I just finished reading “Off Switch” written by Kevin Lake. He is not only an Author, but also he is a Veteran from the Iraq War. He served in the Washington National Guard and did serve a tour on the ground in Iraq. Kevin asked me to simply share a link to his book on my Heels and Handguns Facebook page, which I would have gladly done. But, I decided I should read a little about the book first, and after understanding the subject matter, and that Mr. Lake was writing this work of fiction with the knowledge of his own personal experiences behind him, I let him know that I wanted to read it first and then write a review for his book. After all, this is a very serious issue that does not get enough attention.
“Off Switch” is the story of an Iraq War Veteran, Corey Prine, who has just come home from the war. He is in the National Guard, and still has a couple years left in his obligation, which leads to additional struggles. At the Veteran’s Administration (VA), he is assigned a counselor, Jennifer Hutton, who works with Vets as they return from war and are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) She’s one of the counselors who truly wants to help these Vets, but she meets with personal conflicts and government bureaucracy along the way.
The author says he wrote this book to bring awareness to the mounting suicide rate among Veteran Soldiers. The Vet suicide rate is mentioned on the news occasionally, and because of my own military background, and the many, many Sailors and Marines I know, I am not surprised by the statistics, it breaks my heart to hear – and yet sometimes I find myself feeling the problem is too big, and there is nothing I can do. “Off Switch” reminded me that there is PLENTY I can do.
I would especially encourage military leaders to read this book. By leaders I do mean everyone from a Non-Commissioned Officer to a Colonel or an Admiral. For, this is a story from a Soldier, a Specialist in the National Guard, which makes this the story of many of those who do the back-breaking work that keeps the military alive, that keeps this country free. As leaders, even if we were in their shoes 15 years ago, sometimes we forget. We should always remember what it was like to be them. It is our job as leaders to both get the mission accomplished and to take care of the people. Even if you set the P.T.S.D portion of this book aside, it will remind you of the power a leader has over their troops, and how that can be a blessing or a curse.
Because I have never been on the ground in Iraq nor Afghanistan, it was the P.T.S.D storyline that ripped my heart out. This is the part of the military I have not seen in all my years, and yet – I have no doubt does exist. The life the character Corey Prine leads upon his return from Iraq is shocking. The TV cameras flash happy homecomings nearly everyday of true American Heroes returning from war, frequently on an airplane all the passengers spontaneously break out in applause when a man in his uniform walks onto the aircraft. People stop me, the happy Navy woman outside of the daycare and thank me for my service. All of this is most appreciated, and is heartfelt, but there is more to the story of these Combat Veterans.
There is a darker side, much like the obviously physically wounded Veterans; there are those whose wounds are in their memories, deep in their minds – memories so powerful they cannot be erased. As Kevin said, the military turned the killing switch “on”, but then they are just released and sent home, but no one bothered to turn the switch back to “off”.
Kevin Lake has motivated me to do research about the contracts between the Department of Defense and the Pharmaceutical Companies. In this book, the VA was handing out the same drugs that I talk about on this Blog occasionally, like candy. The same drugs that many of the Spree Killers have been on prior to enacting their horror. If nothing else – this story will make you think, not take things for granted, and perhaps see some depth in that uniform you politely smile at as it walks past you on the street.
Yes, this is the story of just one man who honorably served his country on the sands of Iraq. It was just one man — but it shook me to my core.