An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Today he cried

  • Published
  • By Capt. Beverly Thomas
  • 386th Expeditionary Medical Group
Last week I saw a patient who was depressed, sad in fact. His marriage was on the rocks, he had been deployed multiple times, seen many things that changed him from the person he was before to someone even he didn't recognize. As he sat there talking to me, telling me he was scared that he would lose everything, the tears fell down his face, the big soldier cried, he was human, and that scared him. He wanted to be strong, but all he could do was see his wife and two small children leaving and it was more than he could take. Night after night he had nightmares, scenes of battle and war raged through his head. Thoughts of loss, feelings of guilt; for the man he had become and for the men he lost to war. Overwhelmed with fear and pain he wanted it to stop. Thoughts of rest, unending rest, filled his head, not really wanting to die but just to stop the pain.

He needed to talk, to vent, to cry, but at work he had to be the strong one, to lead his soldiers through the hard times, to be there for them. So, his feelings were put into a box, the lid shut and he pressed on. Through the heat, the sand, the noise and the pain, he soldiered on. But in the dark, alone in his bed, he silently wept, tormented by the memories of men lost to IEDs, children blown up by bombs placed by unseen terrorists on well traveled roads, faces of his children lifted the lid off his emotions just enough to ease the pressure; just enough to go on for one more day.

Today he couldn't go on any more. Today he heard that his wife could no longer wait for the man she married to return, for the father of her children, because he didn't exist anymore. The softer, kinder side was no longer there to the outside world, only the strong soldier with sheer will and determination, no feelings, no weakness. Today he cried. The lid came off the box and all the emotions, the pain, the fear, the anger, came out at once.

Does this make him weak, less of a soldier, less of a man? No, it makes him human. In this world of war and fighting, men and women are expected to be strong and go on for the mission, for the end result, for the troops. Their feelings must be buried and hidden at times, or lives could be at risk. These brave men and women, who see things day in and day out that most would look away from, death, dismemberment, explosions, burns...they go on, through all of this, through endless nights, ungodly hot days, dust storms, constant noise, nothing is quiet, not even their minds, yet they do what they can to fulfill the mission they have agreed to undertake. With every emotion, every tear, they must go on, press forward, beyond the known limits of their strength, to reach past what most would have as breaking points. In the silence and turmoil, sand, mud and chaos, the pain continues. The focus is not on their pain, but the mission, saving lives, securing safety, working towards peace. Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, Marine, hero....human; it's no wonder he cried today.

Who is "he?" He is but one of countless soldiers whose stories, all too familiar, I hear every day; stories of valiant attempts to control their human side. To avoid feeling the pain of what they feel, see and hear; of what they live in times of war.

Today he cried bittersweet tears of release, en-route to further care, or home, or back to the front to carry on a while longer. He is your son, your father, your brother. Or perhaps your daughter, your mother or your sister, but either way, he is real, she is real and the pain equally real.

Today I cried with him, tears of compassion, of understanding, of sadness; tears of frustration for the painful familiarity of the same story, different patient, different day, same pain. Today he cried and with him I cried too.