JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii—After serving 20 years filled with numerous deployments and temporary duty assignments without an issue, one weather Airmen’s life changed forever during a an indirect fire incident on Dec. 31, 2013.
Senior Master Sgt. Jason Ronsse, Pacific Air Forces weather training standardization and evaluation and policy manager, was deployed as superintendent for the 19th Expeditionary Weather Squadron at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, when a rocket impacted outside his office.
“Until the rocket impact, my deployment was great,” said Ronsse. “As the superintendent, I was charged with taking care of my Airmen.”
Throughout his career, Ronsse had several temporary duty assignments and deployments throughout the Middle East and Africa that helped prepare him for his role in the 19th Expeditionary Weather Squadron.
“At the time, the indirect fire didn’t really bother me, because I was already used to the attacks” said Ronsse.
On New Year’s Eve, Ronsse had returned to his work center when the rocket impacted outside of his office.
“The building I worked in was an old control tower made from concrete with a window, and it felt pretty safe,” said Ronsse. “As soon as I closed the door, this bright white light flashed and the blast blew open the window. It pushed me into the concrete wall against the copier machine.”
After checking himself for injuries, Ronsse went outside to begin the battle damage assessment.
“That’s where good training just takes over,” said Ronsse. “I don’t remember a lot of what happened. I just reacted.”
After Ronsse performed the damage assessment, he returned to his office where he found the brass door knob to his office on the floor.
“I looked down and there was a twisted hunk of metal that used to be the door knob, and you could see where the shrapnel passed through,” said Ronsse. “I kept it. Not to hang on to the memory, but I’m just amazed I survived it.”
Ronsse continued his deployment and returned home at the end of February 2014.
“When I got back, I knew that there was something internally that just wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like myself,” said Ronsse. “I tried to tough it out and assumed it would go away.”
Shortly after returning from his deployment, Ronsse was diagnosed with nerve damage, torn tendons, a hernia, a mild traumatic brain injury, and ringing in his ears.
“To me, the blast was secondary to some of the things I was exposed to while being out there,” said Ronsse. “While deployed, I remember going to a hospital in Kabul and seeing children with limbs blown off. And in your mind you say, ‘it doesn’t even make sense that this can be humanly possible.’ It’s tough. There are things you witness that part of you doesn’t want to believe can actually happen.”
Over the next couple of years, Ronsse began to notice changes in his behavior like memory loss, trouble focusing, and anxiety.
According to Cisco Johnson, Air Force Wounded Warrior Program recovery care coordinator, some of the common symptoms of PTSD memory loss, forgetfulness, anxiety, agitation, and withdrawal from outside activities or society.
“I used to think that PTSD wasn’t a real thing or at least it was over used,” said Ronsse. “But then I noticed that my wife and kids began adapting to the quirks I developed. To me it wasn’t a big deal until all these little things started to add up. It was then my Chief suggested I talk to my doctor.”
With help from the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, Ronsse has been able to seek help and make a plan for his treatment.
“I’ve had injuries and surgeries before. You patch them up and move on,” said Ronsse. “But when it’s your head or your psyche, a doctor can’t operate on that. It’s an entirely different beast to deal with.”
The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program is a Congressionally-mandated, federally-funded program that provides personalized care, services and advocacy to seriously wounded, ill or recovering service members and their families.
“Our goal here is to help our Airmen improve or maintain their quality of life,” said Johnson. “With our help, service members and their caregivers are able to set goals for their recovery and identify areas where they will need further assistance.”
Johnson also encourages Airmen who think they may have PTSD to speak out and to seek help.
“Living with PTSD is a challenge that I’ll need to overcome,” said Ronsse. “I’ve realized that the things I’ve been through and seen are not normal. But there is a way ahead and now I have the tools to do it.”