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BOND OF BLOOD AND HONOR

 

The bond between Marines and their docs is unique in this world. “Docs” in this context can mean physicians or corpsmen; but the shared honor, courage and commitment between hospital corpsman and Marine epitomizes this bond. Just read Flags of Our Fathers and you will get an inkling of what I mean. Or consider this true story:
Two Latino-Americans grew up in the Texas Hill Country, not far from each other. Both entered military service soon after high school. Staff Sergeant Ramirez, USMC, and Hospitalman (HN) Alvarez, USN (not their real names) became  friends when both were assigned to a Marine Corps Logistics unit just prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Staff Sergeant Ramirez was a regular Marine. HN Alvarez was a Navy hospital corpsman assigned as medical support to that Marine unit.

Navy Medicine provides health care to the Marine Corps, which owns no intrinsic medical assets. Navy doctors, dentists, nurses, medical service corps officers, and hospital corpsmen assigned to the Marines wear Marine Corps uniforms, drill and exercise with their Marines, adhere to the same physical standards — fully integrating into the units they support. The most revered relationship is that of a hospital corpsman to his Marines. Every Marine depends on his doc to save his life or limb.

Which one is the Doc?


In the early days of OIF the two friends traversed southern Iraq, miles behind the initial assault. The unit had stopped for rest and chow. Diving into his MRE, Staff Sergeant Ramirez strolled around the vehicle. A sudden, deafening explosion rocked the area, followed by a primal scream. The young Marine had stepped on a concealed Iraqi land mine. He lay in agony on the sand, blood gushing from the remnant stump of a leg blown away.

“CORPSMAN UP!” Hospitalman Alvarez, as any corpsman would do, rushed to the aid of his fallen comrade, disregarding his own personal safety. As he knelt beside the victim, another explosion scrambled the scene, this time the primal scream coming from HN Alvarez. His knee had detonated another concealed mine, whereupon he became not the rescuer, but the second casualty to lose a leg.

Thanks to the most sophisticated and capable field trauma care in military history, The two friends were medevaced to a nearby emergency resuscitative surgery site. They underwent immediate life-saving operations to control bleeding from their traumatic amputations. Then they were air-lifted out of Iraq to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where they received secondary definitive surgery. Within three days of the initial explosions, the two comrades in arms arrived at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, MD. They were two of the first four OIF casualties received there.

Even though ensconced in a hospital room thousands of miles from the war, both were still in combat — emotional and physiological. The support they gave to each other in those first few days aided them in that battle — Marine and doc bonded in blood and honor. Both survived their initial wounds, and ultimately wore state-of-the art-prostheses. If you passed either of them on the street six months after their injuries, you would not recognize him as an amputee.

Once he recovered from his injuries, newly promoted Hospital Corpsman Third Class (HM3) Alvarez elected to stay in the Navy and requested orders to NNMC Bethesda. He wanted to continue caring for wounded Marines.

The year after his knee hit that land mine, he and his spouse (also a corpsman) were honorees at the annual Hospital Corpsmen Ball, ill at ease sitting at a head table with a Navy Medical Corps Captain and his equally uncomfortable spouse.

The HM3 didn’t feel particularly worthy of all the honor and attention. He never considered himself a hero. He was just the doc taking care of a wounded Marine.

Similar scenes occurred thousands of times since OIF began in early 2003, and will recur as long as any conflict involves Marines going into harm’s way. Their doc will always be with them, ready to do whatever it takes to care for that Marine.

Without doubt, one of life’s higher callings.




Semper Fi, Marines

You Rock, Dad

This photo tells a beautiful yet haunting story.

Servicemen and their daughters hit the dance floor at the San Diego Armed Services YMCA Father and Daughter Dance. More than 450 military fathers attended the 7th annual event, themed “A Night in the Spotlight.” U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans (Released) 130216-N-DR144-466



Military men in uniform dancing with their young daughters would strike a chord in most hearts. This photo certainly did in mine. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I posted it on Facebook a few days ago. 

