Retired Lance Cpl. Matthew Ranbarger of the United States Marine Corps came to the University of Indianapolis to share his story about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on Nov. 9. The event was in collaboration with the Student Veteran Association and sponsored by Active Minds, a registered student organization that promotes awareness of mental health issues.
Ranbarger said since he was a child, he had wanted to be a marine, but there were some obstacles he had to overcome first. He said he had an inhaler and was put on Ritalin, so he had to fight for more than a year to get into the Marine Corps. He enlisted at the age of 18 and was shipped off to boot camp by 19. When he took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, he earned a high enough score to qualify for any job in the military. However, Ranbarger still chose to join the infantry, which puts a soldier on the front lines in direct attacks against the enemy.
In 2004, he and his unit were deployed to Fallujah in Iraq, expecting to be there for only a few days, but they ended up being there for three months. His unit was part of the assault force in the second battle of Fallujah, also known as Operation Phantom Fury. The whole city of about 250,000 people was evacuated for the battle. At the time, Fallujah was declared the most dangerous city in Anbar, the most dangerous province in Iraq, said Ranbarger. Fallujah was the biggest urban operation for the Marines since Hue City, Vietnam.
Ranbarger said he fought “street-by-street, house-by-house and room-by-room.” He said that he saw many horrible things such as his friend being shot 15 times, and dogs and cats that were left behind devouring dead bodies. He said he saw a cat hiding in a human rib cage, and a dog carrying around a human hand.
He said he was convinced that he was going to die, but the unit’s humor got them through it. Ranbarger said he had suffered from memory loss and traumatic brain injury from the battle, but he never saw a psychiatrist. He said that his brain had rewired itself, and he was a danger to all around him, especially in his sleep. He said he tried to suffocate or strangle people in his sleep, and barricade the room with pillows. After his deployment, he was helping to train 20 new marines for Afghanistan. But in his sleep, he said he would curse at them, shout orders and kick them. Ranbarger could not remember doing any of it. His unit of Marines staged an intervention with him and told him that he needed help.
He said that when he told his command that he thought he had PTSD, they did not understand and did not care. They even thought he was trying to get out of deployment to Afghanistan and told him that PTSD was a coward’s disease, according to Ranbarger.
Ranbarger said he was harassed by some fellow Marines by being spit on and pushed around. Eventually, he was transferred to the 3rd Marine Regiment, he said, for a “failure to adapt.” He was forced to pick up garbage and was not allowed to fight.
After a while, the Navy gave him 10 percent disability and medically separated him from the Marine Corps, which ended his career. After his retirement, there were some civilians who respected him and thanked him for his service, but there also were others who treated him like an outsider. He said once he even was told that he was an ignorant tool of the military industrial complex who shed blood for oil and should be ashamed.
“I felt alone,” Ranbarger said. “I felt depressed. There were times that I had a loaded weapon, with a pistol in my hand, ready to pull that trigger.”
One of the things that helped him through his PTSD was forming bonds with friends. One of the times that he had a loaded weapon to his head, he called his friend to see if he could hang out. He then took the round that would have gone into his head and gave it to his friend, telling him that he had saved his life. His friend still holds onto that round to this day.
“I struggle every day, but the fight gets easier the more that I’m not alone,” Ranbarger said. “If I feel alone, I call somebody and talk to them. … Humans are not meant to be alone. We are social creatures.”
There are many veterans who go through their lives not even knowing that they suffer from PTSD. According to Ranbarger, there are 22 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans every day who attempt suicide because they did not get help.
Following his speech, a question-and-answer session was held. Although there were many questions, one student simply said, “Thank you.” This was followed by a round of applause and a standing ovation. Sophomore respiratory therapy major Katie Monk said that she had gained some useful advice on how to treat people with PTSD.
“[I learned] how to help people cope with their issues,” Monk said. “You may not know that they have it [PTSD]. So always treat veterans with respect. Don’t shun them or treat them differently than other people. Be respectful of them.”