Invisible wounds

Invisible wounds

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — I’m an ambassador for the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. As an ambassador, I’m an advocate for the program and I work in my local area to plan events which bring our wounded together. 

It’s a concept of family helping family. We are all in this great big Air Force family, and there are many of us who are still struggling with everyday life. Getting off the couch and participating in life is not a reality for many of our family. Our members struggle with a sense of belonging and value. Many feel they have been cast aside and suicide is a daily thought. 

This program has a unique way of combating behaviors where we suffer in silence. It’s a program which shows love for others and a true sense of caring by putting others needs above our own. Helping the person who is struggling with you greatly helps. 

I originally thought the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program was one of those things were they parade severely injured folks in front of people to get attention. I also confused it with the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization. I didn’t want to be a part of anything which put me in the spotlight or focused on making me a poster for sympathy. I’ve never been more wrong. 

The program focuses on two things. The first is to put our wounded, ill and injured together so we can strengthen and support each other. People who have never had post-traumatic stress disorder will never understand what it’s like to suffer mentally in this way. Second, the program offers unique opportunities to give our Airmen value and give them a sense of ‘I can still function and participate in life.’ I can’t say enough about the program and I want to encourage all of our wounded, ill and injured to attend an event. 

Another thought which kept me from being part of the program prior to 2016 was that I had healed from my injuries (which I’ll talk about shortly) and didn’t want to take advantage of a program which helps those who are still healing. 

The point of this program and what makes it work is our warriors are together for each other. The program is not designed to single out anyone or make them feel broken. Those who have healed are the most vital to the program’s success.

When many think of wounded warrior, I assume most feel it’s just for the combat wounded. There are folks severely injured from non-combat and cancer survivors who also qualify. If you fall into any of these categories, I encourage you to contact the Regional Care Coordinator at your location. The RCC knows the criteria, and if you can’t find them, contact me.

I share this so if there are agents suffering as I suffered, this may give them the strength and confidence to seek help and know what I now know. Behavioral science and the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program are available and can greatly help the healing process. 

My story begins on July 8, 2005. While returning from a successful operation where we captured nine of 11 cell members responsible for setting roadside bombs and shooting mortars and rockets at the base, my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. 

Two 155 mm mortars were strung together and command detonated as we drove over them. I was in the back seat and I remember black smoke filling up the inside of the vehicle. The next thing I know I am laying on the ground beside a burning vehicle. I assumed I was the only one alive as I was drug to safety by Senior Airman Pam Bolton while receiving small rounds fire. 

I was taken by medevac to the hospital and spent the better part of the next six months healing from groin and pelvis injuries. Once I was physically healed, I wanted to feel normal again. I wanted to prove I could still be an agent. I wanted to do the things I did before to prove to myself and others there was nothing wrong with me. 

As I struggled to prove I was normal, the nightmares about losing ‘Dice,’ and his family blaming me, surrounded what little sleep I got. If I was lucky, I would sleep two to three hours per night. I was on the verge of rage every single day. I knew something was wrong and I had to control it. I knew if I acted on my emotions the rest of my time as a special agent would be very short. I constantly felt agitated and I had no idea why. 

The smallest event would send me to fury. I remember an argument I got in with my wife. The argument was over where we should eat. I lost it. I remember punching myself in the face screaming at her. These types of events were a daily reality for my wife and 3 children. I tried so hard to control myself each day at work. I would let my guard down once I got home because I couldn’t maintain that level of self-control any longer. 

My kids suffered emotional and physical abuse for the next seven years. My wife did her absolute best to shield the children from my behavior. She made sure the house was perfect and the kids stayed away from me. She closely monitored their behavior. If one of my children misbehaved, she would quickly remove them from me. She would constantly warn the children to not do anything to upset me. The children adapted and stayed away from me. I had no relationship with them and wasn’t involved in their lives. 

I was numb to any joy or any happiness occurring around me either at work or home. I knew something was wrong with me but I didn’t know how to fix it. I refused to visit a ‘shrink’ because I didn’t believe in the merit of psychologists. I felt mental health was for weak minded individuals who weren’t smart enough to figure out their own problems. 

I decided the best thing to do was to put as much fun in my life as I could. I scheduled trip after trip, taking me on adventures around the country: rock climbing in West Virginia, mountain biking in Utah, kayaking in North Carolina. I felt alive while I was doing these things, only to feel empty again once I returned home to work and my family. These behaviors pulled me further away from my family. I would get back to my life and feel the rage build all over again. 

I still couldn’t figure it out. I wasn’t mad at the office of special investigations for sending me on the deployment. I volunteered! I wasn’t mad at the insurgency, because if someone came to my house and told me I was going to adopt their government and do things their way, I would likely behave similarly. 

In 2010, the command sent me to the Air Force Institute of Technology for 18 months. While in that program, I was able to re-grow a relationship with my family and fall in love with them again. Our relationship grew and I started to learn what it was like to care for someone besides myself again. 

I would not be in the military if it weren’t for Dr. Dave Englert who helped me understand how the mind works and how to heal from a traumatic experience. There are numerous other people who had patience with me, guided me, covered for me, shielded me and most importantly directed me. I thank all of those who cared enough to invest in me when my behavior didn’t warrant it. 

In 2014, the greatest healing occurred when I repented for my sins and dedicated my life to God. 

Since I’ve put God first in my life and focused on healing and helping others with PTSD, the joy I now experience is incredible. 

I encourage each of you reading this to reach out to me, your RCC or the Wounded Warrior Program. If you were wounded, injured or ill, you have a family who is here for you. The program won’t turn you into a martyr and it won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. 

(Editor’s note: Special Agent Patrick McGee’s goal in sharing his story is to help others who have suffered and point them to help. Education, awareness, letting his fellow warriors know they are not alone and that help and resources are available is what he wants to drive home. For more information on the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, visit the website) 

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