Anticipated Traumatic Stress in TEOTWAWKI, by F.B.

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Have you been able to sit quietly and thoughtfully imagine what your world would be like at TEOTWAWKI?  Your world? Your new and untried world? There are so many lists on the Internet, and so much information available that it would seem to be impossible to miss this point, but mentally and emotionally we will be all over the map! 

Anyone aware of extreme threat situations knows about physiological factors impairing wise judgment.  Body chemistry does strange things during life and death encounters.  In St Paul, Minnesota, an elderly lady was robbed at gunpoint.  She could not tell the police the height of the robber, his skin color, what clothes he was wearing or anything else to help identify the perpetrator.  She could only remember the snub nosed .38 pointed at her had a little piece of  blue fuzz hanging from the trigger guard!

Let me give you some relevant examples of traumatic stress. In Vietnam, under extreme stress, I encountered some very unusual thought patterns.  The first occurrence was when a buddy was drowning in a canal alongside his mobile advisory team fort.  I was flying as observer in the back seat of an OV-1 Birddog aircraft with Warrant Officer Dennis and was listening to AFVN radio between mail drops when Dennis came up on the intercom and directed me to the tactical frequency on our radio.  We listened to the dramatic rescue efforts and call for medevac.

Jimmy was in a sampan crossing the canal in anticipation of resupply by chopper when the helicopter came in low and fast.  Its prop wash blew him out of the sampan.  He was wearing his flack jacket and helmet, so he went down headfirst into the concertina wire strung under the water to prevent enemy sappers from swimming up to the fort. The helicopter pilot set down, unbuckled and jumped into the canal to try to save Jimmy.  His crew chief had to grab the pilot to keep him from getting entangled in the wire as well.  The next day, members of the Navy Seal Team attached to Advisory Team 80 at CaMau, recovered Jimmy’s body and I knew I was going to miss his smile.

While we were listening to the radio traffic during the incident I thought seriously about asking my pilot to fly over the canal and I would jump out and save Jimmy!  Those were my actual, adrenaline induced thoughts on the basis of having been a certified Scuba diver and also on my college swim team. Obviously, I did not put the thoughts to speech,  but I was overwhelmed with one of my buddies dying and not being able to help!

The next occasion came when another buddy and I were shooting the breeze one night atop our 30′ high guard tower.  We were not on duty (the guard was in the enclosure beneath us) as we sat on the top deck and enjoyed the cool evening breeze.  We heard an explosion that came from behind our Tactical Operations Center (TOC), about 100 yards away. I thought it was the mortar team doing a fire mission.  A couple seconds later, the next explosion was on the near side of the roof at the TOC.  We knew it was time to run for it and my buddy hit the ladder as fast as feet would move.  As he was going down the ladder another mortar round landed on a straight line for our tower and considerably closer.  The rounds were walking straight toward out position!  For some reason, I watched as my bud climbed all the way to ground level and ran for the bunkers at the middle of the Team compound.  My next thought could have proved fatal.  I reasoned that if I went down the vertical ladder head first I would get down before the next mortar round landed!  I couldn’t believe I had that thought, so cleared my head and went down the ladder as I was supposed to do, feet first. There is a story about that next mortar round, but not for now. Several more mortar rounds landed along an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troop convoy with the soldiers asleep in their trucks.  Several died.

On another occasion, I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. to the sound of rocket, machine gun and small arms fire and realized we were under a ground attack. Jumped into my pants and boots, grabbed my M16 and reached for my bandoliers of loaded magazines – seven bandoliers in all.  While I was reaching for the bandoliers, and with the noise of gunfire growing more emphatic, my thoughts were along the lines of trying to decide how many of the bandoliers I would need.  Should I take three?  Four?  Then the thought came, “This is just like picking out a tie for getting dressed up back home!”.  I grabbed the whole bunch and hotfooted it to the command bunker!  We lived to fight another day!

You see, under duress we may think and do strange things. 

A friend of mine was driving on the south side of Madison, Wisconsin and tailgating, as do most of the drivers on the south Beltline, when the car in front of her spun out on an icy patch.  My friend hit the spin-out broadside, the cars came to a stop and she got out of her car to run up to the car she had hit.  She then proceeded to physically attempt to pull the woman out of the other car so they could get away from the accident.  The woman resisted saying her neck was hurt and wanting to wait for the ambulance.  My friend grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out of the car to the pavement, at which time onlookers took control of the situation so my friend could settle down.

Afterward, still in a state of shock, my friend kept repeating “I knew better than to move her and I don’t know what made me do it!  I knew better but I did it anyway!”.

