Veteran Speaks the Unspoken: PTSD

On Oct. 25, the SLU community was joined by retired Command Sgt. Major Tom Satterly who was a member of the US Army’s Delta Force.

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Satterly was a key speaker in the celebration of the Mental Health Summit Initiative on campus. The event consisted of Satterly speaking on his experiences in the military and the struggles he faced regarding his mental health after adjusting to life back home.

Satterly is a decorated veteran who served in the Army for 25 years, 20 of which were spent in the Delta Force. Satterly and his teammates’ experience in the Delta Force was used as reference for the movie Black Hawk Down (2001), which depicted the Battle of Mogadishu.

Satterly now routinely travels the country to share his story about his life in the military and life with the unspoken mental health issues after returning home. These problems caused him and his wife to become the founders of the All Secure Foundation, which was created to help proved Special Operations veterans and their families with resources.

Satterly kicked off the event by asking the audience to “think of a memory, something powerful, something memorable.” He then asked if the memory was positive or negative, and explained that the type of memory is mood dependent. He then asked the audience to “think about the suicide rate of veterans, first responders, the climbing suicide rate of family members and children of veterans. Think about their memories. Think about what haunts them.” He explained that this is why he always thanks people who help veterans.

Satterly explained that growing up, he did not have a great childhood, but still learned how to work hard and respect people. “It’s all perspective on what you take away from life,” he said. “If life hands you something, what do you turn it into?”

Satterly stated that he decided to turn it into the best life he could. This lead him to the Delta Force, where his experience in the Battle of Mogadishu turned from a typical mission to one of the longest firefights in history, as depicted in the movie.

Coming home, Satterly said he had to adjust to normal life and described the importance of listening to those they lead and talk to those who they are led by. Satterly then transitioned into speaking about ‘PTS’—as he and his wife do not like to call it PTSD because “anytime you say disorder it turns people off. It’s biological. It’s a natural reaction to a horrific event, whatever that event may have been.” He believes that no matter where someone gets PTSD, it is the same. In his own words, “the event may be different but the PTS is not.”

Satterly explained that although many veterans have the mentality that nobody understands what they went through, people don’t have to know that to understand what veterans are going through now.

“It’s hard to get excited about depression and PTS,” he said, referring to his first speaking engagement at Congress and how he was shocked that they had never had a veteran talking to them about PTS. And as he went through each meeting, he explained to people that the “reason that no one wants to talk about it is because you have to admit you have issues…not a weakness, issues.” That you have to admit that “you’re not as strong as people think” and that that is a hard thing to do.

Satterly has stated that one of his most important messages is that “the greatest failure is the failure to try,” which is such a vital mindset when it comes to mental health progress.