Monthly Archives: July 2010

Nothing much to say

I haven’t had much to say lately, that’s strange. Does that mean that I am coping better or taking 2 steps back? Never really know I suppose. In the past couple of weeks the stress has mounted but so have the coping mechs. I have had more adrenaline rushes than normal, more anger outbursts. Is it just stress or just the flood waters rising. Could it all be related to I haven’t had much to say. Could the would be product actually be the cause?

I started this forum, to help everybody else realize that they weren’t alone and to offer my perspective on dealing with life after combat. At some point it became very important to my coping and dealing. I feel better when I write but it has a dual negative impact when I don’t, I feel like I am letting you down but I also don’t get that benefit of a tabula rossa (blank slate).

The blank slate is a feeling I get when I finish a post. Its a feeling of letting it go, taking that 100lbs weight off my chest and breathing free for a minute. Its a feeling I’d expect anyone with my particular set of experiences (any vet) to feel when they finally find a place to put or lay down their burden. My original place was in my physical exercise, then I split it between this and that, and now its predominantly become the writing. I would encourage everyone reading that has trouble to do something to purge whats going on in their minds. It gives the creator a chance to think about the issues with a sort of side perspective not usually seen, one that is less traumatizing.

I haven’t had much to say lately, but suddenly I do again. Ebb and flow as with anything I suppose.

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You’re not your fruit salad

For those not in the military reading from the outside in, a fruit salad is the ribbon rack that goes on the Class A of dress uniform. The fruit salad is a military slang that is sometimes derogatory in nature. Such as look at that guys freaking fruit salad, he needs a stick to hold it up. One of the things that has begun to bug me, is how post military life is dictated by your fruit salad.

Non-military personnel don’t know a while lot about military life but they do seem to know what a purple heart, a bronze star, and a silver star are. Of course everyone knows what the medal of honor is. People that don’t know me but hear about me through a friend, hear about how I got blown up, and I am a little crazy. They hear about the dumb things I did or the couple of buddies I managed to help. They assume that I have purple hearts and bronze stars. Truth be told, don’t have any of that. Been put in for them several times, but for this that and another reason they either fell to the wayside or prey to someone’s ulterior motives.

Its a sore spot with me for sure, but there were guys that did a hell of alot more than me and only got an AAM for their trouble. The thing that bugs me is that when some non-military person hears that I never got those medals, they just assume it was either not that bad or never really happened. Anyone in the military doesn’t bat an eye at the fact I was injured and never got a purple heart. Thats just how it is in the military today, if it doesn’t advance an officer’s career or if you don’t have a squared away leadership team, soldier’s won’t get what they deserve. Sad but true. So why is it that the civi world still judges us upon medals that they have no idea what it takes to recieve.

Another fun thing about medals is, doesn’t it seem the things you did that deserved a citation never got there and the stupid dumb thing that was just part of your job you decorated and given praise for?

The specific event for which I refer, I was standing in a hall talking to this kid. He had been talking to one of my other buddies about joining the service. The kid apparently had gotten an earful about all the junk I went through in the army and figured I had a bunch of medals. We got to talking, turned out his brother was in and he told me that his brother was a personnel officer and that he had gotten a bronze star at the end of his tour. I said thats good for him, he then asked about what I had, and was none to pleased with my reply. He went on to say how weird this war was that a personnel clerk officer saw more combat than the grunts. I lost my patience. I explained that his brother’s medal was due to rank not service or merit. I explained that when the officers get their bronze stars at the end of tours every NCO in the formation grimaces because it is an injustice to what every trooper that falls under their command has fought, bled and died for. I explained that his brother should take that medal off and never ever wear it. The men that received them before our time, died for them. He got it for riding a freaking desk. Then I turned on him, how dare he judge me based upon something that he knows nothing of. The men that died don’t care about the medal they got posthumously but it bugs the living that an LT who did nothing but eat chow hall food and sip coffee got a higher decoration than a kid who laid his life down courageously in combat. So I again turned my attention on the kid, berating him for assuming that the medal his brother wore was something to be proud of, something that would put others in awe. As one of my more squared away officers once said to me, this is a self-licking lollipop.

