Story and photo by Devin Fisher
A Vietnam veteran spoke to Fort Carson warriors May 7 urging them to take advantage of the resources available to assist them with the challenges associated with being a combat veteran.
Retired Marine Sgt. Andrew Brandi, a motivational speaker and author of “The Warriors Guide to Insanity,” conducted two, one-hour presentations at McMahon Auditorium sharing 40 years of personal experience and stories of fellow veterans to assist Mountain Post Soldiers in dealing with post-traumatic stress, survivor guilt and suicidal issues.
“I am here today to talk to you troops so you don’t repeat what we (Vietnam veterans) did,” Brandi said. He and his three closest Battle Buddies combined had 23 wives and have had 260 jobs, which Brandi said was normal for combat veterans their generation.
“You don’t have to (repeat what we did) anymore – there are good programs in place now,” he said. “Counselors know what they are talking about; they can help you get through your experiences in a very short time.”
Brandi noted the average warrior saw 40 days of combat during World War II and 240 days during the Vietnam War, but he has recently talked with Soldiers who have spent more than 1,200 days in combat.
“If you think you don’t have issues after 1,200 days of combat, you need to think again,” Brandi said.
Something changes inside a warrior the first time he takes another’s life or watches a comrade fall on the battlefield, Brandi said. Warriors feel rage and anger and want payback; but they also feel a sense of loneliness they have never experienced before.
They also struggle living in two worlds simultaneously – the warrior world and civilian society.
“The two worlds do not mesh; you have to cross that bridge and that’s part of the problem. The world that they used to belong to no longer feels comfortable.”
He shared stories of a combat veteran performing a perimeter search of a Wal-Mart parking lot to ensure there were no snipers on the rooftop prior to entering the building and another who was unable to drive a car down the street for fear of an improvised explosive device detonating under his vehicle. Yet another warrior could not go to the mall for fear of a suicide bomber blowing up his Family.
Brandi recalled feeling completely alone when he returned from Vietnam, having no place to turn for assistance. Fortunately, today there are combat counselors who have experienced similar situations on the battlefield and can help warriors work through their feelings, he said.
In addition to the mental health services available at Fort Carson, assistance is available through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Sgt. Brandi Web site. Located at http://sgtbrandi.com, the Web site has teamed up with the Military Order of the Purple Heart to provide mentors to combat veterans.
Brandi also expressed the need for warriors to remain connected with their Battle Buddies, because they provide a good support base.
“The truest friends they (warriors) have are the ones they just came out of battle with,” he explained. “Those are the ones they can trust.”
This special bond can cause strain on relationships as the warriors seek refuge in their Battle Buddies and not their spouses, Brandi warned. He also urged the Soldiers to recognize that their spouse had their own trauma to deal with while they were deployed, to include raising children alone and worrying about their Soldiers’ safety.
As for suicide, Brandi suggests warriors honor their brothers and sisters who died beside them on the battlefield.
“If they thought you were worth dying for, you’ve got to think, ‘maybe I’m worth living for.'”