JM Ivler is a Los Alamitos resident. This editorial was written in response to the arrest of Itzcoatl Ocampo, the man police accuse of being a serial killer who killed four homeless men. Friends and family members say the 23-year-old marine recently returned from a tour of duty from Iraq and appeared to have deep emotional and mental issues upon his return.
Editor's Note: Opinion Editorials are submissions to Patch, and they are not intended to reflect the views of Patch.com.
Standing at the end of the bridge, in the early morning as the sun is breaking over the horizon and the sky's are moving from dark to gray in the distance, a figure moves closer. Is it threat or not? You shout for the figure to stop, but it continues to get closer, the hands are unclear in the early hours, you’ve had little sleep as you have been on watch all night. The figure doesn't stop. You shout again and raise your weapon training it on the figure coming at you. You draw a bead, shouting once more for them to halt. IED's have been used in the area, and just a day ago, three of your team members were injured. You create a mental line: either you see the hands before that line or you fire.
How did it get to this point? Less than a year ago you were taking classes in high school. Now you are asked to make a life or death decision: either yours or that figure moving towards you. You are in a foreign land, and your life and your teams’ hang in the balance, depending on what will happen in the next few seconds.
Before we get to that decision, let's consider what happened over the last year. An 18 year old young man graduated from high school. He was a nice kid. Kind, gentle, even put in community service hours working with younger kids at a local park program. Unsure of where he was going in life, and coming from a family that was looking for help financing his higher education, he choose to take the deal that the military offered: do his time serving Uncle Sam and get his education after he had served, paid, in part, by his service.
So, he graduated from high school and then went to basic training.
Basic training is a process that trains him to do something that is the antithesis of what this kid had been taught from his parents and society. He had been taught that every life was precious, that every person has good in them, and that we should strive to find it. He was taught that we live by example to those around us, seeking the greater good for all.
In Basic Training you are taught how to fight, how to take a life and when to do so. You are taught that it is either “us” or “them.” You are taught that “they” are unpeople, no mater their age, and that in order to protect you and yours, they are to be killed. For that is what the military does, they kill the “enemy,” when they are told to, and where they are told. As part of a unit you are told to kill or those in your unit may die.
In order to be a good member of the team, a piece of you must be sacrificed for the greater good of the team. That small piece that you are asked to give up is your humanity. That part of you that reasons that there is good in someone and that you can bring it out.
Back to that soldier on the bridge. His teammates are counting on him to create that tripwire in his mind and to pull that trigger when the form reaches that point. They are counting on him to not feel the pangs of his humanity but to protect them as they would him. And when he pulls that trigger, and that 10 year old boy who didn't understand the English that had been yelled at him has his brains splattered across the road in the light of the early morning rays, it's because Basic Training worked.
Today we have to deal with what happens when the kids who have had that humanity torn out come home.
What happens to many is that they undergo changes in their psyche that allowed them to be able to do whatever they had to do “over there,” but they were unable to find that humanity that they gave up so they could do what they had to do over there when they got back home. The formal name that is given to this is Post Traumatic Stress, PTS or PTSD.
For some, it can be as light as reoccurring nightmares, sudden depression, or just an inability to connect the way they used to. For others, it can lead to what we would call psychotic breaks, manifesting in anti-social behavior to sudden acts of violence. The problem is that no two are ever the same symptoms. Sometimes symptoms, like depression, hide other problems that go far deeper. Other times the person acts just the way they used to until something happens that kicks in a psychotic event. There is no discernible pattern.
So, what can we do to deal with these men and women who have had their humanity ripped out so that they could serve and survive? How can we help them, and in doing so help ourselves? Can we fix what we broke? Since we can not identify which of those who took this terrible calling have the problems, how can we know who needs the help?
The answer is already before us, we need to have a Basic Training program that each member who serves our country must go through in returning back into their communities, a program designed to make them whole, to return that piece of them that was taken from them so they could do the job, so that they can return to us in a condition where they can better reintegrate into society or the lives they had before the war.
We need a program of reintegration that has our young men and women working with students tutoring, in recreation setting and in schools, or rotates them to working in hospitals providing service to those in need, those with life threatening conditions, in hospices helping the terminal, or working with our elderly, those that have lived long lives and need help in the closing moments of theirs. Places where these people who have given up so much of their humanity for us can reconnect with that piece we asked them to leave behind, to reconnect with a society that is not based on the need to kill or be killed.
It is not enough for us to ask that our young men and women give of themselves to defend our freedoms, we must do all that we can to make then whole again. Any less is unfair to both us and to them.