interview earlier this week. “And it wasn’t until that exact point that I realized, hey, I’ve got two children, I’m in a great relationship, I don’t want to live my life this way. I am not going to be held hostage to this.”

So, he got some immediate help from a combat stress team while he was still in Iraq. Yet, Rieman acknowledges it’s tough admitting you have problems.

“A lot of people will believe, especially within the service, hey you just need to get over it. You’re just sad or upset because this happened and you just need to suck it up,” Rieman said.

He saw the need to educate his own service members as well as the general public on the invisible wounds of war. So, the Silver Star recipient agreed to let everyone see behind his soldier’s veneer. He agreed to do a documentary about PTSD with filmmaker Paul Freedman. Rieman said as a leader, he owed it to the 30 men he commands in the National Guard as well as to the men and women who served in Iraq.

Rieman and Freedman met while producing the Real Heroes Army films. The two are different in age, in political philosophy, and in their support of the Iraq War, but they became fast friends.

Freedman was impressed with the bond and loyalty he witnessed between the soldiers.

“It was an eye opener to be in these kids presence, to understand their way of thinking, to understand what I had missed in not having served,” Freedman said. “Not that I would want to go to combat, but I really see the value in the way these people are trained and how they look out after one another.”

Soldier Honored at State of the Union Address Sgt. Tommy Rieman shows an example of what his character will look like in "America's Army," the Army's video game. Rieman is among the first participants in the "America's Army: Real Heroes" program, which aims to honor soldiers who have shown heroism.

It soon became Freedman looking out after Rieman who spent time at the director’s LA home. That’s when Freedman noticed Rieman’s difficulty sleeping, his nightmares and drinking.

“We soon got into some pretty frank discussions about what he was going through and the aftermath, how scarred he was from the war,” Freedman said. “We had glorified his heroism without really understanding what it had left him with.”

That’s when the idea for the documentary “Halfway Home” was born. Freedman wanted to look at more than just the negatives of PTSD one of the shortcomings he found in the HBO documentary “Wartorn.”

“It was all a downer and it doesn’t have to be a downer and I’ll tell you why,” Freedman said. “The biggest problem is not that these men and women are going into combat and coming back with these invisible wounds. The biggest problem is that mental health issues in our society and my film touches on this, mental health issue in the military are incredibly stigmatized.”

One of the physicians in the film says that 50 percent of returning military who need help won’t get help because they fear it will hurt their careers or chances to get a job in the civilian world.

Freedman’s thinking was if those service members see a Silver Star  recipient, a tough guy, a hero like Tommy Rieman decide to get help that it can trigger something inside and get them to make a phone call or go see somebody.

Halfway Home” has only been screened publicly twice prior to the Sarasota symposium, Coping with Trauma and PTSD, scheduled Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL. The symposium is free and the doors open at 8 a.m.

A moderated discussion is scheduled after the film with the Sgt. Rieman, Freedman, Dr. Andrew Cutler, Dr. Charles Hoge, and former Cong. Patrick Kennedy.

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