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MOTM Feb 2010
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I just wanted to get a feel for anyone who might like to read a paper I wrote as a form of PTSD catharsis from when I returned from Iraq. It is essentially my thoughts about how my mind changed into a soldier and then back into a civilian during my time overseas. I should warn you, it's 25 or so pages long. Anyone interested?
 
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I would love to read it. I am very interested in coming from a situation that causes PTSD and how to integrate back to a world that has little understanding of PTSD. Where to I find the article?
 

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MOTM Feb 2010
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4,773 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I would love to read it. I am very interested in coming from a situation that causes PTSD and how to integrate back to a world that has little understanding of PTSD. Where to I find the article?
I'll have to cut-&-paste it.
 

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MOTM Feb 2010
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
That's enough interest for me. I hope it's not too long.


Reflections on War and the Value of Human Life

The following are reflections on my time spent in support of Operation Iraqi freedom in Iraq and Kuwait from April 15th, 2003 to April 9th, 2004 and the conclusions I reached concerning my perceptions of the value of human life. During this time, I was assigned to... Our primary missions were convoy escort and enemy prisoner of war operations. My duty within the company was to be a gunner assigned to a three-person MP team.

War Devalues Human Life

War devalues human life. It does not only cheapen it, or somehow lessen its worth, but utterly removes it. This is the lesson I learned during my time spent in Iraq. Throughout my year in a combat zone, thousands of soldiers and civilians lost their lives due to the military occupation that ravaged the entire country. I experienced this first hand both out on missions and at the hospitals where we worked guarding enemy prisoners of war who the U.S. tried to kill, failed and then pieced back together so that they could stand “trial.” The experiences I had at this time are what showed me, first hand, that there is no inherent value to human life. When you enter the field of combat, everyone’s worth is reduced to zero.

As an enlisted soldier you learn from day one that you are expendable. The very nature of uniformity and the resulting perceived anonymity remind you of that fact every day. There is nothing unique that a solider lends to the monotony of enlisted life other than their name and serial number. Concerning the actual job, it is not overly difficult and can be done by any number of people of varying ability. Then, if and when they fall in combat, they will quickly be replaced. This does not mean that soldiers are simply machines. Individuality is praised on the level of smaller groups where a bright personality can do wonders for morale. Also, the charisma of a great leader is unmistakable and good teachers are invaluable assets when instructing new troops. Though in the big picture, the individual is simply reduced to an obviously replaceable number.

I believe that the lives of soldiers are also de-valued because they are asked to kill and be killed. Their expendability is taken for granted, but also so is their willingness to kill. Every soldier waiting for the flight to whatever miserable location they are destined for knows what this really feels like. They try to stay up beat and laugh and joke, but the reality of the situation gnaws at them from the inside. At this time, the soldier is first confronted with the very real possibility that they may never come home again. Also, the soldiers’ minds are dominated by thoughts of how they are going to react when the bullets start flying and the plastic pop-up targets are replaced with actual human beings holding all-too-real rifles of their own. Those who believe that there is a universal will to kill in all soldiers is a terrible misrepresentation. Why is it that the soldier is supposed to be somehow immune to the guilt and mental anguish of taking human life? Their status as pawns may alleviate some of the suffering, but what if the pawn questions the motives of the master? These uncertainties and questions worsen when family is around, especially during the final good-byes. Encounters with family juxtapose the act of love and compassion that is learned beginning in childhood and practiced over time with the antithetical training of a soldier. One of the greatest miseries of the deployed soldier is that they are removed from social positions that previously defined them that function on compassion and are placed in an environment where they are forced to respond with violence and destruction as if their faculties of compassion had never existed.

Moving into a combat zone and switching from compassion to chaos is a relatively easy step as the instinct for survival helps motivate the new behavior. However, the return home is far more tragic. Once the mind has been exposed to the utter meaningless latent at the core of life, it is hard to look upon loved ones with the same ease as before. The greatest sadness for me is watching these contrary natures play themselves out in the mind of a soldier, especially once he or she has returned home and is expected to carry on with their lives as if nothing ever happened. The psychological consequences of combat are devastating, far more common and often times hidden compared to the physical. The soldier is essentially asked to become a murderer in the name of a higher cause. To ask this of a human being is a monumental request that should not be made casually.

In this day and age, the situation is made worse for those who don’t entirely agree with the policies of the governmental war makers. In the case that there is a mission with a clear political and patriotic goal, some may hope to give up their lives for this greater good. However, when political partisans paint the greater good out in shades of gray, the eagerness to fight and die diminishes. Absolutes are drawn out, but they don’t necessarily appear all that absolute to everyone. When the motivation for war is uncertain, yet the soldier is asked to die for it, one can only expect that the soldier would have second thoughts about their own willingness to fight. The lack of a clear, universally acceptable goal causes one to question what that goal really is and who stands to benefit from it. Soldiers are then aware that they are put in a position that compromises their very lives without knowing entirely who will be benefiting from their sacrifice.

The lives of the civilians in the combat zone are also negligible. Granted, specific measures are taken to avoid the needless killing of civilians, but it is inevitable. The military does everything in its power to not target civilians. In fact, a tremendous amount of resources and soldiers are spent aiding local communities in regions ravaged by the war those very soldiers are fighting. This helps secure their way of life and establishes good public relations with the indigenous population for their own general welfare and to encourage those with vital information to be more open with Military Intelligence. Although they are not targeted, they are not fully granted amnesty from incidental death.

The military term for incidental death is “collateral damage.” I find that a sergeant from a training company I encountered before I left for Germany in support of Operation Joint Guardian in 1999 best summed up this term. The sergeant gave a chilling account of his definition of collateral damage by continually repeating the phrase, “Aim center mass.” This term is commonplace for the soldier as it is one of the main components of basic rifle marksmanship as taught in basic training. The center of the target is the easiest to hit, so it’s a good place to aim. It was this phrase that the sergeant used as an answer to moral questions concerning combat. He ran through a list of grisly scenarios that contained some ethical questions a soldier may encounter. He began,

“What do you do if grandma is out in the middle of the street pointing out friendly fighting positions?”

That’s an easy one. She’s essentially a combatant now.

“Aim center mass.”

“What happens if there are a bunch of children sitting on the back of a sniper?”

It gets tougher.

“Aim center mass.”