You can learn much about any military member from the devices and ribbons on the uniform. Here’s what we know on closer inspection of the man on the photo’s right (whom I’ve never met): He’s a first class hospital corpsman with at least eight years of naval service. He wears warfare devices that validate rigorous formal qualifications in both surface warfare and fleet Marine force. His ribbons indicate that he’s deployed overseas and served at sea multiple times in support of the global war on terrorism, that he’s an expert with a rifle, and that he’s seen combat action. The top ribbon is the most impressive: a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal adorned with a gold “V” for valor.

This proud  dance floor dad knows, from personal close experience, the horrors of war. He’s put himself into harm’s way to serve his country and to bring medical care to sailors and Marines in combat. 

That’s just what we know from his uniform. The story runs deeper. What about the little girl in her gorgeous gown and her carefully coiffed brown tresses? How much of her young life has this dad missed, especially when he was in combat and at risk of never seeing her again? Was he present when she was born (many deployed sailors miss the births of their children)? Did he hold her hand on her first day of school? Dry her tears when she fell down, or when other children were mean to her because she was the new kid in the neighborhood? Tell her stories at bedtime? How many days, weeks, months did the two of them think about and yearn for each other when they were apart? 

Personal and family sacrifices are the real cost of war, for service members and their loved ones. You won’t find those represented in ribbons and medals. They are burned into the hearts and souls of those who have served, and the families who — in every real sense — served with them.

The men and women of the Navy hospital corps are true heroes. Like most military members, they leave it to  the nation’s leaders and its people to debate the ultimate value of where they go and what they do. To the best of their ability, they carry out the orders they are given. And they do it to near perfection, regardless of the risk of death or injury, or the cost to their personal lives. 

Corpsmen are especially vulnerable in combat. Enemies target the medics as a means to disrupt and demoralize their adversaries. In the last ten years, more corpsmen have died in combat than any other Navy rate. It’s always been that way, in any modern conflict.

May the little girl in the photo, and all others like her,  always remember that night as one of the most special nights of her whole life. May she always know and love and cherish her dad, not only for being a war hero, but  for being the handsome Navy man in uniform who danced with her on one very special night.

And for the dad, may he some day experience a father’s ultimate joy and dance with her at her wedding.

Bravo Zulu, and Semper Fi, Shipmate.






“Better to Win a Heart…

…than to pierce it.”



Which of these youths is more likely to become a suicide bomber?

Iraqi boy stares at the rubble of his former home after an American strike.

Indonesian child greets U.S. Navy helicopter flying in water and supplies after the 2004 tsunami.

Sometimes, we have to blow things up, and people get hurt — even innocent people. Then our military medical forces try to put them back together, no matter for which side they fought, or from where they came.

Medical personnel assess an Afghan man on Forward Operating Base Farah,
Afghanistan, Dec. 26, 2012. The soldiers are assigned to the 541st Forward
Surgical Team. (DOD Photo)


U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Laura Cook performs an ultrasound on a wounded Afghan
policeman to determine the presence of internal injuries on Forward
Operating Base Farah in Afghanistan’s Farah province, Dec, 31, 2012. Cook is
a physician assistant for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah. Medical
personnel assigned to the team, the 541st Forward Surgical Team and
coalition medics treated four members of the Afghan National Police injured
by improvised explosive devices. (DOD Photo)

In ten years of supporting combat forces in the Middle East, military medicine has achieved unprecedented success in saving lives. The reason: Bring world class medical resources and rapid evacuation as close as possible to the point of injury. The result: If you are wounded in action and arrive with a pulse at a forward surgical resuscitation site, your odds of survival are 98% unheard of in any other conflict since the world and its wars began.

What if we never had to use that world class capability to patch up victims of warfare? What if we could deploy our medical forces to win the hearts of minds of people before they become our enemies?

We’ve been doing that too, all around the globe, all military services, all operational platforms. Much of that effort has concentrated on the Western Pacific, a volatile area that our national leadership has designated as the next focus of national defense attention.

