Knowing that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life is one of the best feelings I know. That’s why I was in tears last weekend at the second annual Great Falls Stand-Down ceremony.
The Stand-Down is a military ceremony to let soldiers know that their mission has been accomplished, but it has taken on a new meaning in Montana. With so many former combat vets essentially hiding out in this vast and vastly under-populated state, it has become a way to connect emotionally wounded warriors and provide them with help, things like survival gear, cold-weather sleeping bags and warm clothing.
I was covering the event for the Great Falls Tribune when I ran into Dave Belcher, a former combat vet whom I had interviewed for my book, Faces of Combat. A former platoon sergeant during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Dave came back with an enormous load of anger that he couldn’t control, much of it directed at his wife Daneil.
When I sat down to talk with the couple, Daneil was still terrified at saying something that might set off her husband so agreed to visit with her along. There she told me that it was so frustrating to watch her husband getting better while she was stuck with her own anger at the way he had treated her. I began to see that Dave’s post-traumatic stress disorder was becoming shared by his partially traumatized wife.
I urged her to see a counselor, even recommending a particular woman who I knew could help her and making an introductory phone call on her behalf. I saw her a couple of times over the next couple of months, but each time she told me that she hadn’t mustered the nerve to set up an appointment — she was worried about how her husband might react.
So I was surprised when Dave stopped to tell me, “Daneil is going to see a counselor now, and I couldn’t be happier.” I told him I was really glad, that she needed help in getting past her own anger and learning again to forgive and trust.
“It’s making a tremendous difference to us,” he said. “It’s really opened things up. I cvan’t tell you how much of a difference you have made in our lives.”
So that’s how I came to be stumbling out of the vets’ Stand-Down in tears last weekend. Mercifully, vets are quite accustomed to tears, so no one even gave me a second look.
For the full story on Dave and Daneil, see chapter 5 of Faces of Combat, which should be in bookstores across America by the middle of October. I guess it’s remarkable that the book is making that kind of an impact before it’s even released.