Tag Archives: military

News Blues

“We sure could use a little good news, today,” according to lyricsdepot.com, written by Charles Black, Rory Bourke, and Thomas Rocco, and sung by Anne Murray.

Yes, gatherings and remembering our troops and Veterans on special days helps; however, there are some precautions.

“One of the biggest sources of arousal or a trigger for combat veterans is a steady diet or exposure to the news.” (Hart, 2000, p. 68)

Reminder: For the next few months, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

One of the first things I did this morning, even as I prepared to travel half way across the country, was to bring in the daily newspaper. Yes, my eyes went immediately to the front page headlines: killing of a local police chief, arrest of a businessman for fraud—I stopped. Fortunately, the lead story was our high school graduation celebrations.

We are compelled to watch the news. In my limited view, it is a part of the compulsion to save the world, even while I am obsessed with freedom from such responsibilities. It is common for combat veterans to fixate on news stories (especially cable TV), to obsess on the stories, and to talk about them. They bother us.

It’s almost like a food allergy. As soon as we are exposed to any amount of certain kinds of news, we develop a craving. We can’t stop watching.

When the U.S. began Operation Desert Storm right after my birthday in 1991, I could not stop watching. Even then, I recognized that I had an unnatural fixation, but I was compelled. It seemed I thought if I didn’t stay with it, something bad might happen.

“No, I wanna go, sir. In case something bad happens, I wanna be there.” (Private Witt near the end in The Thin Red Line)

But, the reality is, we can’t do anything. Bad stuff happens, and we are helpless.

That’s the trigger, the feeling of vulnerability. We go into full survival mode of noradrenergic dysregulation, a wild ride or dinosaur dump of primitive brain (limbic system or the reptilian brain) control. Adrenalin changes our physiology and psychology, and it feels very uncomfortable for days.

The process is adrenalin leading to dysfunctional self statements (stinkin’ thinkin’ or wearisome worrying, as Dr. Hart says). He goes on to caution us, “Remember, hearing, reading, or watching the news will give you the blues.”

You can help. As you honor our troops and Veterans on Memorial Day or any other day, stay positive. Avoid talking about war, politics, wildfires, hurricanes, or dastardly deeds. Take a break from doomsday prophecies and character assassinations, even if the Veterans initiate it. Focus on something positive—say, graduation, a new baby, somebody coming home, an upcoming wedding, or the simple beauty around you, because it is there.

 

Dreadful Day

‘Tis mem’ry of that dreadful day,                                                    That lasts a hundred years,                                                               And grief for loss of youthful self,                                                   That bleeds a million tears.

Erv Barnes, 17 May, 2012

We were young, relatively innocent, and full of health and hope. Then, one day, we were old, experienced, and jaded to the core.

Reminder: For the next few months, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

“Who were you before you were exposed to the trauma of war?” (Hart, 2000, p. 62)

For many years, I rejected the notion that I could have combat PTSD. After all, my combat experiences had been brief and limited. I couldn’t believe that I deserved to be affected.

I am.

Maybe watching a fire base camp getting attacked for hour after hour, from the safety atop our team house, scared me. All I could do was coordinate the firing of our two little 105mm Howitzers.

Maybe watching whole families of Cambodians streaming south along the road by our camp, all their possessions in oxcarts, confused me.

Maybe saying goodbye to my Vietnamese and Cambodian friends when we had already evacuated most Americans from our Special Forces border camps saddened me.

I cannot say which time was my bad day at the war.

Others can. Some of my friends have horrific memories of the Tet Offensive of 1968, battles that raged not minutes or hours, but days. Each year as the anniversary approaches, they take steps to brace themselves for the wave of vulnerability and despair—and, perhaps, survivor guilt—that is inevitable. Their souls flash back to that time and relive the emotion, anger, and helplessness.

Holidays are difficult, special days such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day. Maybe it’s the anniversary of getting sworn in (17 May 1968), or the day you left “Country” to return home, DEROS or Date Eligible to Return from Overseas (1 Nov 70). Maybe it’s other special days, family days of celebration including Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, wedding anniversaries, or birthdays.

After our first experience in battle in the jungle, while we paused for a break as we moved toward a clearing where we could evacuate wounded, we stopped for a smoke. The Sergeant confessed, cigarette shaking in his hand, “…I just realized them sons-a-bitches were trying to kill me.”

