Article by Heidi Smith Luedtke, Air Force Spouse
Our wars have lasted more than a decade and they have drawn many of our service members back to the battlefield again and again. We have learned the phrases “combat stress” and “post-traumatic stress disorder.” And we have seen the heartbreak that unfolds when these invisible injuries aren’t treated.
But we’ve also seen many signs of hope and resilience. Military families are finding creative ways to respond to this challenge. And medical experts are discovering arsenals of treatments and approaches that can heal the pain of combat stress and help our service members find a renewed sense of happiness.
Combat stress is rippling throughout our community. But we are responding with love and strength. This isn’t an easy road.
But we’re the military community: We don’t need easy. We just need each other.
Army spouse Ashley Wise was only joking when she told a friend she might have to streak naked across Fort Campbell to get help for her husband, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after three tours in Iraq. After all, is there anything you wouldn’t do to help your spouse?
That’s when an idea hit her with alarming force: Wise drafted a heartfelt pledge of support to her spouse and asked her friend to ink it onto her body with eyeliner. She stood, her exposed back proclaiming this pledge, and had the friend take a photo. Then she posted that photo on Facebook.
“I had no idea what would happen,” she says.
Within 72 hours the campaign she decided to call Battling BARE had gathered 700 fans. Today, it has more than 42,000.
LOVE AND WAR
When Ashley met Rob in a country bar in 2005, she was looking for Mr. Right. She had written a list of what she wanted in a partner and asked God to help her find him.
“Rob met all but three of the 186 criteria I had for a husband-to-be,” she laughs. He was two inches too short. He had brown eyes instead of blue. And he couldn’t play the guitar.
But otherwise? He was, quite simply, the one. The couple married the following year.
Rob had served eight years as a Marine Corps sniper before joining the Army. “He had to look people in the eye when he shot them,” Ashley says, and he was haunted by a kill-or-be-killed encounter with a pregnant Iraqi woman. The ghosts of war followed him home, but it was a stateside event that pushed her spouse past the breaking point.
He was assigned to death notification duty when four soldiers were killed overseas. He had to deliver the bad news to each of their families.
“He was drinking a big jug of whisky each week,” she remembers. On one angry occasion, he struck her and broke her nose. “My 10-year-old daughter brought the tissue box and held it underneath my gushing nose,” she recalls, choked with emotion. “Every time Rob would start drinking my daughter would ask, ‘Why can’t we just have a normal Daddy?’ She didn’t understand what was happening and she didn’t want to see me get hurt anymore.”
Worried about the possibility of suicide, Ashley sought help from the chain of command and the family support center. The response wasn’t what she wanted. Rob was charged with domestic assault and assigned to lower-level duties. He sought treatment from the Army’s alcohol abuse program, but it focused on his drinking behavior-not the underlying causes.
Ashley and Rob are far from alone. This heartbreaking situation is one that too many military families are right now facing.
Ashley started Battling BARE to focus attention on the invisible scars service members bring home from the battlefield, and to offer support to spouses and children who experience the fallout for years afterward. Since she posted that first picture in April 2012, hundreds of spouses have posted their own bare-bodied photos online.
And it’s gone beyond our national borders. Battling BARE has struck a chord with military spouses in Canada, Ireland, France, Scotland, Austria, Italy, Serbia and Australia. Wise plans to create chapters in every U.S. state underneath an international umbrella organization. A line of children’s books is also in the works.
Another major development: Battling BARE has merged with One Warrior Won, an organization founded in 2010 by veteran Rich Brewer. He was seeking “a ‘spouse counterpart’ to handle the family side of the equation,” Ashley says, at the same time she was trying to do more for veterans. Both organizations see PTSD as “a toxin that permeates everyone in the family unit,” and believe treatment of the entire family is essential. Their teams have “become an unstoppable dynamic duo” now located at www.bboww.org.
“Battling BARE has become a way of life for our family,” Wise says, adding that her kids are proud of her for sticking by their dad when times got tough. Connecting with other battle buddies has shown the Wises that they are not alone. It has saved their sanity and empowered them to help others.
“It renewed our faith,” says Ashley, “and gave us hope.”
For more great content, check out a subscription to Military Spouse Magazine.