Retired Chaplain Major Ed Choi gave a stirring speech at the Holiday Commander’s Reception at the Lemay Car Museum in Tacoma on Tuesday evening. With a strong and heavy heart, he talked of the treatment and perception of soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Captain Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) hosted the event. Commanders, AUSA Chapter leadership, and military community members were in attendance for the reception.
Choi served with Charlie Company's 26th Infantry Regiment, known as the “hardest hit unit in Iraq.” The group lost more men than any battalion since the Vietnam War. The soldiers’ stories were detailed in the best-selling book They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hitting Unit in Iraq.
Choi received a Purple Heart for his service in the tour after a vehicle he was in was struck by an IED. He prepared and conducted memorial services for his fallen friends far too regularly, and provided support to other soldiers that were struggling. When Choi returned from deployment, he said that he recognized the symptoms of PTSD in other soldiers and offered help. But it was conflict in his personal life led him to the discovery that he himself was a sufferer of the disorder.
A strong family core and spiritual connection with other chaplains and commanders helped Choi realize that he was not unique or alone in his fatigue. Choi was able to get the treatment that he needed to bounce back and join in assisting those afflicted with PTSD, but acknowledged that not everyone is as fortunate as he.
Ed spoke of an 18-year-old who joined the military, served thirteen years and saw the horrors of two deployments. At age 31 his demons overcame him and he made the inexcusable mistake to drink and drive and was arrested for DUI. He was dishonorably discharged and lost everything he’d known as an adult. His VA benefits were gone and he was ostracized from his community. In forlorn exile, he ended his own life at just 31 years old.
Choi makes the point that this man absolutely needed guidance and treatment before his DUI, but even more so afterwards.
He found parallels in biblical verses 4:9-4:10, in which God interrogates Cain over his brother’s whereabouts. Cain quips at God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and God responds “What have you done?” Choi iterated that it is a rhetorical question, and mirrors the approach the military community has to take in treating PTSD. Professional, personal, psychological and spiritual aid is all necessary to support those suffering from PTSD. The community can’t turn their backs when things aren’t smooth. We’re all brothers and sisters that care for our brethren through thick and thin.
Choi reminded the audience of commanders and leaders that even the military’s most decorated and famous, like World War II hero and movie star Audie Murphy, have demons that have impacted their behavior and decision-making.
He countered this tragic story by telling a triumphant one of a soldier who too had received DUI convictions, but with a strong, well-rounded support system was able to get the treatment he needed. The military has made great strides regarding PTSD treatment, and will continue to do so. Choi said this is in part due to the compassionate commanders in the room, at JBLM, and in the military as a whole.
Choi closed his speech by praising commanders who support their soldiers beyond what duty calls. The expression of sentiment comes from the top, and its importance can’t be quantified.
If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, your community supports you. Follow this link to get more info about PTSD Anonymous, PTSDA offers caring, safe, and anonymous meetings to discuss solutions and everyday struggles.