Military medicine has been there for decades, extending the hand of peace to a diverse range of people and places — most notably our response to natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami that impacted Indonesia, and the recent triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear power meltdown) that affected our friends in Japan.

Personnel from the Air Force HARRT (Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team) unloads supplies in relief for the 2009 Indonesian earthquake disaster
Less than a day after they flew into the disaster zone, the Air Force medics were fully operational and treating victims of the disaster

Every year the U.S. Navy deploys one of it’s hospital ships on a humanitarian assistance mission, alternating between the Western Pacific and the Caribbean/South America. Staffed with medical expertise from all services, international military medical partners, and non-governmental volunteers, these missions bring world class medical care to people whose lives have not been as fortunate as ours. More important, they bring caring and friendship that endures long after the ship sails away to its next port.

USNS MERCY sails near Southeast Asia in Operation Pacific Partnership


As we begin a new year, the conflicts in the Middle East move into their second decade. Let us earnestly hope and pray that we will begin to see the end of wars, and the emergence of world peace — and, all around the globe, the faces of happy children.



 — With thanks to my good friends and colleagues: Bob Kiser, who provided some of these photos; and Doug Anderson, who coined the phrase, “Better to win a heart than to pierce it.”



For Life, and For Peace

Taking a little break for the holidays, but first wanted to post a few photos that seem appropriate at this time.

Whatever our faith, all around the world we use this season to celebrate life. We who are blessed to live those lives in freedom owe special honor to those who gave their lives to secure our liberty — from 1776 to the present.

In an epoch where untimely death seems to surround us, we must realize that we have the power to conquer — certainly not death itself, but perhaps deaths of the most horrific, premature kind: from six-year old children, to young men and women on the battlefield; on our nation’s highways, on our city streets, and in healthcare and elderly facilities.

We, the people of the world, do have the power to bring peace on earth. We only need to try a bit harder.

Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a peaceful New Year.

A section of Arlington National Cemetery, Va., shows a fraction of the

110,000 wreaths placed at the graves of fallen service members during

Wreaths Across America, Dec. 15, 2012.

A member of the U.S. Army Honor Guard, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, carries a

wreath donated by Wreaths Across America at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Dec. 15, 2012.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Michael A. Cornelio pays respect after placing a

wreath at a grave marker during Wreaths Across America at Arlington National

Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Dec. 15, 2012. Cornelio is assigned to Marine

Cryptologic Support Battalion on Fort Meade, Md.

 

Our Tank


This is an Abrams tank:

This is a United States Marine:

This is what an Abrams tank can do to an automobile:


Imagine what an Abrams tank could do to a Marine. Gruesome, eh? But maybe you don’t know Marines like we did in Navy Medicine. Maybe you never met our Tank.


Tank arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD in the very first wave of injured Marines from Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003. Tank was not his real name, but it’s how we came to know him, and how we introduced him to the CommanderinChief when he visited his wounded Marines. Among the early American heroes from that conflict, Tank epitomized the toughness and resiliency of the men who had gone into harm’s way.

We named our poster Marine  after the U.S. combat vehicle that caused his injury. During a short break from sustained operations, Tank dozed against a mound of warm Iraqi sand. By design, his desert camouflage uniform blended into the terrain. The driver of the maneuvering vehicle never saw his comrade in arms. As one track of the Abrams ran over Tank’s body at pelvic level, the sand absorbed enough of the crush that he sustained only reparable injuries, a fractured pelvis and ruptured bowel.

Thanks to emergency surgery on the battlefield and in forward deployed hospitals, Tank survived the initial trauma. Just a few days after the mishap, he arrived at Bethesda with a repaired bowel and temporary colostomy, bedridden from the fractured pelvis.  Physically and emotionally, he remained in combat. 

This indomitable Marine did not wallow in his rack. He soon overcame the restriction to bed, got up on crutches, and made daily rounds on the ward where about 30 wounded Marines recovered from a variety of injuries. “Oo-rah, Marine,” he would say. “Look at me. If I can survive, and walk, so can you!”

