Returning Veterans From Iraq and Afghanistan
As a physician and an artist, I use my medical education and my art to find ways of healing people. It is my purpose in life to heal; in whatever way I can play a role, I wish to have people think about our place as individuals living amongst each other. Through my work as a doctor and a portrait artist I must address the “truth” of the individual. I observe and I listen to the person before me. As an artist, I choose to paint individuals who have something to say about pertinent social issues – a kind of “social realism”. A few years ago, I completed a series on Holocaust survivors and their World War II liberators. Many of these people were in the final stages of their lives, so it was more important than ever to capture their faces and the thoughts behind their eyes. Growing up in the late 1930s and 40s during World War II, was a strange part of my history where the fear of the unknown was always present. Blackouts and the threat of an enemy attack were always in our thoughts. I remember the many windows where there were flags with varying stars for those service men in action or the gold star of those who had given their lives for our nation. There was a sense of the country coming together to fight a single enemy. Once again in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I saw the flags in the windows and nearly every day ten American service members are reported killed. First was Operation Iraqi Freedom, which led to Operation Enduring Freedom. Certainly “enduring freedom” is a worthy goal, but it comes at a very dear price. Once again, I have turned to those who were there to help answer the question about the purpose of this war. These veterans have been there and they say: “I did it because it was my duty” and “I am serving my country and my people.” These portraits and the conversations the service members had with me reveal the healing process through which they are all going. It is a conversation that I want to share with you so that we all together can better understand what the defenders of our country have gone through. We all need to see, hear and be part of their healing. Wilma Bulkin Siegel, M.D.
EMMY AND STEVE LIGEIKIS
EMMY AND STEVE LIGEIKIS: consider themselves as “one” together in their life story. He is 43 years old and had given up finding a mate, after two failed marriages. He had dreamed of a military life, since the age of 5, and realized this goal when he enlisted into the United States Army in 1987. In 1988 his unit (C Co. 1-187th. INF REGT. of the 101st. airborne division deployed to the Sinai as part of the multinational force of observers. After the unit’s return to Fort Campbell in 1989, his battalion was once again sent to the Middle East. This deployment was to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield in 1990 as squad leader for the 60 mm mortar section. The Desert Storm phase of the Gulf War saw Steve conducting combat assaults into Iraq where he describes carrying ammunition, explosives, MRE’s and no less than 5 gallons of water as part of his combat load. He remembers being cut off from aerial resupply for four days, and had to ration out the water and food to his comrades. He is so much a professional soldier that the others appreciated his capabilities to protect them. He viewed it as a natural duty to take care of his men, which is the sense of “camaraderie” that is indoctrinated into the infantry. Many young soldiers were confused by the idea of “Fighting for Oil or Money”, but he explained to his men that it is a Soldiers duty to follow orders, and to protect each other. Soldiers do not set “Foreign Policy, they enforce it”. After the Gulf War, he signed up with the National Guard and went to college, studying Psychology and Military Science. He reentered the active military in 1998 and served with his old battalion (B Co. 1-187th INF REGT 101st Airborne Division), and deployed with that unit to Kosovo, where he was known as the “Wolf” among his compatriots. After his discharge in 2002 he returned to an important job setting up cell towers on high structures. This is where he met Emmy, who was the dispatcher for the same company. They became friends and fell in love. Steve’s military service caught back up with him in September of 2010. His exposure to West Nile Virus, in the Middle East and contaminated brought on a severe case of meningo encephalitis which worsened his symptoms of PTSD that he already suffered from. He was unable to continue his job because of memory deficits and neurological issues from the illness. Emmy is his full time care giver. She is developing a business of embroidery via the internet while taking Steve to his doctor appointments. She considers him a good husband and is very much in love with him so the sacrifice is worth it to
DAVID AND DAVID JR. KELLERMAN
