Rock Vs Water: A Toxic Military Environment

Rock Versus Water:  An Examination of the Toxic Military Environment by Sabrina Ciaciura

For any of those who have been associated with the United States military, it is likely you have the awareness of the many problems with which our military members suffer.  High rates of suicide, military sexual trauma, PTSD, alcohol and substance abuse, DUIs…. These are problems associated with many different environments in our society.  But, why is there a higher prevalence associated with our military?

I want to start this article by changing the way we speak about “masculinity” and “femininity.” The reason I do this is because society, for so long, has used these words to describe qualities that are associated with men and women. Because these words have been so strongly associated, we would have a challenging time using them without being distracted by their correlation with a gender. So, I want to change the way we speak of these things so I can highlight the problems of our military without targeting anyone specifically.  Ultimately, this problem is not about the people, but about the system.

Enter rock and water.

What are the qualities of a rock? Rock is hard, it penetrates, and can be used to quickly bring about change or destruction. It carries with it a strength and solid quality, upon which foundations can be built. It can be used to create walls, fortresses, tools, or even a containment to keep things in or out. Rock, as an element, is rigid and firm, unmovable at times. 

What are the qualities of water? Water is fluid. It infiltrates smoothly, and finds its ways into crevices and cracks.  It is flexible and creative. Interweaving into its environment, overcoming obstacles. It provides nurturance and life.  Water is often the recommendation in the face of physical ailments. It can be as gentle as a stream. But it can also be forceful and strong as a river.

These qualities are all just the neutral qualities of rock and water. But can be used in both positive and negative ways.

In any situation where we treat our problems that require nurturing and care with inflexible and rigid focus. We will find ourselves slowly teaching suppression, and disallowing someone to feel safe to explore their emotional problems. If someone does not learn the proper skills to deal with emotions (regulation, exploration, allowing) they will seek more physical or material ways. This is where you will begin to see our prevalent problems:

          • Alcohol and substance abuse: possibly a desire to evade emotions that are challenging to deal with
          • Sexual assault and trauma:  potentially an inability to humanize and respect another’s emotional and physical boundaries, as well as inquire about consent with the risk of rejection, or seeking sexual gratification as a means for covering up negative emotions
          • Mental health issues:  variations of accumulated unprocessed or challenging emotions
          • Suicide:  probable feelings of reaching the end of one’s capabilities to cope with challenging emotions

When we utilize the same techniques that we use to fight a war on our service members in order to support them. We end up falling short of being able to serve them in the way they need. When a piece of equipment breaks, (a vehicle, a device, a weapon, etc.) we have a service manual on how to diagnose and treat the symptoms of the issue. Military members, though we may be “property of the government” when we serve, are not a piece of equipment. And the manual does not apply to each individual. So, without the fluidity of water to approach each service member as the unique person they are. We are falling short of providing the support that they need in a given moment.  

I get it, throwing a rock at our enemy is very effective… Throwing water, maybe less so. 

But we need to stop throwing rocks at our service members and start creating warm baths for them to sink into at the end of a day working on the battlefield. There’s no comfort in a bath with rocks. 

Rather than giving our service members a safe time and place to sink into a bath of water. They can seek alcohol to help their bed of rocks feel more comfortable. Or they may seek sexual gratification to fill an emotional void. They may seek to forget. For a moment, that their back and heartaches from a lack of empathy and understanding by the organization that they break their back and heart for every day. Or they may end up taking their lives. Finding that they can no longer survive sleeping, bathing, and living in a constant fortress of rocks, without even a glass of water to quench their thirst.

With this, I bring awareness to each of our individual ability to embody both the qualities of rock and water. I implore each one of us to examine the moment as it is and see which qualities are most necessary for the situation.  I ask that we support our military members by using rocks to protect them, and not throwing rocks at them as a technique for correcting behavior. And, lastly, I ask that we give our military members water when they need water, nurturing them to be well and know they are cared for.

About the author:

Sabrina Ciaciura is a six-year Navy vet who worked as a linguist and translator. She deployed five times throughout her time in the military. She has always had a passion for helping others. Achieving her Bachelor’s in Family Social Science prior to enlisting in the military. Now that she is out of the military. She strives to offer support to fellow veterans and those still actively serving the country. She has a passion for self-development and personal transformation, always trying to heal her own trauma and share her experiences vulnerably with those around her. You can learn more about her and her offerings on her website here.


Is there a toxic military environment? And if so what is causing it to be there and what can be done to make change?

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