Army Surprised By Answers To Its Question: How Has Serving Impacted You?

May 27, 2019
Originally published on May 27, 2019 7:16 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Today is Memorial Day - a day when we remember Americans who died at war. But when the U.S. Army sent out some tweets last week asking about the effects of military service, some veterans and their families sent a strong message about the sacrifices they have made and are still making. NPR's Quil Lawrence has that story.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The U.S. Army's Twitter account is usually official announcements and public relations videos. Last week, it tweeted a short video of a private first class talking about the Army's impact on his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

NATHAN SPENCER: To serve something greater than myself - Army's afforded me the opportunity to do just that; to give to others, to protect the ones I love and to better myself as a man and a warrior.

LAWRENCE: And then U.S. Army asked, how has serving impacted you? The replies - 10,000 of them - did not come from new, young soldiers like the one in the video. And they weren't good Army public relations. They came from veterans and their surviving family members going back to World War II. They described a complete catalog of suffering from military service and its ripple effects.

Many wrote about crippling post-traumatic stress disorder. They pointed out that suicide, which strikes veterans at a higher rate than civilians, is now easily outpacing combat casualties. People replied that they had been raped while in uniform and then kicked out of the Army. They replied about ruined marriages from long deployments and mental health issues treated with drugs and alcohol, deaths from Agent Orange years after service in Vietnam, problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs. And a very few mentioned that the Army gave them self-confidence and skills and lifelong friendships.

Two days into the torrent of responses, the U.S. Army replied with a thank-you, saying, as we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this weekend by remembering their service, we are also mindful of the fact that we have to take care of those who came back home with scars we can't see. And then it added the toll-free Veterans Crisis Line, which is 1-800-273-8255.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILSON TANNER'S "FURTHER THAN YOUR HEADLIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.