In the nearly ten years since Tank returned from the battlefield, thousands of Marines and soldiers did survive their wounds, and got on with their post-traumatic lives attacking their disabilities with the same spirit as they did the enemy at arms. 

Military medicine rightly touts the advanced trauma care and sophisticated technology that have resulted in the best survival rates of any modern war. In truth, those are just adjuncts to the primary healing force we saw on that ward: Tank and other Marines who refused to quit, refused to consider themselves disabled, and rallied each other to health.

I recall another recovering young Marine’s immediate response when asked where he wanted to go for convalescent leave upon discharge from acute care in the late spring of 2003:

“Bagdad!”

Semper Fi, Marines!

A Different Badge of Courage

YOKOSUKA, Japan (Nov. 20, 2012) Operation Specialist 2nd Class Barrett Lafferty, from Grapevine, Texas, greets his newborn child after the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) returned to Yokosuka, Japan. George Washington and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian H. Abel/Released)

The photo above packs more than pathos into a single image.  

Among sailors, it tells a familiar story. Whenever a Navy ship returns to home port, some seagoing dads meet their newborn children for the first time. Absent complications, deployed dads don’t get to leave the ship and go home for the birth of their children. That Navy fact of life struck me as odd when I was a newly commissioned Navy medical officer. But I learned that to “provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners”  requires the constant presence of sailors sworn to protect and defend. Keeping that oath often requires absence from home and family for a gamut of life’s milestones, including the birth of one’s own child — first or otherwise.

Under current operational tempo, sometimes those children aren’t so newborn by the time Daddy finally gets to sprint down the ship’s brow and sweep the infant into his arms. Yet these scenes always bring joy to our hearts and tears to our eyes. 

A deeper story exists in the photo above: the location is Yokosuka, Japan, the headquarters of the U.S. 7th Fleet and many of the Navy ships forward deployed to protect and defend. Two tours of duty in Yokosuka marked the highlights of my Navy career. Among the benefits of those tours, I learned about the resiliency, commitment, and outright courage of our Navy’s young sailors and their spouses.

Imagine being a 19-year-old (or even a 25-year-old) recently married woman. Such is your love and commitment to your sailor-husband that you’ve accompanied him half-way around the world to an unfamiliar country where not only the language but even the alphabet presents a mystery. Behind in the U.S., you left your parents, siblings, close friends, extended family — the entire support group on which you would otherwise rely for that blessed event, the birth of your first child. 

Did you know when you said “I do” that you would bring that baby into the world in a foreign land without any of the traditional helpers, not even the father of your child? Your husband went through boot camp and other training to prepare for his deployment on the gray ship that took him away for months — not long after you arrived in Japan. Who trained you for the challenges of birthing your first baby away from everyone you love?

On the brighter side, the Naval Hospital and the Navy community in Yokosuka rise to help meet that challenge, and make a positive experience under the circumstances. I’ve heard that the community support makes Yokosuka a good place to have babies. True that. But it does not minimize the courage and endurance of our young Navy couples and their families. And that’s why it is good to highlight the photo of one such family, each of whom — mom, dad, and baby — deserve to be called American heroes. Without their willingness to make personal sacrifices to support the sailor’s oath to protect and defend, the 7th Fleet would not have sailors in Japan, and the U.S. Navy would fail in its mission to support one of our nation’s most important alliances.

At the end of his tour, someone will pin a well-deserved medal on that sailor’s chest. No such award will be given to his wife, the mother of his child. Perhaps she doesn’t need a medal. Perhaps she knows in her heart that she has done her part, contributed to the mission, and will be justly proud of her own service to our Navy and our nation. 

At at time when we give thanks and celebrate family, let us honor all Navy spouses — men or women — who sacrifice and give so much to our Navy and our nation. 

