Soldier Blog Gives Veterans and Active Troops a Voice This Holiday Season

A public forum for sharing stories of service, Real Combat Life hopes to ease holiday stress for members of the military, particularly those with PTSD

Dec 14, 2010, 10:35 ET from Real Combat Life

MANKATO, Minn., Dec. 14, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Patrick Nelson has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Serving three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and watching two of your friends die in an explosion can do that to a guy. But instead of getting mad, Patrick Nelson is waxing poetic on his very public blog, Real Combat Life ( And he's hoping other soldiers will do the same, particularly during the often-stressful holiday season.

Nelson launched Real Combat Life, which recently received a Pepsi Refresh Project grant, in December 2009 as a personal blog to help him manage his PTSD as the holidays were approaching. The blog quickly gained the attention of other veterans and active troops and is now a public journaling site for veterans and active soldiers alike.

"I've found journaling to be very therapeutic for me as I've struggled to come to terms with what I saw, felt and experienced during my tours of duty and as I've struggled to re-engage in civilian life," Nelson said. "For me, having a voice is the difference between coping and not coping, especially during the holidays, and I know others must feel the same."

And, in fact, they do. Raymond Hamilton, for example, who served in combat in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom, and who also performed peacekeeping duties in Bosnia, is a frequent contributor to Real Combat Life. Said Hamilton, "Writing allows me to move away from the brutal reality of combat's tense moments and the days or weeks of anticipation and anxiety that often follow. It allows me to add perspective to my life today. For me, this is perhaps most important during the holidays when depression can set in."

According to Veterans for Common Sense, as of this past June, 171,423 deployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were diagnosed with PTSD. While there are many proven treatments, expressive writing is a highly regarded self-coping method that, when combined with other therapies, is known to improve physical and psychological health and reduce PTSD symptoms.

"The holidays are especially difficult for anyone who has lived through and is acutely aware of grief, loss or trauma," said John Friel, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist who practices in both Minneapolis and Reno, Nevada, and who has treated veterans experiencing PTSD. "For those with PTSD, the pomp and circumstance of the holidays can actually exacerbate their symptoms and cause them to feel alone, misunderstood and alienated. Finding a positive way to express their feelings and emotions, such as through journaling, is critical."

To be sure, Real Combat Life offers more than a PTSD-coping method for military men and women. It also offers a platform for all veterans and active troops to share their first-hand military experiences with the American public — a very public platform appropriate for their very public service.

Among those shared experiences is one from Levi DeFranza, who served two tours of duty in Iraq and survived a gunshot wound to the head. He shared that experience on Real Combat Life. "The world went gray, and the concussion rocked me as time all of a sudden came to a halt.... I fell. I didn't fall like a normal person. For some reason the rules of gravity did not apply, because I started to float down.... My whole world of invincibility came tumbling down.... It was a bullet. A bullet in the head."

Another story is from Robert B. Robeson, who flew medical evacuation missions in South Vietnam in 1969 and who retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel after 27-1/2 years of military service on three continents. He wrote, "In the aide station at LZ Baldy, Seebeth kept mouthing the words 'I can't breathe' as he kicked his legs in frustration. I held his legs and attempted to calm him while Capt. George Waters, M.D., performed a tracheotomy without anesthesia.... Time couldn't be wasted concerned about alleviating his pain."

While there are other online resources for veterans and active troops to share their stories, Real Combat Life is unique in that it allows soldiers to publicly share their stories without setting up their own blog accounts. Those interested in contributing to Real Combat Life can email their submissions to Nelson at

About Staff Sergeant Patrick J. Nelson

Patrick Nelson enlisted in the National Guard while a 17-year old high school student. Two weeks after starting college, on the heels of the 9/11 attacks, Nelson was deployed to Germany, Iraq, Italy, and, finally, Afghanistan. Before being injured by a 107mm rocket at a remote Forward Observation Base, Nelson served with a Howitzer unit and the historic "Sky Soldiers" of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, reenlisting several times before returning home. Nelson served a total of three tours of duty and seven years of active service duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He launched Real Combat Life in December 2009 and was recognized in November 2010 with the first-ever NFL-Tillman Military Scholar award, created this year to honor an individual who exemplifies Pat Tillman's legacy of service. Tillman gave up his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals to join the army and died in combat in 2004.

About Real Combat Life

Real Combat Life is an interactive blog that aims to provide America's veterans and active troops a beneficial and therapeutic outlet to share their stories and educate the public on the realities of being a soldier. Real Combat Life has been recognized with a Pepsi Refresh Project grant, which recognizes and funds ideas that will help change the world. To learn more about Real Combat Life, visit

SOURCE Real Combat Life