To sum up why I am pissed, non-military personnel judging me based on 5 cent pieces of ribbon and recycled medal about my time in combat. And then throwing a rank related medal in my face without knowing the bad blood I harbor about losing friends to whose parents only trinkets of decoration were afforded.

Napoleon said he could have conquered the world with enough ribbon, I just wanted enough to stuff down that kids throat.


There’s no place like normal, ..like normal

Last night I was out to eat with a couple of veteran buddies. We at some point passed over the topic of dealing with combat, briefly. There was one statement however that hung with me. One guy was like its all about your attitude, if you can just focus and tell yourself that you are normal you will be fine. Its all about a mind set. I felt bad about how I presented my counter view, but at the same time that mind set is a kin to just acting like you don’t have an issue at all. Its like letting the monster out of the closet, throwing a sheet over his head and telling him to stand in the corner, telling all your friends its a piece of modern art. That stuff just doesn’t fly. Lets relate that mentality of “if I close my eyes it will all be ok” to something else. If I cut my arm off and acted like its perfectly fine I will be ok, I mean I realize that my arm is cut off but I am just going to pretend everything is fine. But Dan its a mental thing not physical: Ok so lets go the other direction, lets say you are schitzophrenic you are telling me as long as you click your heels together three times and tell yourself you are normal it will happen… I bet your other personality would disagree.

When my buddy said it, it was said with great optimism and it seems very romantic. Part of that mentality can be useful but the full blown and sole reliance upon a mindset healing you is just dangerous and somewhat foolish. So what part of that is useful? I think this is where my buddy was going with what he was saying, if I stay positive, I can make this work. The mind is powerful beyond our comprehension, people have cured cancer in themselves just by staying positive. Because if the mind believes it the body and brain will follow. Not to mention PTSD and all the trauma that everyone deals with after retruning from combat was put there by utside influence, not by a knife or bullet of bomb, so in my mind it can be healed by applied force of will. I understand the power of a positive mind set but that is not simply enough.

Tell me what you think. Is a positive mindset enough? Is it important? What are your experiences with it?


WHAT TO BELIEVE…

FOREWARD: THIS IS NOT ME ASKING FOR SCRIPTURE OR SALVATION.   PLEASE DON’T PREACH!!!  I AM NOT ASKING TO BE SAVED OR ANYONE TO REACH OUT TO ME.  I AM ALSO NOT LOOKING TO PREACH MY VIEWS OR CONVERT ANYONE, AND I AM NOT ATTEMPTING TO JUDGE ANYONE ELSE FOR THEIR BELIEFS.   SOMETIMES I JUST NEED TO VENT.  THIS IS JUST ME VENTING.

Religion: PART I “Higher Purpose”


We have discussed it a few times in the JollyRoger, and you have heard comments on Mike’s radio show as well.  Talking about religion, and about when we stopped believing in God.  Talking about when we began thinking; “How could he let this happen?” or “Why wasn’t it me, instead of my buddy?”

The war didn’t change things that much for me.  The really religious stuff has always been a little too deep for me.

Whenever I have lost a friend in combat, I have somewhat been able to connect a purpose to it.  As a Soldier, you recognize and accept the chance that you may die.   When someone dies in combat, I want to honor their loss.  I want to try to give their death some type of meaning or purpose.   I always start thinking about how careless it would seem to deploy a unit, have Soldiers lose their lives, and then return without accomplishing anything.  The meaning or purpose really seems to be a sticking point at least for my own sanity.

In another respect, I always find unexpected non-combat deaths of my friends more difficult to accept.   I have difficulty connecting a purpose to an 18-30 year old committing suicide, being killed by a drunk driver or some other type of car accident, or having heart failure in their sleep.   It is too random and unexpected, and there is no larger purpose to associate this with.

