Monthly Archives: September 2010

Most Distressing

How do I help as many vets as I can?

Its that same fervor that drove me nearly insane in Iraq. A friend, seems to be a master of the one line bombs, said to me,” This may hurt but maybe you just aren’t ready to help other people.” What he meant is that I don’t manage to help others and come out of it unscathed. I come out of one of those “come to jesus” meetings roughed up and beat down. I usually drink hard that night and make an ass out of myself. Allison has to tolerate all the craziness that flows out of my mouth. I completely disassemble. I am a farking mess. And when its all said and done and I pass out the necessary apologies. It dawns on me that I would do that a million times over, if it only gets one. If it only keeps one trooper from being there, hell knows I stood there. I would go through that emotional crap any day, any time of the week at a moment’s notice to help a brother out. This is apparently a contagious disease or at least communicable. All Vets feel that in some way to some extent, that it is part of that undying obligation to the guys that chewed the same dirt as you. Just cause we made it out, doesn’t me we leave them behind, its all the more reason to turn around and pull them up too. We have to all of us, actively search for those in need. Those that don’t admit it, those that don’t see it, those that reach out, those that try to laugh it off, those that drown it out, we have to find them and do what is necessary, smack on the back, kick to the head, a funny story, or a simple I have your back. We have to sit down shut up and let them drop the ruck for a minute. Then when its time get them back on their feet with their lighter load. We have to find a way to be that ringside corner man, talking a battered rocky into getting back in there to knock Chuck Norris out. This stuff keeps me up at night and drive me insane.

So how do we help as many vets as we can. We start but getting real, cutting the B.S. That macho crap, has to go. Trust me, I am egotistical SOB, you don’t make much of an NCO if you aren’t but I dropped that macho crap at the door when I started this. If we are actually gonna help vets and help each other, thats got to go. That very thing is what makes the stigma. Thats the thing that leads to joes taking their lives or taking someone elses. All because our little fragile egos can’t handle the simple truth that after war we needed a little back up, what a load of horse @#$6! Boils my freaking blood. Makes me want to shit kick every individual I see who says crap about it being weak or sad. Makes me want to drag their faces and their false medals through the mud, because those of us that really know, know what it takes from you to be the monster. And you don’t just come back and smile. After that we have to walk around with ninja skills, quietly listening into conversations waiting for those warning signs in their speech. Just hunt for them, when you catch one surround with as many vets as possible, let the stories go and then let them have the floor you will be amazed what comes out.

How do we help as many vets as we can…. by genuinely giving a damn. Fastest way to heal the invisible scars is to heal another’s.


The great machine

When my mind gets creative, I start to feel like I am on willy wonka’s crazy ass boat, no Idea where this is going, there’s no way of freaking knowing… lol