All right, so take these scenarios together and imagine what you will actually do if a military outfit shows up at your door to confiscate everything you have stored up for “Official Use” as per the myriad of executive orders now on the books.  What will you do now, today, to be able to survive if that happens?

Please don’t tell me you will have hidden stashes in your house, garage, barn, shed, buried in the woods, and that is what you will be counting on.  The government typically has 15-16 years of advanced technology more than the world knows about at any given time.  I know about the currently deployed search equipment the Secret Service uses to scan the venue of a presidential appearance.  The search teams deploy sniffer dogs and technology to scan even into walls and concrete floors to ensure a safe visit.  Imagine the “search and identify” technology we will only get to know about 15 years from now and think realistically.  How are you going to work around scanning equipment that will penetrate through the ground to a depth of 15-20 feet?  What will your strategy be?  It will be too late when the humvees or helicopters arrive.

And if you don’t believe it will be military, substitute a large motorcycle gang or a gang on ATVs busting out of the brush from all directions, or simply a large mob of folk coming door to door for any food or fuel they can find, with guns. Extrapolate from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the Congo several years ago, a dear friend and his family were caught between warring factions coming to his village to battle each other in the middle of the night.  One side arrested everyone and sent the women and children in one set of trucks and the men in separate trucks in completely separate directions.  Miraculously they were reunited several months later in a refugee camp.  They lost everything they had.  How would you respond?

How Would You Respond? 
As an emotional wreck or as a survivor.  If you are not prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for these very difficult circumstances you may not do so well.  Folks who do not focus on survival often do not go through these occurrences with the will to live.  Read about the victims of the holocaust in Europe and you will encounter a variety of instances where the will to live was lost and the end of life came soon after.  Same with prisoners of war.

Read about these folks.  Imagine what you would do.  Think realistically about what you need to do NOW to be prepared to think like a survivor and to harness your emotions toward that end.

You see, that’s the point.  You must go beyond imagining and think realistically and plan and prepare now.  When it hits, if the only thing you have done is imagine how tough you are or how smart you are, you won’t be worth much.

Again in Vietnam, we had a big strapping farm kid assigned to our advisory team as a machine gunner.  He was all fired up and ready to kick some butt!!!  On river patrol with a couple of advisors and a company of ARVN troops, the good guys were hit with an ambush.  With the bullets and rockets flying all around his boat, this young man failed to move his right index finger about 3/8 of an inch.  All he had to do was to pull the trigger on his M60 machine gun to help break up the ambush!  He froze!!  (I do not believe in “flight or fight”, because there is a third “F” to the equation and that is to freeze, helpless and useless).

When they got back, the advisors wouldn’t talk to anyone about what happened.  Some of the ARVNs died during that ambush. That night in his bunk room, with several of my closest buddies asleep in cots all around the room, he began to relive what had happened.  This time he was able to squeeze the trigger of his M60, which he had forgotten to unload.  My buds told me there were rounds mixed with tracers flying all around the room.  Miraculously again, no one even got a scratch.  The kid was shipped out the next day and we all moved on.

Phuoc was a Vietnamese Tiger Scout.  Able to speak both Vietnamese and English he was invaluable on patrols out in the jungle.  He was assigned to one of our best field command advisors and was with him on a particularly hot day about to search a village for VietCong.  I will call him Lt. Smith. The Lieutenant had recently heard all the talk about Vietnamese troops who were unwilling to fight.  On this day he chose to ignore Phuoc’s warnings about an ambush he suspected in the village and the troops went into the village anyway. That’s where Lt. Smith died, and several of the ARVNs.  Last time I saw Phuoc he had a leg cast on, was walking with crutches and gave me a very sad and resigned smile.

Be sure the information you are basing your decisions on is reliable for your set of circumstances, or it could prove seriously detrimental. Realistically, it will be like combat.  None of us knows for certain how we will respond during ongoing life threatening times.  What we can do is prepare to the best of our ability now, realizing we do not know how we will react if it hits the fan hard.  If we take that attitude, we will be much better prepared to think calmly and react appropriately.

I am not going to lay out an Anticipated Traumatic Stress plan for you.  You must do that according to where you are and what you are capable of during this time of relative peace.  I am going to encourage you to think about and even do research about what happens when overwhelming circumstances are presented to your mind and emotions; physiologically and psychologically.  I will leave you with this one piece of advise – what you do to prepare, don’t broadcast it about.  Stay as secret and unobserved as you possibly can, given the thoughtful exceptions of like-minded family and like-minded close friends. 

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