PTSD: One Survivor’s Story

  • 06/28/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Arthur R. Vinsel

I cried myself to sleep that night, praying, ‘Oh God, God, what the f… is happening here?’ —Adam S.

War is no video game.

No matter how a bloody battle may end, weary, surviving fighters trembling with spent adrenaline, reeking of sweat and smoke, are wounded by what is seen and done.

Healing has taken nearly 20 years for Adam S.,whose surname is abbreviated to protect his privacy.  He survived the explosive cloudburst of Desert Storm, the swift 1990 invasion of Iraq as a U.S. Army infantry foot soldier. He had been deployed initially for Operation Desert Shield, to protect Saudi Arabia after Iraq overran Kuwait and threatened to invade Arabia next.

Desert Storm followed, an allied coalition blitzkrieg of Saddam Hussein’s aggressor nation, ending within days, with massive Iraqi casualties.

Adam, a burly, soft-spoken former pipefitter, recovering addict and victim of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), remembers the exact day and precise nightmare event that triggered its onset. Many do.

“We had been attached to the VII Corps, providing perimeter guard for graves registration detail, referred to also as ‘Bag ’em and Tag ’em.'”

Their task was recovering and identifying U.S. soldiers, who died on the battlefield, for shipment home.

The duty was not pleasant, but Adam, a specialist 4th class and other guards were distanced from it on patrol.

“Then, we were involved in ‘the highway deaths,'” he says, as though perhaps mentioning a fatal traffic accident, but it was far worse, a panorama of horror.

Retreating Iraqi invaders, whipped by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s cunning surprise attack, where Saddam least expected his border to be breached, were on the run.

“We caught a whole Iraqi regiment in a highway convoy,” Adam recalls.

A regiment is 1,200 men. Crammed into dozens of trucks like sardines in a can, they were sitting ducks for supersonic fighter bombers.

The U.S. jets roared in strafing, firing rockets and dropping bombs, as the target area erupted in explosions, fireballs and choking smoke, with shattered steel truck debris and torn, seared enemy body parts raining from the sky.

It was surreal and horrifying.

“I cried myself to sleep that night, praying, ‘Oh God. God. what the fuck is happening here…?'” Adam recalls.

He remembers waking up the next day, devoid of any feelings whatsoever.

“It was like I became animalistic,” he said. “I felt no compassion for other humans. Just kill’em all. Let God sort ’em out. I had shut down emotionally.”

Once back in the states, the Long Beach husband and father of three was moody, irritable, angry, insomniac and began drinking heavily. He tried illicit drugs for relief, all PTSD characteristics.

Unemployment and divorce followed eventually and finally, Ward L-1 at Long Beach Veterans Medical Center, for patients considered a danger to themselves and others. This is no picnic in the park.     

Once stabilized in 2008, VA advisors suggested he enter San Pedro’s Beacon House nonprofit alcohol and drug recovery program, while still in the hospital’s intensive day PTSD treatment.

His demons of war were dug in for a fight, but Adam, now 43,  equally battled for his life.

These days, he is a staff intern at Beacon House and also at the Long Beach VA Medical Center, trained as a PTSD counselor and serving as a case manager at Veterans Court in Long Beach, a new system for vets cleaning up their mistakes and building new lives.

“I get to help guys who are just like I was,” Adam said. “I’m clean, serene, sober and off all drugs, even VA clinic prescriptions. I’m at peace with myself and God. And my kids are back in my life again.”

He’s been sober for about four years. Adam is a busy man with all that, plus keeping up as a psychology major at Cal State University, Dominguez Hills.

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