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In Their Own Words: Carla and Matthew Wiese on War, Parenthood, and PTSD

            We were always under the impression that the Air Force would do as much as they could to avoid deploying us simultaneously, especially since we were dual-military and we had a child at home. But obviously we knew that the possibility could arise, and that’s what happened.

            It’s quite a bit different taking care of a critical care trauma patient who’s in their fifties, sixties, seventies, than it is bringing home an eighteen, twenty-year-old kid who just lost maybe one or two limbs. They’ll sit there and tell you that, you know, they’re missing a leg but they’re not in any pain, or they’re doing fine, or they don’t need anything. And they’re trying not to show any emotion. But they – they hurt. 

            The medical rules of engagement were that if the locals weren’t injured by a coalition firefight, then it was the job of the local medical people to take care of them. But they brought them straight to us…. And, you know, it’s hard to say no or turn away a child that’s blown apart and bleeding and dying in your arms.

            I haven’t been seen in a clinical setting for my PTSD since mid-to-late December. I wouldn’t say it’s ever going to go away. I’m always going to have those thoughts. What happened to me is life-changing. You see things, you go through things, you survive things and they’re always going to be there; but do I have nightmares and wake up in cold sweats? No.


No one knows war like those who fight it. “In Their Own Words” is an online series at that draws on 200 in-depth interviews with military personnel about their service in Afghanistan and Iraq. This week’s installment is the story of Carla and Matthew Wiese. A married couple who are both in the Air Force, the Wieses had to deploy simultaneously to the war zone and leave their then three-year-old daughter for six months. To make things even harder, Matthew came home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Accompanying the Wieses’s narrative is an in-depth analysis of how their family story illustrates problems – and solutions – that are widespread across the military. The analysis draws five lessons for national security policy:

#1: PTSD can get better with treatment

#2: But too many troops still aren’t treated

#3: Combat vets have little patience with bureaucracy

#4: Homecoming is more hard work than honeymoon

#5: Kids are resilient – within limits


Click below for the narrative and the lessons-learned in printable PDF files. Also available is the entire package in a single file:

Wiese, Carla & Matthew – complete – 2011-05-24

Wiese, Carla & Matthew – narrative – 2011-05-24

Wiese, Carla & Matthew – lessons – 2011-05-24


To go into greater depth, past articles about some of the issues raised in this story are available online courtesy of National Journal:

- When The Troops Come Home: bringing families back together after deployment.

- The Army’s Growing Pains: stress on Army soldiers and families.

- In Treating Trauma, Military Branches Out: new treatments for PTSD.

- Families At War: soldiers discuss separation from loved ones.

- Intimate Killing: the psychological shock of face-to-face combat.


Recommended resources at other websites include: 

- Joining Forces, an initiative to support servicemembers and their families led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.

- the National Military Family Association (NMFA).

- RAND scholar Anita Chandra’s study of how deployment impacts the children of servicemembers.

- the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

- the clinical definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (via the NCPSTD website).

- Military One Source, the Defense Department’s online help center to match servicemembers and their families with the support they need.


Also available is the first “In Their Own Words,” an extended narrative about a battle in Afghanistan by two Army Civil Affairs soldiers later decorated for valor.


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