US Army Vet Chad Prichard on Coming Home

Video transcript:

I think Americans just need to know that veterans do what they do so you…so that others don’t have to. It’s a volunteer service regardless of why they volunteered.  They volunteered so that the rest of America can have the freedoms they do and live the lives and follow their dreams and go after what they want to do. When you raise your right hand and say I want to join the military you kind of give up some of your personal freedoms, and I think America needs to understand how big a deal that is because I don’t think that all Americans do.

My names is Chad Prichard, I’m 39 years old, I served in the United States Army from 1995 to 2006, and now currently I’m a student at the University of Colorado Denver studying to become a nurse. To be honest, I didn’t want to go to college. I was done with school; I wanted to see the world; I wanted adventure. Something inside of me said what better way than join the army, and I’m pretty glad I did. I originally started as an 88M truck driver, did that for a few years but just really wasn’t my thing so I ended up switching to civil affairs.

We were the liaison between the civilian populace and the military commanders. Our job was to basically make friends and not enemies. Our slogan was “win hearts and minds”. A lot of those people were ruled by fear and held down as people and a lot of them didn’t want to fight us. I think the biggest points in the military isn’t so much a place but it’s the people. It’s the brotherhoods you create, the friends that you make, the life-long people that understand you and only can understand the situations you have been through because trying to explain to civilians is difficult and so to know you have those bonds in this world that now are spread all over the country but I know that with a phone call I can reach out to any one of them.

The low point for me is just watching all these veterans lost in the world right now. We went through hell, you know, we saw some of the craziest things. There is more culture shock in coming home than there is in going to war. There was more difficult times transitioning back from combat than there is from going to combat. A lot of guys because of ego, or ignorance, or whatever reason, they are struggling internally right now with a lot pain, remorse, and anger and you know some of them are turning to self-medication or alcohol and these things are really just destroying them.

For me that’s probably the lowest point, watching the really good, strong, skilled people lost in this world. Post traumatic stress has a lot to do with why its difficult for people not to totally see why we’re upset. It’s internal; we don’t have bullet wounds; we don’t have gunshots; we don’t have arms or legs missing. But what it is…

I explain to a lot of people, for example, if you have a break-up with a girl or you lose your job or a car wreck or some traumatic event, a death in the family, that you go through a grieving process. You have a week or two that it hurts and its painful and you process that. Well, in a combat scenario you don’t have time for grieving, and it’s day in and day out of those kinds of situations, losing friends, having IEDs happen, mortars coming in, getting fired upon, suicide bombers, pipe bombs, just day in and day out just destruction after destruction.

In order for survival we can’t process that information and so when we come home it’s like a can of worms. You shake it up, and you open it up. It’s everywhere and it seems over complicated that trying to figure out how to fix that or deal with all of that seems overwhelming. (minute 4.35)

So in 2004 I came home from my first combat tour from Iraq, and I think the hardest part for me was that I just got home and I was slapped with divorce and bankruptcy and a big mess. I had to move from my own home and what not. So a lot of people look at me today in 2016 and they think I’m good to go and what not but just twelve years ago my life was shambles. It was an absolute nightmare. I hadn’t even started processing Iraq and came home to courtrooms and trying to figure out where I’m going to live and childcare plans because I have two children.

I got out of the army in 2006 and basically I no longer had piss tests; I no longer had anybody saying I could or couldn’t do this or that. How I survived eight years of drugs and alcohol is beyond me. It almost killed me. At the end of 2013 I got diagnosed with chemical-induced schizophrenia for the amount of drugs I did, I had joint problems, I was overweight, but the hardest part was the mental issues that I had. I had done so many drugs but I didn’t deal with the problems for like eight years.

And those problems from Iraq and combat and what not were now back and they were stronger. I chose the drugs and the alcohol to not deal with things; I was a mess in 2013. I couldn’t even think straight. And the thing for me was that I looked in the mirror, and I prayed to God, and I said I need to change. And with that, I began a journey of sobriety. It was not a “I went to rehab and quit”.