It started simple enough the villagers just wanted something to stop the wolves from killing the cows and dragging off the children. So they made a big tower that a villager could sit in to watch out for the bad things. But the wolves were sneaky, so the villagers set trip lines with bells. But the wolves were stealthy, so the villagers made pit traps. They killed a couple of the wolves, but that only made the wolves more blood thirsty. That night they took one of the young villagers and toyed with him, they didn’t kill him they just marred him. The young man was later rescued and brought before the town doctor, who just happened to be an inventor. He did what he could by the young man died of his wounds. That night wolves came in full force. The villagers armed with pitchforks and fire were able to hold the wolves off but only at great cost. In the midst of the chaos the inventor, driven by rage and sorrow, created the great machine. It was an incredible device, fast, strong, silent and very good at killing wolves. As soon as the hum of its engines came to life, the wolves ears shot up and eyes got wide. It wasn’t long before the machine was running the wolves down in the woods. You could hear their howls for miles. At first the town rejoiced at the sound but as the nights of massacre wore on the people began to try to drown it out. They wanted to hear no more of the wolves death, just as long as they were dead and there was no threat to the village. At the end of 7 nights, the den was found, the machine did its work, and then began to make it way back to the village. On the approach through the town, the machine was met with screams and defensive villagers protecting their families. They glared at the machine worse than they had ever stared at a wolf. The machine made its way to the inventor, he assured him that everything would be fine, he put him in the corner and covered him with a sheet. Told him to power down because he was no longer useful. That would have worked just fine for a machine, but there was one thing that made this hard for the machine, the inventor had used the young man that had died’s, heart and mind to run the machine. So under the sheet, the killing machine driven by a heart broken man’s mind and heart, its pneumatic fluid began to boil. The brain prayed for the wolves to return. The heart pounded in pain and in hate. He had given every last bit of his humanity to the machine and when he came home there was nothing for him but discontent. So he did the only thing he could, he took off the sheet and began to build. He made himself a machine, one that could, build and farm and lift, one that the towns people could use. When he was done he had the inventor transplant his mind and heart to the new machine. That morning he set out to help the towns people. At first they were reluctant but soon began to let him help build barns and plow farms. He was fast and strong and did his work better than animals. One day when a villager was working with a grinder, the noise sounded just like a wolves growl, the machine jumped into a stance prepared to kill but it was just the grinder. At first the town paused and then it laughed, wrote the machine off as a broken piece of junk. The machine’s human heart, ceased to beat, the machine walked slowly back to the inventor’s garage. Took the sheet off the the war machine. Stared at it for a moment, he hated it so much. Thats when the pain got the best of him and the evil plan hatched. I will make them know my pain. He powered up the war machine, put his mind in it, once hooked in he crushed his heart in the farming machine. With that he was free from any left over humanity. He set about his work quickly, knocking over huts and destroying barns. He punted cows into the next village and popped chickens like balloons. He used his flame thrower to start a great blaze burning the fields and any workers inside. He used a yak as a wrecking ball as he threw it through buildings. He found the one that had laughed at him, drew him close to the place were his cold electronic eyes were, and whispered, not so funny now. I saved you, gave up my humanity, I came home and you scorned me. I changed who I was, everything I had known, to be part of your little village, you laughed at me and said I was useless. So I went back to the only thing I was good at, destruction. With that he hurled the man as hard as he could. His screams disappeared just as he disappeared into the night sky. The great machine’s evil laugh was heard as his shadow dimmed running away from the great blaze and out into the woods, the place where the only ones that knew what he was, the wolves, the only ones that could actually accept him.

Hope you enjoyed my allegory, think about it mill it over. The only question that is not obvious in the story, is how do you stop the great machine? The answer is pretty simple.

So I sleep walk big deal

When I was in Iraq, I stressed myself out about running the rabbit truck (recon or lead truck). It was kind of a stressful job, and over a certain period of time was pretty good at breaking down whoever sat in the lead truck seat. I would constantly go over routes both on the map and in my mind. I was always trying to make sure I could remember every detail about the route so that I would know if something looked different or out of place. Essentially, I was the eyes of the patrol, and I felt like I wasn’t seeing in 20/20. We made it through that without me going loco, but then as stuff began to settle in Baghdad, I let myself relax a little, but the stress had done its damage. I started sleep walking. Loading pistols in my sleep, laying out in the prone. I was freaking the guys out so I went and got some ambien. HAHA Bad idea, for whatever reason that just locked me into these night terror things. So those hit a trash can and I just started doing some simple meditations and some mind numbing stuff. Mind-numbing whats that? Well I for whatever reason have always used this to calm myself down, even when I was really little and I was convinced there was a monster in the closet. I lay very still and completely relaxed, repeating in my mind ” Cake and Ice Cream”. Ridiculous, I know but it works better than any drug, or any other meditation I have ever tried. I think I started doing it when I was 5. That little phrase can put me out during a full on arty barrage.

Now I have said it before but I will say it again. The place where I truly find my trouble with war is in my sleep. Always have. I think it wasbecause in Afghan, we slept outside the wire a lot so I slept on edge, never really asleep. Then we went to Iraq and the stress and all that I was back to being on the edge, not really asleep, still able to hear conversations, often times incorporated into my dreams. But the somnambulism, or sleep-walking was craziness. I tend to do it when stress brings me back up close to the sleeping on the edge again. I will get up and play with doorknobs, look in closets for people hiding in there, try to understand why I am in my bedroom and not still in the firefight, last night, I started shaving. At 4:30 in the morning I was standing there, cracking my knuckles because I was pissed about being up this early, starting to shave my face, and thats when it hit me. Why am I up this early? SON of A @#^%&  I was sleep walking again. Very begrudgingly I washed the shaving cream off, hit myself with a towel, and went back to bed.

Say it with me now som-na-bu-lism …. its fun to say isn’t it? At least its innocent now, no handguns, or karate moves when someone (Allison) wakes me up. She is usually pretty good about throwing something, trust me… you don’t want to smack my shoulder while I am dreaming that I am sneaking up on a terrorist in the closet. At one point in iraq, it got so bad I set up trip lines in my hooch so I couldn’t make it to my wall locker without busting my face. Supposedly if you wake someone from sleep-walking you will give them a heart attack…. I call BS. It hasn’t done it to me yet.

