Combat veteran and his wife help others fight PTSD — and find healing and hope – IOTW Report

Combat veteran and his wife help others fight PTSD — and find healing and hope

FOX: Tom Satterly is a highly decorated combat veteran who was portrayed in the Oscar-winning 2001 film “Black Hawk Down,” about the 1993 battle in Somalia. But that is only the beginning of his dramatic and stunning story.

Satterly, who grew up in Indiana, served in the U.S. Army for 25 years — 20 of those in the most elite and secretive special operations unit. 

He led hundreds of missions, and in turn, won many awards — including 5 Bronze Stars, 2 of them for valor. more

4 Comments on Combat veteran and his wife help others fight PTSD — and find healing and hope

  1. This is a very touchy subject that, as someone who was not accepted to serve, I cannot speak to as a fighting veteran. Let’s get that out there right in front.

    I do have some insight into this that I feel is relevant to the topic, however.

    I could do this from the aspect of PTSD I’ve seen in my brothers and sisters in Fire/EMS service. It was, and is, not uncommon to see things that happen to people and things that are done to people that can only be described as evil, even very young people and infant people and pregnant people, and being humans and not stones, we are affected by that. Thank God for Department chaplans, which I have said much of in more appropriate threads, that can help with minds as well as souls, and are an indespensible resource to every department in my book.

    I could do that, but I won’t. This is about fighting men and women, and that is not the same thing. The burdens on their soul can be greater as the demands of their service may require of them that they take another life, and often many other lives, for the protection of the greater good and in defense of their brothers in arms, and at more distance, their families and their nation. Often they then get to see the results of their necessary action, sometimes kill or be killed action, and the arms that bring a battle to a close are seldom gentle in the destruction they wreak. Again though, I am not qualifed to discuss what this looks like except on a very civilian, HO scale, so I will leave the brutality I have only heard of and seen pictures of to the better qualified if they are moved to discuss it, such as Doc, though I am sure we would not be able to handle even a brief description of the horrors a Combat Medic has faced, so I would not expect him to do so for our sake.

    No, what I will discuss here is just one man, one life, one forgotten veteran that I was briefly acquanted with in the course of my Squad duties, but sticks out in my memories even three plus decades later. For convenience I will call him “Michael”, though that is not his name.

    I had a number of Viet Nam veterans in my district. This was not unusual at the time as my service started during the flower of the Reagan years, and while they had been back some time at that point and the “Baby Burner” stuff was only the subject of my very young memories if my folks were slow to shut the TV off when I was in the room as a child, there were still veterans that were suffering from a range of old combat injuries, liver and skin problems (that the VA was unwilling to say “Agent Orange” about), respiratory ills, and varying levels of psychiatric issues. Most of these were rather unmemorable as we only dealt with flare ups and not routine transportation, so if a vet turned yellow and started puking we’d buck him down to the hospital like we would anyone else, the only real difference being that we had to go to the VA hospital which was a greater distance away and we had to have permission to transport to as they did not at the time accept emergency admissions without some call-ahead. Fine, in those pre-cellphone days we’d radio the County, the County would get permission, and the vet would be carried the 20 odd minutes to the not very happy to see them facility. I have no idea what went on there because we were not particuarly welcome to do anything but drop and leave, so I cannot say too much about that, other than the fact that I never once saw an actual doctor in the VA ER, only nurses. The psych patients were mostly quiet with me and usually moved on the advice of a relative, so I can’t say what their issue was, but they did have them frequently. I was transportation, not a counselor, so it was not my place to pry.

    Then I met Michael one night.

    Michael had a bar he liked to go to at the edge of my district where he usually, according to the bartender, sat on his stool and got slowly blasted every night, occasionally picked fights, but mostly just cursed and joked with the other patrons and hit on the barmaids. Pretty usual bar customer, other than being there every freaking night. On this particular night, however, he came in quiet and told the bartender to keep ’em coming, then tried to methodically drink himself to death.

    That was his stated, literal intention. He wanted to die, and this was the most painless way he could think of to make it happen.

    How do I know this?

    He TOLD me.

