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Of Mustangs and Warriors

Can wild horses and broken soldiers help each other?

By Larry Shook
Ah Kah Tah is a Blackfeet Indian phrase that means “Going Home.” My friend Earl Barlow, a Blackfeet, told me that.

Ah Kah Tah is also the name Nate Ostrander and I have given to the five-year-old mustang gelding we brought home from the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse holding facility at Burns, Oregon. We’re going to experiment on both the horse and me.

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The public sculpture titled "Bearing" will be cast life-size in bronze.

Holly Ellenbecker

When my husband, Justin, came home from Iraq, I felt completely relieved because he was safe. That was all that mattered. I had been friends with another spouse who had not been as fortunate. Her husband died because of an IED explosion and left behind his wife, a five year old, and one on the way. I was very happy and we celebrated with a vacation but I could not help but wonder what it must have been like to be in my friend's position with the loss of her husband. I continued to live life without too much more thought on the matter. We were together and ready to move forward once again in our lives.

Shortly after Justin's return, we made the decision to have a child. Life seemed to be going well and I was sure we were ready for that step in our lives. Justin was medically discharged from the military. This was not much of a concern because I had always been under the impression the military takes care of its own after an honorable discharge. When the V.A. first informed us Justin's paperwork had errors and they would not be able to in-process him, I once again did not concern myself too much because he had gained experience that I believed would be applicable to the work force.

Shortly after my son's birth I started experiencing changes in Justin that I did not understand. He was not able to sleep, would go into unexplained rages, and became irritated when having to be around other people. He would get a job and this seemed to help his mood but he would begin to grow bored and quit, or would be up all night because he would not want to sleep due to nightmares and miss work in the morning if he was even aware he had to go to work. I was at my wit's end at that point myself and dealing with postpartum depression while taking care of a baby. We fought a lot during this time because I did not understand what was happening. This was during a time when PTSD was not being discussed as often as it was shortly after the first of the soldiers that went to Iraq were coming back. We did not even know where to begin to get help and I think neither one of us wanted to admit we needed the help. We used to avoid family members just so we wouldn't burden them with our problems. We had always dealt with our own problems and this was not any different in our eyes at the time.

Justin eventually went back to the V.A. and lost his temper. The security was called and with only a few clicks on the computer they finally processed him into the V.A. Finally, after three or four years, we slowly began getting help. I was eventually able to become stable enough to get a job while in Dallas at a large lab so Justin could focus on getting better.

To be honest, I am finding with the passing years that we are still having to work on ourselves due to things that directly or indirectly relate to how the war affected my husband, and has in turn affected me. It is sometimes difficult to ignore the anxiety I still can feel due to the experience of war and especially the war it created inside of Justin. We still keep marching forward despite our faults and the effects the war has had on our lives.