USO Promotes Healing of ‘Invisible Wounds’
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2012 The USO has adapted to the needs of service members and their families throughout its 71-year history and continues to serve America’s troops as it works to educate others about the invisible wounds of war, a senior executive of the organization said.
Frank Thorp, a retired Navy rear admiral and senior vice president of marketing and communications for the USO, described the organization’s latest effort, a “unique” public service announcement.
“We at the USO continue to adapt, and as the military has focused on treating the invisible wounds of war, the USO set out to educate people and to provide information and to remove the stigma about invisible wounds,” he said.
Thorp described two prominent types of invisible wounds from which troops have suffered.
“Specifically, what we’re talking about is post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury,” he said. “In a lot of ways, these are the signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Troops over the last decade of war have seen horrific things on the battlefield, Thorp said. “As a nation, it’s our responsibility to help them come back and live a fruitful life in society,” he added. “We want to make sure we include them as this country moves forward.”
Thorp noted that video for the USO’s public service announcement was shot in a “MTV” style with service members “who have been bold enough to come forward” speaking in their own words.
“This isn’t scripted,” he said. “They’re very long-form videos that we have. When you watch the PSA, you can then go to our website and watch from five to nine minutes about individuals who are suffering from invisible wounds of war.”
Thorp said Army officials -- and specifically, former Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who retired yesterday -- helped with the USO’s research.
“We worked with General Chiarelli’s staff as he was leading the movement in educating people about invisible wounds, because we wanted these PSAs to be accurate,” Thorp said. “We wanted the Army to be proud of them. We wanted everyone in the military to be proud of them.”
Susan Thomas, the USO’s vice president for warrior and family care, said she can relate to both sides of educating people on invisible wounds. She’s married to former Marine Capt. Eric Thomas, and she is featured alongside him in their PSA.
“I’m very involved from a personal perspective,” Thomas said. “I have a very personal understanding of how invisible wounds can affect your relationship not only with your spouse, but [also] with your friends and your family.”
She explained the experience of being a caregiver and loved one of someone suffering from invisible wounds.
“It’s certainly something that you don’t really realize when you’re going through it,” she said. “It’s been a long process, but I think a lot of it has to do with being understanding -- recognizing that, often times [when] Eric gets frustrated or when he has anxiety about a situation, as his wife, I need to be patient with him.”
Her husband joined the Marine Corps in 2001, completing two deployments in Iraq before separating in 2007.
“My final tour was with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit,” he said. “We were on a small [forward operating base] south of Baghdad known as FOB Kalsu. That was a pretty rough tour, and I think that’s probably where most of my [post-traumatic stress] originates from.”
Thomas said he didn’t recognize his symptoms until almost two years after he had transitioned to civilian life, referring to post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury as “sneaky situations.”
“They don’t always present themselves, I feel, right away,” he said. “I think that probably the culmination of my awareness of how I was feeling and where I was going didn’t happen for almost two years after I got out. I finally realized I have to seek some sort of assistance – that I can’t do this alone.”
Though he was hesitant at first to share his story with the public, Thomas said, he decided educating others was the best thing to do.
“It’s a difficult process to go through at face value,” he said. “To delve into the private side of your experiences is a whole other story. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to think it made a lot of sense to help if you can help.
“If you have the ability to go out there and cast even a small beam of light on an issue like this then it would be worth it,” said he continued. “We kind of collectively came to a decision that this was something worth doing.”
Thomas gave advice to service members and caregivers going through similar experiences.
“It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint,” he said. “It takes time, it takes patience, it takes a legitimate interest in wanting to turn a corner to get better. … But if you stick to it and you have an open mind, you can certainly get there.”