Update on Lauren Kay Johnson, AF veteran

10Oct13

Lauren Kay Johnson, Afghanistan veteran

A few days ago I published a post about Lauren Kay Johnson, an Air Force veteran of the War on Terror (https://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/10/07/veterans-defeating-ourselves-with-the-medias-help/). The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK had written a story about her problems adjusting after her Afghanistan deployment. It also said she had a “milder form of PTSD”, and provided a list of reasons for that PTSD. The reasons included dry meat, soggy vegetables, long hours, and limited internet access.

The reasons were, to put it mildly, utter nonsense. They can barely be described as minor annoyances. This article enraged many veterans, including me, because in my opinion it celebrated the “everyone’s a victim” culture and portrayed veterans, especially females, as weak-minded whiners.

Yesterday Ms. Johnson posted a condemnation of the Daily Mail article on her blog. According to her, DM’s writer took all the quotes from an essay she published in Glamour Magazine. Johnson says, “The ‘author’ of that ‘article’ took a random assortment of quotes from my blog and the Glamour essay and smushed them together for her ‘story,’ changing the context and the tone.” Links to Johnson’s blog post and the original Glamour essay are below. Please read both.

http://uncamouflaged.blogspot.com/2013/10/public-service-announcement.html?m=1

http://www.glamour.com/inspired/2013/10/home-from-war-but-not-at-peace?currentPage=1

My take:

First, I applaud Ms. Johnson for making an effort to correct what appears to be horribly crappy journalism from the Daily Mail. According to Johnson, she was never even notified a story was being written about her, and the quotes were taken out of context. As a past media victim myself, I have no reason to doubt Johnson’s claim.

Second, I definitely see a difference in tone between Johnson’s Glamour essay and the DM article. I have no doubt the DM writer made a deliberate effort to give Johnson’s words a more emotional twist than Johnson intended. In the Glamour essay Johnson stresses that she did not experience anything traumatic in Afghanistan.

One thing she wrote that resonated with me was her loss of confidence in the overall mission. “And I didn’t expect the disappointment. I volunteered thinking I’d be part of an effort that made a noticeable difference. We did celebrate some small victories. But what I noticed most was corruption winding through every layer of Afghan society, crisscrossed by a growing barricade of U.S. red tape. If we couldn’t make progress, the danger and paranoia were for nothing.”

I know exactly how she feels. After one particularly tragic loss, I had to come to terms with that same loss of idealism. And idealism dies hard. Johnson did well to put that feeling into words.

Kudos to her for all of the above. But now, here’s the bad part.

The Daily Mail may have spun Johnson’s words to make them more emotional than she intended; however, she did say them. All of them. She did talk about dry meat and soggy vegetables, “vulgar talk”, and feeling isolated with limited phone and internet service. While she stresses that she was never in combat, she does describe certain non-events as if they contributed to her adjustment issues.

“[Paranoia] was there every time I strapped on 60 pounds of body armor and climbed into an armored vehicle that might as well have been labeled in bright block letters: U.S. MILITARY CONVOY. AIM HERE.” As a former convoy escort team member who faced IEDs and small arms fire in Iraq, that irks me on a personal level. Yes, convoys could be dangerous. According to Johnson, hers weren’t. Apparently, none of her missions put her in mortal danger.

She mentions tragic incidents, like a pregnant Afghan woman who was killed during a Special Operations mission, and the accidental deaths of friends, as contributing to her adjustment issues. Yet accidents can happen anywhere, and you don’t have to serve in Afghanistan to hear about civilian deaths. Yes, those incidents could certainly affect someone. Civilians read bad news and lose friends to accidents too. Perhaps Johnson’s problems really don’t have anything to do with her military service; if she had mentioned that possibility in her essay, many veterans might not have such negative feelings about it.

Johnson also says this: “I’m thankful every day that I didn’t ‘witness or experience an event that involved threatened or actual serious injury or death.’” That also irks me. If you never want to experience danger, why join the military? The country we serve rightfully expects us to be a barrier against danger. To do that effectively, we have to embrace that danger. Troops who go on every mission desperately wishing “Please god, don’t let us get hit” tend to be ineffective when they do get hit, because they’re already on the defensive.

I realize not every veteran feels this way, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m damn thankful I experienced multiple dangerous events. I chose that danger, and embraced it. I’m thankful even for the bad days. I look back on those we lost, and feel humbled just by having been in their presence. When I hear a veteran who voluntarily joined up express gratitude at always being safe, it makes me question their reason for serving. It’s almost like hearing a former astronaut say, “Thank god I never had to go into space.”

The above complaints are minor. The next one is serious.

I would like to know if Johnson is in fact receiving disability. Of course, she has no obligation to tell me. But according to the essay, Johnson is successfully completing college courses, has loving relationships with her pets and fiance and will be married soon. She appears to be physically fit and doesn’t mention medical problems in her essay. From her blog we already know she has a disability rating for Chronic Adjustment Disorder, which she describes as “PTSD lite”. So is she receiving disability? If so, why? She certainly doesn’t appear to be disabled in any way. If someone never served in combat, was never in any danger, doesn’t have any physical issues related to their service, is happily in love and is leading a productive, successful life, why are they receiving disability pay?

