David Patterson: Vietnam Veteran & a True Warrior at Ease

David Patterson:  Vietnam Veteran & a True Warrior at Ease

I was born in a small town in Northern Maine and brought up with a New England work ethic, Christian values, and a sense of patriotism… John Wayne movies, war hero uncles, apple pie… you get the drift. I disliked school from early on and couldn’t wait for my right of passage. I somehow ranted and raved long enough to get my parents to sign my enlistment papers and was soon off to the U.S. Army at an early age.

I took my basic and Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Dix, NJ went to Airborne School at Ft. Benning, GA and then went to my permanent duty station at Ft. Campbell, KY where I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Because I was only 17 years old, I had to wait until I turned 18 before volunteering to go to Vietnam.

I arrived in Vietnam, May 10, 1967.

After a short stint with the 2/320th Artillery as a mail clerk, I volunteered to be an RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) and was assigned to B Company 2/502nd (O DEUCE) and carried and operated the radio for the FO (Forward Observers). Our function was to call in Artillery whenever we made contact, along with FAC, other gun units and air support (gunships… etc.).
 I spent roughly five months with that line Company. We made contact with the enemy often in engagements ranging from snipers 
to nearly being overrun in August of 1967.

In late October, I was asked to go to the Brigade Recon Unit where I was a member of a five- to six-man Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) team. We ran many operations out of base camps to gather intelligence, set up ambushes, etc. In January of 1968 at the onset of the Tet Offensive, we were inserted into the coastal city of Phan Thiet. The Viet Cong had assaulted the South Vietnamese POW Compound and successfully freed hundreds of Viet Cong held prisoner there who were attacking the Province Chief’s compound. We repelled that attack, continuing to fight house to house for 23 days.

I stayed with Brigade LRRP’s until coming home in May of 1968.

Upon my arrival back in the states, it wasn’t long before my life started to spiral downhill very quickly. I lost all my stripes, got out of the Army as a Private and started doing what I now know was an attempt at self-medicating my normal human response to a horrific war…. and all the feelings and emotions that were contributing to my out-of-control behavior. It wasn’t long before I ran afoul of the law and began a steady progression of jail sentences finally ending in a serious felony conviction and a 15 year prison sentence.

Completely demoralized, confused and on the verge of suicide, I was relegated to seek help or go on to the bitter end.

I discovered a 12-Step Program that, if followed precisely, promised to help me rebuild my Life. I engaged in that program half-heartedly and put together 20 years of physical sobriety.

I was released from Prison in 1980. I got married, had children, got a house in the country, cats, dogs, riding lawn mower, friends galore, praise from all… a miracle.

In 1990, I was visited at my home by a friend who I had met while she was a Catholic nun volunteering in prisons. She asked me if I would consider going to work for the Department of Corrections where I had done my time. She wanted me to be part of the Addiction Services Unit. After some reflection, I took the steps necessary to secure that position. I flourished, and in no time, I had been promoted as fast as you could be promoted. I was the District Commander of a Hostage Negotiation Team and caught the attention of the Commissioner who encouraged me to get a pardon. It would appear I had arrived.

In truth , I was in more emotional pain than ever. The real core of what tortured me had been broached by many long stays at VA hospitals, but no real advance had ever been achieved. 

I picked up a drink again after decades of sobriety and tried to drink and drug myself to death. I nearly succeeded. After another round of PTSD Programs, I relocated to Florida and rejoined the 12 Step Program I had been involved with for so long. I followed the precise directions, found a Power greater than Me that made sense, faced what the true nature of my malady was and finally began to recover.

From then until now, a wonderful spiritual beginning has transpired and transformed me into the man I am today.

In 2007, through Martial Arts I discovered Chi Gong, which literally translates to mean energy work. As I grew in my Chi Gong experience, it lead me to Yoga. In 2012 I started to practice Yoga on a regular basis, several times per week. After years of personal practice, I went through a 200 hour teacher training, the foundational certification for yoga teachers. I’ve now been certified and teaching for over a year.

In early 2018, while waiting to teach one of my regular classes in Tampa, FL, I approached Annie Okerlin, a Warriors at Ease (WAE) faculty member, asking about how to make a donation. She replied, “You wanna donate? Save your money and come to our WAE training in the Bahamas. Get trained and then give back by teaching yoga to veterans in our programs!” So I did!

What happened at that training in the Bahamas was life-changing and too detailed for me to share here… plus I’m wore out with this one finger typing technique of mine! I was able to discover, with the information given by the facilitators, Susan Alden, Annie Okerlin and Nick Caris, that I was salvageable and that, with a willingness and and sense of forgiveness, I could view myself in a whole new light.

My life has completely turned 180 degrees. 

Here’s what I believe from my personal experience…

If you are suffering from PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma or Moral Injury, YOU CAN RECOVER! It will take time, courage and work, but there are people among us who can help us get to the root of the problem, provide us with helpful techniques and strategies to address it AND also offer support along the way!

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