Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Author Interview: Patrick Thibeault

Today's interview is with Patrick Thibeault, author of My Journey as a Combat Medic which I reviewed yesterday.

Patrick Thibeault was raised as an Army brat. He lived in Germany, Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Fayetteville, North Carolina and his father was stationed in Seoul, South Korea where he attended Seoul American High School and graduated in 1989. During his time in Korea, Patrick watched several of the Olympic games in person as they were in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. He grew to respect and understand the different cultures he encountered.

[this is an abbreviated version of the full bio which accompanied yesterday's review of his My Journey as a Combat Medic]

Currently Patrick is working on a book of combat medic poetry, a book about working as a nurse and a nurse practitioner from the perspective of a man and a fictional book about a time travelling medical provider who gets stuck in the past while trying to learn medicine and nursing and working on his website at

Before we begin I wish to thank Patrick for his service as soldier, medic and civilian health service provider and for sharing his story which, I believe, is itself a valuable service as with our all volunteer military these days there seems a quite large number of Americans who never know a soldier personally let alone have a beloved family member serving abroad and stories like Patrick's can go a long way toward giving the rest of us a clue so to speak.

Joy:  Why did you choose to write your memoir about being a combat medic?  That sounds like a small question but I suspect there must be a big answer--big in import if short on words.

Patrick:  First, I want to thank you for having me on your website and blog. 

I wrote My Journey as a Combat Medic for several different reasons, namely: closure and to share the adventures both good and bad that I had with some fascinating people. 

 I say closure because I served over twenty years and in two different wars. I wanted to write about my journey for self preservation and healing that comes with closure. I am a combat veteran with PTSD, and while I take medications and go to therapy for this, I found that writing about my experiences provided the closure that I needed. Not so much to forget about that past two decades, but to celebrate those younger years of my life.  This closure is very personal in nature because it provides self healing. I believe if I had not written, I would have this gaping wound in my heart just begging to be healed. That wound is healed to a degree and I would like to think that the wound has scabbed over.

I had some pretty awesome experiences and had a chance to work with some very cool people. I was a medic in the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).  As a medic in that unit, I got to parachute out of planes and helicopters and worked as a flight medic on the helicopters. With that organization, I got to travel the world and work with some awesome people who are the real heroes. 

I write in My Journey as a Combat Medic about earning my Expert Field Medical Badge, which is a competition for medical soldiers to earn the coveted badge. The 75th Rangers (an elite special operations parachute infantry unit) was hosting the competition. I got to learn from the best, namely a Physician Assistant named Doc Donovan. Doc Donovan is considered a great in the special operations community. Flash Forward five years later and I am in the lunch room of an aircraft carrier eating meals with a Seal Team and hanging out with that team’s medical folks, on a combined training operation. Just several months before that I was in Korea for training mission as my unit was flying special forces teams up into the side of mountains. 

I spent time with people of different cultures and countries. As a soldier in the National Guard, I went to Ecuador several times to train with their medics. It was fun and a learning experience and most of all a cultural experience. 

 I got to serve in two different wars which I consider to be different eras.  I was in Desert Storm as a young teenager and in Afghanistan as a more seasoned soldier. I was embedded with the Afghanistan Army during much of my tour in Afghanistan. It was both humbling and scary at times. How many 19 year old kids can say that they had to chance to treat prisoners of war right off the battlefield?
Joy:  You made a point repeatedly that, as a lifetime autodidact, I agree with: the learning never stops.  I wonder in what areas and directions you continue learning now that you are a civilian.  Are any of them outside of the Health Services field?

Patrick:  The learning never stops. I started out of high school knowing that I wanted to become a medic and jump out of airplanes. I had not given much thought about my long term goals. I become a medic and went to jump school where we learn how to parachute out of airplanes. It was after my exit from an aircraft when I saw the Earth below me that I have a chance to anything I want in my life (if I apply myself). Surely going to college cannot be as hard as jumping out of airplanes and all the hell that is associated with Airborne School.