DAVID AND DAVID JR. KELLERMAN David Sr. entered the Army at age 17, after high school. He became a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) where he served for nearly 25 years. He made repeated deployments to Afghanistan from 2003 through 2006 serving on a Special Forces A-team. He was wounded in 2004 while on patrol by a grenade that hit his vehicle, but returned to service shortly thereafter. David Sr. admits he struggles with some form of PTSD, but thinks it is more of a case that he misses being in the service and admits to being addicted to the “adrenaline rush” of combat. A few years after his discharge, David Sr. survived a near-fatal motorcycle accident that left him possibly unable to walk. He says that overcoming the injury and making a near complete recovery helped him deal with his PTSD by giving him something else to focus on. While married, he and his former wife, who is now a nurse, had three children, all boys; he now has two grandchildren. David is currently writing a book about his experiences in Afghanistan. David Jr followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Army shortly after high school. In 2003, he deployed to Iraq several months after completing basic training. He subsequently went on to join the Special Forces, where he served in a similar capacity as David Sr. He then deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the Special Forces. He was wounded in action in Afghanistan and later made a full recovery. David Jr would not further discuss his duties as he is still serving overseas. He has a newborn daughter and says that it is a real challenge for he and his wife to raise the child given his deployments. He remains close with his mother and his brothers, who all live nearby and help his wife when he is deployed. He enjoys serving his country and has no regrets about joining the military
JAKE MILKOVICH: is 23 years old and he grew up “playing army”. His father gave him the movie “Top Gun” when he was 7 years old and he dreamed that he too would fly jets and be a fighter pilot. At 17 he wanted to be the best of the best so he joined the Marines and once at Paris Island it was a great shock but he always wanted to achieve so he became a squad leader and then was chosen to infantry school learning basic security and was picked to serve at Camp David to be part of security for President Obama. His leadership led him to be deployed as platoon leader in Afghanistan going in April 2011. At first there was no fighting because it was poppy season and the Taliban own the poppy fields but after the harvesting everyone left and then the bullets were flying. He observed many casualties with many amputees. He is spiritual and learned of death early when a mentor of his was killed in the shower by a grenade. His mentor said when it is your time it is your time to go. He was deployed for 7 months. He learned the respect for life here where we can breathe free. He states that he has PTSD and it helps to keep in touch with his buddies. He is now studying to get his college degree at NOVA Southeastern University with his significant other Kelsey who is a martial arts instructor for the marines. They both decided to study in Florida. They are creating NOVA Students Veterans Association because Florida will have a large population of returning veterans and they are planning a major function throughout the campus for Veteran’s Day. The photo is of a young Afghanistan who saved his life.
JUAN FERNANDEZ: Colonel Fernandez suffers from “Keratoconus” of his eyes which labels him blind. He has had surgery at Bascombe Palmer, namely Corneal transplant, without benefit. He finally found a physician who gave him prosthetic lenses which corrected his vision immediately reshaping the cornea. He works for the Red Cross as a volunteer to help homeless vets. He is of Cuban descent raised by grandmother in California. He served 2003-4 to combat tour in Afghanistan. He noted his disability in 2008 when he could not see gun firing and retired in 2008. He now helps in ROTC for recruiting.. He says he suffers from PTSD often thinking of the “body bags”. He states “Freedom isn’t free because someone has died for it.” The Red Cross is planning Transition Reintegration Program and he advises the warrior that “It is o.k. to need help!”
ORESTES MARTINEZ: Doc Orestes Martinez was born in Havana, Cuba and came to the US at age 14. He entered the military in 2004 and learned clinical skills as an emergency medic. He went to Iraq 2008-2009 and was a support convoy corpsman providing support to medics who needed a break. The marines do not have medics so he is in the Navy which supplies the medics. He states at first he was frightened. As he saw more trauma with the “adrenalin rush”, he became more desensitized. But he states now he is being treated for PTSD with the symptoms of a frightened look, hypervigilance, and he had anger issues. The feeling is being in a “dark hole without human emotion”. He now has been married for 1 year to a Ronald MacDonald administrator and they have a 4 month old baby. He is going to Kaiser University now.
CALEB WELLS: is a 31 y.o. who entered as part of the Army National Guard after Lafayette College in New Orleans and was deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005. He blast of car bomb with burns of face and limbs but no scarring. He has PTSD from all his experiences. His marriage despite a child ended 2006 after he was once again deployed and life went downhill with poor choices of drugs and he worked in a night club on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and had another child out of wedlock with one of the employees of the club. He was unable to give child support. He is now off drugs and is homeless. A Safe Haven Foundation in Chicago has been the first Shelter for the homeless that has given him a sense of care and compassion. He has been clean of drugs for 1 year so far. He has also found housing and is doing an internship with a foundation that works with injured veterans called “The Warrior Scuba Project”.
