Decorated soldier and renowned psychologist Larry James shared with Wright State military veterans and students a powerful, gripping account of his return from duty in Iraq in an effort to highlight what’s being called the new post-traumatic stress disorder.
James, Ph.D., a professor, a retired colonel, 22-year military veteran, and associate vice president for military affairs at Wright State, was the keynote speaker at the university’s Veterans Day celebration in the Student Union Atrium on Nov. 12.
James, who was deployed to combat zones four times, gave a riveting account of his journey home from the war zone of Iraq in 2004.
After arriving at a military base in Kuwait City from Iraq, James was awakened at 3 a.m. by loud voices and slamming doors that convinced him the base was under attack. He grabbed his pistol and threw open the door of his quarters, where he startled two elderly women laughing in the hallway.
There was more.
On his way to the mess hall the next day, James scurried across the street because he was convinced that a brown paper bag and an empty Pepsi can on the sidewalk were improvised explosive devices. Then, fearing he would accidentally shoot someone, James turned in all of his ammunition.
“I was not the same man, nor would I ever be,” he said.
But rock bottom came after James returned home to the United States and his granddaughter accidentally spilled a bowl of cereal.
“Within the blink of an eye, a demon was unleashed I had not ever seen before. I yelled and I cussed at my 3-year-old granddaughter in a way I would never, ever have before,” James recalled. “I wondered quietly, ‘Would this once gentle, calm, fun-loving man ever return home?’ Perhaps I was now able to see I had become emotionally impaired like so many other veterans.”
James, who had been blown off his feet by bomb blasts several times in Iraq, later learned that such blasts can damage the brain and result in PTSD when coupled with the stress of being in a combat zone, sleep and food deprivation, and extreme heat.
“I had come to realize that, yes, I had survived both psychologically and physically,” he said and reflects. “What had I done, what helped me to recover, what helped me get back on my feet as I struggled for a year after I got back from Iraq?”
James said he surrounded himself with the love of friends and family, sought help from other veterans and God, stayed in good physical condition and wrote in a journal about his experiences, which had a calming effect.
The daylong Veterans Day celebration also featured panel discussions on transitioning from soldiering to college to careers, a tug of war between cadets and veterans that was won by the veterans, and a presentation by the Quilts of Valor Foundation, an organization of volunteers who sew quilts for combat service members and veterans touched by war.
Rachel Harris, a freshman ROTC student from Lebanon, Ohio, majoring in biomedical engineering, attended the event.
“What I got out of it is that there are a lot of people doing a lot to try to find jobs for these veterans who need them; it means a lot to me for when I come back after I’m done serving the country,” Harris said. “I would like to design prosthetics for amputees. It’s important to me because the people who need prosthetics have given a lot to the country.”
Wright State President David R. Hopkins told the audience that the university takes very seriously its mission to serve veterans and has made a concerted effort to make their transition seamless so they can be successful.
“We are extremely proud of what sacrifices you’ve made—and we understand those sacrifices you’re making—to really serve this country and serve our community,” Hopkins said.