As a teen in Central Oregon in the ‘50’s, I spent a lot of time in the forests. Good times. I learned to drive on logging roads, always careful at the turns going up to listen for a gyppo trucker heading down with several tons of logs and sometimes minimal brakes. He had absolute right-of-way.

I learned to shoot in the forests. Sometimes we’d pin a target on an old tree stump. Or we’d find squirrels or other varmints running through the trees.

Hiking in to higher lakes was fun, too, learning about flora and fauna from older, wiser heads. There were places so quiet and untouched you swore you were the first to ever be there. Special times and places..

Now, if you talk to Northwest lawmen – and women – you are advised of the dangers of such outings. Dangers that didn’t exist when I was growing up. Things like marijuana growers with automatic weapons. Some may be there because a cartel is watching their families in Mexico and threatening to kill them if the crops are discovered. That’s a powerful incentive to kill a hiker or two and bury ‘em deep. They often hang barbed fish hooks from trees, put sharp sticks in buried pits or use trip wires on explosives.

There are others in our Northwest forest these days. Men – and sometimes women – who used to be in our military. You’ll often find them in mobile homes, travel trailers, pickup campers, tents or even under some limbs and brush used to make a temporary lean-to.

Law enforcement officers, hikers and campers in our woods occasionally run across these people who, for the most part, just want to live separate and apart from what we call “civilization.” Maybe not too friendly to visitors but not a particular danger, either. They want to be left alone.

But some are dangerous. To those who stumble across them. And to themselves. They’re called “dis-associative,” “loners,” “antisocial” and some psychiatric terms way over my head. Wartime experiences have changed them. Memories of what they’ve seen and done in service to this country won’t leave them. Though some have been prescribed powerful drugs to give them relief, there are those who won’t take them. Maybe because of side-effects. Maybe because they can’t afford them. Maybe because they think they don’t want to forget.

As we discover more about the terrible effects of traumas on the brain – traumas like war – we also discover we have new problems to diagnose and treat. And, for the most part, we do that. But mental illnesses are still not recognized by a lot of people as being just as debilitating – or often more so – as physical injuries because “broken” parts of the brain are not visible. So a lot of vets, suffering these invisible wounds, don’t get the care they need.

For centuries, generals planning wars, often compute, in advance, what the loss of life and other major casualty counts will be. So many dead. So many wounded. So many missing. But I’ve never heard one yet plan for – or even be able to estimate – the count for “mental losses” and what we call “post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD. It can’t be done. But it’s very, very real. And should be very much part of the “casualty” count.

This country is engaged in two “wars-of-choice.” It’s impossible to make a factual case for invading Iraq even using the phony “our national defense” excuse of the Bush administration. We’ve lost thousands of young American lives, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraq civilians and wasted hundreds of billions of dollars because a handful of politicians and intellectual war hawks decided to do it.

A case can be made the war in Afghanistan was also by “choice” when other, more appropriate actions – civilian and military – could have accomplished the original intent to find and kill Bin Laden and those around him. Remember, we got Bin Laden, not in Afghanistan, and not with an army. We used a couple of dozen guys operating alone. In another country. But, again, a handful of “deciders” committed thousands of young lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in treasure to a “mission impossible” if the history of several thousand years means anything. And it should.

Quite a jump from the forests of the Northwest to the impenetrable jungles, valleys and mountains of far off countries, isn’t it? But these is a direct connection. In fact, there are hundreds – and possibly thousands – of direct connections between wars-of-choice and young Americans living – and hiding – in Northwest wilderness areas and a lot of other remote parts of our nation. It’s those very American refugees themselves.

The Mexican cartels and their marijuana crops? Law enforcement is dealing with those. But who will search out our wounded? Who will find our injured we carelessly and thoughtlessly sent into battle without sufficient reason, sufficient forethought and sufficient planning for their welfare? Who will deal compassionately with them? Who will bring them back from their wooded exiles?

No, our Oregon and Washington and Idaho forests are not the same as I remember from my 50’s youth. Years before many of these injured refugees from what we now call “normal” were born.

We are poorer for our loss. And for their very real, unattended burdens.

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