It was meant to be part of a social media tribute on Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday afternoon, the Army posted a video on Twitter featuring a scout in fatigues who said his service gave him the opportunity to fight for something greater than himself, making him a better man.
In its next tweet, the Army opened the floor and asked: “How has serving impacted you?”
The post was shared widely and received thousands of responses. But many were probably not what the Army was looking for.
Instead, the call-out provided what some felt was a rare platform to spotlight the darker consequences of military service for soldiers and their families, as tweet after tweet described lifelong health complications, grief over loved ones lost, sexual assaults gone unpunished and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“The public just doesn’t hear about it,” said Brandon Neely, 38, a former Army specialist who posted about his PTSD. “They don’t hear about the guys, these veterans, that don’t sleep, have night sweats, are irritated. Some guys get really bad anxiety, depression.”
Neely added, “A lot those people who have bared their soul on that thread have probably never said anything publicly before.”
In one tweet replying to the Army, a man who said he was a Navy veteran described how he had suicidal thoughts everyday.
Another read: “I was assaulted by one of my superiors. When I reported him, with witnesses to corroborate my story, nothing happened to him. Nothing. A year later, he stole a laptop and was then demoted. I’m worth less than a laptop.”
The Army did not respond to a request for comment Saturday. But in a series of follow-up tweets posted Saturday evening, it thanked people for sharing their stories.
“Your stories are real, they matter, and they may help others in similar situations,” the Army said. “The Army is committed to the health, safety and well-being of our Soldiers. As we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this weekend by remembering their service, we are also mindful of the fact that we have to take care of those who came back home with scars we can’t see.”
Briley Kazy, 19, who replied to the Army’s tweet, was disheartened by the response. “They were like, this is very important to us, made it seem like they are doing as much as they can,” she said. “But they’re not.”
Like many, Kazy posted not about her experience, but about someone close to her: a co-worker and friend who has PTSD after serving in the Army in Iraq. She declined to identify her friend.
She said he was working a 12-hour shift at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Cleveland, Tennessee, where the two were cooks, on July 4, 2015. The daytime was mostly fine, she said. Then came fireworks from a nearby mall at night.
“He was trying his hardest,” Kazy said. “He would have to leave and sit in the cooler for a while and have a panic attack.”
To Neely, these types of stories are commonly shared among former service members. He said he served five years in the Army, joining in August 2000, seeking to break out of an irresponsible and party-minded lifestyle.
He said he served in the military police and was deployed to Egypt in 2001, to Guantánamo Bay in 2002 and Iraq in 2003. He said he was discharged in 2005 with the rank of specialist. He has been a vocal critic of military operations at Guantánamo Bay.
He said he has worked in law enforcement in Houston since he returned, but his life is far from settled.
“I don’t like to go out to places,” Neely said. “I don’t like to be around a lot of people. When my kids have stuff at school, I’m usually sitting in the back. I don’t want people behind me.”
He said the federal government does not do enough to take care of soldiers who return from their service.
“I know more people that have committed suicide in my unit than have been killed when we were deployed,” he said. “The Army is a good place, the military is a great place. The training, it gets you ready for war, but they don’t get you ready for coming home.”
He said he hopes the attention to the responses to the Army’s tweet prompts reform.
“Hopefully, these politicians can do something to fix the system that’s broken,” he said.