Losing friends in combat is still not something that I feel comfortable reasoning and overlooking though.   Out of the thousands of deployed Soldiers, Why does one Soldier get killed over another?   Out of two Soldiers standing next to each other, Why does one Soldier get killed over another?   Is the insurgent’s cause more important than the Soldier’s that day?   You will always be stuck thinking and wondering things like:  “How could God let this happen?”  “Why wasn’t it me, instead of my buddy?” “Could I have done something differently?”

If there are no atheists in a foxhole, I was not too much different.  I did not become reborn, but I felt that he looked out for me.  We had some bad luck, but I think he played a roll in keeping it from being worse.  I think God should have been a little more irritated with me personally.   I had a bobble-head Jesus doll that I kept in my truck on missions.   Is this Blasphemy?  The Bobble head was a half joke, half lucky charm.   The joke was a jab at the fanatics who were trying to kill us every day.   It is really sad how easy someone can twist people’s minds into believing that they are fighting for religion, or into thinking that they were waging jihad against infidels, and fighting American religious crusaders.

What about all of the other random, shitty things that happen to us in life?  Is there a purpose?  Is this part of his plan?  After my first marriage, I took a small bit of relief and comfort from the bible passage from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.   At the time I was thinking that if he could bear to lose his son, then I could bear to lose my spouse.

Religion: PART II “A young Bobble Head”


When I was young, my parents weren’t church going people.  Sometime towards the end of grade school I asked my parents if I could go to church.  My sister and I began going to a Baptist church in our town with a friend’s family.  My sister and I were different ages, so we were in different Sunday school groups.  The first day we were went to this church; my sister was “saved.”  It was kind of odd to me at the time.  How could my younger sister get saved and not me?  The next three Sundays, my sister was saved again and again and again…We went to this church for a few months, but I soon became even more lost.  I knew many of the common bibles stories, but I still had a lot of questions.  After learning about Noah and the ark, I asked why there were different races of people.  As I remember it, the Sunday school teacher gave a pretty poor answer.   My mother was upset at the church and the pastor came in the next week to give a retraction to the class.

We soon began to attend a Christian fellowship church.  It was fine for awhile as well.  Finally one day they told me that I was too old for Sunday school; so off I went to big people church, all by myself.   The next thing I know, I am watching people line up in the aisle to have the pastor touch their heads with oil.   Many of these people started dancing, speaking in tongues, and even passing out.  The pastor said that the hand of god was on the church and I sunk deeper into the pew staring at the ceiling and the people passing out…So, that was the end of that one too.

Since then God and I have a very casual relationship.  More or less; he looks after me and I don’t know why.  I try to be good for the most part and live a good life.  I don’t go to church and I don’t ask him for anything in return.  I have never exactly been a non-believer as much as an unidentified.   I believe in God, but don’t believe in everything they say about him.   I guess I spent more time in history class than I did in church.   There must be some type of a higher power.  Reason only demands that it would just be too random to think that we all ended up here by accident.   On the other hand I think that history is full of men, who rewrote the bible for their own interests.

Then there is my biggest dilemma, why are there so many different denominations?  What is the difference?  Who believes what?  Where did it come from?  What about these supposed lost books of the bible?  I wish I knew what the original words Jesus spoke to the apostles were.   Until then, I will still be…in search of.

Religion: PART III “Rolling the Dice”


How many times have you measured your life in inches or seconds?   Is this God’s will or just luck?

An insurgent’s poorly timed IED.  A bullet striking just inches from your head.  An RPG punching through a fuel tanker but not detonating.  Seeing the unit ahead of you, or behind you get hit instead of you.  Choosing to take a different route one day, or choosing not to eat in the chow hall.  Random choices making the difference between living or dying.

My first mission…The land owner turned us back as soon as we rolled out the gate.   The other half of our platoon caught someone digging an IED emplacement.  We asked to roll out the back gate, and another convoy got out ahead of us.  That convoy got hit and took casualties.  We got lucky and someone else got hit.  We turned back again and waited another night.

