Stigma: The “Not-So-Silent” Killer

(Warning: Graphic language)

For those of you who have served, especially in the infantry, you know that there is a stigma when it comes to the profession of combat. Weak is the only four letter word that someone could call you that could possibly hurt you. The infantry is a profession for hard men who lead hard lives. We take no shit. We fight for fun. We drink more than we should. We have an invented derogatory name for those who were not man enough to join the profession of dispensing freedom one 5.56 at a time. That’s right, I am talking to you, you fucking POG.  We are the reason you can’t get laid in a 50 square mile radius of any major military installation if you sport a high and tight. Arrogance? You’re god damned right we are arrogant.  For enemies of the United States, we are the things that nightmares are made of. Oh you’re sick? Take a knee and drink some water. Oh you’re injured, huh? Take a god damned knee and drink some more water, pussy. Oh you’re having problems at home? Nothing a bottle of Jack cant remedy.  PTSD? That’s something POGs made up to get their queer little combat action badge. We are the top 10% of the 1% that volunteer to serve this country. We wear our combat infantrymen’s badge, blue cord and discs with pride because we know we have been there, done that, and got that T-shirt. We are better than you and we aren’t afraid to let you know it. Why? because we aren’t weak like you. We aren’t afraid to die in the most horrendous ways possible. We crave that day we get to pull that trigger and dispatch another America hating savage. If you have ever been in the infantry after reading that I know you feel a little pride swelling in your chest.

There is a reason that the stigma exists. Most people would never knowingly put themselves in harm’s way, let alone crave the challenge of being locked in a fight where only one side can come out with their life. It’s a badge of honor to know that you are one of the few that are willing to throw yourself into a kill or be killed situation. There is nothing like it. Unless you have been part of the fraternity of infantry no matter how hard I try to explain it you will never fully understand. I owe the infantry for some of the best qualities I have as a man. I can face any situation and know damn well I am going to come out on top. Everyone fails. It’s part of life but the drive to succeed at any cost and never allowing your failures to stand is something that this profession etched into my very being. I have faced crippling fear and overcame it. I can suffer long past where a normal man would give up. I am confident and driven and live for competition. You cannot feel what being alive means until you have come face to face with the reaper and spit in his face.

The flip side of the coin is something that we as a society need to look at changing. Even writing this I worry  about those I have served with and what they will think of me for having this opinion. We have to change the stereotype. We are losing soldiers on a daily basis to suicide. We lose them to the grips of substance abuse. We watch as they tear apart their own lives and their families with anger and depression. I have personally known 3 people who have killed themselves because they couldn’t handle the demons that were inside of them. How can we stop it? You can make any number of hotlines and support groups you want, but the real change needs to come from inside the infantry. We ridicule and abuse any sign of weakness we see because weakness is something we can’t possibly tolerate. Weakness gets people killed. So we push on with injuries that we should probably have looked at. We don’t go to the doctor when we are sick. We don’t talk about all the fucked up shit we saw and did overseas. We were just doing our jobs. We excuse away all the rage directed at people who don’t deserve it. We think the best medicine when you are feeling down comes from the local liquor store. Whats worse is if we see someone else do any of those things we call them out for being weak, for having no heart, for being soft. So when the time comes, and life just gets a little too overwhelming we would rather put the gun to our head and pull the trigger than let someone see past that mask we wear.

We can evolve. We have to evolve. The whole goal of not showing weakness is to be able to endure the rigors of combat and make it out alive. You have to be strong for your buddies because you need to be to bring them home. It is a hard job. We take care of each other when we are overseas. We watch each others backs. We go through those hard times together and come out the other end and know that we have brothers for the rest of our lives. Why can’t we accomplish that goal and take care of each other without that stigma that is preventing us from getting help? If the goal is to have no weaknesses, then why have we fostered an environment where we hide those weaknesses instead of dealing with the root of the problem? Wouldn’t it make you better to be at your best instead? Why do we wait till our friends get that DUI, get arrested for domestic violence, and in the worst case, pull that trigger to see that they need help?

I was at a buddy’s house the other day and we were sitting there knocking a few back and bullshiting about the old days. We served together as squad leaders in the same platoon for two years and a trip to Afghanistan. This guy is the epitome of what you would expect from a seasoned veteran. Poster boy for the infantry. Purple hearts, medals with valor, high PT, great leader and overall stud. Not to mention the cockiest son of a bitch I ever met in my life. A true brother. We always competed with each other trying to have the best squad or get picked to be the main effort for training scenarios. Somehow my medical separation came up and I told him I was shocked to see how much was wrong with me. I went from a sleep study and one diagnosis for narcolepsy and all of a sudden I have a shrink, I am getting psych tests, I am getting treated for TBI, I am on all kinds of medication and I told him the fucked up thing is that I still wont allow myself to belive that any of it is real. I know rationally that whats going on inside of me is abnormal but I find it easier to just write it off. Now I love him to death but I kind of figured I was gonna get mocked but he surprised me and told me about all the things that were wrong with him. Turns out he has been having a pretty tough time himself which I would have never known if he did not allow himself so share with me. I was shocked he did and honored that he trusted me enough to let me into that vulnerable place that we as war fighters rarely allow ourselves to go. We sat there and had a good laugh about it. We laughed about hiding it from people. What the fuck do we have to prove to anyone? We have already proved we can do it. Why does it matter what other people think?  We finally came to a conclusion. We accept all those things because they are normal. That is how I felt since I can remember. Hell, I enlisted at 18 and have spent the majority of my adult life this way. He asked something that really made sense to me. Wonder what it would feel like to be normal?

We will never know because we are who we are and we have done what we have done. Its shaped who we are as men and I truly belive that we are better for it as long as we can be honest with ourselves and know it comes with a price. A price we all pay in one form or another. Guilt, anger, and regret are the new enemies that could defeat us if we don’t face them. I see the best of us choosing isolation rather than seeking out someone to talk to because everyone else seems to be doing fine. None of us are fine but refuse to let it show. Refuse to show that weakness.  I know now that seeking out help gives us the best chance to get as close to what normal should be. At the end of the day, no matter who you are, your gonna have to hang up the uniform and try to be a member of a foreign society called civilian life. Your gonna have to accept who you are stigma or not. You may have been a grunt and done some shit but allowing yourself to admit your weakness and fix the problems is just as courageous as duking it out in a firefight. I know I didn’t give up all that time and effort deployed watching your back for you to come home and die by allowing these new enemies to win. So do me a favor. Take the time after you read this to give somone you know who has lived this life a call. Check in every once in awhile. Show them that even though you arent together every day fighting for our lives in those remote shitholes, they are not alone and you still have thier backs. Who knows, you may save a life.

You can find more of Mike Binns’s work at 

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