Bonded in Blood

Today marks the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps; and tomorrow (not Monday) is Veterans Day. In honor of those two events, I’ve reworked some prior posts to reflect on the deeper meaning of these two events:
 
Two Latino-Americans grew up in the Texas Hill Country, not far from each other, and both entered military service soon after high school. Staff Sargeant Alameda, USMC, and Hospitalman (HN) Alvarez, USN (not their real names) became  friends when both were assigned to a Marine Corps Logistics unit just prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Staff Sergeant Alameda was a regular Marine. HN Alvarez was a Navy hospital corpsman assigned as medical support to that Marine unit.

Navy Medicine provides health care to the Marine Corps, which owns no intrinsic medical assets. Navy doctors, dentists, nurses, medical service corps officers, and hospital corpsmen assigned to the Marines wear Marine Corps uniforms, drill and exercise with their Marines, adhere to the same physical standards — fully integrating into the units they support. The most revered relationship is that of a hospital corpsman to his Marines. Every Marine depends on his Doc to be prepared to save his life or limb.

Which one is the Doc?


In the early days of OIF the two friends traversed southern Iraq, miles behind the initial assault. The unit had stopped for rest and chow. Diving into his MRE, Staff Sergeant Alameda strolled around his vehicle. A sudden, deafening explosion rocked the area, quickly followed by a primal scream. The young Marine had stepped on a concealed Iraqi land mine. He lay in agony on the sand, blood gushing from the remant stump of a leg blown off.

“CORPSMAN UP!” Hospitalman Alvarez, as any corpsman would do, rushed to the aid of his fallen comrade, mindless of his own personal safety. As he knelt beside the victim, another explosion scrambled the scene, the primal scream coming from HN Alvarez himself. His knee had detonated another concealed mine, whereupon he became not the rescuer, but the second casualty to lose a leg.
 
Thanks to the most sophisticated and capable field trauma care in military history, both amigos were medevaced to a nearby emergency resuscitative surgery site. They underwent immediate life-saving operations to control bleeding from their traumatic amputations. Then they were air lifted out of Iraq to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where they received secondary definitive surgery. Within three days of the initial explosions, the two comrades in arms arrived at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, MD. They were two of the first four OIF casualties received there.

Even though ensconced in a hospital room thousands of miles from the war, both were still in combat — emotional and physiological. The support they gave to each other in those first few days, and that given from fellow Marines, aided them in that battle. Both survived their initial wounds, and ultimately wore stateofthe artprostheses. If you passed either of them on the street six months after their injuries, you would not recognize him as an amputee.

Once he recovered from his injuries, newly promoted Hospital Corpsman Third Class (HM3) Alvarez elected to stay in the Navy and requested orders to NNMC Bethesda. He wanted to continue caring for wounded Marines.

The year after his knee hit that land mine, he and his spouse (also a corpsman) were honorees at the annual Hospital Corpsmen Ball, ill at ease sitting at a head table with a Navy Medical Corps Captain and his equally uncomfortable spouse.

The HM3 didn’t feel particularly worthy of all the honor and attention. He never considered himself a hero. He was just the Doc taking care of a wounded Marine.

Similar scenes occurred thousands of times since OIF began in early 2003, and will recur as long as any conflict involves Marines going into harm’s way. Their Doc will always be with them, ready to do whatever it takes to care for that Marine.

Without doubt, one of life’s higher callings.




Semper Fi, Marines!

A Word About Heroes

I haven’t posted recently because I was engaged in running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. (I use the word “running” in its broadest sense, one foot planted ahead of the other at some forward pace.)

One always feels a sense of accomplishment finishing a long race, but the feelings I experienced from this event went far beyond any sense of personal victory. This race was never about me, but about heroes — a hero whose image I proudly wore on my back, others who wore the TAPS singlets and photos of their own heroes, and the brave men and women in harm’s way, present and past, who guarantee the lifestyle of freedom that we Americans enjoy every day of our lives.