As we to return to the FOB our wrecker broke down, and I was able to replace the vehicle rather than have it go down on mission.  When we rolled out the next night, my HMMWV broke down.  We hooked my truck up to be towed and reconsolidated into other trucks.  We left a team at the maintenance point, to pick up on the return leg. At this point I was riding in a vehicle that was more armored than my original vehicle.  As we continued our mission, my first two trucks took small arms fire.   I was scanning for their contact, when my vehicle was struck by an IED.   I can not say that I would have been screwed in my original HMMWV, but the ASV was better protected. We made it out of that engagement ok.  That whole series of incidents, I can’t help but to start questioning it and wondering how things could have happened differently.

Twice we were struck by EFP’s that did not function properly.  The insurgents had either used an explosive compound that was not military grade, packed too much explosive into the device, or a combination of both.   This caused the EFP to explode rather than properly form the lethal projectile.  The explosion sent small pieces of molten copper or lead into the trucks.  The second time, a piece the size of a nickel penetrated one of our turrets, striking our gunner in his side sapi-plate.  An even smaller piece of the lead projectile then broke off and entered his side.  I would have expected punctured lungs and several other damaged organs, but somehow this small piece went through his lat muscle and travelled along under the skin of his back, before stopping near his spine.   He is still recovering from these injuries, but I am just amazed at how much luck and inches can mean between life and death.

When my Commander’s truck got hit, there were two charges that penetrated the armor.   On almost every other day the medic would ride in the backseat of the Commander’s truck.   On this day the driver of another vehicle was on R&R leave and the medic had taken his place.   That random chance meant his life.    The Commander himself being of small stature received a glancing blow, breaking his collarbone instead of something more fatal.

There was another day that our second squad experienced another close call.   Many times the explosive devices are armed by a remote control as they see the American convoy approaching.  The device is then detonated by a sensor.   The only other vehicle on that road was a taxi that had stopped to unload passengers.   The insurgent armed the device to strike second squad, but the taxi pulled out again detonating the explosion.    The passengers in the taxi were killed, but that random chance saved second squad.

Many times I felt that the enemy would choose to hit another unit rather than us, because our gunners always maintained an aggressive security posture.   Early in the deployment, we had a betting pool as we passed other convoys while travelling through southern Iraq.   We were betting on the total number or tactical errors we would identify the other unit committing; gunners standing too high in the turret, gunners without their hands on their weapons, gunners even sitting in the back seat instead of in the turret, gunners who would not rotate their turrets and flag us with their weapons, placing vehicles in the front or rear positions that had tactical limitations or liabilities in those positions, I once saw a gunner in his physical training uniform.   Even in Baghdad I saw many units driving down the center of the road (ducks in a row), or riding around with turrets locked in place and weapons pointing straight up in the air.   This sends a message that you are an easy target.

Religion: PART IV “A Father’s Grief”


I already mentioned God’s purpose behind some of those random shitty things that happen in your life.  I recently had something happen to me that further shifted my position on the fence.

Last fall my wife and I went to a doctor’s appointment where we were told that our unborn daughter had a genetic condition.  We were told that the best case scenario would be that if she held on long enough to be born, she would likely not make live more than a few hours.  The car ride home was pretty silent.   Inside I felt lost and confused.   Something started brewing inside like a Hurricane, fierce swirling emotions:  Confusion, Anger, Grief, Fury, Sadness, Disbelief, Loss, and Helplessness.  Too many things for you to even grasp or get hold of.   After awhile it was difficult to keep driving.  I told my wife that I needed to pull over, get some air and a soda.   I could not have pulled into the 7-eleven at a worse time.  As I unbuckle my seat belt and open my door, I see another pregnant woman.   This lady is smoking a cigarette and yanking a screaming 3 yr old by the arm.  How is this fair?  How could this be God’s will?   Did that woman deserve her baby more than my wife?

