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Positive Experiences in the Theater of War

As honest as they are about the harsh conditions at war, many returning veterans also grow frustrated with the American public’s lack of knowledge of the significant positive experiences in the theater of war.

  • The development of strong familial ties among buddies and within the Unit is the most important strength cited, one that many Service Members believe civilians may never fully understand, because the circumstances in which it develops are so far beyond civilian experience.
  • They also note the prevalent sense of humor—much of it a form of “gallows humor” that might seem offensive to some civilians but serves an important role in many service members’ efforts to cope with the hardship of war.
  • Many service members and veterans mention the strong sense of meaning and purpose they found in their work in the war zone, and especially in their ability to protect their buddies.  Many find that they miss this sense of meaning and purpose deeply and intensely when they return home.
  • And many cite as positive experiences the thrill of danger and the “rush” of adrenaline and dopamine when they survive under fire.

And by no means is all duty “in country” related to combat.  In an insurgency war in a new and developing democracy, a Service Member’s role might combine the traditional combat roles of guard and soldier with those of military trainer, “beat cop,” diplomat, relief worker, outreach worker, and community organizer.  Mixed in with their memories of battle, many veterans also carry strong and healing memories of playing with children, organizing medical care, rebuilding communities, and the many other humanitarian roles they were able to assume.

Dehghanpisheh and Thomas (2008) wrote of the significant strengths and skills gained by young officers in the Iraq war.  “They’ve learned, often on their own, operating with unprecedented independence, the intricacies of Muslim Cultures faced with ineffective central governments, they have acted as mayors, mediators, cops, civil engineers, usually in appalling surroundings.  Most recently, and hardest of all, they've had to reach out and ally themselves with men who have tried and often succeeded in killing their own soldiers” (Dehghanpisheh and Thomas, 2008, p. 30).


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The material on all of the Clinical Pages is taken directly from the draft version of Finding Balance After the War Zone:  Considerations in the Treatment of Post-Deployment Stress Effects, a manual under development for the Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center and Human Priorities.  This draft is copyright © 2008, Pamela Woll.  Reprint permission is universally granted, but attribution is requested.
Click here for References and Other Resources.
Click here to link to a PDF file of the current version of the clinician’s manual draft.
Click here to link to a PDF file of the accompanying booklet for veterans.

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