Dr. Hart explains (p. 65), “When you realized this, you lost your sense of being invulnerable and were overwhelmed with a sense of vulnerability. In that moment, your basic cognitions regarding how the world worked and what you needed to do to survive, changed.”

In order to survive, I needed to kill people.

There is no going back once that realization has crystallized. I had become a different person, and I grieve the Erv that I can no longer be, my pre-trauma self.

You can help. When you honor our troops and Veterans, you validate me. When you remember the sacrifices of my fallen comrades, you validate me. When you help our troops return to families and communities, find jobs, go to school, and buy a house, you validate me.

When you honor us on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day, you validate the reality and the importance of that loss of youthful innocence.

Saturday is Armed Forces Day. Thank you for honoring our troops and validating me. It helps. It really does.

STAR

               

Support Troops After Return. Yellow ribbons, parades and medals are all appropriate ways of honoring and supporting our troops; however, they are not nearly enough. Not nearly.

They put their lives on the line for us, facing conditions most cannot imagine, and they will live with the personal consequences the rest of their lives. Will we? Or, will we wave a flag, wear a ribbon, and turn back to our own lives, leaving them to bear the pain of their wounds, visible and invisible, with no further thought or care from us?

There is a hard reality to combat trauma: It changes people. It changes the structure and function of brains, and it changes thoughts and behaviors. It changes people and relationships. It changes the way our troops view the world and the way the world sees them. The least we can do is face this reality, to make it our problem, not just theirs.

Our troops need educations, entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs. We cannot give these. They must earn them; however, we can help. We can participate in ownership of the problem and search for solutions.

There are many ways to approach the needs of our returning troops, and each of you has some special quality, some expertise, some talent to contribute. You have something special and unique to offer. Will you share?

I have made a lifetime of school, and I have studied learning. This is what I have to offer.

Our troops are coming home with world views that make learning more difficult. I don’t want to label these as disabilities or disorders, for most are not. They are challenges. Learning new concepts, skills, and techniques will be necessary to rejoin the civilian world. Learning is necessary but difficult, more difficult for our returning troops than before their service, more difficult than for the average citizen, more difficult because of changes to their brains and behaviors.

Here’s where we come in. We need to learn, too—families, friends, employers, venture capitalists, schools—we need to know how to help our Veterans learn their ways out of the pain and confusion. That is the point of this blog series.

All I am saying is, “Give them a chance.” Invest enough time and energy to learn about Combat PTSD and other challenges for our returning troops.

Would you care to help? You can begin by going to the link below and giving me some feedback on this blog. You can download a teaching evaluation form in Word, complete it, and send it to the email on the form as an attachment. This will help me learn how to help our returning troops through this blog.

http://www.box.com/s/knbg59onmmxsak74k4ko

STAR—Support Troops After Returns.

Wounds of War

We are all wounded. War does that to us. Life wounds us. Death, threat of death, and chasing death change us.

For the next several weeks or months of 2012, I intend to review and reflect upon a little book written by a psychologist friend who has devoted his career to helping men and women with combat PTSD. I am a member of one group. The book is called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping by Ashley B. Hart II, Ph.D.

Combat PTSD as a recognized disease was born in 1980, ten years after I returned from Vietnam. It is periodically reborn in subsequent versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, including one currently under review. The disorder by many other names is as old as human conflict.

Mental is defined as relating to the intellectual and/or emotional functions of the mind. Sorry, it seems there is no purple heart for a wound that bleeds only in your mind. As of DSM IV, all criteria for diagnosis of PTSD are mental, observable as behaviors. For example, Criterion F: This condition causes significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning. Getting diagnosed requires getting into trouble. That’s the bad news.

There is good news, and I pledge to work hard to bring that to you. For one, people do heal. There are treatment methods and recovery skills which improve our abilities to cope, and our symptoms can be managed. We get better.

Another form of good news is cloaked in bad news. Not only did our minds—our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors—change, but so did our brains. There are physical and chemical changes to our brains that can be tested, observed, and measured. Brain structures change in size. Electrical and chemical changes can be documented. The wound is no longer strictly mental.

Trauma is a word from the Greek language meaning wounding. Some event or condition overwhelmed our coping mechanisms so that we had to change our behaviors. We learned. As rats learned the maze and cats learned how to escape the Skinner boxes, we became conditioned by certain stimuli to react in ways that improved our chances for survival.