So when I started sleep-walking I got really concerned, thought oh man I am losing it now. But then I remembered a story about my Grand-daddy, He used to sleep walk hard core, Like take his blankets and stuff and go walk across a highway. I look a lot like him, same bone structure in the hands and feet, like identical, so maybe I got the somnambulism (haha) genetics too. And that to me brings an interesting thought to my mind about this whole PTSD and life after combat junk. We are all messed up in some way. What if maybe it wasn’t the war that caused but just the thing that made it surface. And On that I will leave you to dwell on it. Also if you want a good laugh check this out. Pretty much explains why there is a Stigma with PTSD and Life after combat.

Dark Places

So this morning, a friend of mine got a phone call from a guy he was drinking with the night before, “Hey man, #@$% is in jail, and I think my car got stolen.” My first reaction to this information is the grunt in me giving the thumbs up for an obviously successful night of drinking. I mean you literally hit every check in the book for an excellent night filled with blurry drunken stories that are guaranteed to make the listeners pee their pants from laughing so hard. On the other hand its a side effect of what has recently been called by our little group as going to the dark side.

The dark side is the moment when you have that one more beer and you either slip into your grumpy suit or go absolutely crazy. Its a thing with us veterans, going to the dark-side that is. We get there in a mili-second and will stay there all night. We are beyond reason or being consoled we just get mad at the world, at least I do. Others seem to lose all sense of reality, not to mention dignity. We fall into this common pit fall filled with nasty punji sticks, in the pursuit of a good time. I have noticed that as a group we have started to watch and wait for the dark side and the dark places to come out.

We as a group have learned the warning flares and air raid sirens that start to go off when one of us is drifting to close to the flame or drowning something in their beer. I often wander if its just the alcohol talking, or is it because of the alcohol that we are talking, or is it something else like too much testosterone or unresolved anger and daddy issues. Who knows, I will tell you its fun to watch when someone goes nuts. Its great to see just how high on life someone can get, with the added booster rocket of a shot a jack. The problem though is when it gets grim, or they want to fight, or they want to make someone else feel their pain. It gets darkest just before it goes pitch @#$%ing black as one of my friends so eloquently put it. Thats when the bail-out and pull-up procedures must start.

The Task of being the bail-out master, is one that requires and interesting split of skills, you have to be firm, but diplomatic, obvious but not offensive, helpful but not baby a grown man. Its a heck of a trick with a dog and pony show thrown in for fun. First step, diffuse time bomb or fist-fight in progress. Second step WATER is your friend, you can lead a drunk joe to water and you sure as hell can hold his head under it until he chokes some H2O down. Third Step, if in public, remove thy-self before the local law gets upset with your just slightly intoxicated friend makes a big enough scene to attract their love and affection. This takes some talent, removing a guy from a bar, that doesn’t want to go, its not fun. I find that lies are the best policy at this point. “Bro you totally could have kicked all 50 of those dudes asses all by yourself, however I think they called the cops and we should pop smoke.” Its a lie within a lie and in his drunken state there is no way he will notice the second one, because he believed the first one. Another option, is the opposite sex, get a girl to help or a guy if its a drunken female vet. Have them act like they want to leave with us, then they can bail, the drunk one won’t even notice.

If they are adamant about not leaving and that they want to drive, first you try a trick, ” Hey bro have you seen that thing on the news about if your key has three bumps on its a defect and you need to stop driving immediately, cause you have like a 20,000 dollar law suit on your hands,” the more details the better. Old boy will whip out his keys flip to his ignition key, and thats when you snag that thing like grass-hopper stealing a pebble from the master’s palm. If that doesn’t work, resorting to physical violence to stop someone from driving drunk, seems perfectly logical to me.

But what we have discussed this far, is how to evacuate a drunken nut job. How about how not to fall into your own pitfall? Oh the lost art of maintaining a buzz. We drink too hard, too fast, like we were still 18 and living in the B’s. Find your buzz, moderate with time and water. Eat something before you start and eat during if you out say I dunno… tail-gating. Make sure to put yourself and your buds in a prik-free zone that helps to stop someone from wanting to hurt people. We drink, its like the military’s favorite past-time. Maybe we should just practice a bit of control, believe me this is aimed just as much at me as everybody else. BEWARE THE DARK SIDE, the punji sticks and handcuffs hurt.

