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By 3G Syria Intern Luis Rivera-Nesrala

Rivera-Nesrala is a third-year student at New York University where he is studying Economics with a minor in Arabic. His chief interests are in geopolitical economics, particularly in regards to the Middle East. He is the son of an active-duty United States Army service member. 

Nearly fifteen years after the unprecedented attacks of 2001 forced thousands of military men and women to pack their bags and head out over night, the landscape of U.S. warfare has been entirely transformed. Given the ongoing and evolving efforts to defeat those who seek to harm our nation, it is common for many soldiers today to have completed numerous deployments, some upwards of five.

While war and active combat are undoubtedly dangerous and trying situations, most of us fail to realize that the men and women who valiantly fight for our safety thrive in these conditions. This is where their skills and years of training are verified and validated. While those of us not in the service may find it difficult to imagine ourselves in such situations, the members of our five military branches are wired to excel in these high adrenaline environments where survival mode is always activated.

Herein lies one of the biggest misunderstandings for civilians: After performing in these high intensity, chaotic and often lawless settings for months and sometimes years, the most difficult part of fighting a war can be reintegration upon return. When these men and women return to the structure and comforts of the United States, after having lived in often war-torn nations, seemingly simple things like driving, being on paved roads, sleeping in their own beds, and next to their spouses can all be highly disorienting.

For those with children it can be tough to retake the role they played in their children’s lives before deployment, which is necessarily assumed by the parent who stays home. Returning to reassume these responsibilities can be a delicate act to balance and can place great strains on spousal relations.

For those with partners the process of acclimating to involving one another in daily routines and decisions can be trying after both individuals have learned to live independently for long periods of time. For others there is difficulty in returning to work and taking orders from fellow servicemen and women who have not had the experience of being downrange.

The problems of reintegration are difficult to foresee and can manifest themselves in many ways from person to person. The one certain thing, however, is that no man or woman who fights for this nation returns the same. While the recent overhaul of the Veterans Affairs Department by the Obama Administration has done a great deal to bring to light the neglect in care that many veterans experience, there is a great deal more that must be done.

Despite the need for improvement across the board, the most crucial of all of these necessary improvements is not one of policy, funding or program availability. Instead, it concerns the unspoken, institutionally stigmatized mentality that discourages these men and women from seeking the help that they need for fear of being branded unfit for service, combat or promotion and it must be fixed.

This looming expectation that each member return entirely unaffected only encourages the festering and worsening of these internalized trauma. Far too many men and women are thus driven to adopt the mentality to simply “adapt and overcome” in spite of the reality that many among them face challenges brought on by their experiences at war.

We have a pressing responsibility to the brave men and women in the service to provide them with the reintegration assistance that they indisputably merit. This should not be a political issue and if in war no expense is spared, neither should a single cent be withheld to provide programs like John Nash’s Combat Veteran Cowboy Up to those who need it. Programs like his are crucial to the healing process of those affected by the service because they provide the support of an empathetic system in which they find the company of others who share in the experiences.

While we must be sympathetic to the needs of our veterans, it should be clear that we will never fully understand what they have been through, what they have seen nor what they have done for us. Still, it falls on each and every citizen to understand the urgency of assessing and addressing the needs of our veterans. The men and women of this country selflessly defend every star and every color on our flag each day they don the distinguished uniform. When retirement or the expiration term of service sees them hang their garb and unlace their boots for the final time, it comes time for us to further extend our hands and return the favor. Supporting our troops is a commitment that extends far past the years of service and combat, and it is a duty that we must all make good on.

 

By Lili Hamlyn

Tim Hetherington was a British photojournalist and documentary filmmaker who was tragically killed in Libya in 2011 while covering the Libyan civil war. Tim is perhaps best known for the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, co-directed with Sebastian Junger, which chronicles a year with a U.S. platoon in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Tim also worked as a photographer on 3 Generations’ co-produced The Devil Came on Horseback. His body of work includes numerous photographic projects and magazine photo essays, as well as art installations, multimedia exhibitions and short films which included Diary (2010), a ‘highly personal and experimental film’ shown below:

Hetherington was an alumnus of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, which is where I studied for my undergraduate degree in English Literature. As an admirer of his work, I felt deeply moved by his untimely death. This eventually led me, along with fellow student Sara Edwards, to co-found the Tim Hetherington Society, an Oxford University-based documentary film and photography/photojournalism society, in his honor.

