The images are powerful. The bare backs of women, accessorized with camouflage material, dog tags, frequently the American flag speak volumes of the struggle they endure. Photographs on Facebook, the cover of Military Spouse magazine and other media sites of women, a few men and even children pledging to stand strong for their loved ones suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The pledge reads:
Broken by battle, wounded by war,
My love is forever
To you this I swore.
Quiet your silent screams,
Help heal your shattered soul,
Until once again, my love, you are whole.
This heartfelt promise, created by Ashley Wise-founder of Battling BARE, is a campaign to bring PTSD awareness to the community. Battling BARE-Bringing Awareness and Reaching Everyone as Wise describes it is a soon to be nonprofit by accident. “I started it,” she says. “After going to Army Family Advocacy to get help for my husband, who had undiagnosed PTSD. He attempted suicide in 2011.”
The result, her husband was assigned a job in the Warrior Transition Unit, as she describes it to be someone else’s problem. She reports that things were going well, her husband’s PTSD seemed to be under control or at least dormant. It was a very personal connection to a tragic incident that caused the old behaviors to erupt anew.
“The news broke last March of the soldier who allegedly shot 17 civilians in Afghanistan,” Wise explains. “It was Bobby Bales (SSG Robert Bales). My husband knew him, had served with him, deployed with him, knew within a few seconds of them talking about it that it was him. That’s when he began behaving like he was going to commit suicide again.”
Wise pulls no punches when describing what lead to the photograph that began it all. Faced with her husband receiving a dishonorable discharge for domestic abuse after 18 years of service and three combat tours, Wise confronted the MP’s at Ft. Campbell. Explaining that he needed medical help, not jail, she was dismissed as behaving like a typical battered woman. It was then the idea for the photo came into focus.
Wise wondered aloud to a friend if a naked woman streaking across the General’s lawn might get someone’s attention, and bring awareness to the epidemic of suicides on Ft. Campbell and across the nation. With the murder of her first husband Wise had made a promise to herself. She would not attend another funeral where a flag was presented to her in thanks for her husband’s service. Her friend penned the pledge Wise wrote on her bare back, Wise uploaded the image to Facebook, and Battling BARE began.
Wise describes the viral nature of the program, intended to just support wives of those suffering with combat PTSD, it grew well beyond those limits. “We started hearing stories from others. First the teenagers whose parents suffer with PTSD, then veterans, then first responders came to us. Not wanting to turn anyone away, we’ve grown to include everyone. I knew I couldn’t just walk away.”
Battling BARE has become a clearing house of PTSD services, the first responders of those in need. A team of advocates, Jen Brown, Jess Conner, and Wise, don’t claim to be psychotherapists but rather ordinary women willing to hold the hand of anyone in need, no one is turned away. The future holds great promise with plans in the works for offices nationwide, children’s books, service dogs, and adventure programs all designed for folks suffering with PTSD.
Wise stresses that although the pledge and the nudity have led to some controversy, it’s the stories behind the images that deserve the most attention. When people ask whether the pledge encourages spouses to stay in an unhealthy relationship she says, “Hell no! I believe you can love someone regardless if you are married to them or not. I don’t advocate for people to stay in an abusive relationships. I believe the only thing we can fix is ourselves, and you can’t love on or care for another human being more than you can love on yourself.”
She believes that the key to healing from PTSD is to come to a place where you can be of service to others. Wise suffers from PTSD herself, “I understand the behavior. PTSD is not a life sentence, while there will be challenges that people face for the rest of their lives, you’re not trapped in that dungeon forever. You need to become captain of your own life ship and navigate yourself out of it.”
She explains that the nudity may be offensive, but the symbolism behind it epitomizes the message of Battling BARE. “The symbolism behind it is that we have nothing to be ashamed of, we have nothing to hide.”