There are many examples of things Troops encounter here in Afghanistan that create a 0-60mph conditioned response. This response of "quick to react" may translate into "quick to anger" once back home in the States. Here's some insight as to why Troops may have a short fuse after deployment:
1) According to one of the Army Chaplains here at Shank, just last night he was awakened to see the father of 3 children who'd been the victim of Taliban violence. He sprang to action and raced to the medical facility to find one small child's heart in the hands of the Army doctor who was attempting to massage it back to rhythm. The other child had been shot through the back of the head and his eyes were out of their sockets. The little girl was ok, but screaming and crying. The father's face was blank and he simply nodded his head in resignation as the Chaplain informed him he'd lost a son and may lose another. This is the reality Soldiers and Afghan citizens face daily here in Afghanistan. So what's startling about a knock on a door or a shake of the foot to wake someone up? For the average person, nothing. But what about that knock on the door or shake on the foot to wake up the Army Chaplain at any time in the night--what might that mean for him?
2) Another example of day-to-day 0-60 ramping up for a Soldier here in Afghanistan is of course the guard in the tower on the fenceline of the FOB. Can you imagine it being night time and every movement in the distance might be a violent man with a gun sneaking onto your base? Or a member of the Taliban setting up a rocket on the ground that could blow up your friends if you don't see it in time? Every slight noise in the distance might cause a 0-60 response because just about anything may create a life-or-death situation that the body must react to with full survival mode force.
3) A less-dramatic but still conditioning day-to-day life occurance for people such as myself would be reacting to incoming fire, for instance. During my first night at FOB (forward operating base) Shank I was awakened by a loud "BOOM" and the ground shaking. My heart rate racing, I shot up out of bed into a sitting position and strained my ears to listen for following noises. I thought it was incoming and I would have to rush to put on my boots and body armor and go to the nearest bunker. But it wasn't IDF (indirect fire) it was just the FOB's Howitzers firing. So even though I was completely safe at that moment, each following "BOOM" caused me to startle and my heart rate to increase. As a reaction to what might be a life-or-death situation, I was going from 0-60. (And let's not even mention missing out on quality sleep, ha.)
This week has been quite the experience. I took my first Chinook (a large Army helicopter) ride Sunday morning that flew me over various landscapes of Afghanistan. With armed gunners peering out for potential dangers below, we made stops along the way to places I'd only read about in books such as Kabul and Jalalabad. As we neared our final destination, the additional security escort Chinook that pulled up beside us in the air reminded me that this was not a normal tourist excursion.
The reason my OIC (officer-in-charge), SGM (Sergeant Major) and I were visiting FOB (Forward Operating Base) Shank was to check out the 173rd Airborne's new program for building up resiliency and strength for their Soldiers. While it's difficult to sum up exactly what the progam is all about, I guess I can explain it by saying it's a mind/body/spirit-building program to encourage and strengthen Airborne Soldiers specifically as they face the surreal challenges of a COIN deployment (Counter-insurgency).
Among those many valid learning points of the program was the example of "0-60." This portion of the program used the comparison of a person's mind to a sleek sports car. As the presenter pointed out, it's never wise to ramp up a car from 0-60 over and over for a period of a year. He then pointed out that while on a deployment such as ours, our minds and systems are being ramped up constantly for an extended time period of time and this takes a toll--in a way altering our reactions and personality a bit. For up to 15 months, Soldiers' natural response systems are in a constant state of overdrive and once they are home it is difficult to "gear down to normal." It's no wonder, then, after living conditions that demand this quick-to-react response, that returning Troops may appear to have a shorter fuse once in the safety of their homes back in the U.S. Recognizing the reasons behind this shorter fuse will hopefully help not only the Troop but also those around to better understand and to help reintegrate.
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist stationed in Afghanistan. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.