BY WILL LUND | PHOTO BY ALEX THOMAS
Blasts ring through his ears. Flashes, grinding metal, and screams fill the air. He looks over at the clock, and it reads 3:30 am.
This scene is common for former military veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life. Over 15 percent of veterans from Afghanistan conflicts say that they are severely affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on a daily basis.
Mike Pflanzer, former Navy nuclear engineer, doesn’t suffer to the degree of most veterans, but he knows a thing or two about this progressive syndrome. Currently a student at Edgewood College, he used to be a mechanic on a warship. He spent most days working on mechanics as well as performing six-hour watch shifts. He said he was able to travel to seven different countries like Hong Kong and Singapore, while being stationed off the southern Asian islands during Operation Enduring Freedom.
On the ship, Pflanzer met many officers who were affected by physiological syndromes. He recalled an officer who had gone through a great deal of mental anguish. While on a mission, this officer had made a judgment call with his men’s lives at risk.
“His gambled gamble failed,” Pflanzer said. Having lost many of his best soldiers, his decision caused him much grief, and he felt responsible for their deaths.
He said that this can lead to more stress, and at times survivor’s remorse. Many soldiers who come back from war that have lost friends and platoon mates feel as if there is some injustice that their own lives were spared. Intense anxiety can be triggered by loud noises, smells, and induce hyperventilation.
Pflanzer noted that adjusting to an environment like Edgewood’s can be challenging. After deployment, he became a recruiter: he felt that there were personal and ethical concerns in dealing with young adults.
He has noticed that people have a social prejudice against military veterans. They would say, both to his face and over the phone, slanderous things such as “baby killer” and “Bush henchmen.” He said the valuable thing he learned was communication skills from conversing with many people.
After recruiting he searched for a job. He was told about helpful transition programs for ex-military.
“Programs are helpful, although many people do not get the help they need. Out there you’re on your own. There’s support, but no job help”, said Pflanzer.
His skills in training and military knowledge meant he was better equipped to handle college life and decided that continuing his education was his next move. Unfortunately, the classroom wasn’t like the warship.
“One major distraction is the overall maturity of the kids”, he said.
He said that the maturity level of fellow peers and classmates was unacceptable. This lack of discipline can severely affect the learning environment for certain veterans. After spending some time, he found that these “kids” did not mean disrespect they just hadn’t been taught the way that he was.
Pflanzer is studying psychology and wants to continue his education in neuroscience. He hopes that because of his experiences, he can conduct research and help to treat people with Parkinson’s, PTSD, and those with various addictions.