November 11, 2013

Scarred by war, veteran works to help others heal

Richard Brewer started One Warrior Won to give support to other vets with post-traumatic stress disorder.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

Richard Brewer, once assigned to the elite cadre of Marines guarding U.S. embassies abroad, was stationed at the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in the midst of that country’s civil war when he heard gunshots on the morning of Sept. 20, 1984.

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Photo shows Marines stationed at the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. Richard Brewer is circled in white at lower right.

Photo contrubuted by Richard Brewer

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Richard Brewer is the founder of One Warrior Won, offering support for veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD. Here, Brewer is interviewed at his Exchange Street office.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

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Re-experiencing an event over and over again, like having nightmares.

Avoiding people or places that are reminders of an event or feeling numb or detached.

Being routinely on edge, irritable or startling easily.

SYMPTOMS OF traumatic brain injury, in which the head was hit or shaken violently, as from an explosion: Difficulty organizing tasks, blurred vision, headaches or ringing in the ears, feeling sad, anxious or listless, chronically tired, dizzy, memory problems, impulsivity, light and sound sensitivity.

Source: Department of Defense Force Health Protection & Readiness

He was on the second floor of the embassy annex. The original embassy building had been destroyed by a car bomb in April 1983, and the current location in East Beirut was supposed to be secure.

He grabbed his rifle and ran to the patio in time to hear an engine revving and tires screeching. Then a van full of explosives erupted, knocking him back and collapsing the building around him.

He woke up covered in debris.

“What was once the embassy was now kind of burning rubble,” he said. “People were screaming and crying and dead and dying.”

Twenty Lebanese and two American servicemen were killed. Brewer spent the next few hours ferrying the wounded, then set up a security post, despite suffering shrapnel wounds, a broken arm and serious burns.

He eventually passed out – covered in blood, much of it his own. He was treated at a local hospital and soon rejoined four fellow Marines providing security for the ambassador’s residence for the next three days until reinforcements arrived to relieve them.

The ordeal earned Brewer a Purple Heart, the Navy Commendation Medal and a number of other personal and unit commendations. It also left him with severe emotional scars that wouldn’t fully manifest themselves until much later in life.

Thirty years later, Brewer, who since returning to the United States from Lebanon has been a state trooper, a bodyguard and an educator, is now on a different mission: “Debunking myths for vets, families, and the public at large about just what PTSD is and why we’re not crazy.”

That led him to start One Warrior Won, a nonprofit peer support organization based on Exchange Street in Portland, to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The organization, which got started about four years ago, now has two staffers in addition to Brewer and participates in events around the country.

A study by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 239,000 veterans who have received treatment at VA facilities have PTSD, and a Rand Corporation study concluded that 31 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD, depression or some form of traumatic brain injury. Other estimates have put the number of veterans with PTSD at between 9 percent and 19 percent.

Brewer believes PTSD is far more prevalent than the estimates.

When President Obama awarded Army Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter the Medal of Honor in August, he pointed out that Carter sought help for post-traumatic stress. Even the bravest of soldiers suffer from PTSD, he said, adding that seeking help is not a sign of weakness.

The idea that seeking help is weak is one of the hurdles people who have PTSD and their families must overcome, Brewer says.

“Anybody who goes to combat and sees what combat does has PTSD,” he said. “Everybody is going to have nightmares, sleeplessness, be angry, maybe a little bitter. For some it’s going to be much more magnified than others.

“The only question we should be asking our men and women is: ‘To what extent do you suffer from PTSD?’”

Brewer, now 50 and living in Falmouth, himself suffered with PTSD through his post-military career as a history teacher at Cheverus High School in Portland. During his time there, he was selected for the “A+ Teacher Award” in 2002 and given a yearbook dedication in 2004.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Office equipment stands outside the damaged U.S. Embassy annex in the Christian sector of East Beirut, Lebanon, on Sept. 25, 1984, as cleanup work continued in the aftermath of a car bomb attack.

1984 Associated Press file

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Richard Brewer and his dog Anka in Dallas, Texas.

Photo contributed by Richard Brewer


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