Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Five Months And A Life To Go

I’ve been back for about 5 months now and a lot of the guys I deployed with are beginning to have that five month I want to pull my guts out feeling. They have been asking me a lot about how I deal/get by on a day to day basis. I guess they think I know some magical secret because I’ve gone and come back so much.

Well first let’s dive deeper into what I’m talking about. For many of you who have deployed know the time frame of redeployment I speak of. It’s about five months after returning to home station. When you redeploy you are full of wonderful feelings. You are surrounded by friends, Family, Friends family, and everybody in-between. Words like “hero” are used .They shower you with affection and you feel like this is the greatest time in your life. That warm bath feeling on a cold day, a first embrace of a love and Holding your newborn all wrapped into one. Euphoric.

Month’s role by. The combat stress of returning home has begun to set in. You start getting the feeling like somebody threw a toaster in your warm bath; your love is cheating, and your newborn just shit in your cereal. The walls close in and the silence and calm becomes so evident that it claws at your soul. You get angry and agitated for no reason. This……..bad.

The worst situations come at his time. It can be triggered by just about anything, and nothing. As poignant as infidelity of your spouse while you were gone or as small as forgetting where you left your keys. Anger turns to rage, rage to violence or the worst case scenario……..Suicide. You start to wonder if you are only comfortable when people are trying to kill you.
The real problem is that you now have time to think. You go over all the good and bad of your deployments. Things you did or should have done. Things you did or didn’t accomplish. Grief from lost friends or questions of morality in some things you may have done to others. Was I right to do what I did? The thoughts of how close you came to facing death.

So they ask me…. “Sergeant how do I make it stop?” “Sergeant what do you do?”. The truth is that there is no magic cure. No pill you can take. No counselor will understand. The best thing we can do is find something to occupy our minds. Nothing will let you reach that adrenaline induced high that combat provides. You just take it one foot in front of the other. Take the dreams and nightmares one at a time. Deal with your anger and understand what it really is. It’s you. Your own mind is playing tricks on you. Get away from the idea that you want to get “better”. You are not sick. This is you. This is who you are from now on.

It all gets easier as you learn to cope. Don’t get hung up in answers to questions that don’t need to be answered or even asked. It is what it is. WAR.

Hang in there my friends, Brothers and sisters. Remember I’ve got your back.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

PTSD Is Brought On By Day’s Like These

(Originaly writen and published in the diaries promoted by Brandon Friedman on By Brian Bailey under the nom de plume War Junkie)

Normally I'm writing about something about the wars or a political view. Not this time. This is a very personal story about a lesson I had to learn the hard way in combat. I have purposely left out any names or areas of operation although I'm sure anyone who is in my area of operations will know most of this story and know exactly who I am. So we will try to keep the "Opsec" (operational security) rule in effect here.

A couple of months ago I arrived back in Iraq and to the Southern Baghdad Doura region. It had been a few years since I had been here and things had definitely changed. I also am just returning from the worst Afghanistan rotation, actually worst any rotation I had ever had to deal with my five tours. I fired my weapon more in this last Afghan rotation than I had in all of my other tours combined. I could do without ever having to fire another round as long as I live. So I was not thrilled to pick up a rifle and come back to this hell hole.

We arrived at Foward Operating Base "Falcon" and immediately found out that we would be would be operating and living in a safe house in the city. We packed our things and began training with the unit that we were relieving. We call this "right seat left seat rides". Upon arriving at our new safe house I noticed a guard tower that was standing all by itself right off of the highway. It was not in the best place, it was not very well built and the guard was completely exposed. I asked what the deal was with this tower and I was told it was called the "OH Jesus Tower" because if a car bomb ever rolled up to it the last thing said would be….yep you guessed it, OH JESUS! right before the soldier was turned into a light pink mist.

I was not a fan of this Guard position and after talking with my peers they were not happy with it either. We decided that when we man the guard posts we will not be using this tower. We had been there exactly 20 minutes when gunfire erupted and rounds struck the safe house. We all checked each other and the other unit did the same…or so we thought.

Later that night while they were changing guard they found him. A young soldier who was days from going home, laying in the tower contorted with a gaping hole out of the back of his head. He had a single entry wound in the front of his face and he had been gone for quite awhile.

Apparently the shooting earlier was to distract us from the acctual threat…..a sniper. I was disgusted with myself when I just said "we better go clean up if we are going to put another guy up there." So the old unit and some of our "vets" (those who had seen this before) up to clean up. That post was never manned again.

I waited about a week and went up to the roof to try to scout where he had taken the shot from. I was the only Qualified Sniper in the company so I thought I could help. I aquired a M-24 Sniper rifle and went onto the roof. I searched for days. It kind of became an obsession. In my duty position I have no reason to be doing this other than personal. I was feeling a deep rooted anger towards this sniper. I felt he had burst my comfort bubble and I wanted him dead. I had done this before and was sure I could make a shot anywhere in sight of the safe house.

