Healing the wounds of war

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Victoria Moehlman
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

This article may contain content that readers may find uncomfortable.

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - “In December of 2013, we did a house raid. As we drove up to the house there was a family that we were going to talk to who had been [decapitated]. We went into the house and shots were fired. People were getting hit in the shoulder and in the vest,” recalled Tech. Sgt. Chase Hoyt, 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of inspections. “Thankfully, none of us got killed. After that mission, I knew I was not going to be the same person whenever I came back.”

Traumatic situations, such as the one Hoyt remembered, can be extremely difficult for service members to handle. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is three times more likely to be diagnosed in service members who deployed. Being embedded with joint forces, Hoyt was exposed to multiple combat situations.

Hoyt completed two deployments in Afghanistan, a seven-and-a-half-month mission from 2010 to 2011 and a year tour in 2013. He encountered the challenges and hardships with serving in a war zone, which eventually lead to a diagnosis of PTSD years later.

“On my first deployment in Kandahar, we were leaving base and a grenade launcher [fired and] hit the first vehicle and the driver. I went around to check on the driver after we cleared everything. He was holding onto the steering wheel, but from his chest down [he] was gone,” Hoyt said.

“On a convoy… we had five vehicles that drove outside of a suit circle, which is like a roundabout. In Afghanistan there are no lanes; they might have three lanes with seven cars across it, so you don’t stop. You keep pushing forward,” said Hoyt. “A vehicle got between vehicles two and three and detonated killing seven people.”

Compounding the trauma from one experience onto the next would cause obstacles for Hoyt.

“I didn’t have feelings. I didn’t have emotion. I couldn’t express myself, [and I had] social anxiety. I didn’t realize I was even isolating myself for as long as I was because since that first deployment I stopped hanging out with people. I probably isolated myself for five to six years,” stated Hoyt.

The effects of his unknown PTSD not only affected him, but his family as well. He recalled an incident around the time of his second deployment where in the middle of the night he thought his son had left the TV on, but his wife explained to him that it was actually Hoyt screaming to “get down.”

Hoyt actively sought therapy after returning from his deployment, but within six months, he was reassigned to Scott AFB, Illinois, causing an interruption in his care. With the lapse in therapy, he struggled to find mental health resources at the new assignment and lacked support from supervisors who were influenced by the stigma surrounding PTSD and mental health. The Fourth of July celebration triggered flashbacks from his deployment when fireworks illuminated the night sky.

“I went under the kitchen table thinking I was shooting and getting shot at by the Taliban. I would go through the house clearing rooms,” Hoyt said, disclosing that he blacked out during the event. “I became unrecognizable after, like a shell of myself. My eyes glassed over, I started crying and had no clue why.”

Following the events of that night, his commander became involved in the situation, and Hoyt was mandated to see mental health for treatment. It was during this time he was officially diagnosed with PTSD. The diagnosis would become the catalyst he needed to receive the necessary help.

“I couldn’t walk away. Early on, I tried to walk away from the therapist I was seeing. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on something, and I was done, and my leadership said, ‘No you’re not. You’re going back. Actually, let’s go now,’” said Hoyt. “You’re going to have great days after therapy and then you are going to have really bad days because you are talking about things you don’t like and things that affected you in a way not imaginable. That’s the good thing about being mandated; [it] forced me to go and forced me to really accept it.”

PTSD can impact an individuals’ mental, emotional and physical well-being, daily functioning and relationships. For Hoyt, the impact was more significant on his family than his career.

“For my wife at the time, it was a constant circle of being okay and let’s get divorced because at the time I could not provide her with what she needed in a relationship of having someone to lean on for support,” said Hoyt. “For my kids, it was always the fear of them surprising me and me reacting a certain way.”

He explained this stemmed from an incident with friends after the second deployment where someone came up from behind him, grabbed his shoulder and he broke their wrist, simply out of surprise. Hoyt was determined to not let moments such as this spill over to his children.

“The big thing for me going to [receive] help were my kids,” said Hoyt. “I had to [become the] best possible version of me to show them no matter how hard you get knocked down you can get back up and can even be better than you were.”

After a year and a half of mental health and PTSD therapy at Scott AFB, Hoyt diligently worked to make positive changes in his life.

 “[Therapy] had its ups and downs. [What] helped me during therapy was writing my story and focusing on every little detail that I really didn’t think would matter, like what the weather was like that day. [It] helped me process [everything I went through],” he said. “I am glad I went. Going to mental health saved my career, saved me as a dad and I found myself again.”

PTSD is a persistent challenge that can impact anyone, irrespective of the circumstances that contribute to its onset. Whether triggered by childhood trauma, toxic environments or combat experiences, PTSD can manifest uniquely, emphasizing that there is no one-size-fits-all explanation. Prioritizing mental health is essential, and discovering one’s motivation can serve as a powerful tool in overcoming mental health obstacles as demonstrated by Hoyt’s journey.

“Anyone going through PTSD or struggling with mental health, you are not by yourself. Talk to someone, reach out to your supervisor, senior enlisted leader, friend, whoever and say ‘Hey, I don’t feel right.’ It can be the littlest thing, but what may be the littlest thing to one person, could be a big thing to someone else. Everyone’s story and situation are different,” said Hoyt. “If anyone needs somebody to talk to, I am available. If someone needs someone they can relate to or needs help through the process, I am an email away. I had nobody, and I never want anybody to feel like they have nobody the way I did.”

Military members have access to mental health resources such as Military OneSource, counseling services, support groups, crisis hotlines and confidential therapy sessions. Service members can visit their local mental heath clinic, Military Family and Readiness Center or review the Mental Health Overview for clinical and non-clinical resources.