There are a number of things that I can bear to happen to me; I am just that kind of person.   I can not bear to see things like this happen to my wife.  She is too sweet and genuine of a person to deserve something like this to happen to her.  There are things that other people will do or say, that just stab you deeper.   The appropriate thing to say to someone is; “I am sorry for your loss.” or “I am here if you need anything.”  Do not ever say something like; “You can have another one.”  “At least the baby won’t be born handicapped.” or “IT WAS GOD’S WILL.”  My answer to those types of comments is “Fuck that and Fuck you!”

During this very difficult time I was again able to find one (very small) bit of “spiritual” comfort.   I did not find it in a bible passage though.  Sometime between our doctor’s appointment and the loss of our daughter, my wife was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding.   It was an outdoor ceremony on an overcast day, with a professional photographer.   In a picture of my wife walking to the chapel, the sun is shining through the clouds.   The shape of the clouds and sun strikingly resemble an angel looking down at my wife.   It is still not enough to make up for not having anything to hold on to or remember.

Conclusion:

So for now I feel like putting Bobble Head up on a shelf.

“I’m pissed off now, Jobu. Look, I go to you. I stick up for you. You don’t help me now. I say Fuck you, Jobu, I do it myself.”


I Know…

Friday night my parents took me, Dan, and my younger brother out for dinner to celebrate my birthday.  A few days before, we found out that one of his former soldiers committed suicide (Dan talked about it on the blog on July 6).  I knew he was upset, I knew he wished someone had been able to stop it….I knew he thought he should have been able to prevent it.  What I didn’t know, was how it was going to almost “regress” some of the progress he had made with his PTSD.

That Friday, I spent the day at work; Dan spent the day up on campus.  He had class and then a meeting with the student veterans group he is in charge of.  Apparently they spent some time talking about the suicide from earlier in the week.  Dan came home shortly before I did on Friday and seemed rather upset, despite his efforts to hide it.  He says he was okay, I knew better.  I also realized he made some choices in the afternoon that would eventually not be conducive to our evening with my parents.

Despite all that was going on, we got ready (and looked pretty nice, if I do say so myself) and met my parents at the restaurant.  We walked in, it was packed.  A warning bell went off in my head…but I sort of dismissed it and decided he would manage…it was good for him.  When I saw the table we were being taken to, I knew there was not a good spot for him to sit.  I kind of panicked and just picked a chair.  Dan hesitantly sat down next to me.

Things were fine until shortly before our meal was served.  I saw a flash of light in the corner of my eye…I turned just in time to see Dan tuck a knife behind his forearm and then cross his arms on the table.  I was completely shocked to see him do that.  I couldn’t tell you the last time he did it.   I quickly went through all the factors that caused him to do it- really busy room, his back was not to a wall, lots of people behind him, and all the other things that had happened earlier in the day.  I quietly tried to get him to put the knife back without my parents or brother noticing.  He refused me several times.  I had to make a decision.  Do I let him get away with it and have his “safety blanket” or do I ask him to put the knife back a little louder so my dad, who is sitting next to him, can hear.  I decide the latter.  I had to ask him several times again- each time he refused- “I’m fine, leave me alone” he would say.  Yeah right!  Big fat liar.  That’s exactly what I told him too.  I eventually raised my voice enough that my mom and brother both noticed.  Dan did reluctantly relinquish the knife back to the table, but not without some words for me.  Playful words, but words.  I’m pretty sure he was embarrassed I made somewhat of a scene, especially in front of my parents.  Nonetheless, this was behavior he had not exhibited for a long time and I had to stop it quickly.

With all the progress that had been made, I forgot that sometimes taking two steps forward is followed by a step backward.  Now, this wasn’t a big step backward, but it was in the opposite direction.  I think we, as the not-so-silent ranks, need to remember that this is an ongoing struggle, one that gets better in time, but not without its bumps in the road.  Some days are better than others and certain events and happenings can set them off.

