A Response To Tim Kennedy’s ‘Stop Being A P****’ Message For Veterans With PTSD

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U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Nathan Knapke

In a recent viral Facebook post, MMA fighter and U.S. Army Green Beret Tim Kennedy wrote that to get over post-traumatic stress disorder you need to “stop being a pussy.” The post set off a vigorous debate as to whether there’s any merit to Kennedy’s tough-love argument, or if he’s simply being insensitive to the countless veterans who suffer from PTSD.


In addition to Task & Purpose, I also run the Headstrong Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans the world-class mental health care they need to recover from hidden wounds, free of charge and without any bureaucracy. So, this should surprise you: I actually agree with Kennedy.

We have a saying at Headstrong: If you have the courage to get help, and you get the right help, you can get your life back on track and live the best version of yourself. Our job is to make sure that you get the right help. We currently do that in New York, Houston, and San Diego. We’ll be expanding to D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles by the end of the year, and will keep expanding across the country over the next two to three years.

The fact is that folks like Kennedy are lucky. They come home and are able to turn off the flight or fight response. Good for them. But not everyone has the same nervous system. Our head clinician, Gerard Ilaria, brilliantly articulated this in a interview with Humans of New York, which recently profiled a number of veterans who've struggled with mental health issues:

PTSD results from an overactive sympathetic nervous system. It’s the same part of the brain that kept our ancestors alive when lions jumped out of the bushes. It’s ‘fight or flight.’ If a soldier’s mind stays in that mode for too long, it doesn’t always come back. Everyone expects veterans to return to normal when they come back home. The kids are so excited that Daddy’s back. Their spouse wants them to get a good job, and join the rotary, and save for a bigger house. But it’s only the veteran’s body that has returned to safety. Their nervous system is still living in a dangerous place. 

In the military, we’re taught that there are two forms of courage: moral and physical. It takes moral courage to get help, and not just when it comes to getting treatment.

If you want to be the best shot on the police force, you find someone who can teach you to shave off hundredths of a second from your draw.

If you want to get stronger at the gym, you find someone who can help you build a better nutrition plan and a workout regimen that will help you achieve your goals.

If you want to be a better husband and father, you look for a better husband and father to be your mentor and role model. 

And if you want to overcome military-related health issues, you seek help.

I agree with Kennedy: you do need to put in the work. The veterans we treat will tell you that getting treatment has been one of the toughest things they’ve done. They leave sessions emotionally exhausted. But they come out stronger, more resilient, and better able to give more of themselves to their families, loved ones, and communities.

So if you can’t sleep, or you’re depressed, or you have anxiety and headaches, and even panic attacks, that isn’t the symptom of being a pussy. Not reaching out and getting the help you need is.

Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.

However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:

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Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects.

The skepticism of Pentagon bureaucracy and Washington political operators is on full display throughout the movie. When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

Protesters and militia fighters gather to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. (Reuters/Thaier al-Sudani)

With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

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U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), 101st Airborne Division, board a C-130J Super Hercules, assigned to the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on January 5, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez)

The Defense Department has remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the brazen Jan. 5 raid on a military base at Manda Bay, Kenya, but a new report from the New York Times provides a riveting account filled with new details about how the hours-long gunfight played out.

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Roughly a dozen U.S. troops showing concussion-related symptoms are being medically evacuated from Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a defense official told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.

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