An important part of learning veteran culture is understanding the concept of Battlemind. Battlemind refers to behaviors that result from military training, which allow service members to function best in military settings but may not work well in a civilian setting. It represents an important part of the challenge of transitioning to civilian life. Battlemind may affect everything from communication to notions of acceptable behavior to perceptions of security or danger.
The Department of Defense (DoD) Battlemind training identifies nine categories of conflicting emotions/responses that may result from military training and service:
Buddies (Cohesion) vs. Withdrawal:
After service members return home, they may yearn for the camaraderie of their time in the military and assume that any other relationships can never be as close or important. Consequently, they may self-isolate which in turn impedes building a civilian life for themselves or re-connecting with their loved ones.
Shannon, Navy Veteran, discusses military cohesion vs. veteran withdrawal. Content warning: graphic descriptions of violence and war. (1:33)
Accountability vs. Control:
While in the military, maintaining control of their weapon and gear is considered necessary for survival and all personal items seem vital. Consequently, at home, a veteran may be possessive of their belongings and get angry if someone moves or uses their possessions.
Listen to Shannon, Navy Veteran, discuss accountability vs. control during a veteran’s transition. Content warning: very strong language. (0:53)
Targeted vs. Inappropriate Aggression:
Deployed service members may have to make snap decisions in uncertain and dangerous environments. In these cases, aggression is vital to staying alert, awake, and alive. When home, this may translate into over-reactions and abusive behavior with partners or co-workers.
Shannon, Navy Veteran, discusses targeted vs. inappropriate aggression during a veteran’s transition. Content warning: strong language. (0:33)
Tactical Awareness vs. Hypervigilance:
In combat, a service member’s survival depends on constant awareness of their environment and an immediate response to any abrupt change such as sniper fire or incoming mortar attacks. This may mean they will feel anxious, feel confined, or be easily startled when they are in large crowds or in unfamiliar surroundings. They may wish to face every door and exit when sitting with you at an appointment and not want to have anyone sitting behind them in the waiting room.
Emotional Control vs. Anger/Detachment:
Service members are told that for a mission to be successful it is critical that they control their emotions. This may become second nature. At home, if that training translates into a failure to show emotions or to only display anger, this can harm relationships because it may be interpreted as detachment or uncaring.
Mission/Operational Security vs. Secretiveness:
Service members are taught to only discuss details of a mission with those who truly need to know and that only someone from their unit or someone who has “been there” can understand their combat experiences. When they come home, they may be unwilling to talk about their deployments with spouses, significant others, relatives, or friends because they do not think they will understand or they wish to spare others of any disturbing details. However, the people in their lives may feel untrustworthy and may feel it unfair if they have unanswered questions and fears about their service member’s experiences.
Shannon, Navy Veteran, discusses military operational security. (0:32)
Mission Accomplishment vs. Failure:
Military training emphasizes never quitting and doing anything required to win. This means that at home, it may be tough to accept a lack of control over successfully completing a task. Other people may interpret this as being overly controlling, rigid, or that they are wasting energy on insignificant issues.
Shannon, Navy Veteran, discusses the military’s concept of mission accomplishment. (0:45)
Individual Responsibility vs. Guilt:
Survival and keeping their buddies alive are the prime responsibilities in combat. After returning home, they may feel guilt and a sense of failure if comrades were wounded or killed.
Lethally Armed vs. Unarmed:
Being constantly armed is mandatory and vital for survival when deployed. Therefore, at home a returning service member may feel compelled to keep a weapon on them, or in their home/car at all times in order to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
Non-Defensive Driving vs. Aggressive Driving:
Erratic and fast driving, changing lanes rapidly, straddling the middle line, and making sure other vehicles keep their distance is intended to avoid IEDs or other potentially lethal hazards. At home, this translates into aggressive driving and traffic violations.