Monthly Archives: January 2014

Thank You For Your Service

This book is a follow-up to David Finkle’s The Good soldiers, which followed soldiers deployed in Iraq during the Surge. Thank You For Your Service follows a group of soldiers, wives and widows after returning from war. As devastating as The Good Soldiers was, this book is twice that.

The stories in the book are personal. The soldiers have varying degrees of issues – some physical, some mental. One of the soldiers comes home with PTSD. He doesn’t have physical injuries and he has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that his injuries are inside his head. He is suicidal. He is depressed. He can’t find work. Just when you think the consequences of the war are going to swallow him whole, an Army worker finds a PTSD program for him in California (he lives in Kansas). His wife does not want him to go and does not handle his being gone well. She also does not handle his being home well. She too is filled with rage and anger at what their life has become. The constant threat of losing houses and cars and dealing with raising a child practically alone is enough to make anyone mad.

They are just one couple in the book. David Finkle does an excellent job in a short book of putting the reader in the shoes of the soldiers and the families. The widow who can’t move on. The soldier who is arrested after domestic violence. The solider who is permanently disfigured by the war. The bureaucracy that would make a person with normal coping mechanisms want to pull their hair out.

The lesson through it all for me, was we don’t treat our soldiers well. They are fighting in or have fought in wars that we don’t talk about. don’t think about and that don’t affect our day-t0-day lives. We make it hard for them to get help and deny there are problems. We are destroying a generation of loyal men and women who served their country at great sacrifice. The next time you see a vet and want to thank them for their service, do more than that. Find an organization to support. The Wounded Warrior Project or the Pat Tillman Foundation.

While you don’t have to read the Good Soldiers to read this book, I highly recommend reading both to give a full picture of war and its aftermath.

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League of Denial

I finished League of Denial last week. It’s about the NFL and its denial of concussions causing long-term brain damage in former players. This book hit home with me for two totally different reasons.

First, my grandfather played for the Bears in the 1940s. he played in the era of leather helmets. I have a picture of him on my wall in a leather helmet. He was a lineman. He played both offense and defense. He grew up in Chicago and played football in college for Carroll College – a small school in Wisconsin. Times were different back then and sports were not about obscene amounts of money. George Halas, owner and coach of the Bears invited my grandfather to try out. My grandfather had to hitchhike to Chicago and borrow a pair of cleats from one of his teammates. He made $75 a week playing both ways – all game. I can only guess the number of hits he took to his head.

He was never diagnosed with CTE or Dementia. In fact, he had his faculties about him when he passed away. However, he did have Parkinson’s disease, another disease that can be related to repeated head trauma. I have often wondered whether is playing football had anything to do with his Parkinson’s. I will never have an answer to that question. But it makes me wonder nonetheless.

Second, my son started playing tackle football three years ago. And he’s already had one concussion. I’m scared to death of him playing. In fact as much as I love football, I am so very torn about the sport after having read this book.

The simple fact of the matter is that the NFL has denied and continues to deny that playing football causes long-term brain damage. Despite the fact that former players are testing positive after death for CTE, which develops from repeated blows to the head. And it’s not big concussions where you get knocked unconscious that are the problem. It’s the thousands of small hits the brain absorbs that is probably causing the problem. The brain is encased in a skull without much in the way of padding. And when you hit your head, your brain hits your skull. This repetitive hitting causing a build up of proteins in the brain that cause Dementia. Knees and shoulders and such can be replaced. Your brain cannot. And that is what I fear about my son playing football.

I don’t think the NFL has put forth any effort to have an honest discussion about concussions. I think it is because they know if they are honest about the chance of long-term brain damage, people will stop letting their kids play. And the league will wither. In the mean time, I am reluctant to let my son continue to play tackle football, despite the fact that he loves it. He’s smart and he has the potential to do a lot of good. My husband disagrees on the matter, as does my father. And all I can say to that is maybe it’s because I’m a woman and a mom and I worry about Patrick’s health. Or maybe I just don’t want to see him deteriorate mentally as a side-effect of playing a game in which your chances of making it in the pros are small and the positions he plays only have an average career lasting three years. I struggle with being over-protective. I struggle with being under-concerned. I’m not sure where I will end up on this one. But Patrick already knows that if he gets another concussion, I’m pulling the plug.

For any parent who has a son playing football, read this book.

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