Former undercover cop helps troops heal unseen wounds
May 28, 2012
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 28, 2012) -- Post-traumatic stress, said a former undercover police officer, is experienced by Soldiers, cops, firefighters and emergency responders alike.
After busting up organized crime in northern New Jersey, Bob Delaney has helped others cope with their residual stress, especially Soldiers. For this work, he was honored May 23, with an Outstanding Civilian Service Award by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.
"Although we all wear uniforms and think we can leap tall buildings in a single bound, there's still a human being inside there," Delaney said. "We have to take care of that human being and while heroic things are done by those in uniform, we also know it takes a toll, because they see what the rest of the world does not."
Delany has written two books on his experiences as an undercover cop: "Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress" and "Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob." And since he worked as an NBA referee after leaving the police, his story has been told by HBO's Real Sports, ESPN and ABC, including dozens of newspaper and magazine articles throughout the United States and Europe.
There's also a movie of these years being proposed. Delaney has met with Hollywood
director and screenwriter Ron Shelton who wrote and directed, among others, "Bull Durham." Shelton had proposed a movie version of "Covert" and Delaney said the project is "moving forward."
But what he considers most important is his work to "educate and inform" on the causes, effects and treatment of post-traumatic stress, known as PTS. His work has created an environment conducive to healing and acceptance, Odierno said.
"Your direct work as an ambassador of assistance for this condition has directly affected and improved the lives of countless Soldiers through your visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Army installations throughout our nation," reads the citation Odierno presented to him May 23, at a special Twilight Tattoo that recognized five civic leaders who have helped Soldiers.
Delaney emphasizes that post-traumatic stress is a human condition; it's not a mental illness.
"The higher risk group for experiencing post-traumatic stress is Soldiers, cops, firefighters, and emergency responders. But it doesn't mean that it's a military problem or a cop problem, it's a human condition. It can happen to any of us. It happened after Katrina, it happened after Haiti," he said.
COVERT OPS: BASIS FOR POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS
Delaney's story began while growing up in Paterson, N.J. His father, a New Jersey police captain, probably inspired him, but he was also inspired by basketball. Delaney became an All-State basketball player at Neumann Prep in Wayne before joining the state police when he was in his early 20s.
"For 14 years I was with the New Jersey State Police as a trooper. During that time, I worked a long-term undercover job for three years, known as the New Jersey Joint Intelligence Operation, but it was code-named Project Alpha," Delaney said.
It was a joint investigation with the FBI and the president's organized crime task force.
"We joined forces and we started a trucking company, Alamo Transportation, on the waterfront in New Jersey and I always tell people we must have had an aggressive mindset because the grant was written for six months. I guess we were going to end organized crime in New Jersey in six months and move on."
But that didn't happen and every six months they kept extending the grant. It was close to three years before it was over.
"After the first trucking company started, we got lucky in the investigation, we had an informant; we did the Genovese and Bruno Crime families from 1975 to 1977. I testified before the United States Senate on organized crime."
Today, he said, it's important that he takes people through those years during his motivation talks. But what's more important is what happened afterward.
"PTS is what I experienced and so when I go and speak to (Soldiers), and I've been doing this with cops and firefighters and with the military for the last seven, eight years, is that I share my story in hopes that it's reflective of their own stories," he said.
He said he's able to share with Soldiers and their families an understanding of what these first responders go through.
"We like to call it a Post-Traumatic Stress Education and Awareness Program. We've done it with HIV/AIDS, we've done it with alcohol, we've done it with tobacco, we've done it with drugs," he said.
The more educated and aware of these conditions, the more prepared Soldiers and families will be to handle the impact these conditions cause.
"That's the goal of the work that I do," Delaney said.
Because of his work, he was invited to Fort Hood, Texas, after the shootings there and spent three days speaking with about 5,000 Soldiers, police, and civilians who were impacted. He's also been to or will be at every installation across America and in Europe.
"I met General O (Odierno) in Baghdad, Camp Victory, and I'd go to different forward operating bases all over Iraq and share this message of PTS. I'm not a doom and gloom guy about this. I believe in post-traumatic stress growth; I don't believe in saying post-traumatic stress disorder. That to me conjures up a mental illness and this is not a mental illness," he said.
One of the things most important, he said, is the re-setting and the resiliency that Soldiers all have. But it's helping them understand that Main Street U.S.A. is their normal, because their new normal has become Main Street Baghdad or Main Street Kandahar.