These incidents are not encountered every day, but the soldier must do what can be done in order to protect other members of the unit at all cost, even if that means aiming at the center mass of a sniper even if a child obscures that center of mass. Collateral damage is only amplified when it comes to more technological and large-scale warfare. What if there’s an anti-aircraft piece on top of a mosque, or a school that’s harming U.S. troops? The answer again is, “Aim center mass.” It doesn’t matter who is near a designate target when it is destroyed. Civilians don’t ask to be dragged into these situations; they’re just there. Fortunately the advent of precise smart weapons has reduced the destructive chaos of war, but tens of thousands of civilians have still managed to die during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although is seems that the soldier is the primary target in armed conflict, nearly ten Iraqi civilians have died to each American soldier’s death. Figures like these are what led me to draw my conclusion about the value of human life.

When I returned from the midst of this chaos vaguely supported by political agendas, I kept hearing the word “hero.” When people heard I was fresh home from Iraq, they would come up to me, shake my hand and thank me for my service. I felt bad about it, but this only seemed to make me feel uneasy and distant. What is a hero? Although I had made the sacrifice, what was my agenda? Why did I believe this sacrifice was made? It sure didn’t coincide with the current administration. Why did I go over there in the first place? I was state side for long enough to watch the Jessica Lynch drama unfold and hear about the irrefutable evidence of the aluminum tubes on the television, so I had plenty of time to decide for myself that something was awry, but I went anyway. Isn’t a hero responsible for the greater good of society? I didn’t think that description fit me at all. What caused me the most distress is that a better term came to mind. And that was “sucker.”

I’d been duped, tricked, played as a fool, taking part in something that never should have happened in the first place. By people thanking me, I felt as if they were categorizing me with the non-sense that the administration had been spoon-feeding the public. I wanted nothing to do with that image. Knowing that someone thought of me in that way made me sick to my stomach. There were many alternative measures to war, but invasion and occupation based on flagrantly fictitious data was the chosen route, and it appeared that I helped. When I hear the word “hero” addressed to myself, I want to explain this feeling to others. Not everyone who fights wants to be there for the same reasons as the administration.

So why did I go? I thought about this one long and hard and weighed the many options. The conclusion I reached was that I could never look my fellow soldiers, my friends, in the face again knowing that I had abandoned them in their time of need. In the Reserve, very strong relationships are forged. People from all walks of life convene for a weekend and rally under one cause. For a good deal of that time, the cause is training and everyone falls in line to accomplish the mission. Trust and interdependence are established and I was a part of the emotional essence of the platoon, and the platoon was a part of me. If I had chosen not to go, I would have been abandoning and devaluing the lives of my brothers in arms. It was this bond that kept me focused until we all returned home safe. I wasn’t fighting for George W. Bush, or patriotism, or America, or freedom. I was fighting for the each and every member of [my company] and most of all of the soldiers in my platoon. My thought was that I was a gunner, and a pretty good one at that. I had always scored highly on the range. Although I could be replaced by just about anyone, I knew that through my focus and attention, I could be responsible for the lives of my fellow platoon-mates. Knowing that someone incompetent could be doing my job and my friends in turn would be at risk was my motivation to step up and be the best gunner I could be. I was proud of the role I preformed because I know the level of discipline I focused into my job for the safety of the platoon. Later, I realized that their lives took on value to me because I chose to value them through my own compassion. This compassion came across so strong that I didn’t mind dieing to prove it.

There was one element that gave me external focus and support for the war that I did not anticipate. We drove across the Kuwait/Iraq boarder April 22, 2003 shortly after the main offensive was completed. What caught me off guard as we entered the country was the sincerity of the thanks given to the U.S. forces from the Iraqi citizens. Their tearful thanks and the smiles of the children made me realize that we had accomplished something great. As great as this felt, I still bitterly cling to the means that reached this end. Was war really justified in this case? I don’t believe so. When the bitter, social failure of war crosses my mind, I think of the thanks I received from the Iraqis and the safety I provided to my fellow soldiers to justify my experience.

War Changes You

War changes you. No one comes home un-affected by the sights, sounds and experiences of a combat zone. There are simply events that occur in the soldier’s life that hopefully does not come up in the daily life of the civilian. I could produce lists of odd experiences that the average American will never have, but I don’t think that it is really the experience that changes the Soldier. It’s not the war itself, but how you re-learn how to relate to others.

I’m guessing that Robert Fulghum never served in a combat zone, because I learned a lot of things in Iraq that I never learned in Kindergarten. My greatest learning experience was becoming aware of what it means to be a soldier and how to relate as a soldier to other soldiers. In other words, I discovered what camaraderie is. I found that it is not the ultra-macho, alpha male nonsense that the movies make it out to be. Instead it is a very delicate and private bond between people who are mutually afraid to die. It is the most intimate of social contracts. When we arrived in the desert, it was quite obvious that everyone was afraid. Some did a better job disguising it than others, but we all used our friendship and a liberal dose of nervous humor, gallows humor if you would, to keep our minds away from fear and to stay focused on the mission. What I intimately realized was the primal rule of safety in numbers. In order for this phenomenon to arise, fear for survival must be present. I could almost hear this being spoken out by the platoon, but never directly stated. It was as if we were all indirectly saying, “I’m afraid. I’m terrified. But if I know you have my back, I’ll feel less afraid. And don’t you worry, because I’ll have your back too.” We had fused together so that our individual lives weren’t that important. It was the platoon, the squad and the team that had become our new identity.

I sometimes like to think of our three-person MP teams almost as if they were some sort of giant animal rolling down the main supply routs. I, as a gunner, was the eyes, ears and teeth of the creature because I was on top of the HMMWV with a good vantage point to see and hear the best. Also, I had the majority of the firepower in the vehicle at my control. The driver then acted as another set of eyes, and the feet, keeping a lookout and keeping the vehicle on course. The team leader was the brain that made decisions and kept in contact with the other units in the convoy. Together, the three of us made up a very tightly knit unit that behaved as whole. It got to a point where I stopped looking out for rough terrain because my trust in the driver had developed to a point where I knew she could handle any obstacle. At times, it felt as if my own eyes were steering the vehicle. I liked to think to myself that I was piloting an optically guided surfboard as I stood up behind the weapon system, bobbing and swaying in perfect unison as the driver’s steering was seemingly harmonized with my every thought. [BTW, I married my driver several years later. = ) ]

When we were back at camp trying to relax at the end of a mission in the scorching heat of southern Iraq, our behavior was more social and individual, but it served to unify our group. Our primary past time was being verbally mercilessly cruel to one another. This provided a lot of entertainment for the greatest number of people, as it was an easy form of humor. The more vulgar, the better. It had to be shocking and original, as it would jar our senses momentarily out of the reality of our existence. I later realized that this odd behavior isn’t so odd at all. Apparently it isn’t all that uncommon to respond with humor when one’s situation grows most dire. This was devastating to my vocabulary. All of those nifty five-dollar words were pared out of my vocabulary and replaced with all sorts of four letter ones. Anyone who has ever served in the military will understand this phenomenon. I think it’s the great equalizer of vocabulary as it represents the lowest common denominator of communication. Anyone can curse, but not everyone will respond positively to obscure vocabulary.

