Jill Chambers, Retired U.S. Army Colonel
Colonel (R) Jill W. Chambers discusses her path as a women in the military and how her experience surviving the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon led her to creating a PTSD program for soldiers.
Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)
Colonel (R) Jill W. Chambers discusses her path as a woman in the military and how her experience surviving the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon led her to creating a PTSD program for soldiers.
JILL CHAMBERS: There has been, really, throughout the ages of the military, a real stigma attached to a mental disorder. You look weak. If you can't control your mind, oh my goodness, what kind of a person are you?
My father was career military, Air Force. I mean, as far back as I can remember, I really, I was daddy's girl. What really appealed to me from my father was the way that he could talk about how he could take care of people. When I told my father I wanted to go into the military, I said, "And you know, I'm going to outrank you," which got a lot of laughs. I mean, that was completely unheard of for women. But he said, "You just go right ahead."
Fast-forward to my daughter now, who's a captain in the Army following in my footsteps, she's declared that she wants to outrank me. And good for her. She will be a general. She absolutely will.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I'm in my office up on the second floor. Sergeant Lobo was on the phone with a woman down on the first floor. And she hung up the phone real slowly, and she said, "Ma'am, I was just talking to Mildred, and something went terribly wrong." And as soon as that happened, you know, well, then all of a sudden, we see people just flying by our offices.
We got out of the doors, and I remember, we just looked up, and you could just see the black-- you could touch the black smoke. It was just surreal. It was completely surreal. A lot of my friends, a lot of longtime friends, lost their lives inside the Pentagon. The next day, we had to go back to work. There were things to do.
Really, from then on, it was the nightmares. You know, burning aircraft, of course, over and over again, year after year. But it became the norm. I had no idea that I was even in that category of having any PTS. And my goodness gracious, I sure wasn't going to talk to anybody about it.
I would spend days with these service members and begin to ask them and let them share with me, really, what's going on? This young 19-year-old shared with me that his first day on the job in Iraq was a mass casualty of Iraqi civilians. It went downhill from there. And really hearing nightmares, not sleeping well, on lots of medication, and just really having a hard time fitting back in.
But what's happening is that nobody wants to talk about it. Because each one of these service members that I spoke with were very clear about, please don't tell my bosses. So it only takes a couple of times to start listening to that and like, OK, I think, I think we have a problem here. And there were a lot of leaders that said, "Oh, no, no, no. We can't talk about this. It makes us look weak." And this is in 2008. I said, "Yeah, but now we're going to talk about it."
I said, "OK, we have one shot. It's time to do this." I was able to fly all these gentlemen in. They had a meeting with General Casey, the Chief of Staff of the Army at the time. And the very afternoon after General Casey had met with them, he sends a massive email that says, "We're going to start talking about PTS," which was just amazing.
And thus was born, over the next year, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, which is actually bringing our service members in, really to educate them, how to deal with adversity through resiliency, and having the tools-- these non-pharmaceutical tools-- that can actually help you. And we've seen senior leaders that have really stepped up and said, "Hey, you know what? I'm having problems, too."
There's things that I don't want to forget. But there are things that need to have a place to be able to move forward and to help others, to be a voice when no one was speaking up about invisible wounds. And that's what I'm most proud of, the opportunity to step in there at that moment in time and push this forward.