PTSD: no longer struggle in silence

Capt. Jon Farley treats a patient and mentors his Afghan counterpart May 20, 2009, while assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 101, Alasai Valley, Kapisa Province, Afghanistan. Captain Farley is a physician's assistant assigned to the 354th Medical Operations Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. John Zincone)

Capt. Jon Farley treats a patient and mentors his Afghan counterpart May 20, 2009, while assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 101, Alasai Valley, Kapisa Province, Afghanistan. Captain Farley is a physician's assistant assigned to the 354th Medical Operations Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. John Zincone)

Capt. Jon Farley performs a check-up on a patient April 11, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Captain Farley is a physician's assistant assigned to the 354th Medical Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Laura Goodgame)

Capt. Jon Farley performs a check-up on a patient April 11, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Captain Farley is a physician's assistant assigned to the 354th Medical Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Laura Goodgame)

Capt. Jon Farley takes a quick break in-between seeing patients April 11, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Through assistance from medical professionals and loved ones, Captain Farley has returned to a normal way of life after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Captain Farley is a physician's assistant assigned to the 354th Medical Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Laura Goodgame)

Capt. Jon Farley takes a quick break in-between seeing patients April 11, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Through assistance from medical professionals and loved ones, Captain Farley has returned to a normal way of life after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Captain Farley is a physician's assistant assigned to the 354th Medical Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Laura Goodgame)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- "I will never forget the sights, smells and sounds from that fretful day," said Capt. Jon Farley, a physician's assistant assigned to the 354th Medical Operations Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Captain Farley often relives the day he saved the life of his interpreter, Obide, while on a route clearance patrol outside his assigned forward operating base in Eastern Afghanistan.

At the time, Captain Farley was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division as a chief medical officer mentor to the Afghan National Army medics in 2008 and 2009. The division's mission was to reconstruct war-torn areas of eastern Afghanistan and rebuild roads, schools and clinics, as well as teach Afghans how to provide medical care.

While on patrol in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, Captain Farley was riding in the second, mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle of a four vehicle convoy when an improvised explosive device detonated next to his vehicle. His gunner and truck commander were injured.

"I pulled my gunner out of the gunners hatch. While I was aiding the gunners superficial wounds, Obide tugged at me to get my attention. As I looked down, I could see he was bleeding from his leg," said Captain Farley. "I gave medications and tried to stop the bleeding."

One of the soldiers called in a medical evacuation. The captain stayed with Obide on the flight to Bagram Air Field where Obide underwent emergency surgery. Obide kept his life, but lost his leg.

The mission assigned to the team did not stop with this attack. The team returned to work at their FOB. The days were long at the base, which was set in the mountains at 8,000 feet above sea level. The weather was harsh. It would dump snow in the winter, rain fiercely in spring and the summer was a constant blistering heat wave. The daily exhaustion added to his stress which he kept soldiering through to accomplish the mission. While there, they lived inside a French fire base, with open tents and all ranks lived together.

"The friendships I made with the enlisted soldiers kept me sane. Their joking, card games and the typical talk of everything under the sun kept our minds busy. Before you knew it, you knew the hopes and dreams of the people you live with and they knew yours and so the brotherhood began," said the captain. "We had great working relationships, and I made some lasting friendships as well."

Captain Farley and his team have since redeployed to their home units. He still carries the memories of the attack with him.

When he first got home, he had a hard time sleeping and focusing. As a physician's assistant he knew the signs and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but dismissed his symptoms as exhaustion.

"I tried to go from my deployed lifestyle back to my stateside life. It was hard to feel empathy for patients who came in wanting a simple profile," said Captain Farley. "I felt there were problems worse in the world than what was going on at home station. I had very little patience."

"All I could think about was getting back to the AOR, I wanted to deploy again," said Captain Farley. "While there I never broke down even though I was living with PTSD."

It was not until Captain Farley's work center sent a discreet email to his commanding officer that he received the help he needed.

"After I got help I realized that PTSD is not just about one major event but the day-in and day-out stress of deployment lifestyle," said the captain. "I feel I need to get a message to first sergeants and commanders that if you notice a change in your Airmen after a stressful event or a deployment, please urge them to seek help."

Not all PTSD cases are easily identified. Airmen who have been through a stressful situation and think they might be struggling with PTSD should not try to handle it alone, but should seek assistance from a trained medical professional who can properly help. Fellow Airmen should also keep an eye out for changes in recently re-deployed members.

"I am grateful for the vigilance of my wife, shirt and CO to help me through this tough time," said Captain Farley. "Through assistance from medical professionals and loved ones, I have returned to my normal way of life."

For more information visit www.ptsd.va.gov or call the PTSD information line at (802) 296-6300.