Category Archives: Life After Combat

Help those that help themselves

I am not a religious kind of man, but I was once and one of the things that struck me was the idea of helping those that help themselves. I am very much in the business of helping people and a lot of them are veterans. Over the years now, I have heard a lot of noise about we have to help veterans. They are struggling with ptsd or combat stress or homelessness or unemployment. While this is all true, it has really painted a picture of woe is me to be a veteran. That does not sit well with me.

If you are struggling but working at it, I am more than happy to help.

For those of you though that may be reading this and are bargaining with yourself saying but he doesn’t know about my disability, my injury, my ptsd, my TBI, what I saw in combat…. just go ahead and stop you are just lying to yourself and pissing me off. You do not quit with the first or the second or the thousandth obstacle. We do not fail. So they said no they couldn’t hire you move to the next open position. Go back to school. Hustle. You hustled in the military if you didn’t I am sure there was an NCO applying his boot to your fourth point of contact. Well allow me to don my old NCO facade and unf#$% your malfunction before I have to go about the nasty business of plucking out eyeballs and violating the holes… you know the old line.

Get it together. If you can’t, ask someone else to put their boot on your shoulder and pull on your neck until your head pops completely out of your fourth point of contact. Figure out what your objective is, find a job, find a better job, finish college, quit drinking so much, stop feeling sorry for yourself… whatever it is figure it out and write it down. Then set a series of goals moving in the direction of accomplishing that objective. One to be done by the end of the day, one by the end of the week, month and year. Repeat the day and week goal set, daily and weekly until mission is complete. If you are going for an interview, rehearse. Have someone look at your resume and tear it to pieces  and then you revise it. If you go to an interview wearing a polo, I will find you and kill you and then bring you back just to kill you more slowly. This is common sense, would you have gone to a promotion board in your PT’s? The answer to that is not unless you wanted the Sergeant Major to get his wish and finally get to smoke one of his soldiers until they puke through their nose. Then why do you show up to an interview half assed, unprepared, and looking like a bum. They already think you are a liability thanks to the stigma of being a ptsd ridden baby killing vet and you just backed it up by showing them you are inept. We didn’t do anything in the military without planning, take that skill with you. Set a goal, think, plan, prepare, rehearse, execute, revise, repeat… none of that should be a shocker to any veteran; then why are we failing to follow what was beaten and drilled into us from day one.

Am I mad? No I am freaking livid. I haven’t been this mad since my first day as a team leader driving all the way from Houston back to Fort Hood on my down day because my soldiers had decided to go all freaking UFC in a strip club because they had been drinking when news flash most of them weren’t old enough to freaking drink. I was very very mad. Why am I mad? Because I see veterans squandering there talents and skills and starting to prescribe to the notion that they don’t need to try someone is going to do it for them. You are the best the military could produce, undercut yourself and undercut the memory of the fallen. Get it together, put your war paint on, and destroy the obstacles in your way. If you are your obstacle, make a new you. I have the greatest respect for the ones that have tried, failed, and then got back up again to do it all over again. We fight, we persevere, we overcome. You are not your labels, you are not disabled, you are not PTSD, you are not TBI, you are not a liability, you are not a failure. You are the all singing all dancing crap of the universe. You are a veteran, a warrior, an asset. Figure it out or I will smoke you until you puke through your nose.

So this has been another episode of come to jesus meetings with dan.

By the by I made the news, lol. http://www.myfoxhouston.com/video?clipId=7449636&autostart=true

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Broken Record

So there I was no shit right….. How many war stories have you heard come out like that. I tell one as a joke to my friends about evil bunnies and a vertically challenged stripper, kind of a way of thumbing my nose at myself. I am a storyteller, at least that’s what everybody tells me. I mean I know I tell stories, hell most of my dinner conversations about this one time, in some place, in a crazy or funny situation, but they say I am good at it. Problem is I have not had many adventures as of late to match the intensity, humor, or humanity that war provided as story fodder. As a result I have been sounding like a broken record for quite sometime. There has been a slight shift as of late focusing on more of the trauma stories stuff I have seen in the ER or in the hospitals… those are mostly funny and focus on natural selection but don’t provide the same kick and so I default back to those stories.

