The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for February, 2017



If the above looks like random characters created by my cat walking across the keyboard, this article might be for you.

If you’re only vaguely familiar with its meaning, read on.

And if you know EXACTLY what it means, from a personal standpoint, I’d like your opinion on what follows.

I got involved this morning in an interesting group conversation started by a woman who was thinking of getting a tattoo with those characters. But she worried that because she had never been in combat, and did not have PTSD, perhaps it would come across as a presumptuous attempt to ingratiate herself with that group.

The group she referred to are veterans who struggle with PTSD from their military service. The semicolon is from another movement aimed at preventing suicide in the general public. The letters are an acronym for “I’ve got your six”, a military way of saying “I’ve got your back”. Together the phrase, and the wearing of the tattoo, is a symbol of support meant to be seen by someone who needs it.

I thought for a bit about her question. These days, it seems many people want to belong to a group they consider cool, even if they’ve never done anything connected to that group’s common experience.  While I don’t personally understand wanting to be part of a group whose common core is a debilitating disorder, we’ve all run across the joiners of anything that sounds suitably dramatic.

I earned my submarine dolphins in the navy. If you wore those Dolphins as a tattoo “in support”, I might take issue, because you weren’t there. I earned medals, including an expeditionary medal, a result of having engaged in a difficult mission. If you had that tattooed “in support”, I’d take issue, because you weren’t there.

;IGY6 isn’t a military award. The theme belongs in a sense to veterans, I suppose. We lived, slept, ate, and fought with our shipmates, our platoon mates. We stood on the shores of hell together. Some flinched. Some stood forward and ready, and jumped into the fray. We learned who to trust through experience. Those people proved themselves in the ultimate test of character, and we place an incredible amount of faith in that test.

But in the awkward post-military world we struggle to survive in, we PTSD vets need people with things at our six besides weapons. The war is of a different nature, it is against ourselves, and we need people who can see, recognize, warn, and handle those things. Many times the ones who recognize the signs are in fact our brothers-in-arms, who have seen what we’ve seen, know it’s look in our eyes, and can call us on it when we try to hide. But beyond that, there are many other ways to “have our six”.

We need people who can take a look at us and say, with a sense of familiarity with the subject, “hey, you doing alright?”. Sometimes that’s a wife, or a brother or sister who know us well. We need people who see us in a rage, and can talk us down, or protect us and those around us until we’re safe. We need people to see us “go silent” in public, or beginning to panic, and can take time to be with us for a moment, or walk with us out of the Walmart that sets us off. We need friends who remember we haven’t been seen online for a few days, to seek us out and pull us out of a downward spiral with their voice, and quiet company. We need a non-judgmental reminder of where we really are and what we’re doing when our thoughts get out of control and we can’t think or talk right. We need people who can be trusted with the knowledge we aren’t always right, without the stigmatizing condescending assumption that we must never be right.

We could use an army of these people. It doesn’t take a veteran. There are plenty of other horrors in this world besides combat that can prepare a person to be empathetic. There are plenty of people who struggle to live with those memories – from childhood, from an abusive relationship, or from acts of violence or disaster. I’ve known adopted children, survivors of awful kinds of abuse, whose word and touch have pulled me back.

We all can have each other’s six in this fight. It is a different kind of army I speak of. Anyone can prepare themselves to be part of it. But make no mistake, it takes work. It takes study. It isn’t something you can just do flippantly to appear cool. At some point if you haven’t done something to actually learn and prepare, if you subscribe to the many myths and junior-high slumber party stories of what PTSD is about, you’ll find yourself face to face with someone’s crisis, and your shallowness and naïveté can cause more damage.

But if you can do those things, if you can genuinely care about someone else’s outcome more than your self-interest, then at this point in our life, you may be better prepared to have “got our six”, better even than some of our shipmates, or patrol mates. If you can be all or even one of those things, you can be a lifesaver.

And if you can be that, then by all means, get the tattoo.

for more information, check out these links:

Project Semicolon A Mental Health Organization