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Marine Cpl. Chris McNair (Ret.), Afghanistan 2011-12. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

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The cover story of National Geographic magazine’s February issue, “The Invisible War on the Brain,” takes a close look at a signature injury of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars—traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) caused by the shock waves from explosions. TBIs have left hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans with life-altering and sometimes debilitating conditions, the treatment of which can be extremely complicated. At Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, soldiers paint masks that help them cope with their daily struggles and help them reveal their inner feelings. We invite you to see the service members’ masks and read the full story here.

Impeccable in his Marine uniform and outwardly composed, McNair sits on the porch of his parents’ home in Virginia, anonymous behind a mask he made in an art therapy session. “I was just going through pictures, and I saw the mask of Hannibal Lecter, and I thought, ‘That’s who I am’ … He’s probably dangerous, and that’s who I felt I was. I had this muzzle on with all these wounds, and I couldn’t tell anyone about them. I couldn’t express my feelings.”

Army Staff Sgt. Perry Hopman, Iraq 2006-08. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)
Army Staff Sgt. Perry Hopman, Iraq 2006-08. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

“Detonation happened, and I was right there in the blast seat. I got blown up. And all this medical study—nobody ever thought that they [blast events] were very harmful, and so we didn’t log them, which we should because all blast forces are cumulative to the body. On a grade number for me, it would probably be 300-plus explosions … I’m not going to not play with my children. I’m not going to let my injuries stop them from having a good life.”

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Tam (Ret.), Iraq 2004-05, 2007-08, (with wife Angela and their two children). (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Tam (Ret.), Iraq 2004-05, 2007-08, (with wife Angela and their two children). (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Tiffany H., as she prefers to be known, was “blown up” while helping women in a remote Afghan village earn additional income for their families. Memory loss, balance difficulties, and anxiety are among her many symptoms. The blinded eye and sealed lips on her mask.

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For the rest of this collection, visit wearethemighty.com

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2 thoughts on “The Invisible War On The Brain

  1. I can’t imagine. The war never leaves the warrior. I wish I understood it. War. Maybe I could do more for our veterans.

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