By running this society I not only became more closely acquainted with Tim’s remarkable body of work but was also able to meet those who personally knew him: his friends from Oxford, his photojournalism professor Daniel Meadows, his colleagues James Brabazon and Platon and his wonderful mother Judith.

Tim did not approach photojournalism with cool detachment or any misguided belief that he could be an invisible objective observer. Instead, he engaged with his photographic subjects on a personal level, and preferred to be called an  ‘image maker’ rather than a photographer.

In Sebastian Junger’s brilliant documentary on Tim’s life, Which Way Is The Front Line From Here?, we are repeatedly presented with Tim engaging in a chatty rapport with the people he’s photographing. In the film Tim states, “I want to connect with real people, to document them in real circumstances, where there aren’t any neat solutions.”

This is perhaps a perfect summation of his work and philosophy: It’s not didactic, and instead seeks humanity even in the most extreme of circumstances. Personally, I feel rather honored to have had the opportunity to connect with Tim’s impressive body of work and, through the stories of those who knew him, been able to gain some insight into this extraordinary man.

 

In honor of Veterans Day, 3 Generations presents the latest installment in our Valuing Our Veterans campaign.  Click here to watch the new short film ‘A Different Kind of War’.

John Nash with his herd of therapy horses.

The consummate cowboy, John Nash found himself up against the demons of his past, and about to drink himself to death. 40 years after the Vietnam War, the trauma he suffered had him on a path to self-destruction. This summer, he shared his story of how his interactions with his wife’s horse, Rain, saved his life, and how he and his herd of therapy horses are bringing healing to other veterans through the power of the human-animal bond.

3 Generations’ short documentary about John and his organization, Combat Veterans Cowboy Up, tells the stories of what happens when veterans return from the battlefield. Emotional interviews with four veterans chronicle the destructive course of post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological battle that can lead to arrests and homelessness and can end careers, marriages, and lives. The interviewees are at different stages of healing, but each of them credits John Nash and his unique brand of therapy with saving their lives.

PTSD affects nearly 30% of all US military veterans.  John Nash views it as the biggest threat to national security.  Less and less parents are willing to allow their child to risk their mental health for a country that often fails to provide them with medical treatment once they return home.  The figures are indeed staggering: 2012 set a record for military suicides, and the average wait-time for medical benefits is nearly a year.  John Nash, his team of therapists, and a herd of specially trained therapy horses, provide something to sufferers of PTSD they have found nowhere else: relief.  Nash guides veterans through exercises with the horses that serve as a metaphor for functioning in daily life.  The horses won’t respond to a patient who is stressed or anxious, helping the veteran relearn how to communicate with others and successfully operate outside of the combat zone.

3 Generations strives to support the efforts of Combat Veterans Cowboy Up and other organizations that are helping veterans.

3 Generations Valuing Our Veterans campaign began as part of the Clinton Global Initiative Veteran’s Working Group, founded at CGI America in 2010. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness of the employment challenges that post 9/11 veterans face and to record the stories of veterans and interview employers who sought to hire veterans.

Today we have expanded our brief to include collecting the stories of veterans suffering from PTSD and homelessness – two other major challenges all veterans face.  Learn more about the issue and what you can do here:

http://www.3generations.org/demand-change/#tab-3

Have you heard of Storycorps? Over the past ten years, Storycorps has collected over 50,000 interviews with people from across the country; all of which are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Most recently they launched the Military Voices Initiative which invites those who have served our country since 9/11 to share their stories from abroad; a project quite similar to our own veterans project. Listen to the interview with public radio producer, David Isay, below and check out our veterans project.

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