There is an element to this cruelty that I later understood to be quite beneficial to our camaraderie. In hindsight, I look back at all of the cruel words I spouted and see them in a new light. I realized that by honing in on a person, finding the most sensitive area of their psyche and verbally attacking it actually brings soldiers closer together in a certain sense. Through humorous psychological torment, the soldier is saying, “I will not let you distance yourself from me. I need you and I won’t let you keep anything from me.” This hazing was not entirely without mercy. The group was always sensitive enough to detect when someone had reached their limit or was under the strain of a topic that was best left alone. The goal was not to drive people away, but to bring them closer. The platoon was also sensitive enough to detect when someone wanted to say something substantial to speak about their feelings of what was going on in their lives. For instance, I was never once questioned, let alone criticized about my nightly meditation. Because of this use of humor, we all got really close. There was little space between us, physically or mentally. This intimacy all developed over our mutual fear of the environment we were in. Because of this, no one was ever allowed to think that the others were not there for them.

This system either breaks down barriers between soldiers, or teaches them to keep aspects of their personality that are frowned upon by the group to themselves. I’m not saying that this is an ideal way of existence by any means, but when you don’t have any assurance as to how much longer you have to live, it starts to make a little sense. There is this force of safety in numbers that pulled all of us together. Also, there was an outward force that rejected personality traits that were not beneficial to the entirety of the new group. Personally, I realized early in my military career that my intelligence and fascination with theoretical physics and the question of “being” were not going to be a regular topic of discussion of the group. I could get a good conversation in from time to time with certain people, but it took three years for me to learn how to withhold that aspect of my personality in social settings in order to be accepted. That part of me wasn’t suppressed; it just had to be exercised in non-social outlets. Again, I’m not saying that this is an ideal behavior, but it seems to work wonders on the camaraderie and morale of a group, especially in existentially stressful situations.

Because of our shared fear, we were united as one organized group. The longer we spent working together and interacting socially, the smoother things became. After a while we became a well-oiled machine. We all knew our purpose and the idea of the group being more important than the individual became more and more prominent.

Becoming a Hunter

When we first started rolling out on missions, I have to admit that I was a bit lackadaisical. I acted far too relaxed in the beginning because I had not yet recognized the true gravity of the situation. It only took a few of our more “invigorating” missions to help me accrue a sufficient amount of fear that really helped focus me on every mission thereafter. In response to the reality of the situation, I began to alter my body posture as to appear more intimidating to those who would wish to instigate conflict with our convoy. I think my team leader said it best, “If you were a mugger, would you rather jump a guy walking a poodle, or one who’s walking a pit bull?” That really hit home for me, as he was indirectly saying that he thought his team had a poodle for a gunner. His words really changed my attitude about my job. I began to continually lean into the M249 SAW to be as ready for a firefight as I could ever be. I began constantly sweeping my sights across every person and potential fighting position I could find. My thoughts and actions were becoming more and more vicious every day. I was truly becoming a hunter of men.

As a gunner, I felt immortal. I wore interceptor body armor on my torsos that had thick ballistic plating in it. On my head, I had the standard issue Kevlar helmet, so for the most part, my body was bullet proof, or at least that’s how I perceived it. The rest of my body was covered as well to keep out the constantly blowing dust and the relentless desert sun. I wore goggles over my eyes and a gaiter over my mouth, nose and ears, so my entire face was concealed. These all lined up nicely to keep my head free from dust and to retain a little moisture to cool me more efficiently. I wore gloves too as the weapons were all heated by the sun to untouchable temperatures. To a point, I didn’t feel human. I had what I felt was the anonymity of a Storm Trooper from the original Star Wars movies. None of my skin showed, completely concealing my humanity. I’m not sure of the psychological significance of this, but the only skin that showed at all was the tip of my trigger finger that protruded through a special hole in my glove.

As well as armor, I had a great deal of firepower at my disposal. The primary weapon was the MK19. This is a fully automatic, belt-fed grenade launcher that has a 2.2 km range. Beside me, I had an AT4 shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket strapped to the roof with a few easily removable bungee cords. Laid across the open hatch in front of me was the M249 SAW. This is a belt-fed fully automatic machine gun that fires from the open bolt position, knocking out 11 rounds a second. This was my favorite weapon, or as I thought of it, my business tool. It had the greatest precision and the highest rate of fire. Most situations we were in the MK19 was a little excessive, so I often shouldered the SAW when things got uncomfortable. The last weapon I had on my person was my M9 9mm semi-automatic pistol, the same one I carried in Germany. I still have the serial number memorized.

I loved it up in the turret with all of the weapons at my disposal to assert my presence on our missions. I felt safe up there. My safety had a strongly proactive feel to it as if I was in control of my destiny. If anyone wanted to do me harm, they would have to match my skill and desire to live and fight. I felt so safe up there, when we would roll into a new post at the end of a multiple day mission, I would often sleep on top of the vehicle. I’d just pop the rear hatch, stuff my Gortex in the little crack the rear hatch made with the roof, un-roll my ground pad over it, lay out my sleeping bag and drift pleasantly off to sleep. Forsaking the creature comforts of a proper cot, I was drawn to the security of this domain.

I found that when I was in the turret actively doing my job, my humanity and desire to kill were inversely proportional. On a good day, when I was feeling civil and compassionate, I was doing things the Army way and scanning for targets at which I could “aim center mass.” On a bad day, things were not so pleasant. When I would roll out on a mission with a head full of stress and negativity, I wanted to hurt and to punish anything and everything. I was literally begging for an excuse to murder and maim. It was nothing short of bloodlust. Normally, I tend to see the universe as a giant sea of chaos with little pockets of order. Stars start pumping out heavier elements, planets form, complex chemicals come together in water, and finally the first single celled organisms form to create complex organisms. These organisms then use compassion to form larger units of order. This order to me is life and it is the duty of creatures to preserve such order. Human beings are not limited to preserving the order of their bodies, but the order of the entire species. For me, compassion and the maintenance of order of the species in the midst of chaos is an essential human virtue. However, when the mind is lost in chaos, it begins to reflect that chaos as a way of reciprocating the punishment and stress that it is receiving. Some days, order inverted itself into chaos. This was a very distressing experience for me.
Fortunately, I was able to remain mindful enough to keep the desire for disorder in check when it rose.

