The Effects of Iraq on a War Vet
Now that ISIS, or the recently termed "ISIL" is so much in the news, I know many Iraq veterans like myself are having a hard time about it. We accomplished a military takeover of Iraq, and now the cities and villages we helped patrol are now under ISIS control. It's hard because people I cared about died during that takeover, and now it seems like what we did was worthless.
However, even though not every Iraqi was glad to see us, we did make a big difference in certain communities, because we did humanitarian work too. We built school playgrounds, mini-hospitals, and other structures to aid the civilians in the region. We handed out food rations, water bottles, and medical supplies to communities throughout Iraq. We trained their police on how to fight terrorism, and we cleared villages of terrorists so they could live and worship in peace. We transported and medically evacuated our military and Iraqi civilians who were wounded alike. Some of our medical even gave children immunizations, and we passed out malaria medication. I think we made a positive difference.
This article is something very personal to me. I share it with you because I want people to understand how difficult it is to come home from war. While something obviously needs to be done to ISIS, and soon, remember the people who you send. These service members voluntarily joined the military knowing the risks, and are willing to fight and kill, but there is a cost in the end that each of us who have gone to war must pay, specifically those who have seen combat. This is a story of what happened me this previous weekend.
When coming back from a Saturday night sleepover at Grandma's house, my 8-year old daughter Brianna (named after her father Brian) knocked loud and repetitively on my locked front door. It went Knock-Knock-Knock-Knock-Knock in perfect secession. I guess she was annoyed the door was locked, because she wants a key to the house, but she is 8-years old and I said no because she is always with an adult, but that is another story.
When she knocked, it was so loud and in a beat that was in perfect succession that it could have been mortar rounds being fired. I admit, I was filled with fear and dread. It reminded me of the loud artillery fire that would fire above our heads. I woke-up instantly, and began to reach for my imaginary rifle. In Iraq, our rifles slept with us inside our sleeping bags on the right side. After a split second of reaching for my weapon and not feeling it, but instead just my right thigh, my stomach dropped like I was on a free-fall roller coaster. Then a second later, I got up and greeted my baby who reported all that she did while at Grandmas the night before. She reports, "Grandma lets me eat raw cookie dough". Great, thank-you mom. I was just glad that she didn't notice how freaked out I was, because I was holding my hand over my heart, as I was willing it not to rip out of my chest. My daughter knows that Mommy and Daddy went to war, but we make our stories a G-rated Disney version of the good things we did over there. We don't want her to know we both suffer from PTSD.
I won't lie, it's pure hell when you are out-and-about, and you feel danger and you reach for your weapon and it's not there. For a split second, I think I must have left it somewhere, and then I panic for a few seconds. I think this must be how retired cops must feel, and I don't know if it will ever go away. I notice this kind of behavior in my Marine brothers who went to war with me. I see this behavior in my full-blooded sibling brother, who is also my Marine brother. My brother was also was deployed with me to the war, and he was even on the same base as me, but we were in different units. If you are thinking of the movie "Saving Private Ryan", as a reason we couldn't be deployed together, they stopped doing that decades ago.
Since there are so many military personnel in Iraq, not all (actually, I would say most) do not see combat, which is fortunate for them. Bases are like small cities, even in Iraq. We have the paper pushers, the people who run the exchange, those who fix jets or military vehicles, those who work at the fuel-farm, build living quarters, communication, logistical, and many others. Some bases get mortared more than others; while some bases never get mortared at all (if they are located in a distant safe-spot). Everyone has different experiences in Iraq, which is why some people come back completely normal, and some come back stronger, but scarred. It is motor transport (which I was), medical, infantry, and artillery, who actually leave the bases and go out on dangerous convoys which sometimes lasts for weeks, going to all parts of Iraq, doing patrols and re-supplying neighboring bases who have already been attacked. Sometimes, they are still under attack when we arrive.
I have gone to support meetings for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I still feel the same way. Yes, there are others who have seen worse, they have done worse, and their experience must have been so much dire than my own, but that doesn't change anything. They weren't there, they didn't spend-time, pull pranks, joke and talk-to, and love the brothers that I had lost. How could they possibly know how I feel? I know that they may have lost their fellow comrades, but secretly, and selfishly, I feel like my people were much more important.
I think to myself, "They don't understand how I could possibly feel. They don't understand how bad it really was. They don't know how it felt to hear hundreds of Marines sing mournfully, in loud acapellio during each one of our unit's memorial services for our fallen brothers, hearing them sing "Amazing Grace". In Iraq, you will see 6'4, 250 lbs. Gunnery Sergeants breaking down and crying during the song. That song will always be tainted to me, and I wish I could never hear it ever again, as long as I live. That song is never allowed in my house; that song is for Iraq.
On Sunday, the church played Amazing Grace. Even though I was in the front pew of church, I grabbed my daughter and left for the bathroom. I told her to wash her hands, and she started to sing some melody like the theme song of "Veggie Tales" and I secretly went in to a stall and started to cry. I thought and prayed "Why did they have to die, God? Why couldn't it have been me? I would have gladly given, and laid down my life down for my brothers. Did I do something wrong in my life that caused their deaths?".
Sometimes life can be so unfair, but we move forward. I tell myself, people die, enemies die, best friends die, partners die, Marines die, and you can't do anything about it. You have to keep breathing and moving forward. You have to survive, even though they didn't. After that, I opened the bathroom door and gathered up my daughter in a big hug. Then, I smiled down to my sweet and innocent baby and said "Who wants some yummy ice cream?". My daughter was conceived and born after the war; so perhaps she is the reason my life was spared, so that I could have her.
Even though I know people other than my Marine brothers might not understand how I feel, I know God was there in the trenches with me, and He knows how I feel. I know they feel no more pain, and they are somewhere where there are no more wars. I will always miss my brothers, and I never forget them.
"There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."