As a combat medic in the Navy for eight months in Iraq, Ashley Peterson mended many wounds. While she has avoided some of the stressors that have hit others who returned from active duty, the images and memories will always be there.
To cope and clear her head, Peterson has one course of action.
"I go for a run," said Peterson, 24, and a medical biology student at the University of New England. "It works well."
Peterson will be among many going for a run May 23 at the Run to Home Base 9K, which will raise money for those veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
This will be the one time that Peterson runs while keeping those thoughts close by.
"I’ve been in the military for five years, so I’ve seen both sides," said Peterson, who resides in Maine. "I’ve seen what it does to people. It can be really stressful on people and their families. This [run] helps not just the person but their families too."
Peterson treated many soldiers with such issues overseas and has many friends suffering from PTSD back on the home front. She said family and friends of those veterans often do not know how to act or treat their loved one.
Such confusion does nothing to help.
"I think people stereotype you as being crazy or being like a baby basically, so a lot of people don’t want to say anything and that just makes it so much worse," she said.
There is one particular line that has always gotten under Peterson’s skin — when family or friends look at someone suffering and say simply, "You’re just not the same."
"I always hated that statement," she said.
Peterson, whose brother is on active duty in the Marines and who has many friends still deployed, has seen the effects take hold in a number of ways. Some suffer from paranoia, others from nightmares. She also sees fits of rage in fellow veterans which can pop up at random times.
And having worked with suffering soldiers both in Iraq and back home in her role as a physician’s assistant, she has seen the before and after and knows as well as anyone the challenges service men and woman have with the two conditions.
An avid runner and a mammoth Red Sox fan (Jason Varitek is her favorite player), she perked up when she heard manager Terry Francona discuss the run on Opening Day on NESN. Talk about a perfect fit, even for someone who studies all week and works all weekend.
"I got so excited [when I heard]. There was no question in my mind," Peterson said of her decision to run. "It’s cool to run into a baseball stadium, but it’s so exciting with my home team."