Another mental phenomenon I observed while crafting my mind into that of the ideal machine-gunner was an altered perception of time. While on missions, my job was to perpetually scan for targets. I did this relentlessly for hours on end, with a personal record of a 14-hour mission from Kuwait to Baghdad escorting a transportation company that was driving into Iraq for the first time where everything that could go wrong did. During any missions, I needed to focus all of my attention on the present moment so that I could stay diligent in my duties. The future and the past faded away until there was nothing left other than the scanning.
In doing so, my senses became hyper-sensitized. Reactions to hostile fire needed to be instantaneous. One second of delay equated to multiple rounds of incoming fire. In the case of the SAW, one second equated to eleven rounds. To shorten my reaction time, my senses became highly tuned to all physical stimuli. This awareness manifested itself most noticeably in my sensitivity to pressure. With all of my attention focused on the present moment, I noticed a tiny delay between my perception of pressure, and my perception of sound. Because of this, I started focusing on pressure waves so that I could measure their direction and magnitude. The following perception of sound only aided the identification of their location and cause. To become more efficient at my job, I had become a precision sensing device.

When I experienced my first firefight, I responded in a very unusual way. When the machine guns started barking, my mind instantly went calm. I habitually snatched up my SAW and dropped down into a squat so that my elbows were supported on the roof of the vehicle. I passed over the MK19 as we were in a farming community and I had no idea as to who could be hidden in the tall grass of the field. It could be a combatant, or a civilian, so I opted for the more precise weapon. When I dropped down, I noticed that everything had gone silent. I could still hear the roar of the diesel engine, multiple rifle reports and the wind running across my ears, but everything seemed distinct and separate; almost tranquil. In the perception, I wasn’t there. There was also no machinegun, or targets; there was just the unified whole of rifle marksmanship. I was not there scanning for targets, there was just scanning. I was overcome with a blissful unity of being initiated by fear and enhanced by my training. This state didn’t last very long as we pulled out of this hostile area in less than a minute. It was then that I heard a little voice coming from the back of my head that said, “Shouldn’t you be a little nervous.” All at once, it felt as if a gallon of adrenaline was dumped into my system. My blood pressure skyrocketed and my muscles ached from holding the machine gun up and squatting down low for cover. My sense of self returned to leave me submerged in astronomical amounts of physical stress and an amplified level of fear. All I could think about then was how much I wanted a cigarette.

In other situations, my senses were elevated in ways that I didn’t know existed. One day we were driving across Kuwait during one of our painfully short stays in this relatively safe country. We were dressed down for this mission, so we wore only civilian grade body armor and carried only our pistols. As we drove down the Kuwaiti highway, my hand instinctually reached for my pistol suspended in my thigh holster. This is something I did often as I found the weapons presence reassuring. What I did next startles me to this day. As I reached down to feel the security of my weapon, I continued to swing off the retaining latch and completely draw it out of the holster. I then moved the selector lever from safe, to fire, pulled the slide to the rear and let it go, chambering a round. I then looked down at my hands, horrified at what I had done. Weapon safety is beaten into the minds of every soldier. A weapon in such a state should only be facing down-range at a target. How could I have unconsciously committed such a novice and dangerous mistake? I was embarrassed for sitting in the back seat of the HMMWV playing with my weapon. Just then, my stomach knotted up, as if some fear or dread was causing my entire midsection to implode in upon itself. Something felt terribly wrong. It was then that my attention was forced to my left outside the vehicle. I sat there feeling horrified and in the grip of some unseen power. Then, my fear manifested itself in the form of a red fender of a car that was pulling up alongside our vehicle. I stared intently at the car. As it came up along side of us, I saw five occupants, all Middle Eastern males presumably in their mid to late twenties. They were smiling and waving at us. I smiled back with my pistol held below the window still in my hand with a round in the chamber and on fire. Just then my team leader turned to me and told me to keep an eye on that car. The red car then pulled in front of us, slowed a little and then veered off onto an exit ramp. My team leader again turned to me and said, “I got a real bad feeling about that car.” I relayed my side of the story to him and showed him my pistol. Something had triggered a reaction for both of us that defies definition other than a gut instinct. Had this happened to myself alone, I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it, nor would have I felt comfortable recounting the tale. But since it happened to the two of us at once, I put a lot more credibility into the experience. I conclude that due to my heightened alertness, forces or senses beyond my ordinary perception of reality guided my movements and decision-making.

Over all, my reaction to becoming a hunter was pretty good. For the most part, I thought of it as an extreme contact sport, except the stakes were a lot higher. There was almost a stereotypical masculine aggression element to it of “me” vs. “you.” On the road, things felt equal. I was here with my weapons, and the insurgents were there with their own. It was war as you would think war should be with everybody trying his or her best to blow everyone else up. This aspect of combat didn’t bother me much at all. I’ll even go so far as to say that it was fun. Indirect fire was another story.

Mortars Scare the Hell Out of Me

I’m not sure if there is any good way to get used to indirect fire. It was the chaos of random mortar attacks that truly helped me realize the fragility and the utter meaninglessness of human life. It felt as if every day I was playing a game of Russian roulette with a revolver whose cylinder had a thousand chambers in it, but only one round. It was this randomness that focused my mind on the utter chaos of our world. There are no guarantees that this revolver won’t go off on any of us. Some days, it felt as if this revolver had fewer chambers in it. Some days, the game wasn’t played at all. But over all, that possibility of death when you least expected it was looming overhead at all times.

We were up near Balad working in the enemy prisoner of war wing of the combat support hospital when a mortar stuck the compound while I was on weapons guard in our tent. I was cruising through my fourth Harry Potter book of the week and an incoming enemy mortar exploded less than 100m from the tent. The concussion violently shook the tent and knocked the wind out of me a bit. I just sat there dumbfounded. That was the closest a mortar would ever land to me on this deployment and I never wish to experience that again. I had expected to be confronted by violence, but it was the passive element of the experience that really caught me off guard. I was relaxing in the hot breeze enjoying an easy read when this happened. This was such an incredible contrast to the person I was up on the turret who faced conflict on every mission. I wasn’t ready for the fight to be brought to my own cot! When my wits came to me, I slowly looked around awkwardly, not knowing what to do. So I grabbed my Kevlar and put it on my head. Then I slowly donned my Interceptor vest. There I sat in my body armor reading Harry Potter with the chilling realization that my perception of violence had been taken to a whole new level.

