As a former Israeli combat soldier, there are a lot of things I have had to witness and deal with not usually seen in mainstream media. I served in the Givati combat brigade and in 2009 was on the front lines during Operation Cast Lead. After completing my service, I chose to return to Canada and become a paramedic – to serve my other home and the people I care for here.
You can leave the military but the military never leaves. While serving, soldiers are put in difficult positions and make difficult choices almost every day. They bear witness to the worst humanity can do, and they must continue to do their jobs without anger or prejudice against what they see. They are told they must be a rock. A sergeant once told me:
We are familiar with fight or flight. When danger presents itself, there are those who stand and fight and there are those who run. As a soldier, you will never stand to fight. And you will never run. You will charge headlong toward danger to fight it, so that no innocent person will ever be made to face the decision of fight or flight.
It really stuck with me, and I served with that as my guide. However, there is something I was not told: when you are willing to sacrifice yourself to protect others, you think of sacrificing only yourself, but there are many others aspects to this risk. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious issue, and it is not given the attention or acceptance that it deserves. It is difficult for a soldier to come forward during their service, as they fear they will not be allowed to continue serving and protecting their friends and families at home. When their service ends, the nightmares are not stowed with the old uniform or returned with their service gun. The nightmares are theirs forever.
Some IDF soldiers find support after their discharge from service, but not all soldiers stay in Israel after their service is complete. Many lone soldiers return to their country of birth after serving, and they struggle to find support. A former soldier can fall through the cracks when they finally realize that they need help. Public healthcare systems are not generally equipped to handle PTSD with soldiers; they rely on the military to take care of their own. But if a soldier did not serve in the country in which he or she is now residing, it can be difficult to get the specialized help needed to return to a normal life.
This is a real problem that remains taboo for many. They fear lack of respect from peers or – sometimes worse – pity. Mental health is an enemy of us all and it is a silent enemy. We must continue to work toward breaking that silence and offer support to those who need it.
Our soldiers run toward danger on the field of battle to protect us. We need to stand up and protect them when they come home.