We sit with our backs to the wall facing the room, the window, and, especially, the door. We avoid crowds. We maintain elevated levels of vigilance. In order to feel less vulnerable, we maintain an almost constant low-grade rage. When confronted by real or imaginary threats, we tend to immediately make a choice to fight or flee. Much of the time, we are sad. Frequently, we find habits that numb us or distract us from our feelings. We have learned that far more terrifying than lions, tigers, and bears are our fellow human beings.

The solution is to learn new ways of coping, healthier ways, ways that utilize our smarter mental faculties. It is work, but it does work. I am able do disarm my anger quicker and more often. I am happy more frequently, and so are my wife and dog. More importantly, I have more hope than I have had in decades. Most importantly, I have a way of helping my brothers and sisters suffering similar wounds, and nothing is more gratifying for a reluctant old soldier.

When Dr. Hart published his book in 2000, there were approximately 100,000 American Veterans with some form of Combat PTSD disability status and another half million getting help in the form of care, counseling, or other assistance. I do not have current statistics, but the numbers are increasing. One reason is a strange phenomenon of delayed onset. Many of us do not experience severity of symptoms leading us to treatment for 40-50 years after the trauma.

Our troops are coming home, now. They are not only home from Iraq and soon from Afghanistan, they are literally being sent home as our military shrinks. They are getting pink slips, and they need our help. We know so much more than we did in 1970, and we owe it to our troops to support them, now. Will you help me? Will you help me help them?

I don’t exactly know how, yet. I’m hoping you will help me with that. Recovery is a thinking process, and we can help people find their way. We can study, learn, share, and lead our family, friends, community, and nation to reach out to Veterans now, before they get into trouble, before they require disability benefits, before they lose families, jobs, or lives.

Next week we will take a quick look at the human brain and the changes trauma can effect.

“Thank you for your service and welcome home.”

Miracle of Gratitude

Late in the year of 2008, I accepted two related ideas: 1) I was not as happy as I wanted to be; and, 2) I was not as grateful as I needed to be. With the counsel of happier and more grateful friends, I began 2009 with the commitment to write one small gratitude statement in a daily meditation book—a different gratitude each day. Perhaps I missed three days that year, but I made up all my late work.

2009 was a very good year. Something wonderful happened along the way. I found humility (I hadn’t even noticed it was lost). And, there, behind humility, gratitude was waiting for me.

For those of you familiar with the works of one Nazarene, I have a word: Beatitudes.

Misery is a blessing. Power is in paradox, although I do not believe it is at all paradoxical except at a superficial level. Misery is a condition from which we learn. It is humbling. What we learn from such experiences is the blessing. We learn gratitude—if, and only if, we are willing.

Gratitude feels good. It is practically impossible to do evil when grateful. In gratitude, we act from love—and love comes back to us. That is not a paradox. It is the way our universe works.

Okay. I am going way out on a limb here. We have the experiences we request. Prayers are answered. I’ll try to explain.

I watch a movie, To Hell and Back, and wonder, “Would I be brave?” I really want to know. It occupies my mind for years. Then, I get the answer.

Nobody tells me, “Erv, you are brave.” I’m a skeptic. I wouldn’t believe a statement like that. The answer comes in an opportunity to be brave. The opportunity is peril of war.

In 1968, under imminent threat of military draft, I signed a guaranteed enlistment contract with the U.S. Army to train and employ as a Chemical Staff Specialist. It was my attempt to control my own destiny. Within a few days of swearing in, however, I surrendered that guarantee for the opportunity to attend Infantry Officer Candidate School with only one guarantee: I would go to Vietnam.

To this day, November 21st, 2011, I have been confused about why I did that. Why did this peacenik agriculture student volunteer to do such a thing? My friend used my words this morning to answer my question: Go before show.

Permit me an aside. I have disliked yellow ribbons on cars because I felt it was all show and no go. I never wore one. Now that I have an opportunity to advocate for Veterans with combat PTSD through Beyond the Blood Chit (www.ErvBarnes.com) and related personal appearances, I feel entitled to wear a yellow ribbon because I am, indeed, supporting our troops through my actions.

I never had to prove my courage in the way of Audey Murphy, but I did do my duty under fire. Today, I am grateful to know that about myself. Even though many comrades came home dead and wounded while I was unscratched, I have become grateful for my safe return and for the experience which now allows me to reach out to support our troops. Survivor’s guilt has evaporated. Anger over perceived injustices has dissipated. Gratitude remains.