The face of death was now everywhere. Nowhere was safe. My life could end at any time. This was made painfully aware on the way to the shower when we were the most vulnerable. Many of the people in the platoon surprisingly shared this discomfort. Walking across the compound wearing shower-shoes with shaving bag in hand and a towel draped over the shoulder, quite a few soldiers pondered the all too real possibility of getting hit head-on by a mortar in their weakest moment.

Like good soldiers, we responded to this common threat with laughter. It got to be a joke after a while. Something inside the compound would explode and we’d just cheer. This was half in the spirit of the loud noises at your average Fourth of July celebration and half a celebration of the round not landing on our position. Either way, it was a way to deal with the sporadic reminders that life can end at any given instant. First you’re here and then you’re gone. Where’s the value in the life that’s just been obliterated by an incoming mortar? Where did it come from and where did it go? I began to realize that it was never there to begin with.

A third interpretation of our reaction to indirect fire is that our minds had begun to internalize the chaos that was all around us. If our world was chaotic, why not encourage it? I remember sitting in a guard tower near the perimeter when we were in the Baghdad International AirPort (BIAP) and listening to mortar tubes outside the perimeter fire. This sound actually got me excited in a very odd way. I felt like the kind of person who would slowdown to look at a grisly car crash. I was anxious to see what carnage this incoming volley would reap. The “thoomps” of the tubes were followed by “bangs” inside the perimeter a good deal away from our location. This was followed by the “ka-chunks” of the counter artillery battery and the corresponding “blammo” outside the wire. The chaos was invigorating and enlivening. What is it in human nature that is drawn to chaos and suffering? I do not profess to understand it, but I am intimately aware of its existence.

In the last four months of our deployment, we finally receive a few creature comforts, like a ceiling and a floor to sleep under and upon. One night, I was with my friend who just had his wife ship his Play Station 2 over from The States. We were relaxing and pretending we weren’t in Iraq when we heard what sounded like a miniature jet race over our building. Moments later, a tremendous explosion erupted from across post. We found out later that the PX’s storage area had been hit. This explosion was far greater than some puny mortar. We later found out that it was a large rocket that we heard roaring across our roof and its explosion was powerful enough to make the Play Station skip. This attack was obviously serious, so we put on our protective gear and re-booted the game. Others were gathering outside, so we dropped the game and went to join the platoon. Everyone was gathered outside in their body armor nervously talking and joking about the experience when Bob stepped out. Bob was a good soldier but more importantly he regularly offered well-needed comic relief for our platoon, and he could always be counted on for a laugh. Bob sauntered outside wearing unlaced combat boots and body armor with the chin strap of his Kevlar hanging down freely, wearing nothing but his underwear and a blank look on his face with a cigarette casually protruding from his mouth. Seeing Bob, everyone erupted in laughter. This moment was burned into my mind. Bob had become the ideal representation of the soldier. He didn’t care about anything (including his health) and wasn’t going to let a silly rocket attack keep him from doing what he does. He was pretending to be an empty husk of a man who just didn’t care anymore. Was that our ideal? Sadly enough, I think that it is. I’m reminded of the weathered Marlboro Man, who is so stoic and unconcerned with the unpleasant aspects of life. This emptiness only becomes real when compassion is withdrawn from the world. In this environment where tomorrow was never taken for granted, the emptiness inside became all too real. I believe that this emptiness is the basis of human existence and it is a void that can only be filled though the manifestation of compassion.

As bothersome as mortar and rocket attacks were, the greatest fear came from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The more common name given to these from the news media is the roadside bomb. These were and still are the greatest killers of U.S. troops. They are often undetectable and there is no way to anticipate their detonation. Everyone knew that if an IED went off next to a vehicle, the occupants had slim chances for survival.

The randomness and chaos inherent in the road-side bomb really struck home for our platoon during a several month mission when we ran escort and security missions out of a small compound northeast of Balad. We took over convoy escort missions from a battalion that was being utterly obliterated by roadside bombs and small arms fire during their daily trips into the red-zone of Baghdad. With heavy hearts, our platoon took up the mission, fully knowing what lay ahead for us. What really wrenched at our guts was the armor of our vehicles. The battalion we replaced had up-armor Humm-Vs with steel plating for armor, and inch and a half thick bullet proof glass. From the gunner’s perspective, they also had a large steel plate for the gunner to hide behind. We all new that in contrast, our platoon had the stripped down fiberglass armor vehicles that provided little or no protection from incoming fire. We liked to joke that as long as the insurgents threw rocks, we would be all right.
With the prior history of attacks in mind and the armor disadvantage, we rolled into Baghdad to conduct our mission. We did this for 24 days in a row with zero instances of enemy engagement. There were the usual short bursts from an AK-47 here and there, and once a hotel a few blocks away was car-bombed, but we never sustained any direct engagement. This was extremely welcomed. What permanently set the element of randomness in our minds was what happened when we released this mission back to the Battalion.
The very first day the battalion took over the mission, they were hit by an IED that destroyed their lead up-armor vehicle. The blast punched a hole through the armored door and lodged a piece of shrapnel in the driver’s leg. Also, the driver’s window was crushed in, centered on where the driver’s head would have been. Along side of the damage to the driver, the front of the vehicle and the engine were torn apart and the vehicle needed to be towed back to the battalion area.

Most of our Platoon got a chance to check out the remains of this vehicle and the same sickening thoughts came to everyone’s mind. Had that been our vehicle the day before, the driver would have been dead and the team leader and the gunner would also have sustained terrible wounds. Why didn’t this happen to us? Was the up-armor just a better target for the insurgency? Was our vehicle not worthy of being blown up? The conclusion that my mind reached was that it just happened that way. We rolled the dice and came out on top every day for 24 days. What bothers me is that there was no good reason why we made it through without so much as a scratch. What I realized was that I now owe my life to little more than chance. How is one to feel when they play the game of Russian roulette? It makes me sick to know that I played it, and sometimes sicker to know that I came out all right while others paid the ultimate price.

