Generations of Nebraska Warriors: Solutions

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August 20, 2014 - 6:30am

The transition from being at war to coming home isn’t easy for many soldiers. There are often challenges like mental health issues, getting along with family and friends, or finding a job or a place to live. In this NET News Signature Story, part of our “Generations of Nebraska Warriors” project, Mike Tobias talks with Nebraska combat veterans about how they deal with these challenges, and how others can help.


For more of these stories watch the NET News television program, “Generations of Nebraska Warriors":

  • Wed., Aug. 20, 7 pm CT on NET2
  • Fri., Aug. 22, 7 pm CT on NET1

CLICK HERE for the web site for the project, which includes videos and links to resources for veterans.

The annual Veteran’s Freedom Music Festival in Lincoln is a day of song, but also a way to connect veterans with a variety of resources. Rows of tents, the kind that pop-up quickly at kids sporting events, surround the crowd. They’re occupied by various groups that serve those who served in the military. One stands out. It’s camouflage, something you’re more likely to see on a battlefield than a soccer field. Here’s where members of the Marine Corps League are hanging out. Veterans like Kevin Barret, who spent about 20 years in the Marines and fought in places like Iraq and Grenada. He came home with wounds from a grenade, and PTSD.

“I couldn’t do that group therapy because it just drove me nuts,” Barret said. “I couldn’t connect with nobody cause no one in there was a Marine. The (Marine Corps) League itself saved my life.”

“It’s hard to talk about this stuff, but it sure is great to have a bunch of brothers and sisters to talk to about it and lean on when you need them,” added Gulf war veteran and Marine Corps League member Steve Phillips.

It’s a message we heard over and over again while talking with Nebraska combat veterans for our “Generations of Nebraska Warriors” project; nothing helps deal with the impacts of war like connecting with other veterans.

“It’s not often though that you get someone that is sympathetic and empathetic and that’s what you get when you have a discussion with a veteran,” said Dave Spry, a former Marine and veteran of the brutal battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam.

“For a conversation to happen, you have to find somebody who actually fought,” said Marty Ramirez, an Army veteran who like Spry was wounded in Vietnam. “Because when we start talking, it’s like we were there yesterday.”

Veterans we talked to say there are more formal resources now than there used to be for those who need help. Vietnam veterans in particular say support was almost non-existent when they returned. But even when help is available, some don’t use it.

Jenny Bos and A.J. Bloebaum are Army National Guard soldiers who came under fire running convoys in Iraq.

“It’s just whether or not the person wants to seek them out,” Bos said.

“It’s the big thing,” Bloebaum continued. “Most people are too proud to get themselves help.”

Anita Curington, a full-time Army National Guard soldier and commander who’s been in Iraq, believes there used to be a career-killing stigma that went along with soldiers getting help.

“The leadership from the top down has spent at least six years now that I know of trying to get rid of that stigma,” Curington said. “That it’s not going to be detrimental to your career. There’s not going to be any repercussions. Get the help that you need. I don’t know that that’s filtrated all the way through, but we have made a concerted effort to make sure that folks know if you need help, please go get it.”

So how can people who haven’t been to war help those who have?

“I want them to have compassion for the veteran,” said Jim Cada, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. “I believe unless you’ve been there, you’ll never understand it completely. Unless you’ve felt the fear and you hear the bullets and the bombs and all the other crap that goes on, I don’t think you can understand it.”

Cada and his friend, Greg Holloway, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, say it’s also important to understand what not to ask.

“Did you shoot somebody,” Cada responded, when asked what question about war he dislikes. “Or how many people did you shoot? I mean what the heck, you can’t answer that.”

“Or how did you kill somebody,” Holloway added.

“It’s like if you didn’t shoot somebody, then you weren’t in combat,” said Kim Moore, an Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan.

“It’s not a video game,” Curington said. “War is not Call of Duty or Halo or any of those other games.”

The bottom line, Curington said, is help those who need help, get help.

“There’s a lot of inside wounds,” Curington said, “and if somebody is struggling, if you’re a family member or a friend of a veteran, learn what those signs and symptoms are so that you can recognize them and get them to some help. Because they may be struggling and drowning and they’re proud people and they’re just not going to say anything.

“You got to do it. You can’t sit back and wait,” Barret said, talking about getting help.

“Don’t let somebody drag you there,” added Marine Corps League member Cody Sparks, a veteran of two deployments to Afghanistan.

“It just gets worse and worse if you don’t do anything with it,” Phillips said, “because I tried to ignore it for a long time and it doesn’t work.”

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