Many days I still find myself wallowing in the muck and mire of self pity. I stare at the fears of the future and regrets of the past rather than the blessings of my present moment. Certainly, I need to focus on these blessings more than once a year or even once a day, but Thanksgiving is a season of gratitude. I celebrate it. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Re Quest: Honoring Duty

I have a confession to make. Those yellow ribbons on cars irritate me. They make me angry. You know the ones—they say Support our Troops. I don’t know what that means. I always want to turn on a red light, pull them over, and ask exactly what they actually DO that supports troops. Okay, I have a little Vietnam Syndrome now called PTSD.

When I returned, I did have a positive experience. My friend and I came home together, and we flew from Seattle to Minneapolis on a red-eye. A group of good ol’ boys on a hunting trip bought us drinks the whole flight, and we drank for effect in those days, especially when someone else was buying. Still, we felt the collective angst and disapproval toward us by our society. We felt un-thanked and unsupported. I want to thank and support our troops. I just don’t believe a yellow ribbon can do that in any meaningful way. If you have one on your car, that’s okay. This is my problem, not yours. Maybe you can tell me how you go about supporting our troops. I want to know.

Opportunities for me to cross paths with active and retired military are abundant in Yuma, AZ. We have two major and famous facilities in our area: Yuma Marine Corp Air Station with one of the country’s largest runways; and Yuma Proving Ground, one of the largest geographical testing sites in the country. How can I support these troops and Veterans?

This has not been easy for me, but I have found some ways. There are meetings to help troops and Veterans recover from combat experiences and adjust to civilian life. Community groups sponsor workshops, forums, and celebrations that offer individual and family support. No matter where you live, you probably have something nearby in the form of a Veterans Affairs clinic or center, or maybe just a community office. If nothing else, you probably have a National Guard or Reserve unit. Make a connection.

I offer written and spoken words. It is something I can do. I am not an organizer, fund raiser, counselor, or leader, but I can write and speak as an advocate for our troops and Veterans. I can share my story. It isn’t much, but if it helps even one person, it improves several lives—the life of that one troop or Veteran, the lives of his/her family and friends, the lives of other troops and Veterans helped by that person passing it along, and one more: me. Being of service is important for my wellbeing. Helping others is a very meaningful way for me to help myself.

Many of our people returning from regions of conflict bear invisible wounds (including those who also have visible wounds). They have troubling symptoms. Most of these will persist and even get worse over time. Our troops will attempt to cope with these symptoms. Many of these ways of coping—alcohol and other drugs, anger/rage, work or hobby immersion, isolation, etc.—are destructive. This defines a disease process, and we can help.

What do we do about breast cancer? Diabetes? Depression?

Action starts with awareness. We can learn about symptoms, treatments, recovery, and support mechanisms. Yes, I always seem to get back to learning as a solution to real problems. That is not because I taught—it is why I teach. Learning matters.

On my website (www.ErvBarnes.com), I suggest Awareness, Acceptance, and Adaptation as the recovery process. It is meant to be suggestive only, my way of looking at things. You can start your investigation there. You will find links to @ervbarnes on Twitter and Erv Barnes Ink on Facebook where I retweet and share PTSD information. Any search for PTSD will get you started. Wherever you go for information, please start now. We can support our troops and Veterans IF, and only if, we know how.

Please share comments with readers here about how you support troops and Veterans. What you say and do matters.

Note: The next thread of Quest for Etymoken will be much more positive, the Science of Joy, and will posted on Wednesdays. The writing thread posts, Journey for Authority, will be made on Mondays. You are the reason for these changes since my data says you like reading on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Public Rug: Learning Duty

In the spirit of Veterans’ Day, I will focus my comments on the positive contributions toward educating our young on the nature of duty. That will be the focus, but first I indulge my critical nature. When it comes to public education within and without the walls of institution, we do a lot of things wrong.

As a society, we tell young people their duty: sit quietly in school, volunteer to answer questions, complete homework on time, prepare for and strive to perform on tests, and successfully compete with peers by doing better than they do in school. Kids know that is a lot of bunk. They can feel it in their guts. They know intuitively that what they believe is their personal business. Because we cannot really teach duty (or much of anything else) by telling others what to do, we end up confusing them about the nature of duty. Thankfully, many of our young citizens and future leaders do learn lessons of duty at home and around the community—by watching how we appreciate those who have done and are doing their duty.