This compulsion to tell the stories has an interesting feedback loop on my PTSD. The way I tell these stories I wonder if they keep me in it, if they keep me reliving it or if they turn the volume down to a sustainable level. I don’t really know the answer to that. I don’t know if I tell them because they are the crowd pleasers or if I because I can’t have a good time if I don’t acknowledge the fact that I still don’t believe in my worthiness to be happy. My biggest worry is that by telling these stories they actually accentuate the trauma. They make it worse than it ever was, they put it up on a pedestal and make it into something it never was. In addition to that this same act of putting it on a pedestal somehow makes it the greatest accomplishment period, no matter how hard something was.

Perfect example I just graduated from college. It was all pop and no kick (thats when the a bullet goes bang but doesn’t fire). My dad said he was proud and I just shrugged my shoulders like it was inevitable. Then I took my licensing exam and freaked out for 2 days until I got the results back and when I did, instead of going nuts, it was just a matter of glad that’s over.

Now I know what many of you may be thinking, after war everything has the volume turned down. I just don’t think that’s necessarily absolute. Give you a good example. I was home on leave shortly after Iraq with Allison (look at this I just realized I am subconsciously storytelling in my post about storytelling, that’s some down the rabbit hole stuff, anyways) and we decided to go to six flags over Texas in San Antonio. I rode on all the rides they were fun but never scary, never got my adrenaline going. They had the volume just above mute. A couple years went by and we went to the rodeo and a silly little rodeo ride gave me a huge adrenaline jump. The volume was back up. My point is by reliving this crap by telling the stories is, am I keeping the volume of life down and the volume of PTSD at a static level?

I am certain my friends and family are so damn tired of them. My best friend can call up stories for me to tell random people by a significant point in the plot of said story…. he has them committed to memory better than I do in some situations.

I have lately been telling myself no war stories before I go out drinking or go hang out with friends… I haven’t been successful. First uncomfortable silence and bam there I go, “So there I was breaking my fist on a hardened glass window even though I was a black belt….” It has to me become a form of Obessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. Most people conjure up images of someone washing their hands until they bleed or locking the doors multiple times. The actual definition is an obsession that drives a compulsion… sounds relevant to this need to spout stories the second things get too quiet or too happy.

It also leads to issues of me never being fully present, fully appreciative of the company I am with. I am always between two worlds kind of doing the Limbo in roller skates while straddling a purgatory. So how do I pick the needle up off the  record? I am curious if by telling only hospital stories if that will somehow lessen the impact while I learn to not even tell them.

One of the other veterans I know commented on the fact that this Vietnam Veteran he knew was fixated on 1966 no matter what else he had done since then. He never got over his pinnacle and moved on to new moments. Is that where I am headed?

Declarative memory, such as autobiographical memory is the definition of self. Through a process called neuro-plasticity, I have by telling these stories over and over again turned faint memories into a declarative statement neuron that is a hulking monster compared to the other synapses in such a way that it drives my personality, my self. So in many ways I am still over there, I have by telling and retelling these stories kept myself over there, in the worst of the moments I can remember. I have created my own cell locked the door and threw away the key but I have been using a spork to tunnel out.

I am also concerned that just as I am keeping myself over there, I may be keeping myself from being here. Perhaps I just haven’t figured out how to fully be here, an inability to adapt to new surroundings and situations simply compounded by the fact that my measuring stick for normalcy is a place where killing a guy is a job well done.

Enough. I am going to enlist my friends and families help in this little experiment. I am going to ask them to say “blueberry pancakes” every time I start a war story, if I don’t stop right there, the guys may resort to physical violence and my wife can just start ticking off chores I will do when we get home or physical violence if she feels so inclined… somehow I think she might do both haha.

Look at yourself, are you like me. Are you keeping yourself over there by retelling it a thousand times over or are you keeping it buried and letting it burr a hole in your head and chest. Cut ties with it at all costs is my humble opinion.


A conversation with the enemy

I have often wondered what a conversation with an enemy would play out like. Would it be a silent staring match in which each man attempted to make his visual onslaught of the other more intimidating, a verbal battle of ideals, or a more jovial but sinister conversation.  For me I feel it would be the last option, I would say latter but I never know how that damn expression works, but that’s besides the point. I think that a conversation with my once sworn but invisible enemy would be closer to a conversation with guys I served in combat with.