I learned my trade as a medic and I learned about basic medicine. I learned that I love to learn. When I got out of the active army and joined the Army National Guard, I started college to become a registered nurse. Maybe college was as hard as jumping out of airplanes, but harder in a different way. Instead of struggling not to fall out of run, I had to struggle to keep up my grades and pass my tests and graduate.  I earned my associates degree as a RN and slowly continued on and earned my bachelors and then my Masters in Nursing and become a medical provider as a Family Nurse Practitioner. 

Maybe it was all the papers that I had to write, but I enjoyed writing. Outside of the medical field, I like to read about history and global politics and economics, which is easy now with the internet. I have also learned that I like to write poems about my experiences. But my first love and learning right now is in the medical field. 

Joy:  You encountered a great diversity of cultural backgrounds throughout your life from your youth as a 'military brat' through your service in the military and your civilian service in health care.  You touched on this a number of times throughout the memoir but I would like you to share with my readers how you think your many encounters with cultural backgrounds differing from you own, whether the regional or economic class differences among Americans or the many different national or ethnic peoples you've met here and abroad, has contributed to your own personal development as a human being and as an American?

Patrick:  We are all astronauts on board the great Spaceship planet Earth. Why don’t we just enjoy the ride?  Humanity is always at the brink of destruction. We face wars, political unrest, disease and natural disaster. Humanity excels because we so far have avoided that total destruction and prospered.  But always on that brink of destruction, sadly that in my opinion is our nature. 

I have learned that almost everyone considers him or herself to be good, and as a result, others should be good like they are. People don’t realize that others can be good in different ways. People use the term: Celebrate Diversity. I would like to believe that as a fellow astronaut on Spaceship Earth, this is something that I hold true. I have also learned that there are bad people in the world because they consider their intentions to be good (for them). So far, in our history, humanity as survived and has learned and relearned these lessons from the no so distant past. 

 I believe in American Exceptionalism. I strive to be the best American I can be.

The concept of a representative republic democracy in a capitalist society is a relatively new concept to humanity. Other societies have had absolute monarchy, totalitarian dictatorship, theocracy and in some cases even anarchy.  These forms of government are still in existence today.

In our society, we have the opportunity to be with different people with different religion, races, creeds and preferences. I have learned that we as a society can grow and be prosperous when we take the best from each of these.  We celebrate different holidays from different cultures and make it American. America has learned from its mistakes and I would like to think that are not so rigid and inflexible to continue to learn and grow. 

On the downside, many other nations see America as another empire forcing our good ideas and plans on other people because these ideas work for us. At least, we have peacefull elections in our nation, where citizens who do not like the direction the nation is going in to vote those out who would lead us in a direction we chose not to go. 

Joy:  You refer in chapter 7 to playing games on your computer during 'down time' before shipping out to Afghanistan in 2004.  I know personal computers were not common at the time of the 1991 Iraq war so that must have made a major difference to daily life between those two war experiences.  Can you expand on how that changed the deployment experience for you?  

Patrick:  The shift in information technology in that 15 year time frame is why I consider these different conflicts to be of two different eras.  In the first Gulf War back in 1990-1991, with downtime when we had some, I would read books! I wasn’t completely devoid of some electric gadget. I had a portable handheld video game that  I would play from time to time. Our medical section in Desert Storm spent more time actually just talking together and forging a familial bond that still exists to this day. ( thanks to facebook and email it makes it even easier to say hello).  

I would read anything that I could get my hands on. Much of the time it was a medical reference, or some novel that I found.  The technology has evolved, but what a soldier does during downtime, has stayed the same. We like to play. I remember we used to  have water fights and shoot each other with water guns, we would sit and play card games, or we would be good soldiers and do physical exercise. 

Joy:  You might also talk about any other advances in technology between 1999 and 2004 that made significant impacts on how you experienced those two deployments whether in your duties as medic or soldier or personal time.  For example, my nephew served as Army Medic in Iraq for three tours beginning in 2007 and he was able to chat online and email with family stateside and the several times I chatted with him in the wee hours I marveled how things had changed since my husband was a Marine in the 70s when I would wait months for replies to my letters when he was overseas.