Sometimes our schools also do this very well. For many years, our Beaver Dam High School Senior Speech Class, taught by Mrs. Jeri Kimmell, presented a whole school assembly in honor of our Veterans. Local Veterans were invited to participate in the audience and join in social activities hosted by the students. Aging citizens came face-to-face with beautiful young people, and the students looked into the eyes and shook hands with genuine heroes. Every veteran on staff and from the community were given boutonnieres in honor of their service. The students dressed in their finest appropriate clothes. It was one of the best school-community functions I have ever been privileged to enjoy.

On some occasions, I was honored to speak at the assembly. I stood on stage in front of more than a thousand people to share a little of my experience as a veteran. That is a very scary proposition for a bashful boy, but I am extremely grateful for the experiences. Besides giving me opportunity to serve my school and community, it required me to process, and make some sense of, my combat experiences. Thank you Senior Speech students of the past, Jeri, and BDHS.

I remember on one occasion, I began by saying that the only good soldier is a reluctant soldier. I expressed my feelings about wishing to avoid war, to avoid the stains of blood, to avoid the sadness and guilt that follow us forever after. I remember seeing the faces of Veteran friends in the audience, including my wife, Nancy, and recognizing their understanding, empathy, and pride as I spoke. It is a very good memory for this tired, old, reluctant soldier.

On another occasion, I began by reading names of fallen soldiers on The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall. I read them slowly and then reported my calculations on how long it would take to read them all. I suggested that if we were to include all the names of Vietnamese and the Cambodians lost in the Killing Fields after we left, we might need fifty walls. Having been a military advisor, I had many real friends among the Vietnamese and Kmer people.

On this second occasion, I also shared my first real spiritual experience at The Wall, an event that moves me even twenty three years later. You might not be surprised to learn that this is one personal experience that found its way into the fictional story of my novel, BEYOND THE BLOOD CHIT. You may read the first three chapters by going to www.ErvBarnes.com.

BE. After all these years of teaching and studying, that is still the summary of my theory on education. If we wish to teach duty, we must do our duty. If we wish to teach value for duty, we must value others who have done or are doing their duty. If we would wish our children to be dutiful, so we must be.

I am neither hero nor victim. Very, very many have sacrificed much more than I have. Today is just one day when I remind myself to honor them—to honor you, each and every one who performs duty in and out of uniform. Thank you for your service, and welcome home.

Re Quest: Everybody’s Choice

In all of human existence, there is only one choice necessary.

That’s the good news.

The perceived tyranny of freedom—the necessity to constantly make decisions that affect my life, the lives of family and friends, and the lives of strangers around the world consequent to my ballot box choices—is less paradox and more illusion. When I feel overwhelmed with the burden of deciding if, how, and when to publish, I need only go back to that one choice and I am, again, free. Not choosing is not an option, it is a choice. I must choose. How can I be free of that burden without being a slave?

I cannot. I am a slave except for one major fact. I have the freedom to choose my master.

“I am the Captain of my soul,” ( William Ernest Henley, “Invivtus”). Okay, who’s the Admiral (or, General)?

Hopefully, many of you disagree with me right about now. Good. I do not want to be your master or general. I hope you will choose for yourself.

Do you ever wonder why so many people are cranky in this land of freedom? Why are people angry? I don’t mean what they say about why they are angry, I mean the real underlying cause of the anger.

We are afraid. More than anything else, I am afraid of being wro…, wro…, not right. I am afraid of being responsible for my choices. I am afraid of being ridiculed and ashamed. There is a way out.

I wait for somebody else to make the choice, and then I ridicule him or her. I manipulate situations so that others must choose. I don’t run for office. I blame those who do. I don’t make laws. I blame those who do. I don’t judge—wait. I don’t accept the responsibility for legally judging, I blame those who do. It’s not my fault, really. I’m scared.

I do not need to be scared. I can simply adopt a set of rules for making decisions. Then, I don’t have to decide for myself. I simply follow. I can join a gang, political movement, military unit, church….

Okay, by now most of you have to be in disagreement. Very good.

The more complete the set of rules adopted, the fewer decisions I have to make. I don’t have to think anymore, and I don’t have to be responsible. I know which hat to wear, how to place it on my head, and when (for whom) to remove it. I may even know what my haircut should look like. Oh…should I have earrings? I better check the rules.

If you are still reading this, I’m guessing you can see a flicker of truth. Rules are comforting. Anthropologists call it culture.

