The Wilderness After War

wawHart Viges, Mark Wilkerson and Jessica Goodell all volunteered for the military.
They all chose to go to war, and they have all suffered from PTSD.
But none of them fully recognized it until after they were home.
The war over there – its smells, its sounds, the reflexes they developed to survive – forced its way into their lives over here.

Wilderness After War from The Ochberg Society on Vimeo.

Trauma works on people in different ways. Some are affected by physical wounds, others by past traumas brought to light in the wake of war, and others by their direct experience in the theatre of war. Nothing is “normal” in war. Young men and women are immersed in something so intense, experiencing in a period of a few months things that most of us will never face in our lifetime.

And like all of us, the young men and women in our battlefields bring with them their own biographies. Hart comes from a family of veterans who valued military service. Mark, also from a military family, suffered from PTSD as a child, after watching his mother being brutally beaten. Jessica believed “real” Marines are the ones who experience combat.

This multimedia essay is only part of their story. I first interviewed Mark and Hart in 2007 and then revisited with them this fall, and I met Jessica in October. Here’s what I learned: Hart’s honorable discharge allows him to collect some disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for his PTSD. He is studying massage therapy, with help from the GI Bill, and plans to move to Jamaica and work as a masseur upon graduation. Mark received a bad-conduct discharge and lost all his benefits; he went to college and teaches in a private school in Taiwan. Jessica wrote a memoir, Shade It Black, about her service in Iraq. She is studying for a doctorate in psychology and interns with the local VA, where she plans to counsel people with PTSD.

Like other veterans of wars around the world, they are learning to navigate through the wilderness.