By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 6, 2009 – Servicemembers at war can be confronted with traumatic, sometimes shocking, events that can cause long-lasting emotional and psychological wounds.
In some cases, servicemembers develop what is called post-traumatic stress disorder. In past wars, the disorder was known by other names. In World War I, the medical profession called it shell-shock. In World War II and Korea, it was called battle fatigue. During and after the Vietnam War, it became PTSD.
No matter the name, the devastating effects remain the same, and the disorder can manifest itself in many ways. For Army Brig. Gen. Gary S. Patton, the dreams are the worst. Patton, now the Joint Staff’s director for personnel, served as a brigade commander with the 2nd Infantry Division in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005. As a colonel, he commanded 4,100 soldiers who deployed from Korea to Iraq, and then redeployed to Fort Carson, Colo.
“It was a very tough neighborhood,” he said during an interview. “It was a very active terrorist threat.”
Patton calls the dreams “sleep disturbances,” and said that was one of the reasons he sought mental health help. “I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a loud explosion going off in my head,” he said. “Not only do you have the sound, but the recreation of the smell and taste that you get from being right there in an [improvised explosive device] explosion.
“That effect has diminished, but it’s disturbing nonetheless.”
One of the dreams centers on Army Spc. Robert Oliver Unruh. Patton was observing actions on the north side of Ramadi when Unruh, a 25-year-old combat engineer, was hit in the torso by small-arms fire.
“We put him in an armored vehicle to [medically evacuate] him to our aid station,” the general said. “I was the last person to talk to Specialist Unruh because he died before my eyes there.”
Calling the sleep disturbances dreams doesn’t really give them their due. The incidents unroll as they happened, he said. He smells the cordite, he feels the blood, he hears the conversations, and he sees the young specialist die.
Patton wears a bracelet with Unruh’s name on it as part of remembering the 69 soldiers from his brigade who paid the ultimate sacrifice over a year in Iraq.