You know the convo’s I am talking about, the half adulation half insult stories that we throw up for others to marvel. You grab the stupid bastard that did the incredible deed and say, “this f@#$@^%^ guy decided it would be okay to dismount under fire and run into the building where these guys were and kill every last freaking one of them… even threw one out the window for good measure. I never would have expected it because he couldn’t get laid even if he was an egg much less kill a building full of hadgis.” I think that’s how a conversation with my long dead enemy would go.

“You dick, you almost killed me with that freaking 107mm man. I really almost crapped myself when it hit.” I’d say.

Then he’d say, ” Well hell I was minding my own business when you shot me in the freaking throat.”

I’d laugh and say, ” yeah but you made a really funny noise when you fell down.”

Then he would reply, ” You are the dick my friend, I mean seriously who takes a dead guy’s fingerprints, here I am waiting on my 72 virgins and here you come cussing at me because you can’t get a solid print on the freaking biometrics.”

“Yeah Yeah Yeah, those things suck. Did you at least get to say goodbye…. to your goat!”

” You are an ass you know, that goat was a very kind and loving animal. And for your information I always said bye to the family before I left, we never doubted how good you guys were.”

” The same goes for you brother, we were the baddest military on the planet and you had us wondering if we were gonna make it home that night.”

“War is old men talking and young men dying… seems I did the dying.”

” I regret that it was you…. but I am damn glad it wasn’t me… I mean look at me… I am way to good looking to be a corpse… you on the other hand looked like a zombie from the start.”

“f@#$ off, you know I could have gotten you just as easy.”

“Of course, we both left the house that day with our guns, we both were prepared to do the hard things that soldiers like us do, I just got the drop on you. The problem I find myself asking though, would the gentlemen that decided that we should kill each have lasted a freaking millisecond if we were hunting them? I mean seriously why did I have to kill you and not just drop them, you have a phd in philosophy or some shit right… make this make sense to me.”

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. I believe that was your General Macarthur. We were simply men of war, doing that which men of war do.”

“Bulls@#, you had a pretty daughter and a smart looking son… you were more than the mark I dropped in the street.”

“And If I had killed you, what accolades would I have added to your name, none or many. I could have made you out as a dog, in which case I devalued my honorable killing of you, or I could have exalted your position and respected the fact that on that day I was fortunate to catch you sleeping… you silly f@#$.”

“Ass.. lol, Still is stupid that we were killing each other in the first place, but I will always be better at it than you.”

” Do you feel that’s a good thing?”

“Ehhh for me no, for everybody else on my side yes. Still sorry about f@#%ing your day up like that.”

“Don’t be I would have slit your throat given the chance.”

“Yea I would have preferred one on one, seems more fair.”

” That’s because you are sadistic my American friend.”

“Guilty, but still my apologies… should have found the big fish to kill not the puppet just like me.”

” Ehh, what are we if not good at what we did.”

I was taught early on to forever respect my enemy… more out of a fear that you would miss something  and they would kill you for it. Later though, I truly did begin to respect them. I mean you need to have some nuts to mess with us. Us being the largest and most technologically advanced military on the planet. The one where guys get shot in the chest and get back up with a broken rib and a strong desire to visit the shooter’s mother. We were wholly intimidating and yet these crazy bastards did the best they could to kill us. War never makes sense and this loss seems pointless and so we blame it on the enemy for the losses we suffered over nothing. But if you stopped in the middle and it made sense  then it would be okay, this just simply ain’t that kind of war. It leaves all who were or are in it with a “what the f@#$?” kind of taste in their mouth. Beyond all that though, I never worried about taking life. That was the easy part of the job, years later though I find myself wondering what kind of guy did I remove from this planet. Would  a logical person like Spok say that was the logical choice or was the guy I put down more beneficial than me? These are questions I can’t answer and I hope my tongue in cheek play of words falls on the right ears to hear it and that it hits the right chord in those I was looking to reach. The one of peace about what happened there not just with the killing but also with watching those close to us fall. Just one weird veteran’s perspective, take from it what you will.