When I think about the grand unifying meaning and purpose that most world religions assume to be inherent in human life, I think about the 24 days we drove into chaos and came out unscathed. Some may reflect on this and say that something was looking out for us. The counter argument would be, “Why didn’t anything look out for the battalion?” They were human beings just like us. If you would say that God favors our platoon, I would be flattered for sure, but I do not think that is the case. I have concluded that we are all alive today because of pure dumb luck. We owe our lives to the randomness that somehow overlooked our deaths for 24 days. Human life is nothing more than a chance; a statistical anomaly. That which allows you to live another day is the system of chaos that our ordered systems of biology and mind fight against every day. Some die, and for the same senseless reasons people are killed, some people are allowed to live. You can ask yourself, “Why didn’t I get hit by a bus today on my way to work?” or “Why didn’t I have a massive aneurysm today?” but busses and blood vessel ruptures won’t yield the same result as mortar fire or an insurgency. But in essence they are the same. I think we’ve just become complacent with the meaningless randomness that takes human life.
One last example of the helplessness we faced came not from the insurgency, but from the brutal Iraq summer. The heat at times was unbearable but we drank unimaginable amounts of water and carried on. The heat mostly was tolerable, but the dust was a different story. Nasiriyah was the post we ran missions out of in the first seven months of our deployment and I often like to say that Nasiriyah is the dust storm capital of the world. There wasn’t any sand to speak of there. The dirt we called Iraqi Moon Dust, as it was so light, that when you stepped in it, it puffed up around you much like in the footage of the moon landing. The dust “splashed” up like water it was so fine. It was lighter than the consistency of baking flower. Now, when the wind picked up, this dust was everywhere.

One day, it was exceptionally bad. There were two teams in our platoon left behind for the day and we sat together in nylon foldout chairs wearing our goggles and different masks of sorts trying to keep the dust out. We had no shelter, as inside the tents were scorched by the mid-day sun and were about 30 degrees hotter. We just sat there in this brutal dust storm staring blankly at the others gathered together in some grim supportive companionship. Just sitting there, being helpless to the elements and utterly miserable was horrible. I remember my arms involuntarily twitching as if I were to get up and somehow make our situation better. Each time, I would force my arms to just go limp again, submitting to the terrible elements. I remember the imagery of a weak wolf submitting to the alpha wolf, rolled over on his belly as the dominant one humiliated him in front of the pack. I was that little wolf and I could do nothing.

In my recent memory, I don’t recall ever wanting to cry as much as I did that day. The helplessness and humiliation handed to me by nature was just too much. But each time I wanted to give in, I looked around and realized that there were five others sitting there beside me going through the exact same experience. If one person lost it, the others would surely fall like dominoes. Because of this, I found a strength I didn’t know existed. I was now enduring this abuse for the team, and not just for myself. It was for them that I needed to be strong. I needed to dig deep and find witty things to say to lighten the mood of this oppressive pall. It is in this same sense that we needed to be strong when the mortars came. Our emotions were not individual, there was only the emotional state of the group and I’ll damned if I ever do anything that brings down the group. My strength is the strength of the group, and the strength of the group is mine.

In this environment, we had all changed. The presence of death was always immanent and the randomness that allowed us to live another day was becoming more and more obvious every day. We bonded together because we knew that our safety and sanity increased the more we began to think and act as one. No one was guaranteed a ticket home, so we set our normal selves aside and took up the roles that would more aptly ensure our safety. I realized that in order to increase our odds of getting home, I needed to not just do soldierly things, but I needed to become a soldier. The more I focused on death and combat, the more empty I became inside. I had become a finely tuned killing machine.

And then they sent me home.

I Was Not Ready To Go Home

Within a matter of days, we left from BIAP and found ourselves awkwardly reunited with our families. When we returned, the soldiers stationed at… to aid with processing deploying and redeploying soldiers were being sent on leave for the Easter holiday. The decision was made to put us on leave as well. This shortened the amount of time separating our families from the desert. I was not ready for this at all. I wanted it more than anything, but at the same time there was so much residual instinct dominating my mind, I didn’t think I was ready to be with my family.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting at the dinner table with my parents and little sister feeling entirely too out of place. Was this a dream? My mind refused to believe that I was home. What made things worse was that everyone just carried on like it was just another day. They told stories about work and school and how things in the family were going. They all sat down and told stories about their day. What about my day? I’ve got several hundred days that you know nothing about! What was going on here?!

My first reflection came from understanding the language of family life and the importance of sharing your day with others. Their lives here were peaceful and productive. My family all did what they did to meet the demands of society and enjoy their days. When they came together, it was because of the bond of family that brought them together. They could all share in a very positive manner what they had been doing with their energies in this safe, free society.

I began to see that they really couldn’t relate to what I had been through. They came together under love and leisure. Where I had come from, we were united by fear and violence. My method for relating with other human beings was completely contrary to how my family and many other families across America related to one another. I only realized this after a lot of reflection, but I had no easy way to slip back into the role of a productive member of society.

I didn’t realize this at the time, but it was my father who helped me the most re-socialize back into the American culture. We would spend long afternoons sitting on the deck in the back yard, enjoying the cool late spring air, the trees and all of the little critters that would scurry about them. We would just sit and talk, enjoying a craft beer, or a fine whiskey and smoke some Cuban cigars I managed to smuggle back from the desert. My father too had been in the Army. He spent a few years in Korea during the Vietnam War. His deployment was a little calmer than mine, but his experiences with Army life were quite similar in many ways. Also, his father had served in WWII in the field artillery. Although he died nearly thirty years ago, he was still with us in the form of an old artillery piece he personally formed into an ashtray that had .50 caliber casings cut down the middle and welded to the sides that were designed to hold cigars. I felt very comforted by the vicarious presence of three generations of Army men in my family. We would just sit and talk and it was here that I was able to let out a lot of feelings that I knew weren’t compatible with civilization. I knew that my father could understand what I had been through. I didn’t need anyone to tell me how I felt or to try to compare their experiences with mine. I just needed someone to listen.

I knew that I had swallowed a lot of pain and now it was time to let it out. I could feel it boiling inside of me, but I had spent the last year learning how to repress and contain these feelings. This mental conditioning helped me a lot in Iraq, but I wasn’t in Iraq anymore. What I needed to do now was destroy the emotional barricades that I had in place to streamline my mind for the combat zone. The first way I found to do this was through alcohol.

