Father, Son Share Insights On Service-related Stress
By Linda Hosek
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2009 Rich Glasgow and his son, Robert, served in different military services at different times, but they know what it’s like to deal with the same psychological enemy. And both have recommendations for the military.
Rich Glasgow, left, joins his son, Robert Glasgow, after Robert completed basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego In September
2001. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rich Glasgow directed search and recovery operations out of New York in the 1990s, overseeing boating accidents, airplane crashes and even Fourth of July events. But the post he really wanted was commanding officer of Station Golden Gate in San Francisco – not for its beauty, but for a grim reality.
“It was known throughout the Coast Guard as the station where you pick up bodies,” he said, referring to people who commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. “I was going to figure out the trend.”
Glasgow got that job in 2000. But as he immersed himself in efforts to lessen the number of suicides and ease the burden on his Coast Guard crew, he began his own psychological struggle against post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.
“I thought I was prepared,” Glasgow said, but the vivid sights and sounds of people falling and hitting the water replayed over and over in his mind and affected his behavior.
Glasgow, now a civilian, came to see that his son, Robert, a high school graduate who enlisted in the Marines before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, also was afflicted with PTSD.
“This was a kid, just a loving kid who’d do anything to please people,” Glasgow said.
Cpl. Robert Glasgow was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division’s 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, serving as a rifleman in the infantry. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and fought in Fallujah in Operation Phantom Fury, a U.S.-Iraqi military offensive that involved intense urban combat.
“It was up-front and in-your-face action,” he said of the operation that lasted for weeks.
Based on his own experiences, Rich Glasgow said he saw numerous signs of PTSD in his son when he was out on leave and after he left the Marines in 2005.
“There was sleeplessness, active aggression and zero tolerance for the Arab community,” he said.
Defense Department officials estimate that as many as 20 percent of today’s troops may suffer from the disorder, and officials have renewed commitments to treat it. The military also has implemented better reporting mechanisms for those potentially affected and launched efforts to reduce the stigma attached to military members who receive mental health services.
In recent interviews, Rich and Robert Glasgow described their experiences that led to their diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, their treatment and their progress in reclaiming their lives.
“I think I’m beyond it,” said Rich Glasgow, who now directs a county emergency dispatch center based in Newport, Ore. “I know how to deal with it now.”
“I feel like I’m a lost soul with no direction,” Robert Glasgow said.
‘I’m a Tough Guy’
When Rich Glasgow arrived at Station Golden Gate in July 2000, he had served more than two decades with the Coast Guard, starting with taking care of a lighthouse. Other duties focused on intelligence collection, inspections, narcotics and search and rescue operations in which he recovered bodies from boating accidents and commercial airline crashes.
He said he remembers thinking: ‘I’m a tough guy – I’ve seen death before.”
The new commanding officer was tested the first day on the job in the middle of his welcoming ceremony.
“Somebody jumped from the bridge, and the crews took off,” he said.
In his efforts to understand the problem first-hand and reduce the number of missions for his crew, Glasgow went out on dozens of recovery missions. He said he remembers the sights, sounds and look of the bodies after the fall from more than 250 feet.
“I used to tell my crew: ‘Don’t watch,’” he said. “But it’s almost hypnotic.”
On one occasion, he said, he watched a jumper tumble head over heels until he hit the water.
“I shouldn’t have been able to hear his voice, but I could hear it – and can still hear it to this day,” he said. “It’s in my imagination.”
Based on recommendations from a medical officer, Glasgow sought help through counseling and was diagnosed with PTSD.
“I would keep replaying an event,” he said “The tape would just get stuck on replay.”
Glasgow likened PTSD to a wound that isn’t allowed to heal or a bad memory that isn’t allowed to fade. In his case, he said, each new suicide reinforced the sights and sounds already embedded deep in his memory.
Glasgow said he resolved to “get this fixed.” He said he learned talking about his experiences helped him diminish their effect and flush them out. He also said he realized he had to address the potential PTSD problem for his crew. He estimated at least 90 percent of the 72 members in his command would see suicide jumpers.
“I couldn’t stop someone from jumping,” he said. “But I could impact the effect it had on the crew. I think I really did a good job.”