What we also forget is how a single event, like seeing the knife go behind his arm, can affect us.  I was completely shocked when I saw that behavior.  Dan doesn’t know this (well I guess now he does) but it sort of upset me.  It made me feel like I hadn’t done enough to prevent that- maybe I should have asked him to tell me more about what was bugging him before dinner and not been so dismissive with his attitude.  I even think maybe I should have asked the hostess at the restaurant if we could have sat in a booth or one of the other tables in the back corner, then this maybe could have been prevented.

Sometimes I think we wonder, what if, what if, what if… and all it does is prevent us from saying, I know –

I know that things are getting better as time goes on.  I know this will not be easy and there will be difficult days, weeks and months.  I know he wants to be back to himself too.  I know that a small lapse in forward motion is not that big of a deal, but I know it is not to be ignored.  I know how to bring it up and talk about it.  I know when to step in and when to stay out.  I know I don’t know it all.  I know when to ask for help.

We have so many resources as not-so-silent ranks, and we need to remember to use them.  Those resources are on the web, in books, our friends and family and most importantly, each other.  The one thing that we need to continue to say to each other is…

I know that we can get through it, together.

~Allison (Dan’s not-so-silent rank)


A view to INCOMING

Asleep in my rack. The rough hum of the in-wall a/c lulls everyone to sleep. The oppressive heat can be felt on the walls of the temporary building. Sweet sleep finally being given to some very tired souls in the middle of Baghdad, Iraq circa march of 2008. The piercing noise comes. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs the conditioned response in my brain goes from 0 to 100 mph in an instant. Instead of a saliva response I am given a huge rush of adrenaline. I spring to my feet as the C-RAM alarm sounds. Running down the metal grating that connects the temporary buildings, I feel the first impact. The impacts are like being punched in the chest, taking your breath away. The dust plumes flow over the buildings. I keep running, beating on the walls as I go ensuring that some hard sleeping joe doesn’t stay in his rack. I near the stairs and get ready to jump. Bam.

White nothing but white. Even the ringing in my ears can only be described as white noise. Everything hurts, even my teeth and eyes hurt. The pressure was so intense. I saw the light but never heard the sound. I felt the heat but never felt the wall I bounced off. As I come slowly back to my senses. The dust and rocks and debris still sprinkling down around me as I am now splayed out about the ground. Climbing to my knees, my ears scream at me. I start to drag myself to a duck and cover. BAM, I smacked against the wall again, I feel the flash off of this one. I realize the longer it takes me to get in there the sooner I die. I jump to my feet to make a mad man dash. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement in the dust. The body looks like a zombie arms straight out in front, blood everywhere. I turn and grab him as another trooper runs up through the dust to help me. As soon as the injured soldier realized he is safe with us he collapses. We get him to the duck and cover. A combat medic stands in the breach. He grabs the casualty and starts going to work. Its incredible to watch a combat medic in action.

Myself and another go out to find a stretcher, rounds still impacting just meters from us. We find a stretcher, its strange how fast you can run and for how long you can do it, when the threat of imminent death is present. We get the casualty on the stretcher wait for the all clear and then haul ass. I am in a pair of pt shorts, my shirt was used as a bandage. No shoes running on gravel. One is in his boxers. Others are dressed like me. We run dealing with the cuts on the bottom of our feet. We get him to the medevac truck. The doors close.

The crash begins. Adrenaline gives you the incredible ability to run, fight, and a high, but it comes with a heavy price. The crash following a rush is nothing short of waking up with the worst hangover you have ever had. Whats follows then is the realization, as you walk back past the blood stains, some of it yours. The smell still fresh. The smell of burnt metal, wood, and cordite still hangs in the air. The shakes set in, I usually got it in my right hand, never knew why, maybe it was my bodies way of getting ready to pull a trigger. Sometimes all the emotions would come to the surface, tears would come , sobs would happen, its just the brain crashing. Others just shut off, I did that a lot. Sitting there in the temporary building still in blood soaked pt shorts, smoke dangling out of my mouth, playing call of duty 4 trying to kill the nerves. And so it went for several months and I wonder why I am a little nuts.