    …we got there after the bartender cut him off. This was before bartenders were actually liable for “overserving” as its called now, but the bartender knew this wasn’t headed anywhere good, so Michael responded by reasonably, rationally, breaking his current beer bottle (still serving in glass then) and cutting the hell out of his wrist.

    Enter the police, followed by a formal invite for SNS and Company to join the proceedings.

    This was still a fairly new gig to me at the time, so a call for an attempted suicide at a bar was still something of a novelty. I didn’t have a ton to do on arrival because the cops had subdued the guy and our lieutenant responder had bandaged the shredded wrist, so my driver and I strapped him to the cot (which proved beneficial later), wheeled him to the unit, stowed him inside, and I climbed into the box while by driver got up in the cab and radioed the VA for their reluctant permission.

    I had to obtain some data from the guy for this to happen, and other than the risk he was going to puke all over the place he was still surprisingly lucid, so he spat his name out to me along with his former rank and some hysterical laughter, the first part of which I relayed to the driver for permission. They didn’t call it “PTSD” at the time, they called it shell-shock and things like that in my circles, but he was known to the VA as an ongoing client with this and they did accept transfer, so off we went for the long ride in.

    Micheal was not a willing patient, not a sober patient, and not a quiet patient. Most of the time he didn’t make a ton of sense, but he was pretty active and cursed a lot, me, the truck, the road, the world, God, pretty much everyone and everything, while I didn’t spend much time in the jump seat as I had to be ready to deal with it if he puked and also see that his restraints weren’t loosened in his efforts to do so, particuarly on the damaged wrist that I held most of the time so he wouldn’t tear it up in the restraint as we would have to stop, my driver would have to come back, and he’d have to help me restrain him as we would have to loosen his arm to rebandage it.

    This put me right in his face, surrounded by the miasma of many and varied alcoholic beverages and not great breath, where he was telling me at high volumes and frequency that he wanted to walk out the back doors of the truck into highway traffic and end it that was.

    At one point he suddenly stopped struggling, looked me dead the fuck in the eyes as his own cleared and I could see the madness in them, and he said very carefully enunciating each word as for a child, “Why don’t you understand? I. Want. To. DIE.”.

    Just like that. Didn’t raise his voice or slur his speech or anything. Just calmly, clearly, methodically told me he wanted to die, like we were having a conversation on a back porch and he needed some help with a troublesome stump that he was sure I would provide.

    I was young and stupid and had NEVER had an adult veteran lock eyes with me and spell it out like that. I literally was at a loss, all my bromides fled me, things like ‘Oh, Michael, I’m sure you have so much to live for’, or ‘you know I can’t let you do that, Michael’, or ‘now what would I tell (fill in the blank loved one) if I just went and let you do that?’. Nope, that happy crap just went right out of my OWN mind when confronted with a man who had so much more life experience than me, a man with a demeanor of command (he was some kind of sergeant, can’t remembrer which one), who just out of nowhere stopped foaming and snapping and yelling and stated his death wish as a foregone and immutable fact. I had nothing in MY past to draw on to deal with this particular situation.

    Fortunately, he resumed his struggles to make it happen, and I could bury myself again in the known familiar world of dealing with the physcial issue and abandon the psychological theatre that had quckly opened and quickly shut for me, and do something I actually COULD do.

    We got Michael to the facility shortly after that.

    They were not pleased to see him, and curtly told us to move him to the bed and take our restraints with us. We did so but told them about the issues and his statement, plus the absurd quantities of alcohol he was said to have consumed and, while it (fortunately) didn’t appear during our transport and literal death struggles, it was there and looked like it was going to make an apperance at any time, and that he DID want to wander around; but no, they said take your cot and your straps and get out.’

    We decamped to the mostly barren squad room to write this up (a task I normally attempted during transport but couldn’t here for obvious reasons)so we could give them a paper (1980’s) receipt for our erstwhile patient, when we noticed quite a bit of nurse consternation outside the window. We asked and were told the patient we tried to tell them wanted to leave…had left.

    You know, since he was unrestrained, unmonitored, and sucidal.

