PTSD and Swimming for Honor

09/13/12

Josh Fueston didn't survive his first combat deployment to Iraq in 2009; the war followed him home on leave. 

An infantry Soldier, Josh had experienced combat up-close, including several IED explosions that left him with seemingly minor wounds.  But as he prepared to return to the war after leave, he suffered a seizure and was unconscious for several days.  Later that year while undergoing continued treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he took his own life.

In his memory, and in honor of all those casualties that ended on the homefront but began on the front lines, his mother, Laurie, created the Josh Fueston Memorial Swim in 2010.  The event honors service members who have lost the fight with PTSD while on active duty, after winning against the battle against the enemy overseas.  It also raises awareness for and understanding of the challenge of PTSD.

Soldiers' Angels has been there in support for the event from the very beginning, attending and sharing information on how to support the troops on both the homefront and the battlefield.

The Swim is an endurance course of four miles in the 55-degree water of Bellingham Harbor in Washington State.  A relay swim, it recreates a portion of a course that was a unfulfilled challenge for Josh. 

A talented swimmer himself, Josh was known in his hometown of Bellingham for service to the community through his swimming activities.  He was aware of all the support and opportunities he'd been given and wanted to pass it on to others, including lifeguarding and raising money for the local aquatic center.  He was also a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  "There is always something more you can do," he'd say.

This year, the Josh Fueston Swim went international with the inclusion of Canadian soldiers.  "It was a moving tribute to see both of those flags raised simultaneously," Laurie recalls, describing the flags raised on a Coast Guard ship at the event in honor of three coalition soldiers who lost their battles with PTSD.  An American flag was raised on the swim course by the Coast Guard in honor of Sailor Jacob Keith Bare and Soldier Betty Egbert.  The Canadian flag was raised by three active duty Canadians in honor of Stuart Landgridge.  The raised flags had previously draped two of the soldiers' caskets at their memorial services.

Seven swimmers participated this year, including the brother of the Canadian hero, along with four Soldiers from Ft. Lewis and two civilians.  Ninety people participated in the accompanying tribute dinner, which included speakers and a documentary about PTSD and suicide. 

Laurie uses the event to help educate communities "about what Post Traumatic Stress means in a military context," she says.  The goal is to help people understand how war affects service members and how to support them.  The emphasis is on how community can intervene when they see a veteran struggling.  "When they come back home, they're fighting on a different battlefield," she explains.


In addition to education, the Swim has a healing role for the participants.  "It's amazing the healing process that takes place if [those who suffered PTSD-driven suicide] are acknowledged and recognized for their service," she says.  One of the Canadian participants explained it this way: ""Just the fact that someone else was willing to acknowledge it gave us an opportunity to come down and say goodbye to our comrades in an honorable way."

For more information on the swim and the heroes it honors, please click here.