William (Bill) E. Thomas, Jr. is a perfect example of how finding a “band of brothers” can help a soldier turn post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) into post-traumatic growth.
“I was diagnosed in 2008, and dealing with it is my greatest challenge,” says Bill. “I’m inspired by other veterans who encourage me and teach me things about PTSD – like keeping my emotions, anxiety, and anger in check so my family is not affected.”
According to Bill, he finds inspiration in the camaraderie he shares with his fellow wounded warriors.
“I first learned about Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) from another veteran who received treatment at the same VA hospital I did. The folks in the New York City WWP office accepted me as one of their own. No judgments. Just acceptance.”
But acceptance was far from what he found back in 1977 when Bill told his mother he decided to join the U.S. Air Force.
“My mother was so upset at me. But it was something that I felt I needed to do. I was attracted to the military having grown up during the Vietnam War and seeing news clips of the war on TV. I have no regrets. In fact, one of my proudest accomplishments is finishing my military career as a Master Sergeant with the 108th Air Refueling Wing, Security Forces Squadron.”
Bill served in Saudi Arabia in 2002 and was deployed again in 2007 to Iraq. His personal experience with war stopped in January 2010 when he retired after 20 years of service. But like so many of his fellow warriors, Bill now battles a different kind of war in his mind every day.
“I’ll never forget the moment when myself and others were doing a building search in Iraq, and there was an explosion. The blast killed an Air Force K-9 and injured the handler. Experiences like that reinforce my desire to have the power to stop all wars.”
With treatments three days a week, Bill is making great strides in controlling his PTSD. In addition to developing his emotional arsenal by sharing his experiences with his fellow wounded warriors, Bill credits his mother for instilling within him empathy for others.
“She is such a strong and brilliant woman. She raised me to become a man. She always taught me to be a kind and caring person – to do for others before doing for myself.”
The results of his mother’s success in shaping Bill's character were never more evident than on an afternoon in 2006. At the time, Bill was an officer with the Newark, New Jersey Police Department. He arrived on the scene of a domestic disturbance to discover a woman wielding an eight-inch kitchen knife and hurling household items out her third-floor window at bewildered police officers who took cover below.
“I was able to dodge the projectiles and get to her apartment door,” recalls Bill. “After about an hour of talking with her through the door, she seemed to calm down.”
Bill says he’ll never forget what happened next.
“She opened the door, ran out at me, dropped the knife, and gave me great big hug!”
Now that’s post-traumatic growth.