By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — In 2008 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates designated November as Warrior Care Month to spotlight current programs and initiatives provided to military members through the Warrior Care system while highlighting forthcoming improvements.
One topic of care being discussed more and more is post-traumatic stress disorder.
One of Team Pete’s own, Staff Sgt. Holden Montgomery, Air Force Space Command administrative support technician, shared his story of being diagnosed with PTSD.
Ten days after graduating high school, 18-year-old ‘Monty’ enlisted in the Air Force in the spring of 2007. After completing basic training, the Athens, Pa., native spent the next few months in knowledge operations tech school at Keesler AFB, Miss., before settling into his first duty station at Shaw AFB, S.C.
In 2010 Monty left his home station to spend six months at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. Although Monty knew this deployment would be rough, he said he was unsure of any specific threats.
Monty deployed as a computer systems admin technician providing general information technology support for his unit the 777th Expeditionary Prime Beef Squadron.
During his six months in Afghanistan Monty said they encountered two ground-based attacks and were also subject to 86 rocket attacks, which he kept track of on his boonie cap.
“I remember during the first rocket attack I was scared out of my mind,” said Monty. “I hit the deck and was hoping and praying it wouldn’t land near me.”
Monty said while these attacks were initially terrifying, his fear was eventually replaced by annoyance and anger toward the insurgents carrying out the attacks.
During the first ground attack Monty said he knew right away something was different. The base siren sounded several times in a row indicating multiple rockets had been fired simultaneously.
After the signal to don his body armor was sounded, he rushed to the nearest bunker with the several Soldiers he was with.
Being one of the last into the bunker, Monty said he was unable to get far enough inside to be safe, which is when the base’s giant voice system instructed them to load their weapons.
“I had a clear view out of the bunker and I was praying I wouldn’t have to kill someone,” said Monty.
However, after this incident, Monty said this fear of taking a life became a desire.
“I wanted revenge,” said Monty. “My fear turned into a general dislike of all Afghans because I never knew who was good or bad.”
After returning home Monty said he knew things weren’t right because he was unable to feel any sort of emotion and the fact that he did not have anyone to share what he’d experienced while deployed wasn’t helping.
Furthermore, the office where Monty had worked underwent a drastic transition while he was gone. As a result he was now surrounded by people he no longer knew.
For Monty, all of this instability came to a head four months after returning home when his house was broken into twice in one week.
Monty cleared his house hoping to find the person responsible, but as he went room-to-room he said he envisioned the burglar as one of the insurgents he grew to hate during his deployment. This eventually led to Monty’s excessive drinking.
“I knew it was getting out of control the Friday night I drank 10 shots in about two hours,” said Monty.
The following Monday Monty went to his base mental health office for help. Realizing he needed care they could not provide, the Shaw AFB mental health office referred Monty to Fort Jackson, S.C., where he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Since seeking treatment, Monty has realized many of his misconceptions about mental health were just that — misconceptions.
“I always thought only crazy people went to mental health and that your career would be over, or that they would lock you in a psych ward,” said Monty. “(Getting the help I needed) makes me proud to still be serving. Never once was my career or clearance in jeopardy.”
Lt. Col. Christian Smith, 21st Mental Health flight commander and Maj. Maureen Kimsey, 21st Mental Health element chief, echoed Monty’s sentiment.
“Our ultimate goal is to get people back to their job,” said Smith.
He added that the majority of people seen at mental health receive the treatment they need and are sent back to work and no one in their chain of command ever hears anything of it.
“If we have to talk to someone’s command we only address issues directly related to one’s job,” said Kimsey.
Smith and Kimsey said some of the reasons a member’s command would be notified are serious issues such as suicidal or homicidal intent, or instances of abuse or neglect in the home.
Smith added that it’s important for people to come to mental health sooner rather than later. Those who wait often develop habits such as excessive drinking or anger issues that compound the original issue, which requires more time to treat effectively.
Still proudly wearing his uniform, Monty offered his thoughts for anyone thinking about seeking help.
“If you’re having issues, don’t be afraid to seek help. You’re not alone,” he said. “Being diagnosed with PTSD doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it simply means you’ve experienced things most people haven’t and you have to find the path to your new normal.”