This is something I’ve written about before. Far too many vets are milking the system for money, because it’s so easy. To me, it’s shameful. Johnson herself talks about veterans who actually did experience horrors of war, and those who came home horribly scarred. She knows her experience and problems don’t compare to theirs (and for the record, neither do mine). So if she knows this, why accept money and why further jam the VA system, when other vets are in serious need of help?

Ms. Johnson, I hope to hear your response.

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19 Responses to “Update on Lauren Kay Johnson, AF veteran”

  1. Chris – as always, a compelling story made better with your insight. Keep up the great work. It’s a pleasure to read.

  2. 3 SPEMack

    Chris,

    Appreciate the update and the insight. I was thankful that I was able to come home with a few bits of ribbon, a badge, and the ability to say “been there, done that.”

    In reading your post, I’m reminded of that scene in “The Green Berets” where John Wayne explains to the reporter the changes that affect a man(or woman) when they carry a rifle into battle. However; I was also thankful that my idealism never died, merely waivered and became faded.

    I’m also thankful that I was never affected more than a brief bout of what could be considered alcoholism, but when looked at through the prism of returning from deployment and going back into a fraternity house, doesn’t seem all that bad.

    I joke about the soggy bacon, and believe me, every one in my platoon/troop/squadron/regiment knew how I felt, but I never asked for sympathy because of it.

    We’re an all volunteer force, as we should be, and we knew what was coming when we swore to face enemy foreign or domestic and signed on the dotted line.

  3. 5 Bernard

    That’s par for the Daily Fail. They do it all the time, and worse, deliberately. See the current row about comments they made about the deceased father of Britain’s Labor party.

    I wouldn’t wrap a turd in the Daily Mail.

  4. RE: Being thankful about never being in danger.

    My feelings are more along the lines of guilt that somehow I didn’t pay my dues when friends and comrades were putting their butts on the line.

    Like everyone in the .mil I went were and when I was told. For various reasons that did not include deployment to the sandbox or any front line duty.

    My shop did a great job in supporting the folks in theater during DESERT STORM, but watching the war on CNN and through intel reports gave me a sense of frustration and the aforementioned guilt rather than relief.

    So I guess there is something wrong with me. 😉

    • Randy,

      I was in the military for 15 years before I went to war. I also watched Desert Storm on TV, and Panama, and Somalia. I was in the Marine Reserve, so I had no reason to be surprised at that, But it was still disappointing, especially sitting out Desert Storm. We were activated the day the war ended and stayed stateside.

      Oddly enough, before 9/11 I had made peace with not having gone to war. It just hadn’t been in the cards for me, or so I thought. As a very wise friend told me, “It ain’t your fault World War Three didn’t break out while you were in the military”

      So we were both pissed at not going to war. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either one of us.

      • Don’t be surprised if we do not see this as an official diagnosis soon: NDGS (Non-deployment guilt syndrome) along with CBHS (Chronic Butt-Hurt Syndrome).

  5. 12 Mark Harv

    She may in fact have depression, very common in society as a whole. Youthful ideology meets real world realities and dies. The waaa, waa,waa is annoying.

  6. 14 JKosprey

    I agree with your take on her rating disability….

    But I did want to comment on your thoughts about paranoia. I certainly understand why her difficulty adjusting with no combat might irk you, but I do think that long-term preparation and anticipation of combat causes stress all it’s own-even if (and maybe especially if) that never materializes.

    I was a medic deployed to Iraq in 2010 with an engineer company. I was largely a fobbit…mostly inside the wire missions. We took some IDF and convoys (moving from base to base) were hit by IED’s occasionally with no injuries. Most occasions outside were entirely uneventful. We didn’t sustain any combat injuries, and a very tense night stranded in Nasaryia was the closest we came to ground combat.

    I still had trouble getting adjusted when I came home. Fire whistles sounded like the IDF alarms. Sudden noises or fireworks startled me. I was constantly scanning crowds, checking windows, ect. At one point, walking with a civilian buddy one night, somebody launched off a few fireworks that sounded a lot like a 3 round burst, and I nearly tackled him.

    I’ve gotten better-for me, it wasn’t the trauma, but the constant tension-I was spooled up tight for a long time, because I had spent so much time training for, and waiting for that big event…that never came. Part of me was ashamed of that too…as a solider I was raring to go and wanting to use my skills, and as a medic, I was genuinely relived that I didn’t have to, because that meant somebody else had a bad day.

    Now, don’t get me wrong; I am not in ANY way comparing my difficulties in coping with that to the stress of somebody who’s had people actively and effectively trying to kill them….but that tension is a very credible and very real stress.