Indian Ghosts

“Ghosts, the old warriors said, were the price of a fighting man paid to follow the path of the warrior; somewhere behind the noble and espoused traditions, somewhere behind the achievements and the glory the ghosts waited. And they would always be there. Their dying would forever be part of the path of the man that took their lives, whether the act was honorable or justified or not. Their faces, and often their dying moments, could not be forgotten, unless the heart of the warrior was made of stone. And few could boast of that, though many might have secretly wished it to be so. Somewhere people they didn’t know- wives and daughters, mothers and granddaughters- would mourn… The victory dances honored the warrior and the victory stories reaffirmed the tradition of the warrior, but very little, if anything, could chase away the dark memories that always lurked. The ghosts would always dull the edge of arrogance and bring cold feeling at the most unexpected moments. Such was the price of being a warrior.”- (Marshall 82)

That is an excerpt from a book about crazy horse. It is written by a Native American and is actually a  transcription of the oral history of Crazy Horse straight from the Native American people the Lakota. I think its interesting just how much the concept of ghosts transcends our culture. With all that said, I do have a sneaking suspicion that this statement actually comes from those that never went into combat, from those that were never warriors. Why might I say that, for the most part, we don’t worry about killing the other guy. I might be way off base but this is my perspective. It is the friends that I lost and those that I failed, that wait in the mist of the woods. Thats incredibly cold but if you follow my logic it makes sense. If you are having trouble with having done your duty and having been forced to kill in combat, allow me to lend my thought process and see if it helps any.

On that day you woke up ate your breakfast or downed a rip it (energy drink), he woke up and had his chai tea. You got in your truck and smacked a mag into the rifle, He laid out on the roof-top and checked out his ambush. You rolled out, he laid in wait. BOOM, and in that moment there’s a 50/50 split of who is leaving in a truck or in a body bag. On that day you were faster, had better aim, better training, didn’t hesitate. View it as a chess-board, you are both pawns just trying to make it to the back of the board. On that day you were faster he was slower and thats that. The question that ends it all for me, “Would he think about me after he killed me and feel bad or remorse,” answer is hell no. They celebrate killing us without any honor or dignity. We kill them, fingerprint them, throw them on the hood of the truck, and go get chow. Their culture is a bit different than ours in that they don’t value life the same way we do, so we get a little twinge of guilt for doing what we had to do, I don’t feel they do. I am not saying its good or bad, thats just how they roll out there.

So big circle back around to the above statement, not being made by a warrior, sorry but we don’t much give a damn about killing the enemy because they were trying to kill us. I imagine large volumes of close quarters, would eventually freak you out, but thats the exception and not the rule. Which brings us to the actual point of the post, how do we let the ghosts go, or at least learn to live with them. Mine sit just beneath the surface, drink too much whiskey they pop out. At some point I have to find a time to let them lay down, its not like I am doing them or me any good by dragging them around. I am sure they have better ghost stuff to do, like scare kids while they take the trash out and spy on people. So what is it that makes me drag them around? Guilt and anger are the first two things that come to mind, I feel bad for being alive and them not and I am angry with myself, for failing them, and the world for putting us in the situation in the first place. So I have identified the feelings, the reasons, and everything should be perfectly fine now…. wrong. That junk is so hard-wired into my memories, adrenaline response systems, my limbic system (emotions), that I am not sure I will ever get it out. The simple but deep wounds are always the hardest to fix. But perhaps I can moderate the amount of hauntings I get from their memories. The usual stuff, like writing down what I am thinking about when I am thinkingit,writing letters to the fallen, I’ve heard helps. Talking to them.. could be good…. just don’t do it in public, and not often, ya look a wee bit on the nuts side… more so than normal.

I want to make a big distinction though. This is for those on the outside looking in. The ghosts of the fallen and the demons we deal with are two very different things. The ghosts are buds, our brothers and sisters that fell. They are to be cherished sometimes and missed sometimes, never to be hated or banished. We need to lay them down and in our own time we will. The demons however, are usually something to do with ourselves. A mistake we made, a thing we became in combat, sometimes its as simple as the fact that we can’t get over combat. Those are the demons and they need to be exorcised with a prejudice, mentally and emotionally hunted down and stricken from our memories and psyches, otherwise they will eat that warrior from the inside out. But the demon hunt should be a topic of later discussion. Go have a chat with Casper, tell him he needs to pack his stuff, because you have stuff to do for now and you will just see’em later.

Marhall, Joseph. The Journey Of Crazy Horse. NY,NYC, 2004.