“Must You Carry The Bloody Horror Of Combat Forever?” 

-Homer, The Odyssey

 

I’m often asked this question: “What’s war like”? One would think it’s a question that should have an answer, especially from a person who had experienced war. However, I’ve learned that no matter how hard I search for an answer, I’m left with more questions than answers, instead I’ve come to avoid it all together.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking, saying to yourself, “why am I reading this? What’s this dude even talking about? I’m sooo confused right now”, and I wouldn’t blame you thinking that. So to bring some clarity, I guess we should start from the beginning.

October 21st, 2006, I was like any service member part of the 1st A.D, Task Force 2-6 stationed in Baghdad, Iraq, 4-days (more or less) left of my tour and began the process of heading back to Baumholder, Germany, unfortunately war had other plans.

October 22nd, 2006, started just like the previous days before, whereby making sure all gear is accounted for, all items packed and prepped to be shipped out. Early that afternoon we’d gotten word that we might go outside the wire one last time to show the unit replacing us their soon to be Area Of Operation, and sure enough it was confirmed about an hour later. We all met for the brief, got suited-up and headed out around 4pm. The atmosphere was eerily calm, it was a beautiful sunny day with the temperature hovering around 100-degrees Fahrenheit (not including body armor). About 25-min after leaving the base, our patrol was ambushed. The vehicle I was in (first) was his with an Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. I remember moments before, all of us were joking around and asking one another “what’s the first thing you’re gonna do when you get home?”, then blank. At first I didn’t know what had happened, it’s as if my mind forgot what it or I was doing. I was confused and did not know what anything was. luckily that only lasted a few minutes after regaining consciousness, but it didn’t get any better.

 

I must confess that I am leaving a lot of details out about that day, I do apologize. Even though it has been almost 11-years, I still find it difficult sharing everything…sometimes even with myself.

I managed to open the door and get out but couldn’t seem to stand on my “legs” (at that point I was under the impression that I had both of them), as soon as I stepped out, my “legs” gave out on me and I fell, hard. Everything around me seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if time itself was winding down, barely any sound and no matter how fast I wanted to move, I just couldn’t. I felt trapped in this peaceful, scary, confusing bubble then everything rushed back in, now when I say ‘rushed back in’ I mean ‘RUSHED BACK IN’. immediately I began sweating profusely, I felt this indescribable pain in my left leg, I tried to roll over but was finding it difficult for me to move. Finally I managed to shimmy on my side and found myself looking at the brightest shade of white I had ever seen, instantly I knew what it was and quickly looked away…after all, I didn’t want to go into shock just yet (as if i had a say in it). Anyway, even though I’d just seen my bare leg-bone, I felt surprisingly calm and did’t panic.

After what seemed an eternity I noticed that I was finding it more and more difficult to think, speak or formulate any comprehendible sentence, at the time I did not know  that I’d lost so much blood. I began to feel somewhat peaceful, as if someone had given me a warm blanket on a cold winters night. I started contemplating all the moments in my life where I felt stressed, angry or frustrated with anyone and at that moment I thought “hmm why was I such a douche? why could’t I have just enjoyed my life?”. You know how some say “you’re life flashing before your eyes”? Well, that’s true. Wanna know what flashed before my eyes that very moment? Huh, do ya? well too bad, I’ll tell you anyways. It was images of me swimming. Weird right? I know! Just goes to show how boring my life was/is. I mean I swam in High School, wasn’t really any good at it, but for that being the only thing…I mean c’mon. Really? eh, it is what it is.

As I was being airlifted to one of the military hospitals in Baghdad, Iraq, I saw tracer-fire light up the sky and thought to myself: man what a beautiful sight. Also, why is everyone fighting? It looked as if someone had a giant paintbrush and was moving it back an forth. It was weird to say the least.

If I had the choice, would I do it all over again? Absolutely! Deciding to join the Military was / is the best decision I’d ever made. It opened doors for me, made me see the world, make lasting friendships, I could honestly go on & on.

That day also took the the life of Maj. David Taylor. Maj. Taylor was one of the most humble, respectful, honest, generous, kindest human beings I ever had the pleasure of meeting. He scarified his life, for myself and the others to be here today.

So, back to our original question: What is war like? As I sit here contemplating the answer to that question at 2:13 am, after not getting much sleep for the last few days, the short answer is: I simply don’t know. I mean sure it’s dark, gory, loud, disgusting. Yet oddly, at times I find myself missing it, I don’t know why. That’s a hell of a statement to be made and I know that, but I still find myself missing it. Someone once told me: “I miss being miserable” I honestly couldn’t have said it any better…’I miss being miserable’, I miss being a part of something that was bigger then me, I miss the moments where I truly felt alive. But how can that be? How can I miss something so, so, so awful? Well, the only thing I know is that it’s confusing the shit outta me, and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel confused, scared, anxious, happy, sad, angry sometimes, what’s not okay is lying to yourself or ignoring the fact that you’ve changed since you came back. One of the most liberating things that has ever happen to me was realizing that I did change after I got home, and again…that’s okay.

I want to set some things straight about PTSD. The best way I can describe PTSD– it’s like a zit on your face. And just like when you get that zit that seems to pop up unannounced before a big date or a job interview, that’s what PTSD is. When you have a zit you don’t want to be seen, don’t want to talk to anyone, just want to be left alone until it goes away. In my opinion, PTSD is like that. Sometimes I feel like I just want to be left alone, and that’s okay. However, PTSD does not mean causing harm to anyone, being angry all the time, causing damage to anyones property etc. Again in my opinion, those who are blaming PTSD in order to excuse their childish behavior are not accurately describing PTSD, those individuals are using PTSD as a crutch in order for them to excuse their downright disgusting behavior.

I’d created CET-Vet to eliminate all the preconceived notions about PTSD. I don’t want any Veteran to ever feel alone. My story is not unique, it is only unique in the sense that I experienced it. Believe me, it is not easy to open up. So if I can do it, I can only hope & wish for other Veterans to do the same thing.


 

-AL