Synopsis (From story @ PilotOnline.com ): Chuck Rotenberry can talk about the virtues of others, both man and dog, at length.
The Marines he served with during two deployments, Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2011. How young they were. How eager.
“To see what these Marines go through … they were hungry for it every day. Each day, they wake up not knowing if they’re coming back, but they do it.”
And the dogs – they go first when clearing an area of improvised explosive devices or checking a house during a forced entry. It’s something most people back home don’t stop to think about: who walks point.
“Everyone is looking at the dog and the dog handler like, ‘Whaddaya got?’ That’s a huge responsibility.”
But Chuck, 35, is slower to talk about himself.
Active-duty Marine for 13 years. A staff sergeant, chief trainer of military dogs and kennel master. Now a Marine reservist living in Hampton.
It takes awhile to get to the part about the IED, the shrapnel, the flying body parts, the brain injury.
His wife, Elizabeth, urges him on to March 29, 2011.
That day, he called her on the phone after the explosion. She needed to buy new tires for the truck. And that had been stressful for the mother of three, who was also five months pregnant.
He listened. He comforted. He hung up the phone.
Later, she received a phone call from Marine headquarters.
“Have you talked with your husband today?”
“Are you aware he’s been injured?”
Chuck earned a Purple Heart on that rugged landscape, and he also injured his brain.
You’d never know it to look at the lean, 6-foot-1 veteran with the easy smile and gentle manner. There’s no visible evidence, no scar – just an injury inside that’s derailed the tranquility of a family that looks picture-postcard-perfect.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury often land in the news when violence erupts, but the reality is, thousands struggle quietly in day-to-day battles that never cross the public’s radar screen.
According to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center data, Chuck’s was one of more than 250,000 cases of traumatic brain injury in the military between 2000 and 2012. An estimated 14 percent of American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD.
Such injuries go back centuries. What’s new is the recognition, screening, treatment and exploration of the role that the alphabet soup of TBI and PTSD plays in substance abuse, sleep problems and suicide.
The injuries are difficult to treat. Counseling, medication and rest have been mainstays, but the varied results and side effects drive many veterans to search for alternatives.