The most important aspect of the finish photo is not the aging marathon runner propping himself up on the railing, but the background statue depicting Joe Rosenthal’s iconic portrayal of the valor of United States Marines who took the strategic island of Iwo Jima in the waning days of World War II. If you have not read Flags of Our Fathers, or seen the Clint Eastwood movie, I urge you to do so.

When I was stationed in Japan, I had the honor to visit Iwo Jima with a group of Navy colleagues. On a brilliant and tranquil spring Pacific morning, I trudged the black sand of the landing beach, gazed up at Mount Suribachi, and imagined the chaos of hitting that beach in the face of withering enemy fire from all over the island. As I trudged back up the steep berm, my flight boots sank into the grit, an effort that labored my breathing in spite of my good physical shape. Could I have made that short trek with a load on my back and a weapon in my hand, all the time taking fire? What true heroes were the hospital corpsmen like John Bradley who rose to the task of treating the many casualties falling all around them!

After we toured the landing beach, a bus took our us up the steep road to the top of Mount Suribachi. Along the way we passed a group of U.S. Marines trekking to the top, as their forebears had done over a half-century before them.

At the top, we viewed the monument where the flag was raised, and looked down at the now tranquil black beach below. After we paid our respects to the fallen Marines who gave their lives in the assault, our bus toured us over the rest of the island.

Dog tags left by prior visitors. Landing beach below.


Japanese hospital cave

In the hospital cave, I reflected on the other side of the battle — from the perspective of the Japanese who knew they would die on that island, never again to see their loved ones. (Eastwood’s companion movie, Letters from Iwo Jima, tells their story.)

Taken in the light of history, the Marine Corps Marathon looms so much larger than a 26.2 mile run. Of course I’m proud to have completed the distance, but I am all the more humbled at having done so in the company of heroes, past and present.

Semper Fi! 

Panic With A Twist


The 28-year-old naval aviator Tomcat pilot appeared chagrined as he entered my flight surgeon office on the aircraft carrier. His demeanor lacked the typical elan of a tactical jet pilot; the love of flying that we see in the attached video was absent from his eyes and voice.

“Doc,” he said, “I think I’m afraid to fly.”

“How does a trained naval aviator with over 600 hours total flight time, 300 in the Tomcat, suddenly become afraid to fly?” I wondered, especially one with an above-average flight performance record.

He described a pattern of anxiety dating back 18 months to an episode while flying level at 16,000 feet. He had suddenly felt hot, flushed, and nauseated; but the symptoms abated when he removed his oxygen mask and decreased the cockpit air temperature. (The fact that he waited for 18 months and several more episodes before reporting to the flight surgeon says something about the inherent fear that most aviators harbor about flight surgeons. A stroke of the doctor’s pen can end a flying career.)

Six months later while flying over water he experienced another attack. Again he felt hot and flushed, and severely apprehensive over his ability to control the airplane. He became intensely anxious over the welfare of the radar intercept officer in the back seat, whose life depended on the pilot’s ability to fly the jet. Our pilot remained anxious until landing was assured, and then the symptoms went away.

Two more episodes occurred in the subsequent year, each time on a long cross-country flight at altitude in bad weather. Each time, he became hot and flushed, and felt a powerful desire to divert and land the airplane. He completed the missions only by intense concentration on the flying tasks. But as soon as landing was certain, his symptoms disappeared.

I asked him the usual questions. No, he did not have any serious life stressors. His five-year marriage had gone through a tough period — including a two-month separation — but had weathered the storm through counseling. He was able to compartmentalize, a vital trait for aviators wherein they concentrate only on flying without intrusion by thoughts of other aspects of their lives. He denied nocturnal panic attacks, and stated that aside from recent pre-flight anxiety he only experienced the symptoms while flying at a distance from a landing site.

Then he mentioned some other symptoms, visual and physical disturbances while flying. He would see “shooting stars” in the periphery of his vision, and feel dizzy and disoriented. Those symptoms would occur only when he rotated his head while pulling positive Gs in a high performance maneuver. (The video sequences between 1:16 and 2:05 show that environment from inside the cockpit.) The symptoms would abate when he straightened his head. He said that those symptoms, like the anxiety, had gotten worse over time.