TREESE KIMMONS: is 28 and she entered the army after high school. She was deployed twice 2005-2006 and 2007-2008 to Iraq. She never wanted to be a weekend warrior but wanted to “do it all”. Her job was in the unit of supply and armor. She was shot at the first day and realized the reality of where she was. She experienced nine deaths. Upon discharge she was forced to become an adult and this was suddenly difficult for her since she had always been told what to do and could not cope with adult life. She is going to school for Forensics and Criminal Analysis but has experienced severe PTSD for which she is getting therapy. I met her at A Safe Haven Foundation, a homeless shelter in Chicago. In the background I have put a photo of her cherished dog tag
JOHNATHAN McCLAY: is now 30 y.o. and was in the Navy as a computer technician entering into duty at 2004. Initially he did paper work for the admiral but then was shipped onto Frigate out of San Diego to do maintenance and steering. Much of that was finding drug runners from Mexico. He then went into the reserves and was called to Iraq 2 weeks later from 2006-2007 doing construction as part of Sea Bees building the largest runway in over 110degrees in the desert and experiencing mortar rounds leaving him with severe PTSD. Upon discharge he made poor choices and had no emotional support. He has difficulty in “connecting” with people. He writes poetry and does drumming and painting. His major time is on computer. He worked for UPS but could not concentrate and did not show up so he lost his job. I met him at A Safe Haven Foundation, a Homeless Shelter in Chicago.
FRANK PIERSON: is 26 years old and entered the service in 2006. Within 11months he was deployed to Iraq. He was a driver for the convoys as lead driver. He had had a premonition of his accident. Driving a new vehicle he felt there was a problem. He drove over an Unidentified Explosive Device and lost his limbs. He was married to Arielle for 9 years before deployment and his mother in law, Maureen Carroll, works with special needs patients in Cicero outside of Chicago. His support system is Arielle, Maureen and Leo his 6 year old dog who is his constant companion. I have painted his support system in the background with the photos of his many tattoos. He himself is an artist and has painted a mural in the local coffee shop in Riverside,Il. He is remarkably calm with the love about him.
PIERRE WHITAKER: is 27 yo. He entered the Army at 17 after high school and was immediately sent to Kuwait then Iraq. He states that overall that he is grateful for the military experience. He left the military embracing life and the military taught him self discipline and integrity. “A person’s word means something and you are responsible for others. The military taught me the ‘buddy System’ ie. You are responsible for your Buddy and he is responsible for you. It gave me self respect.” He was deployed from 2004-2007 in Iraq as a radio operator. He learned chess in high school and continued to competitive chess tournaments which taught him to focus. He is married and has 2 children. He is successful in that he has developed a promotion service and is helping Pathways America a program for feeding the homeless to develop a homeless shelter in Chicago.
DR. HEATHER CERESTE
DR. HEATHER CERESTE Dr. Heather Cereste was at a book signing and she mentioned that she was taking the masters’ program of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University which I have been aligned with so I asked if she would be part of the series and she immediately agreed . It took a year until I was able to paint her since she was ill from a condition of Hypothyroidism( Hashimoto’s Disease) which brought on her PTSD profoundly and she could not focus in her work as a physician. She has questioned why she developed this after her deployment in Iraq on th front lines in the hospital setting in which she was thrust into immediate trauma surgery and care of the injured. The hospital had severe air pollution because of “burning pits” where they burned all the detritus including machines and refrigerators and whatever. After 9/11 she wanted to make a difference and joined the Air Force. She had been an internist and her specialty was geriatrics and palliative care and ethics became her main expertise. She joined in 2004 deployed in 2006 and it took 4 years for the PTSD to set in profoundly when she was employed at Cornell campus Medical School. She still has her credentials but chooses to postpone her work as a physician. Currently she enjoys spending time with her family and being home with her 2 year old daughter. During her free time she attends Wounded Warrior Project events, exercises, reads and writes. She hopes to write a book detailing her experience as a combat physician in Iraq.
ROMAN BACA: I met Roman Baca at Walter Reed Medical Center at a conference about the healing arts for Returning Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a Marine/ballet choreographer. He is the director of a dance troupe Exit 12 Dance Company of NYC. The piece he choreographed was his experience of the ethnicity of Americans and Iraqi and war and was descriptive of war but in the end they joined together in peace. His experience as a dancer was imbedded but he had a desire to conquer his fears and entered the Marines. The marines taught him to redirect his fears and use the adrenalin rush to survive “using the fear to keep going”. He was deployed in 2005-2006 in Iraq. He subsequently had great PTSD but his wife whom he married after he addressed the fact since she was the one to make him understand his PTSD. He was not being able to focus into what he wanted to do with his life. He decided to form the troupe and his purpose now is to use the art of dance as a communicator. He returned with the troupe to Iraq and they met with diverse ethnic groups Kurds and Arabs and then the troupe helped them all to interact through dance even between men and women. The two groups performed bringing the different families together in the audience and in the end the audience and performers as agroup picked flowers as a thank you offering to the troupe for what they had given them in understanding of each other. His statement is that art is the better way to conquer than violence through weapons of destruction. He hopes that his company will have a national tour. He states: Art gives veterans this vehicle to communicate their experiences in an abstract way, where they’re not being sensationalist or overly shocking’.
