Perry Parks, a Vietnam combat veteran and highly decorated retired military officer of 28 years, says killing is an unnatural act.
If you take the average person off the street, he said, he will not be able to point a gun at somebody and pull the trigger.
“They have to be trained to kill, so most people will pull the gun up at the last minute and miss,” Parks said, noting that the U.S. military got hip to this trend following WWI, when which soldiers subconsciously missed the mark about 75 percent of the time.
Combat training has since been altered to better teach people to kill. Instead of fixed bullseye targets, soldiers now practice shooting at popup human silhouettes. But whether or not a person has been trained to kill, the brutality of war can leave a dark and sometimes permanent mark on their psyche.
Parks, like 30 percent of all Vietnam War vets and at least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, left the army with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was featured in the 2009 Emmy Award-winning documentary, The Good Soldier, which follows five combat vets, each from a different American war, as they sign up, go to battle, then eventually become disillusioned with war and rethink what it means to be a “good soldier.” In the film, Parks explains how the act of killing later torments so many combat veterans, himself included.
Like many, Parks has tried a literal handful of authorized pills to treat his insomnia and other symptoms, but he’s found what helps him most is just to smoke some weed.
Now, Parks is leading the national fight to allow veterans to access cannabis. He is the former president of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network, which focuses on medical marijuana policy reform in the state, and continues to work with the organization as a legislative liaison. His primary job is to reach out to state officials and raise money for the organization.
While 20 states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, only a few of those states grant medical marijuana access to people with PTSD—and Parks lives in North Carolina where the use of the herb for any purpose is restricted and severely enforced.
Take Josh Cook, a veteran from North Carolina who was injured in Iraq and medically discharged when he began to experience seizures. After trying a series of legal seizure medications, Cook found that cannabis alone helped; in fact, it stopped his seizures altogether for eight months. But in January the local police showed up at Cook’s door and asked to search his house.
He agreed, and the cops found an electric coffee bean grinder Cook had been using to grind his marijuana. Cook was arrested and charged with two counts of marijuana possession.
Nevertheless, Parks is public about the fact that he uses an “illegal substance,” and he has never been arrested—yet. He chalks his good fortune, in part, to the fact that he’s extremely outspoken about his pot use. He’s brought medical information about cannabis to meetings with the local DA and mayor, his preacher, and even the local sheriff to try to educate them about the proven medical benefits of cannabis use.
“And, of course, I’ve taken full advantage of the military background,” he said, noting that people tend to be much less inclined to arrest a white, retired military officer in uniform than they are a black man or a teenager, for example.
“For years I didn’t wear my uniform, but got to thinking about how the joint chiefs of staff, when they go in and ask for millions of dollars for the military, they don’t go in in civilian clothes,” he said. “They wear their uniforms with all them brightly colored ribbons up front.”
Most who leave the military do not wear their uniforms to make a point, but Parks said he wears his “like an upside-down flag” to signal distress in the name of vets who are denied access to a safe medicine that could help them.
Although he’s been criticized by some for using military garb to make a point, he said his choice to do so is a moral prerogative as a Christian.
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