By Bonnie A. Robinson, Dugway Proving Ground Public AffairsMay 26, 2016
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- He is a calm, composed, retired Soldier, in his black-jacketed dress uniform. He is stately, with his white-hair combed to perfection. He is a watcher, full of experience gleaned over years of service to a higher cause.
He is one who has listened, instructed, advised, encouraged, warned and guided warriors over decades of service. His shoulders are straight and toughened by carrying others burdens and advising them to turn to a higher power for peace.
Chaplain (Colonel) Blake Boatwright, U.S. Army (Retired), spoke at the Dugway National Day of Prayer luncheon, May 4, at Dugway Proving Ground.
"The National Prayer Day is a day of observance held in May, designated by the United States Congress that asks all Americans to turn to God in prayer and meditation," said Dugway Chaplain Matthew Gibson (Major) who introduced Boatwright.
Boatwright came with a message that may have surprised most attending the luncheon. He recounted having difficulties sleeping and had dreams about the Soldiers he counseled during his years of service as a chaplain.
He suspected he had a sleep disorder, so he went to his doctor who referred him to a sleep study. But his doctor astonished him when he said it was not a sleep disorder and diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
Generally, PTSD is a disorder that develops in people who have seen or lived through shocking, scary, or dangerous events. But not every traumatized person develops ongoing (chronic) or even short-term (acute) PTSD. Symptoms are most likely to begin early, usually within three months of the traumatic incident.
Boatwright explained numerous times to Soldiers over the course of his years of counseling that it is natural to feel anxious, sad, disconnected, and even afraid after a traumatic situation.
"I had been prepared to advise, support, and guide Soldiers undergoing acute or chronic stressful events. I was surprised to learn that the affects could surface much later in life," he said.
Boatwright then shared Veteran's Administration statistics that were startling. He said that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. "That's about one veteran every 65 minutes," he said.
The National Center for PTSD echoes this statistic in wider populations by noting that seven or eight of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and genes may make some people more likely to develop PTSD than others.
To combat his PTSD symptoms, Boatwright sought help with Save a Warrior, a program which focuses on Active Duty Military, Veterans, and First Responders who have experienced psychological trauma. During the five-day course, attendees make lifestyle changes and work to improve resiliency.
There, he learned that fear can trigger split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger. He noted it's a fight-or-flight response reaction meant to protect a healthy person from harm.
The Save a Warrior program was a learning process. He said it was "both difficult and rewarding." He showed a slide presentation of himself as he took a leap of faith tethered atop a large pole to symbolize letting go of the stress he had internalized.
"It was difficult, but once I understood what it represented, it was something I had to do," he said.
Boatwright asked that everyone continue to encourage and support our Veterans, including "those whose wounds are not visible," he urged with audible emotion. "It is critical that they reclaim their lives."
Boatwright concluded by asking everyone's prayers to change the course of a disorder that affects so many of our Veterans.
Boatwright, a native of Las Vegas, enlisted in the Army after serving a two-year mission in Denmark for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons. He had served on active duty in various Infantry assignments before pursuing a commission as a Chaplain in which he served for 23 years. He is currently studying to work as a Chaplain at St. Marks Hospital in Salt Lake City where he is finishing his last unit of Clinical Pastoral Education before applying as a Board Certified Hospital Chaplain. He also teaches at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah as an adjunct professor in Religion and co-leads the BYU Masters of Arts in Religious Studies of Military Chaplains.