Thursday, January 24, 2013

Author Interview: Patrick Thibeault Author of My Journey as a Combat Veteran

I am happy to welcome Patrick Thibeault, who recently published a memoir titled My Journey as a Combat Medic: From Desert Storm to Operation Enduring Freedom. I will post my review of this book tomorrow. Patrick has served in the army for over 20 years. He was part of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, as a Paratrooper and Flight Medic, during Operation Desert Storm. He also served in Afghanistan in his Army National Guard unit, the 76th Infantry Brigade.

My questions and comments are in blue.

1. You obviously have writing talent. Have you always felt you wanted to write or is this a recent development? 

Thank you, and thank you for having me on your website and blog. Writing was not a passion for me at first. I struggled in high school with English and Literature. I gained a respect for literature at Marian University earning my bachelor of science in nursing. We were required to take literature and arts classes, and up until this point, I had not really been an avid reader except for Star Trek novels
(which I still am an avid reader and fan).

I learned to respect and admire the written word because in my own simple minded way, when I read a book, I like to picture what is happening in the book in my mind, so it becomes a movie theater in my brain. So reading came first, reading classical works which everyone has heard of, but to understand and appreciate the history of the written word has made me realize how precious and important it is to read.

I realized that I actually enjoy writing in graduate school. These were scientific papers on medical conditions, but the art of writing words down on a piece of paper or keyboard and expressing that information in a way so that another person can read that information fascinated me. I understand that knowledge is power and that power comes from reading and writing!

I like what you said about reading creating a movie theater in your brain -- I am the same way! And I appreciate being able to talk to a writer for whom writing -- and love of literature -- didn't come naturally at first. Many of my writing students struggle with expressing themselves in words. It's important for them to know that they shouldn't place limits on their hopes and expectations for themselves.

2. What books have influenced you most? 

Both fictional and nonfictional books have influenced me. Let me mention a writer named Greg Cox who wrote a Star Trek novel called The Eugenics Wars, which is the most influential fictional book because of my love of Star Trek and the future history of humanity. This may seem as an oddity to some, picking a book of this genre.

There is nothing odd about loving science fiction. My husband and I are definitely sci fi geeks. :-)

The author writes about a secret leader, who was genetically enhanced and led a large part of the world in the 1990s, who was captured and sent out into space. The author picks up where the Star Trek television shows and movies left off and incorporated real life events, around the world, into the book.

I consider the Bible to be the most influential book that is nonfiction. Regardless of religious belief or not, this book and people's interpretations of the messages and parables have influenced our society and me. Both good and bad has come from this, depending on a person’s point of view. I guess it depends on how literally people interpret a message, while at the same time forgetting what the broader message is.

I love what you said about the pitfall of forgetting the broader message of a biblical teaching. Very true.

I read the Bible a lot when I was a child, not by force, but to be honest I could not comprehend the message and had a concrete train of thought. As I grew older and more educated, I grew to understand the messages in the Bible, but then again that is my own interpretation which I chose to keep to myself.

I have never been a fan of war related books that glorify war. How can a person write a book that glorifies such a chaotic state of humanity?

I agree.

3. What made you feel compelled to share the experiences explored in your memoir? 

I served over twenty years in the military. I had some pretty unique experiences as a medic. My experiences are not so unique; other medics have experienced the same things. I felt compelled to write about what I did as a combat medic, both in peacetime and a time of war, for history's sake. History that is not documented is history that is lost. It is more about than just the facts and events that make the headlines, but the individuals and the responses to those experiences that make history really come alive.

I love what you said about the importance of recording history as it was actually experienced first-hand.

I served in an elite unit, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) for over 5 years. I went to war back in 1990-1991 with this organization. Years later, it would be the 160th that flew in the Seal Team that would take out Bin Laden. I was a part of the organization -- I was a part of history. I wanted to share my part of history for years to come. My role might not have been the biggest role, but it kept me busy enough and was memorable enough to write it down.

I also wrote the book to share the story of being a combat medic with others. Too many nonfiction military books are about the generals, elite combat units and secret operations, but how many decent books have been written about the combat medic? The person that goes out with the fighting forces providing care to the combat forces? Not many from what I have seen.

The final reason why I wrote My Journey as a Combat Medic was for closure. I wanted to share my personal story of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder as a way to help others deal with this. I find that writing is something that really does help.

I agree. Writing -- and reading about the experiences of others who've traveled similar paths -- can be very healing. :-)

4. Many readers, like myself, have never experienced what it is like to serve in a war. What are the most important things you hope we will glean from your memoir?

