The Star-News


Veteran's ongoing battle put on film

Sun, Jul 24 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite

It was just happenstance that filmmaker Robert G. Summers met Nick Aguilar, 64, while working at the San Diego Veterans Museum.

“I met Nick when I worked as an events director at the San Diego Veterans Museum a few years ago,” Summers said. “I got to know Nick better and found that his story was very interesting and pretty unique in terms of his suffering from PTSD and his remarkable battle with it.”

Summers was inspired to make a documentary about Aguilar’s year-long tour in Vietnam and his post traumatic stress disorder from combat.

“A Direction Home: Nick Aguilar” is a documentary of the aftermath of war and living in a world he no longer identified with.

“I think very few people were aware and knew what PTSD was back then,” Summers said.
“These guys would be turned loose with no support and Nick was one of those people. Nick became an alcoholic and workaholic to dull the pain, to suppress it.”

Aguilar admitted that the symptoms of PTSD are debilitating.

“You have to deal with the paranoia, reacting to unexpected noises and being angry all the
time,” Aguilar said. “My demeanor changed. I was always on guard...”

After graduating from Sweetwater High School in 1965, Aguilar enrolled at Southwestern College then quickly dropped out and enlisted in the Army.

He served from 1967 to 1968 in Vietnam as a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and
received a Purple Heart for taking a bullet to the shoulder.

After returning home, he wanted to move on with his life and enrolled at UCSD to study
law. It was there Aguilar was diagnosed with PTSD.

“After the Army I was just putting one step in front of the other,” Aguilar said. “I had no sense
of enjoyment.”

Aguilar had nightmares. “I became an alcoholic and a workaholic … it wreaked havoc with
any kind of personal relationships,” he said.

Aguilar was first married in 1969 while in law school and had two children.

“I’ve been estranged for a long time with my first family,” he said. “I didn’t have time to acknowledge
PTSD. I worked 14- to 16-hour days. My wife and kids became victims of the stress I was under.”

Even the Valium he was prescribed couldn’t help him relax enough to concentrate in school.

“The doctors said to try and exercise so I got into an exercise routine and between that and the alcohol and marijuana I was able to cope with the stress of combat.”

Despite these challenges, many who know him proclaim him as an academic leader and military hero. Aguilar has now After graduating from UCSD, Aguilar worked as an attorney in the student affairs department for 27 years. There, he oversaw student conduct and worked with the academic senate.

In 1983 Aguilar was appointed to the Sweetwater Union High School District governing board
where he served for nine years and in 1992 won a seat on the San Diego County Board of Education
for 16 years.

Aguilar married Patricia Aguilar, who is a Chula Vista city councilwoman, in 1990. In 2008, Aguilar ran for a seat on the Southwestern College governing board.

He was honored with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges First Amendment Award for his defense of free speech at Southwestern College this spring, as well as the college’s highest tribute, an honorary degree.

“My hope is that young veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan don’t ignore it (PTSD),” Aguilar said.

The film will premier at the Regal Rancho Del Rey 16 in Chula Vista at 7 p.m. Aug. 25.
For more information contact nickaguiladocumentary@gmail. com.


© 2009 The Star-News