By Debbie Gregory.
Survivors guilt explores the other side of the coin of “why me?” Namely, “why not me?” Those who struggle with “Why did I survive when others did not?” may be prone to destructive behavior, especially when coupled with PTSD.
When Judge Lou Olivera presided over Sgt. Joseph Serna’s case, he knew that the former Special Forces soldier had been through a lot; four combat tours in Afghanistan over a nearly two-decades-long career with the U.S. Army.
During a tour in Kandahar in 2008, Serna and three other soldiers were driving down a narrow dirt road when their armored truck toppled into a canal. Serna was trapped as the vehicle filled with water.
Sgt. James Treber saved him.
“I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor,” Serna said. “Sgt. Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air. He knew there was not enough room for both of us to breathe so he went under water to find another pocket of air.”
Treber died from the accident, but Serna survived. He was the only one who did.
Serna’s three Purple Hearts and other military accolades have done nothing to ease the memories or the guilt. Since returning to the U.S., the former Green Beret has suffered from post-traumatic stress. His appearance in Judge Olivera’s court was part of the veteran’s treatment court program in Cumberland County, N.C., in answer to charges of driving under the influence.
Serna’s sobriety has been a daily battle. On this appearance, he confessed to Olivera that he lied about a recent urine test, and in response, Judge Olivera sentenced Serna to one day in jail. And then he did something unexpected.
Not only did the judge drive Serna to jail, he served the jail sentence with him.
Olivera, a Gulf War veteran, was concerned that leaving Serna in isolation for a night would trigger his PTSD.
The two passed the time trading stories of their experiences in the military.
My hat is off to this compassionate judge who stepped up to help a fellow veteran.