Charles Hoge, a 20-year retired colonel in the U.S. Army, will be on campus at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Wendy Williamson Auditorium to discuss the consequences of war on soldiers and civilians, specifically focusing on stigmas about the mental health of soldiers returning home from war zones in the Middle East.
Hoge worked at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from 2002-2009 analyzing the psychological and neurological consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and is considered an expert on military related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and other physiological reactions to war.
“I always enjoy the opportunity to generate dialogue and discussion, and I also enjoy the opportunity to learn (from the audience),” he said.
One of the reasons Hoge travels to speak on the topic of mental health among soldiers is because he said there are a lot of misconceptions about what they go through while at war.
“Service members often have a lot of hesitation to discuss their experiences,” he said.
Some of that hesitation is derived from assumptions made by the public, politicians and family members about what their experiences were at war and how those experiences have affected them.
“One perception that people have is that soldiers come back from a war zone and develop PTSD — that that may make them unstable, unpredictable and violent,” he said.
However, this perception neglects to take into account that the soldiers are trained to exhibit self-control and professionalism, and their skills are easily transferable into the civilian work force.
“Just because they were in a war zone doesn’t mean they’re crazy,” he said.
Another aspect Hoge will discuss at the lecture is what the expectations are for soldiers returning home after being deployed.
He said sometimes when a soldier returns home, their children have grown quite a bit and their spouse often has adapted to run a household in a more independent way. His goal is to provide families with alternate perspectives about what a normal transition should look like.
Mental barriers to transitioning home are not new in the armed forces.
Hoge said the similar symptoms, whether they’re referred to as PTSD, shell shock (coined for soldiers returning home from World War I), combat stress reaction (referring to soldiers who retuned from World War II) or Soldier’s Heart (used to describe symptoms of soldiers in the Civil War), have always created barriers among soldiers and civilians.
The best way to combat the barriers is to provide people with information about them.
Hoge said there will be a question-and-answer session after the lecture.
He will also discuss elements from his book, “Once a Warrior Always a Warrior,” an in-depth account of Hoge’s insight about the mental health of soldiers and a trove of practical information for warriors, regardless of how long it’s been since they’ve been home from the battlefield.
Mike McCormick, assistant director of Student Activities, said UAA was contacted last November about possibly bringing Hoge to campus to speak.
McCormick said, “We’re trying to do things to help out veterans. We thought he would be a wonderful speaker.”
Ultimately, though, the student activities team decided he should come to campus to speak.
Hoge was offered the opportunity to spend time in Afghanistan to do research in 2011 but was able to reschedule his lecture for this year.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information about the event, contact Student Activities at 907-786-1219.