By Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West
US Army (Ret.)
Member, 112th US Congress
Board of Directors, National Rifle Association
My family is one based upon a simple premise, service to the Country. My Dad was a World War II Army veteran. My oldest Brother served in Vietnam as a combat infantry Marine. My Mother was a civilian servant to the 6th Marine Corps District Headquarters in Atlanta for nearly 25 years. My Nephew is currently serving as a Major in the US Army, an artillery officer, just as I was for 22 years. And our youngest daughter, Austen, is a college junior, contracted to become an Army officer.
My wife Angela is the daughter of a US Army combat infantryman who served two tours in Vietnam. He was laid to rest at his final duty station of Arlington National Cemetery. She has two Brothers who served in the US Air Force.
This is what has defined America for all of her 241 years of existence. It has been men and women who have been willing to step onto their own Lexington Green. Those who have stood upon freedom’s ramparts, to serve and protect as Guardians, Watchmen on the wall of liberty. Standing their watch to ensure the principles and values we hold dear shall not perish from the earth.
They are the ones who answer the call to arms, rushing to the sound of the guns, willing to give that last full measure of devotion. Oft time we honor them with our words, accolades, medals, and ceremonies – or sometimes the kind gesture of picking up the tab for a meal or drink. However, throughout history, there has been an unseen enemy, a hidden adversary that has had a detrimental, and horrific effect, on our Warriors.
We who have been on the field of battle have called it by different names – combat stress, battle fatigue, and the thousand-yard stare. It represents the battle scar that we do not see, and many do not discuss. And I wear a simple black ring on my trigger finger of my salute hand to signify the current tragedy. It is called the #22Kill ring, and it reminds me, and others who ask me, that we have on average, per day, 22 of our brave combat veterans who are taking their lives. Imagine what we would say, what would be in the newspapers, if we had a combat engagement per day, where our troops were being killed at that rate? This is no different., Why are we not bringing this to the national attention? Most people can tell you more about Kim Kardashian or whatever pop culture topic is hot than the tragedy that is taking the lives of 22 veterans per day.
If in combat we were losing twenty-two troops per day there would be a media frenzy. Of course this would depend on who sits in the White House. Nevertheless, it would be a major story. Why not this? Is it that we lose focus when our men and women return home, other than the gracious random acts of kindness and gestures? Do we truly know what is ailing our Warriors? Do our Warriors truly open up to us and tell us they are hurting?
As a combat veteran, when I deployed a Battalion to Iraq in 2003, I tried to get my Soldiers to understand that the person they were here, had to stay here. There had to be a different person that boarded that plane, and set foot in a foreign land, called upon to do a mission for which our Nation had called us to complete. And when that mission was complete, that person over there, had to stay there. It is a tough thing to accomplish, compartmentalizing like that. Some would say that is not healthy, but we all must find a way to contend with that which is above and beyond what human nature consists, the struggle of combat.
Former Force Reconnaissance Marine Chad Robichaux has been there, and experienced the crucible of combat in the most personal manner. He is representative of that elite, cutting edge Warrior that this Nation has produced. Some would say that as warfare had developed from having to thrust a sword or a spear into the flesh of another in close combat things have changed. I would refute that assertion; it is still challenging to pull that trigger, regardless of the distance resulting in the loss of life of another. But the most primal concept of warfare has and always will be about individual, personal, survival. And on this current battlefield, especially against the global Islamic jihad, we find ourselves once again in close urban combat scenarios.
Chad was there, did it, got the t-shirts, and received the accolades for his service, his heroism. However, there were other wounds, scars, that he hid. And he hid those scars in the time-honored belief of “hey, I got this”. Sadly, I have seen twice in my career, Soldiers who lost that battle and ended up taking their lives. Chad was almost there, but it was through a risen Savior, someone who dies for all of our sins, a living sacrifice . . . someone who said, “I got this for eternity” that enabled Chad to overcome, be the conqueror, a true Victor, not a victim. And so Chad started the Mighty Oaks Warrior Foundation to treat those wounds, the post-traumatic stress, that confronts our men and women when they leave the physical battlefield. Through this program Chad and Jeremy are saving lives, and this program is even being incorporated into basic training courses for our young Warriors transitioning into the Brotherhood of Arms.
Chad and Jeremy both know, there is only so much the physical world can do to heal an ailing spirit. Actually, there is nothing it can do. What is required is to trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What is and always has been necessary is for that God shaped hole in all of us to be filled not with man’s remedies, but the healing Spirit of the Lord.
Chad has shared with us his personal battle, and he wants to share his personal triumph. It is not just for those of us who have donned the uniform and served in combat. It is a guide, a lighthouse for us all, so that we will be the light that overcomes the darkness and the evil that is taking the lives of Americans. It is not just the PTS that our troops face, but it’s also the opioid epidemic in this Nation. It is not a matter of more money being thrown at the issue. It is the recognition that such a scourge is not about the physical pain but the spiritual emptiness that can only be filled spiritually.
Combat warriors throughout history have put on armor to protect them on the battlefield. Chad and Jeremy bring to our attention the spiritual battlefield, and God’s word, spoken through the Apostle Paul. Paul instructs us on how to prepare for the spiritual battlefield, a battlefield that is far more important.
Ephesians 6:10-18 (New International Version)
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Be strong in the Lord, never give up hope, you’re gonna do great things, I already know, God’s got his Hand on you, don’t live life in fear, forgive and forget, but don’t forget why you’re here, take your time and pray, thank God for each day, His love will find a way…these are the words I would say. – Sidewalk Prophets