I worked with myself and some people at Church and some other things, and I did it in stages. I quit doing hard drugs in January of 2013. I quit drinking in March of 2013. I found places like Phoenix Multi sport to help me move on. I got involved in the AA to help me deal with some of the mental things. I didn’t do it fully on my own. For a long time, I thought I was still this same guy eight years ago, in-shape army guy, and I wasn’t. I was not that guy anymore.

My mental aspect of it is a daily fight; it’s a daily challenge; it’s a daily thing that I deal with. The good part is that I‘ve learned coping mechanisms, and I’ve learned tools, and I’ve learned to not hide, and I’ve learned to reach out to people, and I’ve learned to use some of the tools I have. It’s not always going to be perfect and I don’t think you can erase PTSD, but I think you can find ways to cope with and deal with it.

It gives me hope because if I can deal with this day then I can deal with tomorrow, and If I can deal with tomorrow, I can deal with the next day.  And if I go run, it really helps me deal with a lot of chaos. I like to tell people that while I run, I process things. I could be, prior to the run, in like a real chaotic situation, and I could come into a place like this, and go for a long run, and when I get back its almost like I can now take on that chaotic situation that I couldn’t even deal with prior to the run. (minute 8.32)

I study at the University of Colorado Denver working towards a nursing degree. I’m currently getting what we call prereqs, and I think I have about two more semesters, and I can apply to nursing school. I think that the cool part of me being a nurse out there is that I can really relate to what it’s like to be on the other side, to be in bed, to be a mess, to be broken, to be hurt, to be in pain; I can hopefully give those people a little bit of hope, even if it’s a slight slim piece of it.

I think the best advice to give any veteran is to check their ego at the door, and if they are dealing with somethings internally, to deal with them because if you don’t deal with them they are going to follow you for a long time, and they are going to come out in ways you don’t want them to. I’ve had difficulties with relationships, like trying to have a girlfriend, and some of the stuff I didn’t deal with comes up when you are most vulnerable. I don’t believe that a veteran should do it alone. Whether or not they can or can’t is case by case because we’re all unique people; there are no two veterans exactly alike.

What works for me may not work for you but I would recommend that you try all there is. Some people need talk therapy; some people need physical therapy, but the number one thing everybody needs is community. They need to not isolate themselves, they need to not be macho men or women and say that this war is mine internally because that is a long, hard life and I think with the help of some community you can really get through some of your difficult moments and not be so overwhelming.

I think that when employers hire veterans they should really understand that veterans have been trained in leadership and a lot of skills depending on their MOS or job in the military. I think employers should really look at the veteran as a whole and see that they bring a lot of skills to the table, such as leadership. They work great in teams if given the right team, and I think that why not reach out to them and find out to what level of leadership school did they get because they can save themselves a lot of training and a lot of dollars when the government has already paid for that for them. I think employers shouldn’t assume that everybody has got a PTSD mess. I think that’s the biggest thing employers shouldn’t do because not everybody is affected the same way.

Some people may early on deal with their problems and go through therapy and have a great look on life. Some people may be perfect for their position in a leadership role or whatever. The fact of the military is I work well in chaos. It’s weird how with PTSD some of the most simple stuff can screw with you, but I can thrive in chaos, and I think that helps. I know some veterans have an easier transition than others.

It’s almost like pick a straw and you get PTSD and you don’t, and I don’t get that. Some veterans can come home and get therapy right away, some veterans come home and deal with their problems right off the bat, some of them may have coping mechanisms while they were deployed that others don’t have, and maybe some of them were not exposed to that many traumatic things as compared to others.

I think that America is really trying, and I think the best part is that there’s a lot of people that see the need, and there’s a lot of organizations out there, and there’s a lot of resources that weren’t here ten years ago. I just really want veterans to know that no matter what situation they are in, no matter how bad they’ve screwed up beyond their service, no matter how far they’ve gone in self-medicating or the drugs or how many relationships they’ve lost or whatever, to not give up hope because, me personally, I’ve done all of that.

I’ve burned a lot of bridges; I’ve made a lot of bad choices. I chose a wrong path for a long time. For me, I’d just like to say that if you want change, do the next right thing and continue doing the next right thing, and eventually things will change, and eventually the situation will be better, and eventually you may have relationships that don’t give up on you.

Eric Shannon