LGOMV

After the demise of the best Airborne plan, a most terrifying effect occurs on the battlefield. This effect is known as the rule of the LGOPPs (Little Groups of Pissed-off Paratroopers). This is, in its purest form, small groups of pissed-off 19 year old American paratroopers. They are well trained. They are armed to the teeth and lack serious adult supervision. They collectively remember the Commander’s intent as “March to the sound of the guns and kill anyone who is not dressed like you” – or something like that. Happily they go about the day’s work…

Why do veteran’s organizations succeed? There sometimes isn’t a considerable cash flow, there may not even be a dedicated space for the veterans to start their work.They sometimes simply exist as an idea, a name, and a 501.3.c. Ahh, but this where the veteran is at home, in chaos we make order.  With each new veteran there is a new set of ideas, goals, and plans of how the organization should be run. There is also the question of what makes your veterans’ organization different from the plethora of others that have been jumping up in the past few years. Having formed a rather dysfunctional veterans organization and belonged to another that is for all accounts the largest of its kind in Texas, I feel that I may speak to what makes a group such as this succeed and what makes it fail.

Leadership. If the guy given the responsibility to do something fails to come to that goal, he needs to be replaced. Common sense, but hard to do when everybody is friends. I fell into that category, I am too busy in my student life to maintain any semblance of dedication to the Lone Star Veteran Association as much as I wish I could. Thankfully, there is good leadership there and they were able to politely lighten my burden for me and allow me to continue to focus on school and work, while the important work that I was supposed to be coordinating was continued on by another veteran with the time and motivation to take care of it. Another aspect of Leadership is that they can never be satisfied with where they are. With these types of organizations when you stop striving to grow you are dead on arrival. That’s another thing I got wrong in the veteran’s organization I helped put together at UH. Once I had an established set of officers and a couple of people coming to meetings, I stopped pushing to grow and just assumed they would come as we worked. Wrong assumption. Veterans are distinctly and uniquely talented to assess a working group in just a couple of seconds. It comes from years of showing up to new units, teams, squads, and platoons. They have a better understanding of game theory than they can possibly understand due to their real life experience. So a veteran looks at an organization and quickly assesses it. What’s the point? Do I benefit? Can I help someone else benefit? Are they a threat? Is there solid leadership? Does it seem like everyone is equally respected? Where do I fit in? Can I at some point be in control of something?    These thoughts are taught to us from how the rank and file system works and because it is a group of veterans they apply that logic to the group. If your organization can answer these questions on the surface clearly with the right answers you are in good shape.

Doing something tangible. Mistake number two for me with the Veteran Collegiate Society. We were more of a bunch of guys hanging out drinking, not really achieving anything of substance. Of course we had the best of intentions of taking care of the veterans and getting things squared away for the incoming freshman veterans but the beer just got in the way, lol. That however is where the LSVA excels, on any given day you will find veterans with their nose to the grind stone, knocking out some really incredible projects and programs for their fellow vets. These ladies and gentlemen (use that term loosely) are some of the most squared away human beings I have ever met. They make other squared away and motivated individuals looks like ate up slackers. I suppose that brings me to another point of success. Are the people in the group someone you can learn from? There is a flow of information that spouts from every veteran in the organization, you ask a question you will get 3 possible avenues of a approach to a solution and a business card of someone who can get you there faster. Sometimes that knowledge and advice is just as tangible as playing softball or doing a resume class, both of which the LSVA does. Its amazing the breadth and depth of programs that have come to fruition within the LSVA. Programs such as, veteran career assistance with veteran friendly employers, education support, veterans court, peer mentoring, veteran fitness, 4 softball teams, and a ton of camaraderie events. These things provide such incredible services for our local veterans and they also are something tangible that a veteran can say LSVA does this for me, thus it is worthwhile and I want to contribute to it by doing  X,Y,Z. That tangible project or knowledge is such a critical part to being successful.

