Page 11 - Transormations Magazine 11-12

n April 5, 2004, during his second
of three deployments, Aaron Neely
stood on the bank of a highway
overlooking the Iraqi city of
Fallujah. The day before, the U.S. military had
dropped leaflets over the city and had overtaken a
radio station and begun broadcasts, asking non-
combatants either to leave or stay indoors to keep
out of the line of fire during an upcoming assault.
At the time, Neely was a Religious Program
Specialist in a Fleet Marine Force, attached to the
Battalion Aid Station sailor, embedded within the
marines in a manner similar to the Marine Corps’
relationship with Navy medics.
When the battle began, insurgents – armed with
machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades,
and anti-aircraft weapons – fired at Marines both
within the city and surrounding it. Neely recalls,
They were lobbing rockets at us. The rockets were
landing too close... it felt like my insides shook
when they exploded, and it hurt.” Remembering
one round in particular, Neely describes watching
a shockwave pass him – and pass through him.
During the five-day battle, soldiers were kept
awake for days in a row as the rockets and mortars
kept coming in. Neely didn’t report his experience
because, compared to the injuries and deaths his
fellow soldiers were sustaining, getting rattled in
this way didn’t seem like the life-altering event that
it would become.
Sean Masterson, Doctor of Neuroscience and
Postdoctoral Fellow with Indiana University
Southeast’s chemistry department, was able
to discuss the effects such a shockwave might
have on the brain: “As the shockwave travelled
through his brain, the tissue was compressed and
stretched. Individual neurons were damaged from
the increased pressure and connections between
neurons were torn. Entire networks weren’t lost,
but individual neurons and specific connections
within networks were...; the networks became too
active or too inhibited and the function of the
network was compromised.”
I noticed I was a little bit different after that
injury] – less patient,” Neely explained in the
vernacular of enlisted personnel that he still
sometimes uses when discussing his life in the
military. He found himself having difficulty coping
with everyday stresses, much less the kinds of
stresses that military life can impose on a person.
I was starting to sleep less at night and getting
aggressive. I was tired and just worn out.” Neely
had begun to see in himself the same symptoms
he’d been trained to look for in his fellow soldiers.
In looking at the early onset of his own illness,
Neely recognizes that “it helped me that I was
reaching out to other people.” When he began
to see himself growing distant and becoming
aggressive, he knew what it could mean, and his
friends and chaplain supported him in his decision
to seek the kind of help he’d spent his short career
recommending other soldiers receive.
When he first began talking to doctors about
his symptoms, Neely was diagnosed with Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Neely’s doctors
put him on two medications, both meant to
treat PTSD. “I did okay for awhile. I got married
in California], and I got great orders to be an
instructor at the Chaplain’s School.” He made it
through training, but on the move from San Diego
to Rhode Island, he and his young bride stopped
in Indiana to visit Neely’s family and to celebrate
his recent wedding with a reception. While in
Indiana, Neely and his wife had an argument,
after which Neely “walked out to my car just like a
zombie, wrote a note on my hand, and went in the