CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At 70 years of age and with a new part-time practice in West Virginia's capital city, there are many places you could find a tale to tell in the long career of licensed clinical social worker Richard Vincent.
But instead of focusing on the varied jobs he has held here and elsewhere in America, first as a Marine, police officer and teacher, then as a longtime counselor, let's pick up the thread of the tale that took him out of the country in 2005.
This was a job that brought him to Germany for three years, his office routinely filled with soldiers who'd witnessed the stuff of trauma and nightmare.
"Wow," said Vincent, blowing out air, when asked to describe working as a counselor at an Army clinic in Wiesbaden, dealing with soldiers just back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
He is seated in the living room of his Arlington Court townhouse. It's a sunny, peaceful day outside, basil and tomatoes growing in his garden out front. But Vincent's gaze looks backward on less-peaceful encounters.
"You have guys coming back who've spent a lot of time in what you might call relatively safe places, but they weren't," he said. "Because you never knew when something was going to blow up. On the other side, I met guys who were out there kicking doors down, surviving from day to day, fighting."
His job was to prepare soldiers for a return home or a cycle back into the field. With limited time, he would try and educate them on post-traumatic stress disorder and how to navigate again in a civilian world after the trip-wire mentality of the front.
"You tried to get their brains calmed down," he said. "I ran an anger management group. Frequently guys didn't show up. Sometimes their commander would mandate they come in -- but you can't force people to change. They have to make that change themselves."
Soldiers suffering from PTSD need to know it's a normal response to the abnormal, terrible things they've witnessed, Vincent said. "When you've been through trauma, when you've seen someone beside you take a bullet through the head, [PTSD] is a normal reaction. It's a lifetime experience, from my perspective.
"Most important is to let them know this is something that happened to you -- it's not about you or your personality. You were on a mission, you were assigned to do your duty. And you're not at fault when you had to carry out your mission."
A psychologically wounded warrior's psyche may turn different directions after mustering out of the service. "A lot of these guys turn out to be workaholics. Some alcoholics. Rage-aholics. Just some way to cope with the stress," he said.
Isolation from others is the reddest of red flags.
"You can have a better quality of life with some work and understanding of who you are and what that was all about. You have to have a good support system and learn how to be with your family, with your friends. That's critical as opposed to isolating yourself and not socializing, which is a very common symptom of PTSD."
Vincent brought more than just a counselor's compassion to the task.