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Peterson Space Observer

Ancient Greeks still have something to teach about war

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

by Monica Mendoza

21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Life after the 10-year Trojan War was difficult for the highly-decorated Greek officer Ajax. He had trouble leaving the battlefield. He became irrationally violent. He felt isolated.

Although Ajax’s story was written in the fifth century B.C., his post-war experience is worth retelling, especially for today’s military warriors. The way Sophocles put it, Ajax suffered from “divine madness.” Today, his symptoms would be better described as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 21st Space Wing will host the “Theater of War” production, a retelling of Sophocles’ ancient Greek plays “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” July 13 at the base auditorium. Philoctetes was a wounded Greek war veteran who had trouble reintegrating and accepting assistance, and he mistrusted the army that he felt abandoned him and his illness.

The production will be followed by a town hall discussion so that Airmen might have an opportunity to express their feelings about the war they’ve been to or could soon be going to. The idea is to help combat veterans return to civilian life after deployment and open a safe space for dialogue about the challenges faced by servicemembers, veterans and their families.

“Listening to the stories of Ajax and Philoctetes from 2,500 years ago, one cannot escape the realization that the challenges of reintegration are as old as war itself,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury director. The center is sponsoring the Theater of War production at 100 military installations and conferences across the country.

Theater of War was founded in 2008 in New York. The idea of the production is to increase awareness of post-deployment psychological health issues, reduce stigma and foster hope. Its co-founder and actor Bryan Doerries said he hopes the plays de-stigmatize psychological injury by placing it in an ancient warrior context.

“Both plays timelessly describe the impact of war on human beings asking one fundamental question: how do we restore humanity to those who feel they have lost it?,” Mr. Doerries said.

Lt. Col. Randall Kitchens, 21st Space Wing chaplain, said ancient Greek drama is sometimes viewed as a form of communal therapy. He hopes that Airmen who watch the play will also engage in a little communal therapy.

“The whole purpose is to spark discussion,” Chaplain Kitchens said. “Peer discussion is where it starts, then when signs and signals elevate, that is where referring and gently guiding people to where they can find help is the next piece.”

War and its after effects have not changed since Sophocles wrote about it and, “it does not get easier,” Chaplain Kitchens said. He hopes that the Theater of War production just gets people talking – when they return from deployment, in the morning around the coffee pot or in the hallway on the way to a meeting.

“Take time to say, ‘let me hear the story of your deployment,’” he said.

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