Rowing for Shore With Sinking Ships All Around

My project Rowing for Shore with Sinking Ships All Around, highlights the issue of post-traumatic stress and suicide in the military. I became interested in exploring this topic after discovering my father’s scrapbook from WWII. I was never able to reconcile the images of my father as a young man staring back at me from the photographs, with the father I knew – quick to anger, distant, emotionally absent. I never talked with my father about his experiences during the war. Did he suffer from a form of undiagnosed PTS? I’ll never know the answer but I was motivated to better understand the experience that soldiers faced when returning home.

During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, better triage and medical treatment on the battlefield as well as improved body armor increased the survival rate of soldiers. The majority of injuries now occur to the extremities that are not protected. A new diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI) has seen a rapid increase in reported cases due to the widespread use and concussive effects of improvised explosive devices (IEDs.) And there is a high rate of Posttraumatic Stress (PTS). Most alarming is the fact that suicides in the military and among veterans’ outnumber the casualties of war. These invisible wounds are sometimes the hardest to heal especially for soldiers who don’t want to acknowledge a psychological wound or seek treatment.

Rowing for Shore with Sinking Ships All Around, tells the story of Sergeant Jacob B. who joined the army at age 18. Several years after his discharge, he was reactivated and deployed to Iraq in 2005, serving for 11 months as part of a transport convoy.

Two weeks before Jacob’s unit was scheduled to return home, two of his best friends were killed when a roadside bomb exploded. On that fateful night, Jacob traded places with one of the men who was killed. Jacob started to suffer the symptoms of severe post-traumatic stress (PTS). Discharged in the spring of 2007, but failing to receive adequate care and treatment at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Jacob committed suicide in December 2007 at the age of 26.

Combining my photographs with Jacob’s blog, poems, and drawings we experience the downward spiral of a man tormented by experiences in Iraq.

Rowing for Shore with Sinking Ships All Around puts a personal, human face on the subject of PTS, and the difficulties so many US soldiers face adjusting to civilian life after returning home from a combat zone. There is a division between the soldiers and their families and those whose lives remain relatively untouched by the impact of war. We have yet to fully realize the impact of soldiers returning home from a combat zone. As they need our help, compassion and understanding, we will no longer be able to keep a sharp delineation between home front and war front. The war has come home.