Interview with a Hero: Dexter Pitts of HBO's Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq
Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq is a documentary film from Executive Producer James Gandolfini featuring interviews with ten injured troops who have returned from Iraq. This quiet, elegant film premiered on HBO Sunday September 9, 2007 at 10:30PM and you can see the entire film on HBO.com through September 16, 2007. Half of the troops returning are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Dexter Pitts, featured in Mr. Gandolfini’s film, is one of them. HBO and Mr. Pitts made possible the following interview:
JC: Hi, Mr. Pitts – do you prefer to be called Dexter or Mr. Pitts?
DP: You can call me Dex, ma’am.
JC: OK, Dex thank you, call me JC. So tell me a bit about when you went to Iraq…
DP: In June 2004 I was US Army active duty. I was 20 when I left, 19 when I enlisted. I was married at the time, no kids. I was in Iraq six months and 20 days when I got injured. I was injured January 2, 2005.
JC: What happened?
DP: I was in the driver’s seat of a Humvee and an IED exploded half a meter away from the door – I’m lucky to be here…My left arm was broken in three places, I had a contusion in my brain, shrapnel in my back…I left Iraq January 4, 2005.
JC: And were you transferred to Germany?
DP: Yes, ma’am - I was in Germany 2-3 days and then sent to Walter Reed. I was discharged from there after six months of rehab – in August 2005.
JC: And were you diagnosed with PTSD while you were there?
DP: Well, what happened was, they had regular lunch meetings to check the mental status of the people who were OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] and that’s when it came out…
JC: How was the re-entry process for you with your family? I mean, do you mind talking about this stuff? My goal is for people, civilians like myself to understand better what you and all the other veterans returning with PTSD are going through…
DP: No, I don’t mind at all- It was hard, it was real hard. Especially with my wife. I had changed as a person. I didn’t know who I was any more. Little things set me off…My little 12 year old cousin was just a kid fooling around – but in Iraq, kids might kill you…so my cousin hit me in my left arm, my bad arm and I hit him in the chest – I needed help. I couldn’t differentiate between the good and bad…people would try to understand, but they didn’t know where I was coming from…I had changed.
JC: How are things with your family now, after treatment?
DP: I got divorced in October 2005. I’m stronger now. It’s a combination of therapy and the work I did on myself. I had a lot of support from my family even though they didn’t always understand…My dad was in the service 20 years – but he never saw conflict. My experiences there in Iraq are burned into my mind. I’m still in a hyper-arousal state – when you’re in these constant huge crowds, and anyone might be someone who could kill you – we were in the Abu Ghraib housing projects surrounded by all these people who don’t like you – so crowded around you – so today I still have a hard time with crowds.
JC: Where do you live today and what type of work are you doing?
DP: I live in a big town in Kentucky. I’m a full-time college student studying criminal justice. I can’t have a regular job with all I’ve been through – I’d like to be a cop in the Federal system – like the US Marshals. I’m getting into acting some, too.
JC: Wow! That’s incredible…well, you certainly have a great personality and a fantastic attitude to do anything…so can you tell me about your treatment for PTSD?
DP: I have been in small group therapy – Group therapy in Fort Durham. For a while I was on three different medications – Seroquel, Zoloft. I was depressed – I had severe depression. I felt so much guilt about being home while my whole unit – Alpha Company 214 - is facing their third tour over there – they’re all coming home in November and I can’t wait!
JC: There has been a lot of talk in the news about people having trouble getting care for PTSD – did you have that problem?
DP: I never had trouble getting treatment. I was taken care of from the beginning. The trouble is – you have to ask for it, and us men, we have this machismo, we’re in denial. You have to admit you have a problem – you have to fight for what you want. Now me – I was going to get off the bench and get in the game…
JC: That’s an awesome attitude…how about sleep?
DP: I still have trouble sleeping. I can only sleep well when I have people around me I can trust, like my girlfriend. Then I feel I can let my guard down and sleep well. The intrusive memories never go away. You can’t get rid of the memories. You have to control them – not allow them to control you…It’s a part of me…I carry it but I can’t let it take over my dreams and what I want to accomplish. I’m the shot caller…
JC: Why did you enlist in the Army?
DP: I hated the military when I was young – I thought it would ruin my life and I was never going to join. But Hollywood influenced me and my dad really was a part of it. Because he did it I guess I wanted him to be proud, to show him I could do the same and more. He was real old school growing up – we weren’t close – I’m a real mama’s boy. We didn’t show emotion. My dad is a real tough guy – but when he heard I got hurt – he cried. He cried for me…I would give anything to see that…and we are closer today. The whole family is closer. Tragedy brings us together…