with a double mission

Thorsten goes where he is needed. Even to places that scare others.

It is people like Thorsten who make the Invictus Games so special. He came here voluntarily as a mobile paramedic with his colleague Alex. Thorsten is immediately on the spot in case of an emergency. For everybody. And he has a sixth sense for situations in which life and death are at stake. That was once his undoing.

Thorsten is a soldier like a tree. He recalls the song “Camouflage” of Stan Ridgway and narrates in a surprisingly gentle voice: The Bundeswehr never completely let go of him. He was a regular soldier, a reservist, briefly a civilian and then finally a professional soldier, his one and only calling. In addition, he has been searching for missing persons as a rescue diver since his youth. Or as a volunteer in the medical service at the Invictus Games. He has always been committed to helping others and helping where he can. As a paramedic instructor, he wants to pass on his experience and his passion. He beams all over his face. One can feel that he has retained an eye for the good in his fellow man or woman. Besides, he says unadorned: “All my life I have gone where it hurts”.

Medical personal at Invictus Games

It was the special comradeship and reliability that made him so enthusiastic about the Bundeswehr, especially during the tough missions abroad. When it really matters, you give everything for your comrades. And you know that you will get something back. A virus that is hard to throw off. With 11 missions abroad and almost 800 days in Afghanistan, he says convincingly: “It is good if you want something, but just doing it is better”.

In 2009, he was in combat during a mission in Kunduz. The unit repelled the attack, but there were civilian casualties. Thorsten explains and seems still shocked: “Every soldier would have made the same decision here. But the politicians wanted that heads are made to roll (Note: He shortly struggles to retain his composure) and we delivered and cried. The rest is a sad history”.

Thorsten continued: “I had to and wanted to keep moving. Kunduz, I thought, is done. But after twelve years I came back from a mission and then it started. Just before leave. “He seems tensed up now as he talks about a distant explosion – not loud, not dangerous, keep going. That’s what he thought. But anyone who knows post-traumatic stress disorder knows it’s just that one sound and vibration that now opens the gate to hell: “During the day I kind of functioned. But every night the endless loop came. The twelve-year-old film from Kunduz. For three weeks, until I went to the doctor right after leave”. In the Bundeswehr, Thorsten is unfortunately not an isolated case. The only plus point: today, the colleagues of the likeable “Doctor Alexandra” all know what to do and can help.

For the 34-year-old bundle of energy Alexandra (officially she is a major, Medical Corps, and psychiatrist), “PTSD is now part of daily business. We recognise it immediately and set out on the road to recovery with our patients. It can take two years, but we manage it together.

Medical personal at Invictus Games

The two of them are a wonderful team – also for our Invictus Games. One can feel that they want to be there for others, even when things get tough again. They know that old memories can become enemies. “Thorsten is doing it just right: with the support of my colleagues, he has separated himself from the terrible stress situation after more than a year”, says Alexandra. “The memory has not been erased, but Thorsten has put it away in a safe place in his personality. He has access to it, but it has no longer access to him”.

At least as important as professional therapy for Thorsten was his wife, who walked the whole way with him. Because many marriages break up during the dark times of PTSD and push the patients into nothingness. In the military, you don’t really believe in miracles and then they nevertheless happen: Exactly at the beginning of the therapy, the four-month-old snow-white tomcat called “Flocke” shows up at Thorsten’s front door. He had come to stay where he was needed most.

It is people (and sometimes animals) who show something: It is important and good to be there for each other. Words like “off duty” and “responsibility” are foreign words for both of them. Thorsten proves that the commitment to others, like at the INVCITUS GAMES DÜSSELDORF 2023, also gives the helpers something: the healing of invisible wounds through experiencing one’s own self-efficiency. That’s why he’s here today and continues to dive into the cold water for the water rescue service: “There’s work waiting for me down there, too, maybe new demons. I can handle them!”

Author: Emil Salzeder