Patrick:  During Desert Storm, we had to wait for several weeks to get mail. The only letters at the time that mattered to me was from my parents and sisters. Getting a letter from family, regardless of era is always a morale booster. Luckily we had a phone in our medical aid station and had a way to call back to the United States to a military telephone operator. My family lived on an Army base at the time and my father was the base Command Sergeant Major. I would call the operator and ask to be connected to the base and would get connected to my parents house on the base and talk directly that way. On the other hand, my parents would call and I would be away on a mission. This made her nervous because we could not talk about anything specific that the unit was doing.

Joy:  What has your experience been as a vet returning to civilian life stateside?  Please share your thoughts on what ways America is doing right by our vets and in what ways we are failing them.

Patrick:  It is a struggle at times and a relief at times. I still do not know how I fit in society. I feel like I am on the edge of society. I feel that way because I deal with PTSD. I feel that way because I am still used to things being a certain way and Hoohaa mentality that I had since I was a teenager. I still think like a soldier and to me it is a good way to think, so I think inside, others should think this way. This mentality has gotten me into trouble at work. I have learned not to be brisk with others. As a soldier, I learned that we don’t always have time to explain why we are doing something, but just to do it and get it done. This does not apply when you are the charge nurse of a hospital unit and the other nurses ask you a question about the work load and I would reply “ Because I said so..”  I have learned that while it is good to have a soldier’s mentality, it is not always good to treat others like they are soldiers. 

Sometimes people ask me blunt questions about war. I surmise that their experience with war is from a video game.  The worst question I have been asked is what my body count was. I have learned to avoid triggers that make my PTSD worse. In some ways, I tend to still isolate myself from society, but in a way this is how I fit in. Other veterans feel the same way. When I came home from Afghanistan, I missed my front yard. I missed the smell of the grass. I would just sit in the yard for hours and lay in the grass. People would look at me like I was strange. 

America has done our veterans both right and wrong. My fellow brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam made sure that we came home and we were welcomed home unlike they were when they came home from Vietnam. A veteran today coming home from war has a opportunity to go to college and earn a degree and do something good.
Suicide is another issue. Many coming home have committed suicide. The other day, a Navy Seal committed suicide. The nation has failed because too many good men and women are doing this.  I don’t know if I know the reasons and why, but multiple deployments in a hostile combat zone can change a human being. Any combat veteran would be lying if they had never thought about suicide. I don’t really the answer for this or the cure but all I can say to my fellow veterans is to not lose hope in yourself or your comrades.

 Another failure is the backlog of Veteran’s Disability claims. A soldier is ordered to do a job in which he or she has the potential of causing both physical and metal trauma. As a result of that trauma, that soldier has a disability. It is the job of the Veteran’s Administration to handle these disability claims for compensation. I understand that there are many veterans’s applying for disability, but the VA should have thought ahead and planned for this to prevent this from happening in the first place. I understand that the VA is doing the best it can. Our nation’s treasure goes to support veterans with disability and it should be fairly and honestly divided out in accordance with the disabilities that the combat veteran has. 

Patrick's dog Rocco
Joy:  You talked about the importance to you of your several pets would you mind sharing photo(s) and/or anecdote(s) of one or more of your current or past beloved pets?

Patrick:  When I came from Afghanistan, my cat jumped into my arms and she purred.  She had never jumped into my arms before and she had never since. She really missed me.  I have found that sharing your home with an animal is great. I have two cats and a dog that live with us. They require us to take care of them and we require them to take care of us. It is a mutual beneficial relationship of love and understanding. Petting my pets is a great stress reliever when I have a bad day or a flashback from PTSD. 

Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts:

1 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 1/09/2013 10:58 PM  

Thanks so much for taking part in the tour and hosting Patrick!

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