When Pierce County deputies responded to an
evening 911 call for a security check at the University Place Umpqua Bank, this
is what they saw:
A shattered door. Inside, chairs and tables were overturned, scattered. Crushed computer monitors. It looked as if someone had picked up the room and shaken it.
They found a wallet, a folding knife. By the counter, Deputy Douglas Maier saw a man laying in the fetal position. His eyes were closed. He smelled of booze. The counter reeked of urine. The deputies tried to rouse him. Groggy, he cursed the deputies.
Then he began to fight. Deputies cuffed him and looked inside wallet. They found the man’s military ID:
Chesser, David Lee II. Date of Birth: 1977AUG13.
But the deputies didn’t really need to read all of that. They’d seen Chesser before. Urinating publicly near a school. A few drunken run-ins with law enforcement, but nothing as serious as this.
And they’d seen others like him. In University Place. In Lakewood. In Lacey.
Broken, angry, drugged and boozed vets committing crimes of malice, not money. The cops paid special attention to these crimes. They were seeing more of them as the soldiers who returned from war came back home altered.
On Jan. 29, in Pierce County Superior Court, David Chesser, an E-5 with the Army, was charged with second-degree burglary and second-degree malicious mischief.
After several evaluations, he would later plead guilty to first-degree criminal trespassing and third-degree malicious mischief.
He ended up spending nearly two months in jail and be required to pay almost $7,000 in restitution.
As it turns out, this was the least of his problems.
Over the past decade in the United States, some 2.5 million members of the military have gone to war -- a number that rivals the first few years of Vietnam. Most have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s not exactly the type of war their fathers and grandfathers fought, big campaigns against enemy nations.
Instead these wars have been fought against heavily armed, ruthless, insurgencies that operate beyond the power of their host governments. They strike with IEDs and snipers and suicide bombers. Any time. Any day. Any place.
Experts in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder say this type of war -- constant threat, surprise attack, hidden enemy -- takes a particular toll on the soldiers who spend months under the intense pressure.
Researchers and experts have pegged the percentage of soldiers who suffer from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury or other mental issues related to combat around 30 percent.
That is almost 75,000 soldiers and military personnel nationwide who went to war the last decade and are suffering. Many of them do not -- or cannot --- get the help they need.
PTSD may be even harder on National Guard soldiers, the "Weekend Warriors" who researchers say don’t have the “same uninterrupted access to military medical care” as active duty soldiers.
That means in a community like the South Sound, home to the West Coast’s largest joint base in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, as well as the Army National Guard's Camp Murray, there are likely hundreds, perhaps thousands of soldiers who need help.
And we probably don’t even know it.
On the day he received the Medal of Honor, JBLM Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter issued a plea directly to the American people about PTSD.
“Take the time to learn about the invisible wounds of war,” he said with the medal draped around his neck. “Know that a soldier or veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress is one of the most passionate and dedicated men or women you will ever meet.”
“Know that they are not damaged. They are simply burdened with living when others did not.”
He didn’t know it, but Carter was describing Chesser, a man on the sharp edge of all the numbers. Chesser was a funny, sweet guy when he left for Iraq in 2006 as a member of the Army National Guard’s 81st Brigade. A guy who would “give you the shirt off his back,” his wife Jenifer Chesser recalled.
“He was just so funny,” she said. “I was his best friend and he was mine.”
That was the David who went away. It was a different David who came back.
About this commentary: As part of the 10-year anniversary of the United States deploying soldiers to Iraq and later Afghanistan, Patch Senior Local Editor Brent Champaco examines how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder forever changed local veteran David Chesser.
Part One: When authorities responded to a disturbance at a University Place bank in early 2013, they found a veteran who was suffering. Like others living and suffering with PTSD, David Chesser's battles didn't end when he came back from war.
Part Two: David Chesser went to Iraq and saw his fellow soldiers -- his friends -- die in front of him. It was an experience that would forever change his life.