Stress is a normal part of life for all working adults. It can be motivating, exhausting, thrilling, and debilitating at any given time. The reactions it has on the body can affect our awareness, decision making, motor skills and memory, among other functions. We are often judged on how we handle these situations as they happen, as well as after these events occur. In many walks of life these stressful situations come in the form of public speaking, conflicting deadlines, financial issues, and relationships, to name a few. In law enforcement and the military these stressors can pertain to life or death moments on a daily basis. The outcome of each situation can have a lasting effect on the uniformed protectors of our communities and nation, no matter their emotional strength or resilience.
The IACP welcomed US Army SSG Ty Carter into its Leadership in Police Organizations (LPO) course hosted by the Spokane Police Department and the 5th Annual LPO Partner Agency Meeting to share his story and discuss his struggle with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The President of the United States recently awarded SSG Ty Carter the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty during combat operations on Combat Outpost Keating, Afghanistan.
The IACP’s three-week LPO course, currently being delivered for law enforcement agencies in thirty-six U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, and on four continents, includes a lesson entitled Stress and Resilience which delivers an overview of the science behind the effects of stress on the human body. Law enforcement students are made more aware of how their bodies react to stress and why they respond in such a way. Situations and examples within the lesson are provided in an effort to integrate the science of stress into the daily operations of a law enforcement professional. SSG Carter has been speaking to gracious audiences about his story since receiving the award in August, 2013, however he had yet to speak to the law enforcement community. Realizing the direct parallels within the two professions and the struggles many of these uniformed men and women endure due to the stressful nature of their jobs, SSG Carter agreed to share his story with the law enforcement community.
SSG Carter’s bravery during a hellish battle in the mountains of Afghanistan inspired him to put his comrade’s life before his own, though some did not make it out alive. His physical and mental training had prepared him for deadly situations like this, though he felt that he could have done more. SSG Carter shared his thoughts of failure, loneliness, and loss, which led him to alcohol and a sheltered existence in order to mask his pain.
It wasn’t until his symptoms were recognized by a superior officer and he was ordered to counseling by the Army, that he sought treatment. SSG Carter described the difficulty in opening up about the event itself and the feelings that accompanied it. The fact that he was talking to someone who he felt could not relate to his involvement in the twelve-hour merciless ambush, made it even more challenging. Though it was hard from the beginning and still hard to this day, SSG Carter emphasized that the opportunity to just talk to someone was therapeutic. The more he talked to a professional the more he remembered about that day and the easier it was to let those feelings out and he began to heal. Whether it is sitting down with a counselor or speaking to his wife at home, SSG Carter still believes it is an important aspect of dealing with stress on a daily basis.
SSG Carter’s message is simple: he believes the letter “D” should be removed from PTSD, as it is not a disorder in his opinion. He believes that everyone experiences some severity of Post-traumatic Stress throughout their life. Though SSG Carter still faces daily symptoms that have shaped his life forever, open communication and a close-knit family helps to ease the horrors of that dreadful day. Understanding stress and its effects on the body, partnered with practice or training, can help prepare an individual to perform a task under duress. Recognizing and acknowledging the long-term effects of stress after the situation occurs is the most difficult task.