    …We joined in the hunt but one of the nurses found him in a clean linen closet, where he had vomited all over the sheets and towels.

    We left the Karma callout aside, finished our report, and most gladly booked, grateful it wasn’t US sponging beer and whiskey puke from the corners. That smell can linger, let me tell you.

    I never saw or heard of Micheal again. Our other frequent flyers popped up from time to time, but he didn’t. Perhaps they found him some help. Perhaps he did his drinking somewhere else.

    Perhaps he got his wish.

    I didn’t track my patients, especially the psych ones, so I never found out or heard anything from anyone else who ran with me. Probably for the best.

    I do not know to this day what happened to him, and this side of Heaven, never will.

    But I never forgot that moment I looked into the eyes of a man tormented by his warrior past, and saw only a glimpse of the inescapable hell he lived in, and that was quite enough.

    So I am not qualifed to speak as one who has seen that dragon. Not at all.

    But having looked into his eyes and breifly aided in his struggles, those and some of his comrades in arms, I can pray for him, all that went before him, and all who served after and still do.

    Dear Lord, we come before You today, on this Lord’s day, to ask a mercy from you. You know better than I that the struggles of a warrior do not end at the City gates nor when he lays down his sword on the honorable conclusion of his duties, but can haunt him for the rest of his life. You know the memories he may have of comrades killed, of killing he had to do, of the terrible necessities of war when satan raises an army and those who in defense of honor must rise and counter it. Dear Lord, touch these men and women, heal their hearts, calm their minds, give them the blessing of forgetting what needs to be forgotten but leave the wisdom of those combat experiences intact, heal them spiritually and mentally even as You heal them physically that the pain of their scars may subside for their own peace and the peace of those that love them. Please Lord, in these troubled times give them the gift of discernment that they may not compound those psychological injuries even as you protect them from battlefield hurt, harm, or danger when they are again called to fulfill their oaths and their duty to God and Country.
    This is much to ask but you are glorious in Your power and charitable in Your mercy, so we ask this prayerfully that You do that which only You can do and salve the grevious wounds of this nation’s warriors as they face an uncertain future in which the ONLY certainty is You.

    And Lord, a VERY special blessing to CSM Satterly and his wife for attempting to help those he served with in their struggles with this issue. Provide for them in every way, give them wisdom, give them strenght, give them finance, that they may proceed with this vital work in these troubled times to Your Glory.

    And we ask this all in the merciful name of Your Son Jesus,

    God Bless,

  2. A sad commentary about myself.

    Some of my men that got out after i sent day or 2 with my wife and i. I took them all to Knott’s berry farm. Got held up by the train robbers.

    “Duke” had had 2 500 lb bombs dropped bout 15 yards on each side of him; blown about 2 yards in the air, and was deaf for about 2 weeks. I knew he had “had” a mild case of Shell Shock. Still took him on the train. When the 45’s went off he turned white, dived for the deck. Shook for many minutes.
    After “Duke” went back to NM my wife chewed my ass GOOD! How could i do that to the poor guy. SHE WAS, AS FREQUENTLY IS THE CASE, ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! I regret to this day taking Duke on the train ride, not the rest of knotts. totally missed what “Shell Shock” does to many more sensitive than I.

  3. Another non profit for vets….some are good some are bad , there sure are a lot of them . I hope this one gets help to those that need it . Spent the “black hawk down” time doing racetrack loops off the coast of Somalia on the USS Lake Erie CG70 , we were there to provide NGFS (naval gunfire support) if called upon , we weren’t . We were going so slow guys were fishing off the fantail . We received the JMUA , and AFEM medals for that deal ,couple of gimmes really, had the CNO’s son Boorda as our XO at the time . Was a long time ago

  4. an ol exJarhead
    MAY 29, 2022 AT 9:25 AM

    On behalf of a frequently ungrateful nation, thank you and Duke and all veterans on this day when we remember all that gave some, and some that gave all.

    It’s not much,an ol exJarhead, but you deserve at least that much from all of us for all you did and all you suffered.

    Not much, but its the only coin I have to repay you. Our debt to you is too great.

    Thank you, and may God bless you and all who serve.


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