Culture

How One Iraqi War Vet is Helping His Fellow Soldiers to Armor Down

Veteran Ben King is taking his role as a psychological operations sergeant in the U.S. Army into new territory. Now returned home to civilian life, Ben has created Armor Down. The organization re-contextualizes yoga and mindfulness meditation into a basic training-esque physical fitness routine with one simple goal: To aid in restoring physical and psychological wellness to returning soldiers afflicted with PTSD.

King’s journey into mindfulness was inspired by his own struggle with post-traumatic stress. Defined as, “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditation practices,” mindfulness is western psychology’s adaptation of an ancient Buddhist practice into non-religious terms. King chronicles in his blog:

Early in my PTS experience rage would erupt and I would lash out violently or with shame filled crying. …

In my present experience, I experience rage as signal of tension in parts of my body. The rage expresses itself sensationally and I use that expression to guide my awareness to those ares of sensation and do what I can to settle them. If they don’t settle I never mind, and go through my many tools to mitigate the consequences. Sometimes I even have to sit and just wait for the rage to pass.

The difference now is that not only do I not feel shame for feeling rage, I feel appreciative. I recognize it as an expression of intelligence, one that is affording me an opportunity to evolve.

This was an exciting revelation because it meant that I didn’t have to live in a sanitized environment scared that something would set me off, on the contrary there was no environment that I couldn’t enter because it didn’t netter [sic.] whether I was feeling good or bad because I know how to work with either.

A certified personal trainer with a master’s degree in public anthropology, King created Armor Down as a way to reach out to veterans in need:

Armor Down pursues its mission by linking content describing or demonstrating these techniques to Quick Response (QR) codes, which can be reproduced on printed materials and scanned by smartphones. It is a key feature of Armor Down that providing content in this manner eliminates the stigma of having to request it and encourages anonymous feedback.

One of Armor Down’s biggest projects is Mindful Memorial Day, a Washington D.C.-based volunteer event that honors fallen soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through ceremonies of gratitude. It is a reminder that while we honor the fallen, we must also honor the living by meeting their need to Armor Down into civilian life.