Fort Knox couple finds solace in helping others through PTSD | Local News
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be a tricky thing.
For 1st Lt. Lynn “Buck” Compton in the seventh episode of the Band of Brothers television miniseries, almost uninterrupted aerial bombardments on their position for several days towards the end of the war caused them to crack. Suffering from what was then called war fatigue, he had to be removed from the battlefield and sent home.
Its commander at the time, Major Dick Winters, would later say that the constant stress of war had led to the breaking points of Compton and others. Some Easy Company soldiers reportedly suffered from PTSD several years later.
For Fort Knox Fire Inspector Larry McGuire, PTSD subtly invaded him starting in 2003, just over a year after he began his career as an Air Force firefighter.
“One of the first major calls I made in the military was for a 4 month old baby listed as (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). My wife and I had been trying to start a family for about two weeks when I was called on this call. It showed me how fragile life is, ”said McGuire. “As a firefighter, especially being new to this field, I followed the lead of the elders.
A team of advisers had been called in to help the firefighters overcome what they had witnessed.
“All the older guys said, ‘I don’t need to talk to you. I’ll take care of it myself. We’re not talking to you, ”McGuire said. “So I followed suit.
Not only did McGuire not tell the advisers that day, but he didn’t tell anyone, including his wife, Melissa.
“I didn’t face it,” he said. “I just put it in a little box deep in my brain and didn’t process it. I remember thinking, “Hey, that worked out pretty well.” So, everything I went through after that was how I handled it.
McGuire met Melissa two years before joining the military. Both had graduated from high school at different schools in the same town when he met her in a chance encounter as volunteer firefighters. She smiles and says she wasn’t so much into him at first.
“There was no way I was going to marry her; no way, ”says Melissa. “It wasn’t even close to a thought.”
Melissa was in college and not looking for a serious relationship, she said.
When Larry left for the military, he thought he would never see Melissa again. Basic training changed his mind and during a phone call on April 5, 2001, he offered to her. She has accepted.
On August 11 of this year, shortly after graduating from technical school, the two got married. They arrived at their first duty station in Great Falls, MT at the end of the month.
Two weeks later, terrorists hijacked planes and crashed them into the New York Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
“I hadn’t even officially signed in at the fire station yet,” Larry said. “Talk about putting the ties on you: when you don’t know anyone, you’re 7pm from your hometown, you’re on a nuclear base and you’re locked in.”
“It was probably one of the scariest situations we’ve ever been in,” Melissa said. “We saw his military career change in the blink of an eye.”
Both acknowledged that the fear many Americans felt at the time was heightened among military families: deployments, entry security procedures, restricted freedom of movement outside the gates.
As Larry filled the memory of the 4-month-old’s death in 2003, he continued his overseas deployments while Melissa took care of the day-to-day affairs of home and family. They had three children between some of her three deployments and an additional year at a distance.
Larry had arrived in Kuwait on his first deployment in 2004 and a week later was still getting used to the changes when he received a call to report to his first sergeant’s office.
“I got there and he said, ‘Pack your bags, you’re going home.’ “Why?’ “Your mom had a heart attack, she’s in the hospital,” Larry said.
They intended to send him home never to return, but Larry said he asked to return to Kuwait after a two-week visit to his home. The first sergeant authorized it.
After a deployment out of Hawaii in 2009, Larry volunteered for a third deployment out of California in 2011. It was not planned but chose to accept it so that a colleague could stay for the birth. of his son.
Melissa said the third deployment, which took place during the 2011-2012 vacation, led to some of the most stressful traumatic events that would hit them both shortly thereafter.
The McGuirees discovered just before her deployment that Melissa’s mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Other stressors compounded the couple’s difficulties during the deployment.
“The children were constantly sick, I just couldn’t heal them. I really got sick. It was a very long deployment, and really difficult, even with the great support system I had, ”said Melissa. “(My oldest son) didn’t like that daddy was gone; he didn’t like the change.
McGuire returned home to Melissa and the children in April. In September, the family returned home to see Melissa’s mother one last time. On September 28, her mother passed away.
At the end of December, the two learned that Melissa was pregnant with their third child.
“I had a really difficult pregnancy. My body didn’t work well, ”she said. “Jesse required a lot of maintenance from the start. We got it in August (2013). Postpartum depression then set in and in October Melissa’s father passed away.
“I sank into a very deep depression. I was not a good mom, not a good wife, for sure, ”she said. “I couldn’t get out of it, I couldn’t figure out how to cope, manage and treat, while still trying to take care of him and the boys.
At the end of March 2014, Larry’s mother passed away.
Then a civilian plane crashed during an air show at Travis Air Force Base, California. Larry was the first on the scene. The pilot died in the accident.
Then a good family friend had a heart attack on his way home from Lake Tahoe, Calif., Crashed his vehicle and died.
Two other McGuire friends died soon after – one by suicide; the other, suicide by a cop.
All of this happened within three months.
“Larry and I were fighting together,” Melissa said. “But he and I were also struggling separately, trying to figure out how to handle everything and deal with everything.”
Soon after, doctors clinically diagnosed Larry with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Neither of us knew how to fix it either,” Melissa said. “This is something the military just doesn’t teach you. The other thing is that they don’t bring partners when they start treating PTSD.
“It’s not something he can fight on his own because he’s with us, and he does all the things that a therapist or counselor doesn’t see because they’re not there; they see everything he sees when he goes to a date.
On April 28, 2016, after becoming pregnant with twins, Melissa miscarried.
McGuire and Melissa agree that spouses should be involved in PTSD counseling. Soon after moving to Fort Knox, the two began seeing a chaplain at the military post. These sessions led to two accomplishments for them.
The first realization was that Melissa was also suffering from PTSD.
“It’s interesting how very different her triggers are from mine,” she said. “We just focused on his, so I didn’t know some of the things I was going through were even triggers. I am very exhausted. My body sort of comes to a halt. He’s exhausted but it’s because of the nightmares he’s having.
Larry said nightmares were one of his reminders of Pandora’s Box.
“No one reacts to PTSD the same way,” he said. “Usually mine comes out and picks me up in the middle of the night when I’m asleep.”
Larry also struggles with anger at times and panic attacks at other times.
“Either I’m afraid of dying and I have to go out, or it’s time to go,” he said. “I never know what day to day it will be, so I really have to know where I am when I feel it coming.”
One coping strategy that has helped Larry is to ride his motorcycle.
The second realization was the couple’s desire to help others through PTSD. This is precisely why they created a nonprofit organization called Relentless Warriors Legacy. For now, they are working through the church they attend.
Fort Knox Garrison Commander Col. CJ King said he sees intrinsic value in what the McGuire’s bring to Fort Knox and surrounding communities.
“PTSD is a sad reality for many military personnel and first responders. These people sometimes see and experience horrible things that the average person can hardly imagine and these things stay with you for life, ”he said. “People like Larry and Melissa provide an opportunity for others to come together and face these types of challenges in a healthy and constructive way.”
Melissa said providing a non-judgmental environment in which to share each other’s burdens becomes a mutually beneficial opportunity for everyone involved.
“PTSD is something that the more open you are and don’t try to hide it, the better off you are,” she says. “He puts it out there and lets others know you’re not ashamed of it.” There is nothing to be ashamed of.
“It’s just the way your brain processes traumatic events.”