This is a tough question to answer because as a person reads the words, images form as they continue to read the book. I want the reader to understand what the combat medic is and how we are different from a medic or a nurse working in a hospital setting. The most important idea I wish to convey to the reader is that the combat medic often wears many hats. When I worked on a local Afghani child, I was both medic and diplomat. I understood the consequences of my actions or inactions when I had a local patient under my care. I want the reader to understand that most soldiers do not glorify war, but that we serve because it something we are called to do.

I love that last sentence. It speaks volumes.

5. If a reader is a combat veteran or the family member of a combat veteran, what are the most important things you hope he or she will take away from your book? 

I would hope that they would read My Journey as a Combat Medic and laugh. I say laugh because they would have experienced something similar to what I experienced and would then reflect on the missions they served and reminisce. I would hope that the combat medic who reads my book would be grateful, because the story of what the combat medic does is being told by one of our own.

When a family member of a veteran reads My Journey as a Combat Medic, I would hope that they would gain some perspective about the experiences that the veteran had and develop a further understanding of why we do some of the things that we do now that we are combat veterans.

6. I appreciate your courage in writing openly about PTSD. From what I've gleaned from the media, members of the armed forces often face pressure not to acknowledge or seek help for post-traumatic stress. Do you have thoughts on how this problem could be addressed?

Yes, start early and often. Leaders should address PTSD while a soldier is preparing to go to war. This should start in basic training as a soldier initially joins the military. PTSD should be talked about after a mission is over during the AAR (After Action Review) Some leaders still shun the idea of having this talk. However more leaders are opening up, sadly, because of the high rate of suicide among combat veterans today.

7. While this is, overall, a serious memoir, there is a great deal of humor. Is humor an important aspect of how service men and women cope with difficult living conditions and trauma in wartime? 

Without humor, life is not worth living.

Amen! :-)

As a combat medic, I found something funny in the silly things we had to do as soldiers. With any large government organization, there is going to a lot of bureaucracy. One issue, in particular, was the fact that they did not have a problem sending us our replacements and people to do the jobs that needed to be done, but our mail from our loved ones back home would stay stranded at the airbase. They could not have one of those people bring that mail with them because of regulations. Our mail would start to rot as it sat on a pallet, at a base called Bagram Airbase, for months on end. Sadly, there is some humor in that.

When I used to parachute out of airplanes, I'd laugh after I would jump out and land. Although it is relatively safe, I would laugh because I'd defied death. It is an odd thing to laugh about, but so is jumping out of airplanes.

 8. I like the fact that you referred to Full Metal Jacket (one of my favorite war movies) when talking about the duality of man and how it is seen in wartime. Are there particular books or films about war that you recommend because of their honesty and realism, or because they have something important to say about aspects of human nature often seen in combat situations? 

Yes I will list some of my favorite military films and why:
  • Forrest Gump: I like this movie because of the bond that Forrest and Bubba develop. I remember when Forrest and Bubba were sitting in the mud with their backs to each other, exhausted from patrolling, so they could sit back and get some sleep instead of sleeping face down in the mud. 
  • Apocalypse Now: This movie shows the chaos that a soldier experiences during war. Chaos and insanity are, sadly, components of war. 
  • Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan: These movies also show the bonds that soldiers form during combat. These movies, in my opinion, are graphically some of the most realistic movies that I have ever seen. The bonds of friendship that develop and the loss that the characters experience are the same bonds that combat veterans experience today. 

Thank you for this thoughtful interview, and I will definitely add Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan to my to-see list.


  1. Thanks so much for taking part in the tour and hosting Patrick! We are looking forward to your review.

  2. amazing interview, Steph.
    I want to finish Band on Brothers, my local tvstation suddenly stopped after few episodes :(

    saving private ryan is one of my all time favorite movies, can't believe you havent seen it yet?

    1. I know ... I am one of about twelve movie lovers in the world who haven't seen Saving Private Ryan yet. When it first came out, I think I was scared off by the violence. ;-) But I'm sure I'm up to handling it now.

  3. Fantastic interview! My Journey sounds like an interesting read and one that opens the readers eyes as to what it might be like working as a medic in the military.

  4. Great interview! War is horrendous. I can't imagine what soldiers go through there. My bf has told me some stories and they are horrifying and make my heart fall out of my chest. And those aren't even the really bad ones that he won't tell me.


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