A simple question from the U.S. Army's Twitter account resulted in a flood of responses they probably weren't expecting.
Leading up to Memorial Day, the U.S. Army shared a video on their Twitter account showing a soldier's words about what serving in the military has meant to him.
The young scout, Pfc. Nathan Spencer, says he joined to serve something greater than himself.
"The army has afforded me the opportunity to do just that. To give to others, to protect the ones I love, and to better myself as a man and a warrior."
Then they asked Twitter the question, "How has serving impacted you?"
How has serving impacted you?— U.S. Army (@U.S. Army) 1558654455.0
Presumably, the U.S. Army was anticipating more positive responses like Private Spencer's. What they got was a dose of painful reality.
Story after story of trauma, PTSD, abuse, loss, and other tragic outcomes came pouring in.
Americans have a tendency to place the bravery, valor, and duty of military personnel on a pedestal and gloss over the human cost of continually churning out trained soldiers. While our patriotic hearts swell at the sight of young men and women in uniform, there are dark sides to service that we barely talk about. "Thank you for your service," we say to our military folk, not realizing that the unspoken response is often, "It's destroying me."
These responses to the army's question speak to that reality:
@USArmy Extreme mood swings due to PTSD, constant pain in my knees and back, inability to to tell the love of my li… https://t.co/ltN1dNzjCd— Southern Fried Homicide (@Southern Fried Homicide) 1558999649.0
@USArmy Suffering from PTSD, TBI, a plate and screws holding my arm together from jumping and not being nearly as s… https://t.co/6GygGpmWEn— Miguel A. (@Miguel A.) 1558984986.0
@USArmy I was sexually assaulted and discharged at Madigan Army hospital when I reported what happened. My DD214 wa… https://t.co/asrGzi3lx2— Elizabeth Grey (@Elizabeth Grey) 1558998319.0
@USArmy It made me a better person. It also destroyed me in ways I can’t ever talk about.— Savannah (@Savannah) 1559028217.0
@USArmy as a 100% disabled veteran it’s basically took my whole life. From mental ptsd major depression. Not being… https://t.co/24FNIb8kxM— Da Ruxxian (@Da Ruxxian) 1558991107.0
@USArmy I was sexually assaulted, fought it in court martial and lost. He knows what he did and got away free. The… https://t.co/dpzTyNMlui— Karly Kathleen😘 (@Karly Kathleen😘) 1559046098.0
@USArmy My wife and I served in the @USArmy. We spent over 5 years geographically separated from each other. She wa… https://t.co/eJkLKSc0uV— C & B (@C & B) 1558925081.0
It's not only the individuals who serve who are impacted. Their loved ones are too.
@USArmy @FightingFirst @FortBenning My cousin was institutionalized for months after his tours in Iraq. He can't fu… https://t.co/1q7pnw38Z9— Tallsome Lee 🇯🇲 (@Tallsome Lee 🇯🇲) 1558721317.0
@USArmy My dad served in Vietnam. He was exposed to Agent Orange and I was born with multiple birth defects. What h… https://t.co/5G4GQ2vYGL— Julie Swegman (@Julie Swegman) 1558985201.0
@USArmy My children's father used his military leave to periodically return to town to try to kill me and cause oth… https://t.co/CGfF5k092K— Sista Self-care (@Sista Self-care) 1558999418.0
@USArmy My uncle received 2 Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star in Nam. Upon coming home, the Army VA refused to see hi… https://t.co/aF6YT1euyO— Your Mother's Onion (@Your Mother's Onion) 1558983386.0
@USArmy My father served in World War II overseas. An African American soldier sent to the Colored Bases. All I k… https://t.co/Qbgm1dLdF6— de (@de) 1559004921.0
@USArmy My friend from high school joined the Army. Went on deployment and lost his best friend there. Came back wi… https://t.co/GhxajMWGc4— Alejandro (@Alejandro) 1558983392.0
@USArmy My father has PTSD. He had to explain to me at 8 why I can't have a nightlight anymore and the look on his… https://t.co/9eenBoQeb7— Rainey Scribbles (@Rainey Scribbles) 1559004125.0
@USArmy 13 yrs ago my ex came home a bitter, hateful, angry person who was never aided in getting help with PTSD. H… https://t.co/UAVGZoifso— Helllloooo Nurse (@Helllloooo Nurse) 1558982503.0
@USArmy As a mother, I was proud of my son as he signed up to serve his country during his last year of High School… https://t.co/RRs2LW45Vf— aunttea (@aunttea) 1558905136.0
The responses were an important reminder that military service should not be glorified or prettied up for patriotism's sake.
These are not rare, isolated incidents. The tweets included here barely scratch the surface of the stories that were shared.
Too many soldiers who see combat come home irreparably broken, or don't come home at all. Too many families are destroyed by the trauma that people programmed to be killing machines bring back with them from the battlefield. We need to remember that the impact of armed conflict lasts far beyond surrenders and ceasefires.
But as many of these Twitter responses show, it's not just the soldiers who see combat who struggle with the impact of their service. Even those who are never deployed can also experience trauma in the ranks.
And far too many do not end up getting the emotional, psychological, or financial services they need to live their lives after the fact.
The U.S. Army acknowledged the stories people shared and offered the Veterans Crisis Line for those who need help.
To everyone who responded to this thread, thank you for sharing your story. Your stories are real, they matter, and… https://t.co/qB63x2gf22— U.S. Army (@U.S. Army) 1558816876.0
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (and press 1… https://t.co/BHzHkXt7KK— U.S. Army (@U.S. Army) 1558816876.0
Perhaps we should honor our military personnel by being real and upfront about their experiences and listening to their struggles. Perhaps we should honor them by advocating for reform in our military systems and by doing all we can to create peace.
Perhaps best way to honor soldiers is to strive to build a world that doesn't need them.