Alcohol was able to dissolve my newly inculcated perspective on life and allow a year’s worth of pain to flow forth. I would drink far more than one regularly should and the boiling cauldron of chaos that had manifested inside of me would come up to the surface of my mind. I would then turn my thoughts to mortars and the 24 days of chance and the cauldron would erupt through my entire being. All of these feelings of helplessness attacked and swarmed my mind and I would weep and cry like the helpless child these feelings made me into. It’s hard to explain, but confronting these feelings felt good. This crying was so cleansing and purifying, I couldn’t wait to do it again. It was as if each time I tore open my emotional wounds and let myself cry, I recovered a little bit more of myself. I feel bad that alcohol needed to be involved, but I feel that I needed something to knock me out of the stoic citadel that had dominated my emotional core. I only used alcohol as an over-the-counter anti-anxiety medication in this sense a half dozen times or so and after the last time, the next day, the pain became obvious enough in a sober state of mind that I was able to confront it without the need for alcohol. Thankfully, the warrior I had become was starting to weaken and I could now begin rebuilding my psyche in a controlled, productive, alcohol-free manner.

I now felt as if my emotions were beginning to blossom like a little flower bud that happened to miss out on one season of growth. I was becoming whole again, but there were still instincts ingrained in my mind that I didn’t appreciate one bit. The first issue I had was with sharp noises. Any noise that got my attention froze me like a deer caught in some headlights. The only problem was that I wasn’t a deer, I was a wolf. My icy calm wasn’t from fear, but from my instinct to identify targets. What was that? Where is it? How far away was it? What should I use to engage it? These questions would soar through my mind disrupting whatever it was I was doing at the time when a sharp noise was produced, regardless of its source. This only became dangerous once when I was driving and a passed a Semi trailer when a loose canvas cracked like a whip right next to my vehicle. I panicked as defensive thoughts raced through my mind, but I was able to recognize that I wasn’t cruising down the main supply routs of Iraq. It gave me quite a fright, but I managed to keep my vehicle under control.

What helped me finally break free of this conditioning was recognizing how my mind learned to behave that way in the first place. I was a victim of my reactions for quite some time before one fortunate night I realized I went through the same anxiety when I heard a distant train rumbling across the valley from the apartment I was living in at the time. I could feel the massive force of the train shaking me as I stood in my apartment when all of a sudden, it dawned on my how I reacted to these noises in the desert. If you recall from above how I was able to hone in on the pressure waves that preceded sound by an instant, I realized that this was the way toward liberating myself from these reactions. I stood outside, letting these powerful shockwaves cross my body as I was engulfed by the anxiety of the reaction and the relationship between sound and force. I was grateful for this train as it taught me how I learned how to respond to sharp noises. Also, the rumble of the train was sustained. I don’t think I could have figured this one out so fast if I had to wait to be surprised by random sharp noises. This train helped me understand how I learned how to react. Knowing how this behavior was learned, I now had the power to un-learn it. About a year after I had returned home, I heard a sharp noise and I remarked to myself how my mind didn’t so much as flinch. It took an entire year, but I un-learned some deeply rooted behavior.

When I returned home, I set off on a road-trip to go visit my brother on the other side of the country. When I was with him, I received an e-mail from a dear friend of mine who had returned from a fourteen month exploration of South East Asia. My brother and I invited him to visit us to catch up and share stories about our adventures. A week after he arrived, it then dawned on me that we both had nothing but time and I had a good deal of money saved up from the Army. I then proposed an extended backpacking trip up the west coast. We departed on a trip that was to last two and a half months. I consider such a trip as this to be the greatest therapy any returning soldier could ever ask for.

My friend and I drove through every state on the west coast stopping at a dozen or so national parks. The arid waste of the Iraqi desert was replaced with the vibrant desert bio-diversity of Organ Pipe National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park. The flat dusty waste was replaced with the dynamic rock faces of Yosemite National Park and the looming Mount Rainier. As beautiful as these national treasures are, they paled in comparison to the contrast in my mental states. Instead of submissive reaction to chaos, I was affirming my life by making choices and surrounding myself with some of the world’s greatest natural beauty and an ideal travel companion. This really hit home for me on a four-day backpacking trip through Yosemite. Out in the woods away from every one except my friend, I was ultimately responsible for everything I did. My decisions affected my life and I could choose just how much risk and danger I wanted to experience. I was overwhelmed by the amount of control I had over my life. It was just that; my life. Not the Army’s life to manipulate just as the current administration had manipulated the Army. I was free, and I could choose whatever path lay ahead of me. This experience was so reaffirming for my spirit, I openly advise all soldiers returning from the Middle East to set out and rediscover the power of their own decisions.

How does a soldier change between these two contrary states of fear-based camaraderie and personal freedom? This is not an easy question to answer, and not one that I will attempt to field. The soldiers’ journey from fighters to family members is entirely their own. What needs to be done is that our society needs to be told just what it takes to be a soldier. The intricacies of military life and the destructive effect combat have on the human mind needs to be made far more public. War eliminates the traditional forms of compassion that make life worth living, but opens up new pathways for understanding what binds us together as a species.

What Have I Learned?

What I learned in my year in Iraq is that in chaotic systems, human life has no inherent value to it. We are no different than the rocks and trees, or any other animal that roams this earth. In war, a life is a fleeting entity that is terrified and focused on its own survival in a gruesomely utilitarian manner. All other values that our society believes in are trumped by this savage desire to live. When we hear about atrocities that arise in a combat zone, can we really be surprised? A soldier’s value is negated when they are told to kill and die. In this environment, can anyone be expected to retain the values that the soldiers are supposedly fighting for? In rare cases, this may be true, but for the most part, this is an illusion. When a person is placed in a combat zone with no clear reason as to why the combat is taking place in the first place, how can they be motivated by the “greater good?” These disillusioned soldiers have nothing to fight for other than their own lives and the lives of their brothers in arms. When thrown into an environment where they care about nothing other than their own survival, it is hypocritical to believe that they will act with all of the strengths and virtues that the United States professes to possess.

When I got to Iraq, I first thought that the value was taken from human life and that we had been reduced to this existence. But then, after living this way for some time, I realized that this value never existed in the first place. I watched humans behaving no better than dogs. Reduced to such a savage and primal state, I realized that it was a de-evolution of human nature. All of the more beautiful and intricate aspects of human life have at their foundation this simple savagery. When exposed to the chaos of combat, soldiers experience a sort of regression that strips them of their higher faculties of compassion and they are left to re-form themselves based on the utilitarian necessity of survival.

