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 or 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