By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 10:51 AM
FORT CARSON, Colo. — In 1943, an enraged Gen. George S. Patton slapped a battle-fatigued U.S. soldier at a military hospital and accused him of cowardice, an episode that nearly ended Patton’s career. Nearly 70 years later, two filmmakers — one of them Patton’s grandson — are trying to help soldiers cope with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder by getting them to tell their war stories through a movie.
“Their generation just didn’t understand what this meant,” said Ben Patton, who takes his grandfather’s violent reaction as a sign that he too may have been suffering PTSD. “And that’s my call to action.”
One way the U.S. Army is trying to treat returning war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is by encouraging them to take control of their own stories in a filmmaking class titled, “I Was There.”
With a growing demand for ways to treat the psychological damage of war, one Army pilot project is encouraging soldiers to take control of their own stories in a filmmaking class titled I Was There Media Workshop.
The Fort Carson program began last year under the auspices of Patton, a New York documentary filmmaker, and Scott Kinnamon, a Denver educational filmmaker. Some 20 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars so far have attempted to organize their combat experiences in video as a way to fight PTSD.
“You can put everything into a video or a movie, a small movie about what you want to tell people — your story,” said 1st Sgt. Jason Gallegos of Fountain, Colo., who deployed to Iraq three times and has now produced a short film called “From Hero to Zero.”
“If they want to watch it, great. If they don’t, then don’t. But I don’t have to go through the process of the ‘angsting’ up to tell somebody something, just for them to be interested for a minute,” Gallegos said.
Some 2.3 million men and women have served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. The Rand Corp. said as many as 300,000 veterans of those wars may have suffered PTSD or major depression. The Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department have been ramping up therapy options for several years now and the effort continues as some troops continue to go undiagnosed or untreated.
Gallegos was a tank commander in Iraq and vividly recalls what he felt after his first engagement with insurgents in 2003. He ordered a tank gunner to fire on a man who had launched a rocket propelled grenade at his tank, and he watched through night-vision goggles as the bullets cut through the man.
Another reminder of the pain of war is a picture of Army Cpl. Gary Brent Coleman, of Pikeville, Ky., that Gallegos keeps on his Facebook page. Coleman was 24 when he died in an accident that tipped a Humvee under Gallegos’ command into a canal near Balad, Iraq, in November 2003. Gallegos and another soldier in the Humvee survived and Coleman died despite desperate efforts by Gallegos and the other solider to find him in the murky water.
“I did have one nightmare, where I was holding my breath and swimming underwater,” Gallegos said of his memory from that event.
Filmmaking as a way to document or cope with the lasting emotional impact of combat is not a new concept. In Los Angeles, ex-U.S. Marine filmmaker Garrett Anderson is making a documentary film with video from pocket digitial cameras that was captured during the November 2004 battle of Fallujah. The 2010 Academy Award nominated “Restrepo,” by author Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington, tells the story of a platoon in combat in Afghanistan and its resulting emotional impact on the soldiers.