ALAN BEITLER Alan Beitler is a physician. He attended West Point Military School graduating in the first 1% of his class. Going into a Military College he found was a sudden understanding of what regimented life was within the first 24 hours when he met his senior students and understood the order of command and it was very difficult. In the 80’s our country was downsizing the military and so he compares those times with today as the military withdraw from Afghanistan and the economy in that part of government will change. He decided later in life at 27 to go to Medical school but he had not taken the prerequisite courses. He was accepted at Downstate Medical College immediately because of his grades at West Pont but was required in the summer to pass the needed courses which he did. He went onto practice general surgery bt then wanted to specialize and di his Oncologic Surgical Specialty training at Roswell Park. He was sent to Afghanistan to be in charge of the 2nd medical Hospital there and was extremely busy. He states most of the United States military who had injuries were immediately sent out of the country so it was immediate triage work but most of the wards were the injured Native Afghanistan civilians to care for which made it difficult. The problem of the insurgents as with locals coming in as suicide bombers did not occur until later after his first tour of duty. The most difficult was his inability to adjust to the innocent children who were injured or killed in combat. He does not suffer from PTSD. He heard the rockets but was too busy to even think of the danger that he was in. He retired from active duty in 2004 He returned to work at a VA hospital then returned to West Point after a previous employment there. To work as a general surgeon He signed up voluntarily in 2009-2010 to return to Afghanistan and asked to work in the south where there was more activity. He states that the fighting is at certain times depending on weather and as stated before at times of poppy harvesting. His wife and 2 young daughters, age 14, found it difficult but Skype helped communication for them. Ruth his wife teaches Middle East Relations at West Point. She states that “He is the kindest!”
ALISON McKENZIE: has been a nurse for 27 years and in the military for past 20 years. She is now a Major in the Army and works as a nurse manager of surgical intensive care unit at New York University Medical Center. She was deployed as head nurse to Abu Ghraib after the scandal that occurred there. The flag of Abu Ghraib is in the background of her portrait. Because of the scandal, she had to be specially trained to protect her patients including the terrorist enemies. She contended with the negative reactions of United States Military personnel and their anger about her caring for the enemy. She describes the fears she had when she accompanied a critically ill soldier by helicopter at dusk to the green zone. The helicopter was always a target for the enemy, and there could not be any light to watch the IV or to take blood pressure. The helicopter pilot understood her anxiety and found a special light that could not be seen from the ground. It saved her patient’s life and most likely her own. This 24-7 “paranoid keeping track” has taken its toll on Allison who gets counseling for PTSD.
HOWARD PERL: is the son of a Holocaust survivor who speaks of his determination to serve our country. He grew up in Pittsburgh where he attended Yeshiva Grade School. He joined the Army after high school and served three years on active duty. He then went onto college and became a member of the Army Reserves. He received his officers’ commission through the ROTC while in college. He moved to Florida and worked in property management and then he went to law school at Nova. Three months after passing Florida Bar exam, he was immediately sent to Iraq in 2005 as a captain in the Army Reserves. His wife who worked in property management was taking care of her mother with Alzheimer’s was shocked at her immediate life style change. Howard spent 3 months training in Indiana, then three weeks in Kuwait and then to Camp Taji located outside of Baghdad. His job was to train Iraqi soldiers and over 8,000 Iraqi soldiers went through training at Camp Taji. He was close to the Iraqi officers he worked with but did not tell them he was Jewish until after he worked with them for over six months. He located Friday night services in Camp Taji, and assumed the duties of leading Friday night services which he did until he returned home. He returned home in 2006 and was asked to go back but had back problems so he wasn’t medically cleared to serve again. It took weeks to decompress. He believes that today’s military is a highly educated and trained fighting force. He states that if not for the burden on his family, he would have volunteered to be deployed to Iraq again because he believed in why we were there. I enjoyed what I did. He said to his sister.
