Just before Memorial Day weekend, the Army posted a question to its Twitter followers, “How has serving impacted you?” The tweet was part of a thread honoring servicemembers and included a video of Pfc. Nathan Spencer, a scout with the Army’s First Infantry Division. “To serve something greater than myself,” Spencer says in the video. “The 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.” The Army likely was hoping for messages in that vein, and it got them. But in the middle of people expressing pride in their service, many others posted of a much darker reality to military life, including tales of post-traumatic stress disorder, other health problems, and sexual assaults, to name a few.
“I am a Navy vet, I was a happy person before I served, now I am broke apart, cant even work a full 30 days due to anxiety and depression,” Jeffrey Scott wrote. “I am in constant pain everyday. And I think about killing myself daily.”
Another answered the Army’s question by referring to the “Combat Cocktail,” which includes “PTSD, severe depression, anxiety. Isolation. Suicide attempts. Never ending rage.” Serving “cost me my relationship with my eldest son and my grandson,” he added.
One Twitter user identifying herself as Karen replied to the Army’s tweet by saying she lost her virginity “by being raped in front of my peers at 19” and then got married to “a nice guy who was part of my unit.” But following the invasion of Iraq, he “came home a changed man who beat the shit out of me.”
Karen was one of many women to detail instances of harassment and abuse while in the military. Another woman wrote that she was “assaulted by one of my superiors.” She reported him but “nothing happened to him. Nothing. A year later, he stole a laptop and was then demoted. I’m worth less than a laptop.” Another woman wrote that she suffered from “PTSD, depression, anxiety, nightmares” due to “sexual harassment during my service that nobody was ever held accountable for.”
Some wrote about how they saw their loved ones deteriorate after serving. One mother said she was “proud” when her son signed up to serve. “That young man with his whole life in front of him is now broken mentally and emotionally beyond recognition and the Army isn’t helpful,” she wrote. Another person wrote on behalf of her friend: “My sweet friend David can’t answer you. He committed suicide a few years ago after a couple tours of Afghanistan.” Nathan wrote about how he found his mother “in the closet after her tour in Aghanistan with a knife” and how firework sounds still scare her. “It’s impacted me because my mom won’t ever be the same mentally,” he wrote. “So thanks for that.”
Although many characterized the replies to the tweet as a social media fail for the Army, others disagreed. “Some say this thread back-fired but this is just the thread that is needed each memorial day so we remember the sacrifices military members and their families make and how we as a country need to understand the true cost of service and improve our support,” Mike Schmidt wrote.
The Army thanked all those who contributed their story to the thread. “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,” the Army wrote.