How do we react to other cultures? I better check the rules. False religion. Human rights violations. Indecent grooming or attire. Inferior genes. Ugly language. My affinity for conformity to avoid ridicule and shame drives me to ridicule and shame those who choose to adopt a different set of rules. Desperate otherness.

If you choose to be your own master, you are responsible for all the consequences. If you think that is easy, watch the political debates. Where are the individualists? They can’t get elected.

There is only one choice required in Earthly human existence: Choose your master. You cannot have two, only one. All other choices are mere extensions of that one choice.

If there is bad news, it is that this choice must be made over and over, constantly, moment by moment. The other good news is this: If any person makes a personal commitment to a master, that master facilitates all the subsequent choices.

For those of you who have seen me (or really looked at a picture) recently, have you ever wondered why I wear two different colored earrings? Biblical slaves who chose to stay with their masters after being set free branded themselves with earrings to identify the masters they chose to serve.

No, I do not have two masters. The left is my reminder of the source of power for my choices. The right is my reminder of how to use that power in service to others.

Who is your master?

Public Rug: Rite Choices

When does a boy become a man or a girl become a woman?

Indulge me the idealism for a moment to believe that the primary purpose of all education, formal and informal, is to facilitate the metamorphosis into adulthood. We can define adult by the way we make choices and the cultural expectations upon the way we make choices. The ways of the child are abandoned for the ways of the man or woman.

Education, then, is a process of helping young people learn how to make adult choices. Here rises the specter of our American education model, the curriculum metaphor. We picture education as a racecourse (as for chariots called curricles), a specific, defined, and rigid path over which students compete. The design of the racecourse is called pedagogy, named for the slaves who walked the students to school. We attempt to teach children how to make decisions by making their decisions for them.

Is it different at home? Yes, it usually is. Many parents work very hard to encourage children to make decisions within constraints. Very good. Others abdicate and allow children to make far too many decisions, learning only by trial and error.

Between the two, out “there” where adolescents learn way too much way too soon, our culture abandons them. Try watching TV again, or going to the mall, the movies, or (if you dare) a youth party.

There are many ways of making choices: Religious doctrine, ideological dogma, Divine inspiration, gang persuasion, methods of science, critical thinking, etc. One way or another, every boy decides what rules of manhood he will adopt, and every girl chooses her own rules of womanhood. Our cultural problem is we rarely give them a deadline for making that choice. Even worse, we seldom give them recognition for actually choosing. We ignore rites of passage.

I would like to step back to share a bit of personal theory. I believe we experience many phases of development rather than just the two. Childhood is not the first, and adulthood is not the last. Furthermore, there are several different forms of adulthood, several different life paths, each demanding specific ways of making choices. Teachers, soldiers, priests, and farmers do not (cannot, safely) use the same techniques for deciding actions. If we find ourselves on a path where our personal style of choosing fits the demands of our path, we are fortunate. If not, we probably made a bad choice of path—unless we learn something valuable.

This theory also includes the observation that as individuals approach a transition, they seem to move into a necessary, although annoying, egocentric phase. They seem to think mainly of themselves as they move through their own process of choosing or becoming the new person in the new stage of development. Terrible twos and puberty are two. Menopause and retirement are two more. I have also noticed the high school senior year and whatever year in college a major is actually chosen. Several occur in adulthood.

This is why rites of passage such as Confirmation and graduation are so important, not as celebrations of something completed, but as acknowledgment of a metamorphosis similar to a rebirth. The rites are for the observers so that we look at the individual in new ways fitting her/his new identity. We must change our expectations. I believe we need a whole lot more rites of passage.

There are times when major choices have to be made. 1968 was one of mine. I was in my last semester at UW, accepted into Graduate School, and already employed by a professor. I quit to join the Army—dropped out of school and raised my hand. I was liberal even then, rather anti-military, but totally
committed to democracy as a way of governing, and my government was calling me.

That was a very difficult choice, but not my toughest one.

After I was sworn in and all my tests completed, I gave up my guaranteed enlistment option as a Chemical Staff Specialist and chose a path to become an Infantry Officer even though I knew it meant a tour in Vietnam. I still wonder why I did that, but it was not my toughest choice.

When I completed Infantry Officer Candidate School and before I went on to Airborne School and Special Forces Officer Training, I had to make one more big choice. I could not raise my hand and swear in as an officer until I knew I could do what I would be telling others to do. The most difficult choice of my life was not made in Vietnam but at Fort Benning, Georgia, when I made the personal commitment to killing another human being.