A Soldier’s View

This is a post that a SSG Hydorn (my former squad leader) , wrote for the Jolly Roger:

After my first deployment to Iraq I saw a counselor and I think I actually made it to three appointments and decided that I didn’t need to talk to some stranger that had no idea what I had seen over the course of the last year.  Making a conscious choice on my own that I would talk to my battles about everything I saw and did make it a whole lot easier.  As I talked and shared war stories they would give their own perspectives and experiences.  Doing this began to alleviate some of the guilt I still had inside myself about losing a soldier on December 10 2005 and two others wounded in the same attack.  I think the hardest thing for any leader to do on a day like that is to put one of your own soldiers into a black bag and zip it up to never see them again.  SGT Julia V. Adkins was the 45th American female killed in Iraq and the 50th of all countries under MNCI.  I remember the MEDEVAC crew chief asking me for my KIA and me telling him that I was going to take her back to the FOB.  I can still close my eyes and see every part of that day vividly in my head, and hear the dead calm over the radio when I reported two WIA and one KIA to the company TOC.

Everyday of the rest of my life I am positive that this type of recall will stay with me.  Just like other events that occurred earlier in 2005 that will always be part of that instant recall in my head.  They aren’t nightmares or flashbacks; they are my memories of traumatic events that affected fellow soldiers and their families and will stay with them for the rest of their lives as well.  We cannot turn away from them even as they have moved onto the next place.  Trying to forget them in a drink, a pill or other substance is not what they would have wanted.  We need remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their battle buddies and their country.  That is simply the least we can do for them and continue to fight in their honor whether it is on a battle field or in our lives after military service.  Because they planned on living a life after their service, they had bigger plans for themselves before their lives were brought to an untimely end.

We all have an expiration date, however none of us are privileged enough to see it.  There is no two minute warning orCompliments of SSG Hydorn countdown to beat a buzzer.  To live life to the fullest is the greatest way to memorialize our fallen comrades.  Not to turn away from the memories and avoid thoughts of the incidents that took them from this earth.  If you remember the day before the incident it wouldn’t be so painful to think about it would it?  I don’t get caught up in the exact moment our battles lost their lives, but I remember the incident.  I think about the times that were more enjoyable and memorable.  Our lives continued on after the exact moment our battles stopped.  Continue to live and not travel down a path of self destruction.

I will say that I drink exponentially less than I did before I left for my first combat deployment.  Maybe it’s due to a loss of tolerance but I can’t convince myself that is the reason why I don’t drink that much.  When I sit down and think about it, it comes down to one thing, drinking makes things blurry to me and when it gets blurry I don’t like it.  Don’t get me wrong I like my Shiner Bock, but I don’t polish it off by the 12 pack.  Besides I’m getting older and well the metabolism isn’t what it used to be.

The biggest change I have seen in myself after being down range is my fight or flight response is heavily weighted toward fight.  I think most of us that have ever been on the two-way rifle range would say that if you don’t shoot first you will quickly be on the wrong side of the power curve.  But those skills may not be necessary every waking minute when we are stateside.  I will say that I am not going to switch off just because I am stateside just due to many incidents that occur even here in the states.  I do have to watch when a heated debate makes me want to punch the other guy in the mouth though.  Recognizing this allows me control my emotions a little better than ignoring it and letting myself get into a position that I cannot control.

The best advice that I can offer anyone in a similar position is that ignoring it will not make it go away.  Simply live your life the way that our battle buddies’ would have wanted us to continue in our lives.  I guarantee you that they would not want you washing their memories away.  It’s okay to miss them and wish they were still here with us.  Do them honor by doing it right not just for them but for you as well.  For those that are still in harms way I wish the best and for those who have moved on I wish you much success in all your endeavors.  And pass on the lessons you have learned to all who will receive them.  This is how I make it through each day without those battle buddies who now look down from above and cover us each and every day.

SSG Erik M. Hydorn