‘Real Warrior’ Helps Others Get Help
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2009 Sheri Hall could tell something was wrong with her husband, Army Maj. Jeff Hall, at the hangar during his welcome home ceremony. “His eyes were dead,” she said.
It should have been a joyous time. The major was returning from his second deployment to Iraq at the end of 2005. He had been with a military training team with the 3rd Infantry Division.
He went from Fort Stewart, Ga., to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
But he was having problems. One boss told him he exhibited “visceral anger.”
“I do know I was trying to correct a lot of deficiencies physically,” he said. “I’ve had nightmares. I was distant from my family, and I had thoughts of killing myself.”
But he coped, letting the anger build up for two and a half years. “I went through 28 rotations at the JRTC, and I finally said, ‘I can’t do this any more,’” he said.
Hall expected “the hammer” from his boss, he said. Instead, his boss got him the help he needed. He was accepted for a three-week treatment program at the Deployment Health Clinical Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
As part of the treatment, doctors checked Hall out thoroughly. They discovered old injuries from his airborne days and a new back injury he incurred in Iraq charging through what he called “the only oak door in Baghdad.” They started a regimen to help him deal with the pain of these injuries, which, he said, “helped with everything else.”
The program had group therapy in the morning followed by one-on-one sessions with a therapist. He asked, and the other soldiers in the group agreed, for Sheri to be involved.
“It was kind of a cry of desperation on my part,” he said. “I was trying to hang on to my family, even though I thought I’d already lost them.”
Including Sheri led to what the major said was the best part of the one-on-one sessions, when the therapist told him to “shut the hell up and listen to my wife,” he said. “I had just tuned her out,” he added.
People have to want to get better, Hall said. “You learn coping mechanisms, and I learned I wasn’t alone in the process.”
He also learned his reactions to the stress of combat were normal. “They keep telling you it’s a normal reaction to abnormal things,” he said. “They made this very clear.”
The Halls have two teenage daughters. “They knew something was going on,” Sheri said. “It was not the father they knew.” She said she tried to shelter the girls as much as possible, “but kids are really smart, and they knew a lot more than they let on.”
Following the treatment at the clinic, the Halls went back to Fort Polk, and Jeff eased back into work. “I was able to function again at the JRTC,” he said.
With the help they got at the clinic they are better able to deal with the depression and anger, Sheri said. “We also started having more fun together,” she said. The two are high school sweethearts from Oklahoma.
After he got help, Hall reached out to the soldiers he commanded in Iraq to get them help, too. Some have gone through the Walter Reed clinic. Others were worried that getting help “would ruin their careers and cause them to lose their security clearances,” Hall said.
Then representatives from the “Real Warrior” program contacted him. The program aims to take the stigma away from receiving mental health treatment by encouraging servicemembers to seek treatment. It involves a series of public service announcements by servicemembers describing what they have gone through and how they got the help they needed.
“I wanted to help guys who want to keep their career, but don’t know how to,” Hall said. “I’m here to say there is a way to do it.”
Sheri also is featured in the ads, and she wants families to know what is available.
“I want to help him get his message out, but I also want to see that families are taken care of,” she said. “We suffer through [post-traumatic stress disorder], too.”
Hall is now with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan.