Thursday, April 03, 2008

A War Within

After reading and writing about the disturbing posters about the “Active Shooter Alert Drills” to be held on the Portland Community College Campus during April, my thoughts drifted to Mandy Martin and her "family."

Mandy is an Oregon Army Reserve Iraq veteran who spoke to my class last term about what it is like to return to PCC as a vet, even when there isn’t an “Active Shooter Alert Drill.”

Many vets are consumed with anger, which became a survival instinct in Iraq. “Anger makes things happen in the military,” Mandy, a slender, ramrod-straight, dead-serious young woman, told us matter-of-factly.

When she returned to PCC as a student, she said it was “hard not to use my anger in the classroom, in crowds, when people express opinions.”

Mandy described how Iraq vets never “come all the way home.” Their Iraq experience has fused with their being. Part of them is still at war.

That’s why some sit in the back of the room where they have the whole class — and the door — in view. They seem withdrawn, and many are.

That’s why crowds represent danger to them. As many as one-third suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

That’s why in the give-and-take of the classroom, “it’s hard to hear others’ opinions about the war,” Mandy said. “The war is part of me.”

That’s why “Support the Troops; don’t support the War,” doesn’t cut it with Mandy and, she believes, many other vets.

Working now at the Portland Vets Center, Mandy counsels returning vets, whom she calls “family.” Many of her family decide to resume their lives at home by going to PCC.

The thought of an “Active Shooter Alert Drill” intruding on the lives of the vets at PCC gives me chills. The posters explained that when the drill's alarms sound, everyone should seek "the safest place possible and conceal and cover yourself."

Those are orders frighteningly familiar to war-plagued Iraq vets.

Will there never be peace in their lives?

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Ricky! Don't be blaming PCC for doing what they can to make the college safer. There are a million issues regarding vets returning to society, and pointing the finger at PCC isn't constructive. Would you rather PCC do nothing and then have a shooting? If there's a shooting and people don't know what to do and more casualties arise from it, how would that help the vets? Please focus your opinion in a more logical direction.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

Thanks for the comment and prodding me on this one.

The alternative isn't doing nothing.

Certainly PCC can find more creative and informative, and less nerve-rattling ways to instruct students on what to do in the case of an "active shooter emergency."

Sounding alarms and having students run for cover is, frankly, stupid.

Whatever it teaches could be taught without disrupting the campus and alarming the unwary or psychologically vulnerable, many of whom are vets.

How about a short video, like the kinds the airlines show before take-off telling you how to evacuate? And why not something like those information cards in the pocket in front of you on the plane? Hand out something clear and brief like those as part of course registration.

How about getting rid of the arcade of shooter games in the campus center? You know, just to set the right tone.

Oh, and how about this suggestion from Mandy herself? Offer a short class on the problems Iraq vets face on campus — among those problems are full-alarm "active shooter emergency drills" that are certain to trigger old anxieties from combat.

A course like that should be required of PCC's administrators before they pull the alarms and order us all to run for cover.

P.S. It's been 63 years since anyone called me "Ricky." Once again we have another, oh-so-familiar correspondent hiding in anonymity. Either share your name or stop using mine, or some distortion of it.

4:26 PM  
Blogger sunty said...

PCC’s “Active Shooter Alert Drill” is just proof that the college is vulnerable and helpless in preventing such incident.

First off, the last 20+ years of my life has been spent in warfare, of which the last 10 years or so, was spent training “elitists”, so believe my advice. People whom I’ve worked with consider me a Nostradamus.

From a strategic point of view – it is as mediocre of an effort as a fire drill. Come on, does anyone really believe there will be order during that time? It could be argued that familiarity with the series of alarm could be helpful. But was everyone there?

Even if PCC arms its security, I will bet you that none of them will engage to disable the shooter. Why? Because the first thing that will inhibit these security teams is disbelief – the next one is preparedness to take out a life. I know for a fact that the average “seasoned” US military personnel would still take at least two seconds to shoot a child carrying an assault rifle (I’ve seen it happen - both in trainings and actual scenarios). And let me guess, the standard procedure is to call for back-up…like the police? By the time help arrives, I assure you that the body count has doubled. Two seconds of hesitation is a lot of time if you’re in a firefight – trust me. To win a battle – one must be more brutal than the enemy.

Believe it or not this problem is cultural. This society (except for those who live in gang riddled districts of L.A. and Detroit) is too civilized and pampered in comfort and the majority is not used to having a shooter around. This is also the reason why US troops suffer a great amount of culture shock when they are deployed to foreign lands. Different cultures have different amounts of exposure to violence. Israel enjoys a suicide bomber detonating his or “HER” self, at least once a month and they don’t have “Suicide-Bomber-on-a-Bus Drills”. Somali troops will shoot at anyone carrying a firearm regardless of sex or age, pregnant or not, firearm loaded or not - carried or aimed.

Remember this wisdom: “No one can survive a well planned attack” (if anyone is blessed with the knowledge of what a “well-planned attack” means). Even the Secret Service and bodyguards of VIPs know this fact.

It is my best advice for everyone to consider such attack as an ambush. And the best way of surviving an ambush is running away as far as you can – as fast as you can. If you are cornered – play dead like a possum (or act like you’re already hurt, or are having a heart attack and are dying anyway). This is not an earthquake or an act of nature. Your attacker is human, even though already deprived of a proper mind - came prepared, and is still logical enough to deduct actions. You have more chances in surviving this type of man-made incident by using your feet than by using a rock or wood panel. Taking shelter is not a guarantee in this case. You will only make yourself a helpless target waiting to be discovered. Furthermore, you will only trouble the response team (police, SRT, SWAT, and morgue attendants) by adding to the probable number of hostages or casualties in the event they decide to nuke the area. Whoever laid out the plans (especially on the part of hiding) for “Active Shooter Alert Drill” is a disgrace to the word idiot. Worst, if the “would-be-shooter” belongs to the same community such as PCC, rest be assured - he or she has already taken notes on its safety measures and will adjust his or her tactical offensive. Just run people. Animals do it to confuse their predator and it works. The best way PCC could do to protect people is to train their security to respond effectively (it means violent measures).

As for Mandy Martin, the damages of war will always be there. You might not even be aware of it, but it’s there inside of you – ticking like a time bomb. You have picked a wrong time to join the forces (politically). As always, the only way to win a war is not to fight one. Anyone claiming strength and the disillusion of a victory has nightmares to tell the moment they wake up (this is why I really disagree with the word “Veteran”). I could tell that the protest actions have confused your principles. Sorry Mandy, pack your bags and pack them well – it’s a “Guilt-Trip” from here on.

I agree with you, “Ricky”, and I applaud your efforts in making your campus realize these underlying issues, especially in identifying problems and signals, both for “Veterans” and troubled people as well. After all, prevention is better than a cure.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Brandiy Lynn said...

Hello,
I just happened upon your blog through a google search about the drills.
I just have to say I'm relieved to read that someone else is thinking critically about the active shooter drills.
I feel the way that the school has gone about this is all wrong. It promotes this atmosphere of violence and panic, and I think pushes people into a place of thinking like criminals. Is it a coincidence that there were two "shootings" withing two weeks after memos posted on every wall and the multiple drills?
I just don't think it is.
I appreciate your relation of this to vets and their experience at school.

Thanks,
Brandiy

4:38 PM  

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