Tessa Poppe is a program specialist for Overseas Safety and Security at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed are her own. Tessa served in the Army National Guard for seven years and deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and Kunar province, Afghanistan, as a military police officer. She holds a Master's Degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a Bachelor's in International Studies and English from the University of Iowa.
“The true cost of war — that’s what this week is about for me. That’s why I am here,” says Steve Acheson, a former Army forward observer and Iraq War veteran. Acheson, now an engineer and a farmer, speaks with a genuine honesty, indicative of his Midwestern roots. The Wisconsin native enlisted in the Army out of high school to go fight a war he truly believed in. And he’s still fighting. But this time on Capitol Hill for the warfighters no one talks about with fellow veterans, Kristofer Goldsmith, Thomas Burke, Alexander McCoy, and David Anderson.
Internships may seem pointless and grueling at times, especially while being a full-time student. However, they are worth the trouble and commitment, even those that don’t offer any form of compensation. Despite the long hours and tedious, grunt work, internships teach valuable lessons. They can be especially important to student veterans trying to break into the professional world with little work experience outside the military.
I deployed to Iraq with three women eight years ago who would become my best friends. We didn’t know each other very well then, but we became sisters in arms. Deployments have that effect on people. So when one of them reached out to me early one morning, and said she had been raped by someone she considered a brother, I didn’t hesitate to support her decision to seek justice. All of us, along with our old platoon sergeant, came together again, two years later and watched our friend, humiliated but defiant, testify in court against her attacker.
After hearing he had been stop-lossed and would be heading back to Iraq for a second time, Kristofer Goldsmith decided to end his life. Going back to war acted as a trigger to his ongoing and undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder that he had been silently suffering since returning home from his first deployment. In May 2007, the young Army sergeant washed down opiates with vodka and walked into a field.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while long and bloody, are the first modern wars with high survival rates, meaning service members are enduring more complex and catastrophic injuries than ever before. Due to the nature of the tactics employed by the enemy, veterans are coming home with multiple amputations, severe traumatic brain injury, and genitourinary injuries, or injuries to the reproductive organs and the urinary system. How these types of severe injuries, to include post-traumatic stress disorder, affect veterans’ sexual function, fertility, and ability to be intimate has largely been left out of the discussion. This is due to a lack of education on the issue, a lack of research, and institutional biases that don't allow for sexual health to be treated as an integral part of recovery within the military.
My grandfather served in the Pacific during World War II and died three months before I shipped to Iraq. I can’t say I knew him well and that saddens me. He was a man of few words and so it was startling when he came up to me at a family event after finding out I was being deployed, grabbed me by the shoulders and just stared at me. He had tears in his eyes and didn’t say a word. At first I thought it was just an emotional goodbye and I half expected him to give me advice or impart some piece of battle-hardened wisdom, a moral nugget to take with me into the desert. But he just stood there in silence. He had been critical of the war in Iraq while I had been a supporter. I wouldn’t realize until later that it was the absence of his words that was most profound. In fact, it is language and the use of certain rhetoric that has left my generation isolated, inhibiting our ability to reintegrate, and impeding us from understanding our wars in any meaningful way.