I figured this aviator had a limited symptom panic disorder, but I could not reconcile that diagnosis with the visual and physical symptoms. I referred him to an aviation neurologist for further evaluation. After a series of tests, the neurologist discovered that the aviator had congenital narrowing of his left vertebral artery. (Most people have two normal-sized vertebral arteries that join to form the basilar artery that brings blood to the brain stem, which controls vital life functions.) This aviator’s physical symptoms were caused by occlusion of his one good vertebral artery with head turning in a high-G flight profile, interrupting blood flow to his basilar artery. His anxiety symptoms were secondary to his physical anomaly, because he recognized but did not understand the threat to his ability to control the aircraft.

We managed to salvage this pilot’s career by getting him reassigned to non-tactical naval aircraft, where he would not be subjected to high-G flight maneuvers. Relieved of his anxiety-producing symptoms, he once again was free to relish the beauty of flight.

Patrick Winslow — Boy Adrift?

I traveled to visit family last week, so missed my usual post. Now I’m rolling back in, as a tactical aviator might say.

For this week I vector away from aviation topics, to begin the first of several intermittent explorations into the main characters in RIVEN DAWN. None represent real people; it is a work of fiction after all. But each was crafted around personality traits common to many human conditions, not just military service. Each character has his or her own positive traits and negative flaws. That’s literature — and life, right?




The fictional Patrick Winslow is the disaffected son of Kate Mahoney and Dean Winslow. His parents’ marriage ended violently when Patrick was a toddler. For her own reasons — which we will explore in a future post — his mother cut his father off from any further communications with their son. Patrick grew up as the only child of a single mom married to her military career; and he spent many of his formative years in the care of Kate’s sister, while Kate deployed to locations around the world.

We first meet Patrick through Kate’s inadequate attempts to maintain a long-distance relationship with him across 6,000 miles and fourteen time zones while she deploys at sea in the fleet flagship. She relies on Facebook chats, e-mails, and an occasional Skype conversation to bridge that time/distance gap — lacking insight into the emotional chasm that runs far deeper. Disenchanted, Patrick finds meaning to his life in on-line video gaming, and through an attachment to a gaming friend/predator whom he knows only by his screen name, Fuchou.

As the story progresses, the mysterious Fuchou holds more sway over Patrick than his mother does — to the point where Patrick acts out in a self-destructive way under the direct influence of his Internet mentor. The outcome forces Patrick and his mother into a tense struggle in coming to terms with their own interpersonal conflicts.

Patrick’s character is largely based on a book that I read a few years ago, and reviewed on Goodreads: BOYS ADRIFT, by Leonard Sax, M.D.

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax

The author describes a pattern of listlessness and dependency among boys and young men, a cadre of “man-boys,” twenty-something young men who live with their parents, work (if at all) in non-challenging jobs such as fast food, and seem perfectly content with their unambitious conditions. Sax attributes five causal factors: 1) Boy-unfriendly changes in schools and teaching methods, such as forcing early reading and writing at a time when boys are less developed than girls — resulting in females advancing at a faster rate. 2) Video games, a more controllable alternate reality than the academic or competitive marketplace where boys feel inadequate. (Sax also describes a correlation between video gaming and addiction to pornography, a trait that Patrick Winslow shares.) 3) Overuse of ADHD medications. 4) Environmental toxins that adversely affect immature male endocrine systems. 5) Decline of strong male role models and nurturing male communities. 

As with any sociological or psychological treatise, Sax’s theories are subject to debate. But for purposes of our story, Patrick Winslow is indeed a boy adrift, suffering not only from the generic factors that Sax describes, but also from his parents’ immature and dysfunctional relationship when they were young adults. Patrick’s own coming of age and resolution of his parental conflicts comprise a compelling sub-plot in RIVEN DAWN and its pending sequel.