I am usually not that open about issues, but several people I hold close asked me too. I have also been told this can be therapeutic, so we shall see.
Majority of the community that I have had the pleasure of working with, or spoken with know that for a time I was an active member of the United States Marine Corps. I still hold my service as one of the greatest accomplishments in my life, and I always will. My story is about not only my time in but the struggles I endure after getting out. I’ll begin below, but please be forewarned, this may be a bit graphic.
I was sent to Iraq in March of 2003, near the beginning of the invasion. This would be my first combat tour and naturally, I was anxious, and my adrenaline was always high. The anxiety that I felt far outweighed the fear that I had beneath I was always on edge at first, always wondering what that sound was, what that was moving in distance? These things subsided after several times out away from the base. I was able to settle in by going through the rhythm of my patrol and checking corners; my head on a swivel. It wasn’t until after the first combat action that my unit was involved with that I saw what happens in war. This I will never forget. We lost 2 brothers that day, one of which passed after we carried him 3 miles. Losing somebody because you could not get him help fast enough, or because I could not help him myself weighed heavily on me. I recall blood on my hands, my pants. His blood, it still is as vivid today as it was then. I wish I could say that a thing like that passes over time or it becomes less and less vivid, but I wake up still feeling as if I still had it on me. This man was my friend, my partner, my Brother. Sadness turned to rage, I wanted to go back and just level the place.
Fast forward 6 months. While travelling to our next AO, one moment we were sitting in the back discussing our lives before the Marines, the next all I felt was extreme heat, everything went black. I woke up with my ears ringing and my right leg feeling as if somebody was burning it with a cigarette. I looked down and found it bleeding pretty heavily. Looking about the inside, everybody was shuffling around, trying to make sense of what just happened, was it an RPG, an IED? We had no idea, we just knew we had to get out and prepare for an assault if it came. I was the one with the worst wound, so they dragged me out and propped me up against the tire of the transport. Nothing came, and less than 20 minutes later CASEVAC was there for myself, and the driver.
When all was said and done, I had 11 pieces of shrapnel removed from my right leg, hip, and knee. It took me a few weeks of healing, and PT, but I returned to my unit. By then we only had 4 months left on our tour, which included several engagements, more casualties, but thankfully no KIA’s. I can’t explain how many times I still think of those 4 months and I can’t imagine how we did not lose anybody with some of the things we did/saw. Many of those images, memories are forever burned into my mind, and continuously play.
At the end of those 4 months, 90% of my unit decided to volunteer for another tour. I was one of them. I couldn’t leave all of my brothers here to fight and go back to the world. Thankfully, things were beginning to calm down for us. It was almost a year before we experienced any more enemy contact. We drilled all the time to be ready for it, but when it happened again, it was a bit unnerving how fast it came back to me on what to do. It was like riding a bike, it was that fast.
It was coming up on 8 months into our second tour. While out on patrol on the outskirts of a town, our patrol began taking fire from several locations to the front, and left flank. To the right was nothing but open ground, and we knew what was behind us. We formed up and split off, half left and half forward. While suppressive fire was being provided on the forward location, I was ordered to move up and secure a forward position. While advancing, I saw small flashes and then I was on the ground. I was struck once in the chest, and once in my right leg, the flashes were those of the muzzle of the rifle firing at me. I can still remember what the ground looked like, what the smells were around, what it felt like. It took me a moment to realize what happened, I was on the ground and our corpsman was pressing on my chest, I remember him talking to me to keep me calm. I remember telling him to keep his ass down…wouldn’t be any good to me if he took one. I recollect him laughing while applying the tourniquet to my leg. It seemed like hours before CASEVAC was there lifting me out. I remember thinking to myself, this is it, I won’t get to tell my mother or father that I love them again, or to see my sisters walk down the aisle at their weddings. Even writing this, I begin to shake as I fight back those tears.
Once stabilized, I was sent to Landstuhl in Germany. My mother made it out to see me about a week later. I think back to her , being a nurse all her life, walking into the room, and she saying was the first time seeing all of the machines hooked up actually intimidated her. I was her baby, the youngest of three. She never left my side, the entire time I was there. It took several weeks before I was released. I was found unfit for combat, and man did that hurt…I had never been told I couldn’t do something. I remember feeling so down knowing that I couldn’t cut it. I was given my discharge and returned home to Pittsburgh about a month later.
That is when everything began to get worse. I became very depressed at home. I went to the VA and they just told me this was normal, it would pass, and to take these pills. Everything would be ok, they said. No need to speak to anybody, just take the pills. Pills turned to alcohol. And by alcohol I mean a fifth a day. I worked some shitty jobs…auto parts counter help, unimart overnight clerk,and pizza delivery driver. I had a few relationships, nothing would ever work out, I had too much ‘baggage’.
8 months into being home, in October, my oldest sister, Missy, unexpectedly passed away. I was crushed. My oldest sister was far from my best friend, but she was still my sister. I still miss her every day. I think of her often and I carry a picture of her in my wallet still. My entire family was shattered for such a long time. I found I couldn’t recover from something like that without some sort of bad habit forming. I drank more, and secluded myself from everyone. My parents withdrew from the world as well, living in their home, not coming to family functions anymore, not making an effort to see how the rest of us were doing. You could tell a piece of my Mother, and Father died that day. She was,their first born, their baby. I could never wish that on anybody.
Lucky for us, the rest of my family would not give up on us. My aunt’s dragged me out of my home and forced me to talk to them, to try and get a sense of why I chose to be this way. Many of my friends wanted to help, but they did not understand why it was hard to open up on such topics. How do you explain to somebody what it was like to know the trigger you pulled took away a father, a son? How do you explain what it’s like to drag a wounded brother out of a burning transport? The smell of burning flesh, the screams, the blood, and one cannot simply put those things into words.
The nightmares, the constant paranoia, these things are still a constant in my life now. However, using coping mechanisms that I have learned, I am able to live a semi-normal life. I am happy to report though that I was able to overcome my drinking problem, I have made lasting friendships, and best of all, I was able to marry the love of my life. The woman who always tells me that no matter what happens, she is my rock. Not many men will admit to breaking down to their wife, but there have been too many times to count where she has picked me up, dusted me off, and cared for me when many others would have just walked away. She will never know how much she means to me, I try to show her more every day.
My purpose for this blog post is to raise awareness for other Veterans, like myself, who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). This is not some made up condition that one just sucks up and moves on from. If it were not for my family, and most importantly, my Wife, I could of been on the street; begging for money. Or worse, I could of been one of the 22 veterans a day that take their own life.
“So that all may enjoy heavenly freedom,
We need those few who can bring hell on earth.”
**There is so much more to this that I could share, but it’s a very trying thing to do to have this all written out. I have to thank several people for inspiring me to do such things. First of all, my wife, I would never be who I am today without her. My mother and father who have always been my beacon in life to know where home always was and to show me the way. My friends, all of you have dealt with the symptoms in one way or another, and have still stuck around, I love you all. **
Here are some links regarding PTSD including organizations where donations are accepted: