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My Son Survived a Tour in Afghanistan—But Not PTSD

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Nov 10, 2019

When my son Ricky was in sixth or seventh grade, I got a call from the principal's office. They said I needed to pick him up because he was covered in mud and couldn't return to class like that. I thought,Okay, that's kind of weird. Ricky never got into trouble. Normally when you get a call like that your kid did something, but no, mine was just dirty. My brother picked him up (I couldn't leave work at the time) and said the dirt was so caked on, Ricky had to ride home in the back of his truck. It had rained the day before and, as it turns out, my son had decided to roll down a hill behind the school. He wasn't aiming for the mud puddle at the bottom but there it was. When I got home and asked why he would do such a thing, he replied, "Because it was funny." I couldn't fault him because itwasfunny. That's the kind of person my son was before he deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army—he would do anything to make people laugh.

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He grew into a very confident young man. Whenever he accomplished something or said something profound, he would strike a pose. He would say, 'I got an A on my math test,' then pose like Superman, and you're kind of imagining his hair and an invisible cape flying behind him like a superhero. There was a kind, giving side to him too. Even though his dad and I didn't go to church, he and his brother would walk there and put on a puppet show for the children in Sunday school.

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Shortly before his high school graduation, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock offered Ricky a partial scholarship. But even with the scholarship money, between tuition, boarding, food, books, and all of the other little expenses associated with college, we were still a couple thousand dollars short. Ricky didn't want to put us in a bind financially and I think he liked the idea of working for a little while before going to college. Given our family history, the military was kind of a natural choice: His dad was in the Navy and his dad's dad was in the Air Force. My mother-in-law even tells me we've got a Civil War general somewhere in the family. On my side, my dad was career military and my sister and brother both served. It was not an unexpected choice.

"Whenever I would try to reminisce with him, about a prank he had pulled or some other funny thing that had happened, he had almost no reaction."

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His grandad tried to talk him into joining the Air Force, but Ricky's personality clicked more with the Army recruiter he'd spoken to, so he decided to join that branch. After boot camp he was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, with the 87th Sapper Company. He had made several good friends there and was still going strong with his girlfriend, whom he'd met and fallen in love with in 10th grade. I did notice he'd picked up some strong language from his Army buddies, something I wasn't accustomed to hearing from him, but didn't think much of it at the time.

When he deployed for Afghanistan in 2013, I was nervous (I'm his mother, after all, and itisa war zone) but he wasn't concerned. He couldn't talk much while he was there. We would chat over Facebook often but, as I found out much later, he censored himself from sharing the most dangerous and troubling aspects of his job.

One of the first things I noticed after Ricky came back from Afghanistan was that he no longer cussed. His memory was off too. Whenever I would try to reminisce with him, about a prank he had pulled or some other funny thing that had happened, he had almost no reaction. It's like he didn't even remember some of the hilarious stunts he had orchestrated. My brain registered that he was different but I never thought of it as a symptom of a larger, life-threatening issue.

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Ricky, left, with Victor (center) and Jesse (right)
Yvonne Vega Vine/Facebook

After he was honorably discharged from the Army, Ricky enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where his girlfriend was, to study computer science. He came home to Maryland for visit in February 2015 and that's when I noticed his personality had turned volatile. He didn't want to leave the house. One of the things we would always do as a family is take little day trips to nearby cities. I tried to get him to visit D.C. with us—his younger brothers Victor and Jesse couldn't wait to get on the road—but he was adamant about staying home. We live two blocks from the beach so we were able to get him out of the house for that, but for most of the time during his visit he just stayed in the guest room.

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"At some point, Ricky confessed to his dad, but not me, that he had taken lives while in Afghanistan."

He and his girlfriend broke up not long after that, which wasn't entirely unexpected because he wasn't the same person she'd started dating six years earlier. My brother, who served in Iraq, was engaged to be married before his tour but called if off after he came back. He had returned a completely different person but he's doing well now. He sought treatment through the V.A. Unfortunately, my son didn't.

At some point, Ricky confessed to his dad, but not me, that he had taken lives while in Afghanistan. That's a very difficult thing for anyone to have to do, not least of all a kid who grew upwantingto go to church every Sunday.

My son, Richard Cameron Vine, took his own life on Aug. 31, 2015. He was 22.

I was at work on a Monday morning when I found out. My husband called and said he was coming to pick me up but wouldn't say why. At first I thought it was another one of my son's twisted practical jokes. When my husband finally told me Ricky had committed suicide, I was numb. I can't tell you what I was feeling or thinking about.

We didn't realize the extent of his isolation until we went to clean out his apartment and met a few of his neighbors. Each offered their condolences and said some variation of, "We didn't see him much but whenever he came out of his apartment he was nice enough." He had lived there for six months.

When my middle son, Jesse, came to me and said he wanted to join the military, I did everything I could to make sure that didn't happen. I took out loans to convince him to go to college instead. I would sit down with him at the computer and have him fill out application after application for financial aid. When he would talk about going to a recruiter, I would leave the room, but ultimately the decision was his to make. It's impressive to see how confident he's become since enlisting in the Air Force; he's now stationed in Nevada. His youngest brother, Victor, is involved in NJROTC in his local high school.






Video: Desperate Afghan parents sell children for cash.

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Date: 12.12.2018, 17:07 / Views: 63384