Glasgow established new procedures for his command. He required new members to take training about what they would see and how to handle it before they went on recovery missions. He also proposed ways to segment the missions to minimize the amount of time crew members spent with recovered bodies.
“In the military, you’re supposed to be a macho guy,” he said. “Publicly we are, but privately, we need help.”
All this training helped him recognize that his son also needed help. “I could tell he was in shock,” he said.
‘You’re All Going to Die’
Robert Glasgow said he knew from childhood that he wanted to join the military, inspired by “Heartbreak Ridge,” a film about the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada. He chose the Marines, saying he thought it would be the hardest of the services, and joined after high school.
“It was peacetime,” he said. “I figured I’d be in the Mediterranean floating around in a boat, getting drunk.”
But the 9/11 attack happened while he was in boot camp. His drill sergeant, he said, offered a sobering perspective: “You’re all going to die.”
He said he didn’t see much action during his initial deployments to Norway, Liberia and Iraq before returning home for more training.
By June 2004, he was back in Iraq, assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Five month later, he was in the thick of Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, launched Nov. 7, 2004 to clear the city of insurgents.
The young Glasgow was in charge of the mortar section, giving indirect fire support for his company.
“We pushed into the city,” he said. “Everywhere you’d look there were bad guys -- bad guys behind bad guys behind bad guys. My guys fired every which way.”
The fight lasted eight hours, and Glasgow has spent years reliving scene after scene of urban combat, of watching people get shot, of rocket-propelled grenades exploding, of holding people with bullets in them, of blood everywhere.
He recalls thinking, “Oh, God. This is so horrible, seeing Marines wounded, crawling.”
But he said he also has memories of killing enemies with machine gun fire, of cutting them in half.
All seven men in Glasgow’s section survived and were praised for hitting their targets, he said. He also described his response to the battle: “I felt like my body was on auto pilot and my mind thought: ‘Do what you need to do to get the job done.’ I had become so hardened.”
Over the next few months, Glasgow said, he was “trying to act out” and left the Marines in May 2005, with an honorable discharge.
Since then, Glasgow said, he has struggled to hold down jobs, get an education and get treatment for the same psychological condition that afflicted his father.
At first, he stayed with an uncle in Northern Virginia and found work for $13 an hour. He said he spent his money on drinking and would scream in his sleep, waking his uncle two floors away. He said he also gained “an enormous amount of weight,” ballooning from 215 to 275 pounds.
After going through several jobs, either getting fired or quitting, Glasgow took his uncle’s advice and sought treatment. Counselors at a nearby vet center diagnosed him with PTSD.
“It took a year to find out what I had,” he said, adding that it was his “loving family” who continuously urged him to seek help.
Like his father, he resolved to face his anxieties, saying, “I’m above this.”
Glasgow spent seven months in an in-patient unit at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., where he said most patients were about 30 years older than him.
“I was branded as a troublemaker, young and loud,” he said.
But, he said, he learned skills to help him cope with his problems, with the shadows he would see in the dark, with screams in his head, with flashes of war fighting that could engulf him for hours.
“I’m trying not to hide behind the mask of PTSD,” he said. “I’m trying to work through it. But there is no end to it. I have to constantly deal with it.”
Now 25, Glasgow is attending Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and is on track to graduate with an associate of arts degree this spring. He lives on a $1,100 per month disability check in his own apartment, he says, and barely has enough to get by.
On good days, he said, he envisions teaching in schools throughout the world. Other days, he said, he is stressed and feels lost. And some days, he said, another part of him would like to “go to Indonesia and fight on the high seas.”
He now realizes how much he and his father have in common: “It’s very soothing to know he’s gone through some of the same stuff I have.”
“I’m still proud of him,” Rich Glasgow said of his son.
Both father and son have recommendations for the government to minimize post-traumatic stress disorder and to improve treatment.
“The military needs to do a better job preparing them,” Rich Glasgow said. “We tell them how to shoot, but we don’t prepare them for what happens when they do pull the trigger.”
Servicemembers should learn what they likely will be dealing with before they go to a conflict and be armed with tools to address their emotions, the elder Glasgow said. He also would like to see counseling sessions for everyone upon their return.
Robert Glasgow said he appreciated the efforts by counselors – but wanted to see an increase in staff.
“I’ve seen them burn the midnight oil,” he said. “I wish there were more people to help them help us.”