    • JK,

      Very good observation, and that subject really deserves its own post. In Iraq I was on a dedicated convoy escort team. That was all I did, the entire deployment. We were in Tallil but ran as far north as Balad and as far west as TQ. During our 11 months, we had a handful of IED close calls and took small arms fire a few times. We never identified a target and never returned fire. But even so, I can say, without question, that running convoys was much worse than being in firefights with the infantry in Afghanistan.

      The constant tension with no release is bad. The feeling of utter randomness was worse. Whenever someone got hit, it felt more like they had been victims of crime than engaged by an enemy. In Iraq I felt like everything I had trained on had been a waste of time. All we were doing was running convoys in the dark with all our lights on, and hoping the enemy wouldn’t decide to hit us. For all the nonsense about looking for signs of IEDs, I don’t know of a single team in my battalion that spotted one on a night mission before it detonated.

      All that tension left a mark on me. After Iraq I had a startle response for a time if I saw an unexpected bright flash, like from a camera. In Iraq, whenever an IED exploded at night the first thing I saw was a bright white or orange flash. And I would get nervous about seeing things out of place on the highway. Just today I was talking to one of my Iraq friends, and told him about an incident that happened when I was back on patrol as a cop after Iraq.

      One night I went behind a building to take a leak, and when I got out of the car I noticed a cardboard box sitting in the open. I looked at it for a few seconds, got nervous, decided “Screw you, cardboard box, you don’t scare me,” and tried to take a leak.

      I couldn’t do it. I was too nervous.

      I think going to Afghanistan helped some of that go away. One friend from Iraq who also went to Afghanistan told me, “Afghanistan was therapy for Iraq.” He was right.

      So yes, I agree with your point. Even when nothing happens, maybe especially when nothing happens, you’re still stressed out. I endured 11 months of constant tension and stress, and it did leave a mark. I wouldn’t fault Johnson for talking about that.

      However, and this is just my opinion, time spent outside the wire was not the focus of Johnson’s essay. In fact, it was only one short part of a three page essay. And even if she went through that kind of stress, that doesn’t automatically mean she’s disabled. I think far too many of us, vets included, assume that normal post-deployment reactions equal PTSD. I don’t think so. And I don’t see that any of us deserve extra taxpayer money simply because we feel the effects of the life we chose.

      I appreciate your comment and your service, JK. Please come back and post more often, people need to hear your insight.

  7. 16 Allen Piercy

    Just because she does not go on combat missions doesn’t mean she doesn’t experience danger. The fact is every time you leave base, you risk death and/or injury. It doesn’t matter to the enemy if you are going on a patrol or to just tow an 1114. If we escorted a judge from the airport to the greenzone then I would say no, that is not what I would call a dangerous mission. Doesn’t mean nothing will happen. Anyways I always believed it to be safer in town than on base. Almost daily there was incoming on the base. Every base I ever spent any time on had incoming. It doesn’t need to hit the mess hall in front of you to have an effect on you. Now I have no idea what base she was on but I would almost bet money that her base was just about the same as every other base in that miserable country. And lastly, she did not submit her medical records in the article so I see no reason to assume then judge her on a benefit she may or may not be receiving but has every right to receive just as you would. I would agree, a lot vets are milking the system. Thank you for your service.

    • Allen,

      I agree with you to an extent. While you’re never totally safe in Iraq or Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean everywhere is equally dangerous or even that there’s appreciable danger everywhere. On my deployments, we knew that some places were dangerous as hell and some were pretty safe. That could and did change at times, but we didn’t treat every mission as equally dangerous. We can say “Everywhere is dangerous and never get complacent” all we want, but the fact is, Panjshir was no Kunar. The route between Tallil and Scania was nowhere near as dangerous as Anbar Province. No, you can never truly let your guard down. But you can’t act as if the danger in the Green Zone was the same as Route Irish.

      Johnson was in Afghanistan, not Iraq. I’ve read a few comments on other sites about her being in Gardez, but I don’t know if that’s true. I can say that not every base had incoming, or was as dangerous as any other. In Iraq at Tallil we never had incoming in 05, and I never had it in Afghanistan either, although the Taliban tried to hit us a couple of times. I did experience fairly close indirect fire at Balad and distant indirect at Bagram.

      I don’t say any of this to tear Johnson down. However, Johnson’s essay suggests she wasn’t in much danger. She only mentions convoys in one short paragraph of a long essay; most of the essay is about other, minor annoyances. She didn’t mention incoming attacks at all. Considering how much she’s spoken about other, minor aspects of deployed life, I’d imagine she would write at length about being under indirect fire.

      I have to disagree about “assuming” anything about her medical background. Johnson says in her essay that she has a disability rating. I haven’t proclaimed that I know she’s receiving disability; I even asked in my blog if she’s receiving it, and hope she answers.

      Thanks for your comments, and your service.

  8. 18 Angela

    I also hope she is not on disability. I do have a friend that served in Desert Storm. When he returned, a friend of his that worked for the VA tried to talk him into applying for disability on a few occasions. He didn’t do it and was very disturbed by the “everybody does it” comments his friend made.


  1. 1 Military | Grumpy Bastard

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