Troops No Longer Suffering In Silence
Story by Sgt. Robert Larson, a journalist with the 24th Press Camp Headquarters
Many service members come back for their deployments with visible wounds. Some have scars from the shrapnel that ripped through their bodies. Many have lost limbs or other body parts as a result of their service in Iraq or Afghanistan. But there are many more that come home with injuries that cannot be seen, ?invisible wounds? that also need healing and support.
One of the many soldiers who came back from down range with these invisible wounds is Master Sgt. (Ret.) Mike Martinez, an El Paso native and spokesperson for the United Service Organization?s new Portraits campaign, a series of public service announcements designed to educate Americans on post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
Martinez was deployed to Iraq three times during his military career, the first coming in 1990 shortly after joining the Army. The third and final time was in 2007, when an improvised explosive device ripped his vehicle in half. This was the second time Martinez, a first sergeant at the time, had been involved in an IED attack. This time his injures put him on a flight home.
?I felt tremendous pressure on the left side of my head and I couldn?t feel the left side of my face,? said Martinez.
Airlifted to Germany, Martinez would start the next journey of his life. Dealing with headaches, dizziness and slowed speech, he was medically retired from the Army with a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. Martinez still has nightmares of the attack. His wife, Maria, now has to remind him of appointments and other important events.
PTS is a terrible event that overwhelms you, threatens your safety, makes you feel helpless, and numbs your feelings. You experience painful memories that don?t fade, and you live with a constant sense of fear. It seems like you?ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. By definition it is one of many events that can be labeled under Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Martinez got the help and assistance to start his recovery with services provided by Veterans Affairs and the USO. It was through the USO that Martinez was given the chance to bring his experiences and message to others, service members and civilians alike.
?I have to take off the warrior mask that I wore for so many years and accept who I am now,? Martinez said.
This includes spreading his message to other soldiers who are suffering from the same invisible wounds. He stresses in his PSA that these men and women need to come to grips with the injuries they suffered and seek out the help that is available to them.
?Don?t let pride get in the way.? said Martinez. ?We wear masks and hide our problems and by then it?s too late.?
Recently, Martinez and his wife attended a USO event in Los Angeles where information on PTS and TBI were being featured. Martinez was the sole speaker. Many in the audience were in tears after the presentation. This was the first step, along with the PSA, in Martinez?s attempts to educate the American people on PTS and TBI in military personnel.
?I have always been one to help soldiers and educate our fellow Americans,? Martinez said.
Martinez said patience is the biggest takeaway that the American public can get from his message.
?I can?t help them understand our injuries, but hopefully I can help educate them on patience,? said Martinez.
For his efforts, the USO awarded Martinez with a ?scholarship?, enough to cover the cost of travel, to fly to San Antonio to be recognized for his participation in the Portraits campaign at the USO?s Caregivers Conference.
He will also be attending the National Council of La Raza?s annual conference. The NCLR is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. President Obama has been invited to attend the Las Vegas conference, so Martinez may have a chance to meet and present his message of patience to the president.
Martinez also said he is proud of the communities of Fort Bliss, El Paso and the surrounding areas for their continued support of wounded warriors and the military in general. He also praised the work that the USO and VA are doing for wounded veterans and active-duty soldiers alike.
Because of the efforts of Mike Martinez, the USO and others like them, we can help service members suffering silently from PTS and TBIs put a bandage on their ?invisible wounds.?
For those who would like to hear and read more of Master Sgt. Mike Martinez?s messages go to http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/25/latino-soldier-to-fellow-troops-take-the-warrior-mask-off-get-help/ for the CNN article.
For the USO PSA go to www.uso.org/Programs/Warrior-and-Family-Care/PSA/USO-Invisible-Wounds.aspx
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