SYLVESTER BARNES: is 64 years old and was on the DMZ border of Korea before serving in Desert Storm in 1990-91. While in Desert Storm, it was his job to set-up kitchens and to cook. He went to sleep at 10:30 pm and awoke every day at 3:30 am, during which time his anger built-up as he questioned why he was there. He returned from Desert Storm and remained in the National Guard for two additional years before retiring. He worked at the Post Office, where his wife also was employed. After she left him, he had a nervous breakdown. He now has an important distribution job at the Post Office and functions well because of the intensive counseling that he has received from the Department of Veterans Affairs of Broward County. He is now a sole parent and cares for his two children, a 19 year-old and 13 year-old. He has become active in his church and feels that the United States is the greatest country on earth!
HUGH HOOD: had already been on active duty for five years before going into the reserves – only to be immediately sent to Desert Storm. He became a Master Sergeant; and in 1990 he suffered from severe rashes and headaches – the classic Desert Storm Syndrome. In 1995, he was active in the National Guard and called for hurricane duty. After 9/11 he was put on active duty as a casualty assistance officer. His job is to assist the families of casualty and suicide victims and to accompany family members to funerals and military sites. He questions whether this war is worth the sacrifices he has seen
CARLOS GARCIA: is 34 and was born in Cuba. He joined the Reserves after High School and was deployed in 2003 to Iraq. He observed death at an early age and learned to sublimate the horrors of war and the PTSD from which he suffered. He worked for the fire department after deployment during which time he never discussed the horrors he had experienced. He has now enrolled in the Department of Psychology at NOVA Southeastern University and is in its PhD program studying the relationship of the fire fighter and the veteran and their protective psychological mechanisms
HEATH BERTRAM: was 35 years old when he joined the military as an army reservist, the second oldest in his basic training unit. He has a wife and four children. His is a musician and writer. His civilian job is as a Military Admissions Adviser for Kaplan University. He stays in the military because of his love of country and his belief that a Middle East war is eminent and a precursor to a larger religious war in which Israel the only democracy in the Middle East will be the epicenter. He is a Christian and wishes to serve as an ally to the Jewish state. He is a true patriot and devoted to God and Country. Heath’s family is shown in the background of his portrait. He is a personnel officer for the 461st and will be deploying to the Middle East in October 2013.
MARVIN WHITE: graduated high school in 1981 and joined the army in 1982. He served in Korea at K-16. Upon his discharge he went into the National Guard and was sent to Iraq in 2003. He described the confusion of his first days in Kuwait when his convoy was sent into Iraq and he got lost because of no roadmaps. He was on constant watch 24-7. He says that they had no time to be scared. He and his fellow soldiers were trained to be confident, calm, and ready. However, it did not protect him from experiencing symptoms of PTSD, where his life flashed before him. Marvin’s return to civilian life was difficult, and he knows that he disappointed his wife because he did not want a party celebrating his return. He is now in the Reserves and continues to serve as a senior leader. He feels that the camaraderie and brotherhood is the answer for his survival.
WILFRED BEDEAU: served in combat in Iraq with Desert Storm for eight months in 1990-91 after enlisting for six years in the Army. He continued in the reserves and does casualty assistance. He did not immediately recognize his own need for counseling following Desert Storm. Suffering from PTSD, he went to the Department of Veterans Affairs of Broward County and now goes weekly for counseling, which helps in his work of talking with the families of suicide casualties. Wilfred is a very mature and wise 46 year old who now has two sons, a 17 year-old and a 24 year-old to whom he has taught “suicide is not an option”.
DAVID DIGIANDOMENICO: was born in Montreal, Canada, and moved to Hollywood, Florida, to live with his grandparents shortly after his parent’s divorce. He entered the army at age 18, following high school during which he joined the ROTC to learn to become a medic. He was sent to Iraq in 2005 and immediately learned about life and death when he directly confronted a terrorist whose belief was as strong as his own. His experience of chaos, poverty, and violence profoundly affected him. In 2006 he worked in the ER at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and left in 2009 when he returned to Iraq for a second time. In 2010 he returned to the United States met and married Melissa. David is considering going back into the reserves for the possibility of finishing his education at Nova Southeastern University. He feels the military gave him a purpose in life and a confidence within himself. He is glad he had that experience.
EMORY EVERHART: joined the National Guard in 1985 and then went into the Air Force in 1987. He became a medic and served in Desert Storm in Iraq because he wanted to help his country. He felt great fear, but he held up so that he could return to care for his ten year old son, who is now 31. He suffered from PTSD and Gulf War Syndrome. Though he left the service in 1996, he did not seek help from the Department of Veteran Affairs of Broward County until 2010. He is currently taking courses in physical therapy at Nova Southeastern