A Face of the Crisis in the U.S. Military
Remembering Joe Weeks
by Greg Miller
Ourlivesourrights.org, Aug. 30, 2012
I first met Joseph Allan Weeks in a patient room at Madigan Army Medical Center, the hospital at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash.
I was brand new to the Army, and Joe and I were in the same platoon; 2nd Platoon of Bravo Company, 4-9 Infantry, which is part of 4th Brigade at JBLM.
I had been tasked with guarding him in the hospital, where he’d been sent after getting out of control one night at the barracks and getting into a fight with an NCO who made it his business and pleasure to intervene physically. He was mildly sedated, but woke up at one point.
He’d never seen me before, and asked me if I was someone else, an NCO from the Company who I would later realize embodied the toxic leadership/bullying complex that exists in the Army, especially the Infantry.
After I said who I was, he started telling me random things about his experiences in the Army, specifically in Iraq, just talking and talking.
The stories all involved being singled out by his leadership to be tormented in various ways, mentally and physically, for his perceived wrongdoings in their eyes, and he was warning me to watch out for this, as well as to take care of his buddies when we went to Iraq.
Toxic Leadership = Bullying
There exists within the Army a plague of “Toxic Leadership”, the Army’s own term for unfit leaders who create an unbearable environment in which to live and work.
According to 2011 Amy study on toxic leadership: “Toxic leaders routinely see their subordinates as disposable instruments, rather than as people, have a destructive personality or interpersonal skills that have deleterious effects on climate, and appear motivated primarily by self-interest.
The process for destructive leaders involves dominance, coercion, and manipulation.”
What does this look like in action?
The toxic leader singles out soldiers who are perceived as “weaker” although through the structure of rank, any lower-ranking soldier is essentially powerless to stand up to leadership mistreatment.
These are grown men who take great pleasure in tormenting their subordinates like a high school bully.
Leaders have a nearly unchecked ability to punish soldiers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for anything, and their testimony in these matters goes unquestioned. You put up with the mistreatment, or you get punished.
Army Mental Health System is a Joke
I lost track of Joe Weeks not long after seeing him in the hospital.
We had only a few months before we were going to Iraq, and were very busy with a lot of late nights at work, but I knew he was in some stage of legal proceedings against him, during which time he went AWOL.
I went to Iraq, and heard nothing of him until maybe a year or so after we came back. He had returned to the unit to turn himself in and got processed out of the Army.
When I got back from Iraq, before Joe turned up again, I had started seeking help from the Army for mental health issues related to my service and my time in Iraq.
I found the Army’s mental health system to be very confusing, very repetitive, very frustrating, and a complete joke. I had to explain my whole life story over and over to different therapists and psychologists, who inevitably ended up giving me a pamphlet that said to take deep breaths, or some other such nonsense, and had the number for the National Suicide Hotline, telling me to call if I felt like killing myself — Greg Miller, former Army infantryman who served with the Fort Lewis-based 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker) and deployed to Iraq in 2009
I found the Army’s mental health system to be very confusing, very repetitive, very frustrating, and a complete joke. I had to explain my whole life story over and over to different therapists and psychologists, who inevitably ended up giving me a pamphlet that said to take deep breaths, or some other such nonsense, and had the number for the National Suicide Hotline, telling me to call if I felt like killing myself.
For more than a year, I struggled to find someone who would simply listen to me, listen to my specific situation, and use their knowledge and experience to try to help me feel more normal again.
It felt like I was fighting with the Army to get people to do their jobs in a meaningful way and not blow me off, telling me I was fine, and to go back to work. I was far from fine.
In the end, after jumping through countless hoops, I ended up getting some pills to help me put up with things, but I couldn’t even take them when I needed them, at work, because they put me to sleep.
During this time, I realized that the people around me, guys I had known before, during and after deployment had changed too, and were going through the same thing, running into the same problems that I was with the mental health system, as well as the difficulty with our leadership.
One of the quickest ways to find your life made even more difficult at work, to almost instantly become ostracized by your peers and leadership is to say you have a problem and need help.
The Army is a culture of doing what you’re told, of not questioning, of fitting in, of not being “that guy” who rocks the boat.
The Army is also a place where if you can’t articulate your problem, you don’t have a problem. Dealing with mental health issues is difficult, and they’re difficult to explain to a stranger.
I was 33 years old when I went through this, and it was hard for me. Most of my buddies were much younger, and lacked the ability to explain what they were experiencing, and were hesitant to push back when they were told by their doctor that they were fine.
Joe Weeks is ‘Chaptered Out’
When someone gets discharged at the discretion of the Army, they say the person is being “chaptered” out.
Joe Weeks was being chaptered for going AWOL and acting out at work. Now that he was back, having seen what was happening to me and the people around me, and remembering his stories from the hospital of being abused by his leadership, I became interested in his personal story. Knowing how difficult and exasperating the mental health system was to deal with, I started to wonder how Joe was managing within it.
I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to speak to him directly, as I was at the end of my enlistment, in the process of getting out of the Army which kept me pretty busy, and he was busy being processed out.
Probably the most interesting thing was a folder of documentation containing everything about him and why he was being discharged, and it detailed his story from childhood through the present.
It sounded like Joe grew up with about as many problems as a kid could have. He had family problems, he got into trouble at school, he had learning problems, he had a dysfunctional life.
In one part, he talked about what the happiest time of his life was. He said that this was just before he joined the Army.
He’d been talking to a psychologist for a while, and he was taking an anti-psychotic drug that was really helping him stay on an even keel.
When he told his Army recruiter this, the recruiter told him he would have to stop taking the prescription so he could pass a drug test, and that it was critical that he never tell anyone he was taking it, because it could compromise his enlistment. I was appalled when I read this.
Joe was a troubled guy who joined young and bringing his then untreated mental and behavioral health problems to the Army, became the subject of the abuse of his toxic, inept leadership.
On top of that came the burdens of military service and war, friends dying, PTSD, and the relationship problems that are so common to people in the Army.
He was so distraught that he actually went AWOL for several days on a base in Iraq. It was clear to those around him that he had broken down under the weight of all this, and that he should have never been recruited into the Army in the first place.
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | 4th Brigade 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker), Anti-psychotic medication, Army recruiter misconduct, Joint Base Lewis-McChord JBLM, Joseph Allan Weeks, Madigan Army Medical Center JBLM, PTSD, Suicide by Cop, Suicide prevention, Veterans Affairs