The hidden purpose. Many are aware of it. Some don’t feel they need it. But I feel that this singular point is critical to the success of the organization because it leaves the veterans truly invested in the programs. The idea of therapeutic moments. Half of the veterans reading this, brains just shut off, lol. But keep reading. Veterans are not in the business of hugging and crying on each others shoulders, just not what we do. However, given the time to learn to trust the individuals around you and the right time, stuff comes up. They usually start as a funny war story and wind up talking about how you can’t get over the survivors guilt. The key factor is that the group of guys that you are playing softball with or shooting clays, or drinking a beer with, they won’t say a damn word of judgement. You may get some echos of agreement and a bit of advice on how to change your perspective. The common understanding, experience, and background, allows for no preface, no back story to be necessary; you simply can open and close with so, “I can’t get over the fact that he’s dead and I’m not.” They get it, you get it off your chest, and its cathartic… then you are up to bat. This hidden currency under the veil of some other activity really becomes a glue that binds everyone together. Eventually, the war stories aren’t as important or vivid and its talking about wanting to rip the guy’s head off that sits in front of you in class. Or how some kid called you a baby killer. Again, echos of assent and some advice, maybe an offer to help you bury the guy if you ever take him out….. your turn to buy the pitcher. This leads to true investment in the association and moreover a sense of belonging that is difficult for veterans to find anywhere else.

Ownership. This is a big one to me. When a veteran walks into the LSVA’s meetings if he shows promise or just has ideas and the time, he is given the reigns and told to run with it. This veteran empowerment is very important. It gives immediate ownership of the program and some serious confidence to the veteran. Just like the LGOPP’s the LSVA is very talented in creating LGOMV, little groups of motivated veterans. These LGOMV’s are unleashed on any number of projects and they are tackled and overcome with a speed and efficiency that most corporations would beg for. There is no stiff leadership system in place…. because the moment that happens, its again DOA. This really allows veterans to get involved. They create their own services rather than having someone hand it to them. This appeals to the veterans pride, which is a very important aspect of helping up a veteran. More importantly LGOMV’s get shit done.

So to recap what makes a group successful. The right leadership who are doing something tangible by empowering the LGOMV’s which allows for the hidden purpose to take place. This in my opinion is what makes a group successful. What kills it is just the opposite, inept leadership doing the same old stuff, with an inflexible leadership command that hordes its influence, leaving no place for what a veterans’ organization is all about to happen.

See for yourself how its done right. http://lonestarveterans.ning.com/    because honestly there aren’t any examples of how its done wrong….. because they don’t exist anymore.


CP-5

Where have I been? Busy mostly. As time passes the signs and symptoms are either diminished or gone all together. I snore when I sleep. I don’t duck at loud thumps. I can stand in crowded bars. I can sit with my back to a crowd. All this is done with effort but the fact that its possible is a step in the right direction. Still doesn’t explain where I have been. I am focusing on the million other things that are going on and trying to make them all work. I started out writing this as some sort of advice column about my “success” in dealing with PTSD… that at this point is laughable to me and I am sure to most of you as well. It has become an episodic living journal of the ebb and flow of what is to me an epic struggle. I am wholly different than I was just a few short years ago, life has done a 180 and then to borrow from Dr. Seuss made a 3/4 right. I don’t view where I am as success or completion just another check point on the route.

So enough about what’s going on in my head. There has been some significant changes in the war while I was on my sabbatical. The Iraq war is done. How do I feel about it? I don’t. I couldn’t care less. In fact its more of a feeling of what in the hell took so long. The Iraq war was over before I was even out of high school, before I joined up, and went over there to fight. How you ask, because then we started nation building, a failed and very unintelligent idea to take a backward country and attempt to make it follow our very crooked political system. Great idea. So the best we had to offer continued dying for some altruistic idea of what Iraq should be, not what it is and what it will soon be. As we pull out and over the next couple of years they will show their true colors. Survival of the fittest will be in full blossom as the corrupt and crooked officials and tribal leaders squabble for the scraps. Civil war or religious sectarian war or both will break out. Thousands more will die and even better they are now a battle hardened country. So you ask me how I feel about Iraq ending…. who gives a S@#$. People may get wrapped around the axle about that, saying but then the troops died for nothing. That is completely wrong. Whatever the reasons or intentions that we sent our troopers to war for don’t matter. It put good men and women in a rough place to do good things. Our men and women in uniform have an incredible ability to help, serve, and protect our country, their own ranks, and even the country that they are occupying. Those that died were following orders,  removing individuals that no longer needed to consume oxygen, or protecting their own, a more noble endeavor there is none. We brought honor to a country that had and has none, and it will leave with us.