All it once a shutter ran over me. I had found it. His Hide site, the place he took his shot from. Across the highway and only about 200 meters from the tower there was a window. This window had a hole in it . Wrapped around the hole were the curtains. It was perfect. A direct shot across the street. He could lay on a table in the back of the room we he could go undetected. I've got him. I just need to wait.
The next night I snuck into a hide position opposite of the guard tower with my rifle. A Remington 700 that had been converted into the army's m-24 sniper rifle. I waited. And waited and waited. Patience is key in these situations. The night went on and anyone who has been in Baghdad in January can tell you it's cold. I stayed there shaking and fighting sleep. I shook so hard I thought my back was breaking. I laid on my stomach in that position for close to ten hours. When I could not possibly stay in that position any longer and the sun had come up I decided to call it quits. Plus I had to pee pretty bad.

I was very disappointed so I went through this same routine for three or four nights. The Intel was that he was still in the area and frequenting his hide site and I was determined to get this guy. On the fifth day I gave up for a while. I was hurt. I felt like this guy was going to get away. I had been sitting in our Tactical operations center or "TOC" and a guard came over the radio "I think I see the sniper". I shot out of the TOC and grabbed a Barret 50 caliber sniper rifle which is the big brother to the M-24. I ran to the roof and got next to the guard. I popped open my scope guard and there he was. He was leaning out of a window. He had a Druganov SVD style russian made sniper rifle. I had him. I waited and got everything right. I racked the bolt on that big fifty and felt the mechanism shove the round in the chamber.

I wasn't cold or hot. I wasn't feeling anything except that adrenaline rush. I was going to kill this man. I was going to end his life. The fifty would cut him in half. I've been here before. In this situation. It's sad how natural it felt. I felt good. My thumb flipped the safety and the meat of my finger was on the trigger. I snapped in. I took a deep cleansing breath and let it out. I held it at the bottom of my breath. I could feel my heart beat. I was waiting for that perfect time between beats to squeeze. Then it happened, steady pull back. Ease it back. Feel the trigger.

Then a scream from behind me. "Hey man don't shoot It's a toy!". I let off the trigger and looked again to see that my focus was on the man so deeply I didn't notice the kid. The kid paying for the all too real plastic air soft rifle. I laid the weapon on the ground and went downstairs out the door and around where I could not be seen and got sick.
I will never let my emotions get the best of me again. Ever.

Where do I place this face in my nightmares

I was in a house today having a meeting with a known AQI leader. Things are normal, I’m trying to squeeze some information out of him by pretending I’m his friend and I have his best interest at heart. I’m actually considering pulling my pistol and shooting him in the face because he disgusts me. I know how many Americans this man has killed and that he’s an IED supplier so I’m thinking long and hard about his demise. I don’t feel bad that I feel this way. It has become the norm.

It’s a small dank room and the three sweaty fat men are all smoking and haven’t showered in weeks I’m guessing by the pungent odor. I keep getting security updates from my squad leaders over my earpiece and they are securing the safe house and giving me constant updates about what’s happening outside in the market. This is all normal so I go back to thinking about killing my new friend.

The squelch breaks in my earpiece and one of the squad leaders says there is a van racing up and down the street. I decided to end my meeting and head out to get a better look at things. As I moved out into the market the van came down the street moving at about 50 mph. This strikes me as odd since the average speed is about ten MPH in the market. He came around the traffic circle, never indicating slowing or braking at all. He straightened out his vehicle, his headlights highlighted her hair, dark brown and flowing in the breeze. I reached out from a distance that I couldn’t possibly reach her from. I was probably two hundred feet away but I stretched until it felt as though my muscles and tendons would snap. The sound of the flat front van smashing into her small seven year old body is still killing me as I write this.

She flew into the air and cleared the two hundred feet to me easy with a scraping slide to my feet. My hand was still stretched out above her and I was frozen. I didn’t try to help. Her head was split wide open and I could see the parts she used to think about her trip to the market. The things she would see and the people she would meet. I saw them like I’d seen these parts over and over in the last few years. Only this time they were so small, like you could cup them in your hands. Blood pooled around my feet. I picked up her limp body and tried to look for a place to go. Times like this made you wish you could call 911. The problem is that it is me at the other end of the emergency line. No ambulances, No EMT's. It was just me and a first aid kit. I bandaged her little head even though she was gone and washed her face with my canteen. I tried to wish her a pulse, but it wasn’t in God’s plan today. So I just stood there for a minute as the locals passed and stared.

I’m lost as to what I do with this one. Where do I file this dead face in my brain? I know where all the others go, but this one can’t come to me in the same dreams as them. They are in my head and visit me at night for a different reason. So where do I put her in that twisted pile of lifeless cold faces. What do I name her?

Her grandfather took her from my arms and left. He didn’t make a sound. He didn’t really pay any attention to me. His face was stern and very matter of fact. He gave her to the Iraqi Police and they detained the driver. And I continued on patrol. She followed me for a while I think. She walked the streets and held my hand like all the little girls in the neighborhood do. I hope it didn’t hurt to bad or too long. I hope God took her before that awful sound.