"We have to help them understand that that's not where their normal should be. And I'm able to do this through stories of myself. When I came out from doing the undercover work, I kept slipping back into that role, I kept wanting to be that undercover guy with my catchy undercover name, Bobby Covert. We weren't trying to be cute or funny, we just took on the identity of a child who died at birth.
Delaney said he kept falling back into that persona because that was his normal.
That's why Soldiers think after being over in Iraq or Afghanistan, that they feel more comfortable there than walking down Main Street U.S.A. If the toilet is overflowing, it's not that big of a deal because of what they experienced.
"That's normal. There's nothing wrong with you, we just have to take the time to have this journey of healing take place and have the transition to bring you back," he said.
Sophocles, he said, wrote about it 2,500 years ago when he talked about the warrior not knowing how to act after coming back from battle. In World War I, we called it shell shock, and in World War II we called it battle fatigue. In Vietnam, though, we did a disservice to the men and women and didn't really address it.
"I've spoken with a lot of kids of Vietnam veterans (about) what they experienced, because post-traumatic stress has a ripple effect on the family. I always say if someone's going through post-traumatic stress, their friends and family are going through active traumatic stress, because they're responding to what that person is going through.
Delaney said he tries to help families understand that when Soldiers come home for a 15-day leave or from a deployment, it's like Christmas day for the family.
So when families start filling their day with all kinds of activities and trying to make up for lost time, it's difficult for the Soldier. He or she is in a hyper-vigilant state and they're still looking for IEDs walking down the street. Large groups of people are not something they want to be around.
"But the family says, 'come on, let's go to Disneyland or a football game.' When the fireworks start going off or large crowds start acting unruly, their defense mechanisms of how they acted in the war zone start to come to the forefront and they start to experience that in a physiological way.
"It's not just emotional or psychological, there's a physiology to this. Providing education and awareness will help.
Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, who currently serves as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, invited Delaney to speak at a suicide prevention program where he brought up self medication.
"Self medication is a form of deadening pain, so in my newest book, I tell the story of Joe Dwyer who was with the 7th Cav. He was the Soldier who was carrying a half-naked Iraqi baby that became the iconic photo taken March 25, 2003 by a photographer with the New York Times," he said.
This was a great American, he said, whose death record reads that he died of post-traumatic stress. At first, people wanted to say it was suicide, but he died of huffing he was trying to deaden his pain because of what he experienced.
"And it's not only what we experience, whether for me as a police officer seeing multiple fatal accidents or murder scenes, or for troops seeing what they see, it's multiples, it's one on top after another after another. It's not just the one incident that takes place," he said.
Another story in the book is about Gunnery Sgt. Jim Gallagher, a 17-year Marine who comes home from Iraq and hangs himself in his garage at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and his family finds him. It's a story of what goes on with the family.
"I tell this because what I share with the many folks that serve, I want them to know what happens after the day he makes that decision to commit suicide. So, it's important for them to read and understand what goes on with the family afterward.
"If that's a way we can throw a roadblock up, they (have time to) think about it. When I speak with folks that thought about suicide, and when they say that, 'yeah, I can't see because I got hit with an IED (improvised explosive device), but I can feel my child's hand across my face. I'm glad that I'm still alive to feel that.'"
He said he tells people that maybe it's not the life they wanted to lead, but it's a life they can lead, fully.
Delaney has visited wounded warriors across the United States.
"It's been an inspiring experience and it's also been a cultural learning experience over the years being with Soldiers. At times they all speak in grunts and groans and I'm starting to understand what they mean," Delaney adds, laughing.
DEBT THE NATION OWES
"We hear about this financial debt, and we understand that it's real. But we also have another national debt to the men and women who serve us," Delaney said.
Only about one percent of the nation's population is actually serving in the military, he said. "That's a minority and every minority -- from my grandparents coming over from Ireland to any other minority that's been here -- we've always have had a hand up to, and a voice from the majority to be supported. That needs to be here, as well."
"We're doing a better job, but when people say to me they're supporting the troops, I say 'great, how are you doing that?' It's not just words any longer, we have to figure out ways to do it and there are so many different organizations that I encourage people to find an organization in their community to help support troops," Delaney said.
REMEMBERING A SOLDIER'S THANKS
When Delaney spoke at the Fort Sill, Okla., Warrior Transition Unit, a Soldier came up and shook his hand.
"I'm used to getting coins and I thought that was what was in my hand. I looked down and said thank you," Delaney said. But it was the Soldier's Purple Heart.
He told the Soldier that he couldn't take his Purple Heart, but the Soldier insisted: "No sir, I want you to have it. You've helped me understand how to deal with the wound that everyone can see, and you've helped me deal with the wound that no one sees."