On to our urinating Marines. Where in the hell is the NCO. Find that man and kick him in the balls. How stupid are you? Peeing on a dead body… seriously and then video-taping. These guys just won the shit-storm sweepstakes for being the biggest morons in the Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children… that’s a hell of a feat… you jar-heads know I speak the truth. I have read what the LTC West has to say, I agree war is hell, but you must always respect your enemy even if you hate them. By dishonoring them you dishonor yourself.  Not to mention the socio-political fallout that is coming. I could care less about the politics what I mean is that now recruiting on their side is gonna spike. They are pissed off, they have an “Alamo” to remember now and these dumbasses may have just single-handedly killed a lot of US service-members for their little golden shower video. Stupid, deplorable, dishonorable, oh and did I mention you freaking video-taped it you freaking numb-nut morons……. sorry Staff Sergeant is rearing his very angry head. Do they still have whips on the books as punishment?

To any and all who have served. Stop Killing yourself. I have lost too many last year by their own hand. Chill out, call someone, put the hand cannon down and think for a minute.

Other than that I am solid for now. Graduate in May. I have been playing  in a busy ER, sticking my fingers in peoples gunshot wounds again. I love that stuff. 

 


Helpless…. not so much

We are not helpless. No matter what sappy news program says we are. We are never helpless. The bandwagon seems to be the enemy, the “Help the troops” gets emblazoned in the minds of the public making them think that its their job to save us. Respect, gratitude, adoration, these are things that are necessary for a veteran, not  pity or blind help. We are the toughest, nastiest bunch of people that have recently roamed this planet, and we don’t need any of your pity.

The small majority have killed, the rest have known death. The closest most civillians have been was when grandma died or that traffic accident on 610, we don’t need your sympathy… you don’t even understand what we have seen. The one’s that have lost limbs in the service are the hardest of the bunch. They have given an incredible sacrifice which all others hold in hallowed acclaim and honor, do not soil that by viewing our strongest with pity, we will snatch your soul out for that.

We are not helpless or lost or crazy, we are motivated, intelligent, and incredibly dangerous to you and your career… because we are coming for your job and your position and we already have 10 ways and a couple of AAR’s on how we can do it better. You should respect us and give thanks and offer assistance, not pity, or worry, or dare I say shame…. because we are the best this nation has to offer and combat was only act one for us.


Tidal War

I have good days and bad ones. I lose sight of the target or the horizon. I slip, I fall, I stumble, I screw up, make an ass out of myself. I forget limitations and lose sight of my ability to break this thing’s back. I lose my pride, my strength and my ambition. I end up face down in the mud, with nothing left to do but start digging. And then my favorite part comes…. I stop digging look up and start climbing out. I know that just as soon as I make it to the top I am sure to fall again, but maybe it won’t be so far next time. But who gives a shit anyways… life is always about the ascent not standing at the top enjoying the view.

Face down in the mud, this is where I am most happy. Because it has stopped for now, I can go no further down and only up is left. There is peace and solace in one hand and a wildly unstable and ambitious burning determination in the other. Dig the toes in and push. This is not the last fight, not the last battle, this war will go on and I am built to last through it. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results, I am not insane because I do not expect something different. I know how this will end and begin again. I am not concerned about that. I would rather play the game knowing how it would end than ride the bleachers. And during my ascent I will live my life, find my center, and kick this thing in the friggin teeth and get some damn satisfaction from it. Face it, spit in its eye, and head bud it, then start climbing. You are not a bottom dweller just a frequent visitor, cause you like the view from the bottom, because it gives a you a place to go.
Suck it up, shut up, tighten your belt, cut the eye lid, and beg for the bell or the starting gun to release you to the next round the next race. Leave as if you would never come back to the bottom, but know in your heart that you will be here again because it is as much home as the top is. Screw it, climb, punch through the wall, kick in the door, hit the friggin afterburners. Like holding onto the rocket fins ascend until your neck hurts from looking up. Then get a ladder and climb a little higher, you haven’t swan-dived from this height before, why the hell not!
Inevitably it will ebb and flow and you and I will tumble. Find yourself in the bottom face down and smile with the mudd in your teeth because my friend, it starts again. You can begin your ascent anew.

Happy Climbing