We designed a program to "de-condition" warfighters from the stress of combat, and training in general.
The US Military has mastered techniques to prepare an untrained civilian for the rigors of military life in 12 weeks or less. This transformation occurs in a high intensity, highly focused, immersive environment using operant conditioning, deep practice and other training modalities that are combined to produce the finest individual warfighter the world has ever known.
This training serves our men and women extremely well in combat, winning battles and saving lives. We are not suggesting that change. We are suggesting that counterpart transition training is also required to give our veterans a fighting chance upon their return to civilian life.
Military conditioning creates strong neural networks that "hardwire" soldiers to respond effectively to orders and threats. These automatic responses don't just disappear when a veteran receives his or her discharge, and aren't always necessary or appropriate for civilian life. Once the warfighter mentality and threat responses are ingrained, it takes time and a concentrated, volitional effort to recognize and reframe them. For perspective, imagine trying to unlearn how to ride a bike. That's where War Horse Creek comes in...
Transition Training for Veterans with PTSD and TBI
Izzy Barakat came to volunteer at the sanctuary through the veterans’ cohort at Pasadena City College. Izzy is an Air Force veteran with two tours in Afghanistan and one in Southeast Asia. She worked in tactical support for the PJ's, the Air Force Special Operations Search and Rescue unit. Now Izzy trains the "Hot Shots" which are like the Special Forces of wild land firefighters.
Libby, our rescued mustang, was born in the badlands of eastern Oregon, rounded up as a yearling and sold at auction. She was shunted from trainer to trainer, and eventually deemed too unpredictable to ride. Her last owner took good care of her, but she was more horse than they bargained for. ALibby was at risk of being classified as a "three strike" mustang and would have either been confined in a BLM stockade for the rest of her life, or sold to a "kill buyer".
We took a chance on Libby. She arrived at the sanctuary hyper-vigilant, bracey, and non-trusting. Normally wary of strangers, she took to Izzy right away. Perhaps she sensed a kindred spirit. It's hard to say. But the connection between them was clear, and Izzy reports that the relief and peace she felt has stayed with her. She's planning another visit to the sanctuary soon.
Delayed Symptoms of PTSD
Soldiers and veterans often recognize symptoms of PTSD in others around them, but don't believe it will happen to them. Once they're out of the military, they believe they are in the clear, so when the signs appear months or years later, it's confusing. Veterans often ignore them until there's a crisis. They may try to self-medicate or figure it out on their own, which rarely works. If vets don't deal with the issues head-on, and never get them reframed or resolved, they are at increasing risk of becoming another statistic.
Our program places veterans with veterans, allowing them a chance to identify their own issues – even if they're not experiencing symptoms upon discharge – and receive professional guidance. Upon graduation from War Horse Creek, veterans will be linked through Operation Overwatch, a network of veterans that have received this training so they can help other veterans or other victims of trauma get the support they need.