I realized that my value was taken from me, but through personal reflection, I am learning how to regenerate the ability to be a functional and compassionate human being. This has given me a profound appreciation for my family and friends. Our society tends to take the glories of love and compassion for granted. If we are lucky, we are raised receiving an endless stream of unconditional affection. Then, when we are adults, we tend to take this affection and care to be a standard and continue to share it with others. But this is done unconsciously, and compassion is thought to be just the way things are. The underlying chaos is all too soon forgotten. I wish more than anything that there was a way I could teach people this truth first hand, but I can’t. The illusory nature of compassion’s universal character is a tragic myth that has poisoned our perceptions of military action. Violent compassion is an oxymoron that our country sadly seems to accept unquestioningly. When we act violently, we are contradicting the elementary nature of compassion, opposing our stated compassionate goals.

So, where does the value of human life exist? I would avoid the definitions supplied by religion, as any religion’s definition would necessarily contain all of the absolute, totalitarian and dogmatic claims that tend to cause more conflict than they have ever settled. What I am looking for is a secular definition that can be shared by any human being, regardless of their beliefs.

Through my studies of my mind in and out of a combat zone, I have concluded that the value of human life comes from our ability to be compassionate. When I choose to love and respect another person, and they choose to love and respect me, we enter into a realm rich in the entire spectrum of human emotions. By being compassionate, we expose intimate and delicate aspects of our psyches to others and then refuse to do anything that would compromise their emotions. I think of it as an emotional synchronization, where emotions are shared between people in a perfectly mutual way. In compassion, no one is held in a higher state over the other. It is pure equality. Charlotte Joko Beck writes about this issue using the metaphor of ice cubes. (Beck, 1993) She believes that people are all comprised of emotions that she alludes to as water. The average person is tied up in his or her own emotional net of insecurity and fear. This emotional rigidity she equates to being an ice cube. (I like to think of camaraderie as building a fort out of ice cubes.) However, through compassion, we can approach another person in a non-threatening manner as an equal. The compassionate person is then thought of as a puddle. When this puddle interacts with the ice cube, it causes the ice to melt a little bit, becoming more like a puddle itself. Ice cubes are very rigid and separate things whereas puddles flow together to make an even greater puddle. This has been the message that has been taught by every major world religion, but people assimilate this teaching as ice cubes and assume that sometime perhaps after their own death they can join the puddle of humanity. This is a way of thinking that saddens me. Compassion needs to be expressed here on earth, here and now in our society today. There are just under three thousand dead coalition soldiers and thirty thousand dead Iraqi civilians who I am sure would have wished that this compassion could have been implemented in this life.

I fear that our society has taken compassion entirely for granted. Perhaps not compassion in it entirety, but maybe the actual requirements and prerequisites for compassion and its relationship to chaos and order. I see compassion as the next step of ordering human beings not into a greater society, but into a greater organism where all people are unified together just as the cells of the body form something far greater than their sum. I see compassion as the bond that can tap the incredible potential that our species possesses. We must also keep in mind the chaos that exists just under the surface of our existence and the all too human state of suffering that we must all live with. Recognizing this, we can suffer together as a species and create a world where the alleviation of suffering is our greatest priority. I think that when we forget the suffering that exists in the world, we forget the need for compassion. We also need to recognize the difference between how people bond together in chaos and in love.

Compassion can only come about when people can stop being afraid. I find it saddening that our news media spouts an endless stream of misfortune and misery when it could focus more on the little things happening in our communities that are brining people closer together under love and compassion. Instead, we are taught to be afraid so that we only come as close together as my platoon did in Iraq. We came together not under compassion, but under fear. This fear is devoid of compassion and only looks to annihilate and destroy. This chaos will only bread more chaos as we have tragically seen in the increase in insurgency in Iraq after the first year of occupation. What we have to show for our hostility and violence is an increase in hostility and violence. The longer our country is banded together through fear, I worry that our society will become the very manifestation of fear and hatred that it originally set out conquer. It has been said from an early age that violence conquers all but violence. This is a message that has seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Compassion is the only thing that will ever eradicate violence. I believe that it is our compassion that is the definitive trait of being human. Our intelligence has done wonders for our race as well, but it is also responsible for the greatest tragedies our planet and species have ever encountered. It isn’t our thinking that makes us unique; it is our compassion.

I have come to this conclusion because I have had my compassion stripped from me. I felt all of the beauty of life sapped from me and tossed into the vacuum of chaos that dominates the combat zone. When I returned home safe, I watched my compassion be reborn. I wish there was some way to have every American experience this without risking their lives or sanity. In this light, I see a lot of merit in Heinlein when he proposed that only soldiers should be allowed to lead a country, because only the person who has suffered the horrors of war should be responsible for damning thousands of others to death, disfigurement and a lifetime of terrifying memories. I question what our real message to the world is when we choose to strip a country of its value by dropping bombs on it and invalidating its people’s right to their humanity. What is it that we say to the world when we spend billions of dollars on killing when that money is desperately needed in American schools and American health care? What values are we really endorsing when we kill over 2600 American soldiers over the façade of “bad intelligence” that the administration hides behind? War invalidates the lives of our soldiers, the lives of whomever we are invading and the values that we as Americans insist we stand for.
 

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WOW! that is powerful stuff. You should publish it. I would buy a copy. I would like to ask quetions after I am finished reading if that is ok. If not then just tell me and I will respect your decision.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
WOW! that is powerful stuff. You should publish it. I would buy a copy. I would like to ask quetions after I am finished reading if that is ok. If not then just tell me and I will respect your decision.
I encourage questions and would love to answer them.
 
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I was Active Duty Air Force and I felt the same way pretty much. I never went overseas, but I definitely felt expendable to my supervisors who didn't care that I was hot... Definitely a HUGE adjustment when I got out. I had a really difficult time readjusting to civilian life and it really didn't help that I was 21 at the time and had no friends or real support system aside from my party crazy sister...

I have a few friends who are still in and they're miserable as well. I think that's definitely something that the military could work on- not making us feel like we are expendable. I think it's a whole military thing, not just a war thing. We enlisted, knowing full well that we could get sent overseas and die, but we don't have to be treated like we're awaiting a death sentence and treated sub-human.

I had an awesome TI (training instructor) when I was in Basic Training and I was in leadership. He was strict and taught us the rules, but he never swore at us or demeaned us. I loved how they called us "Crazies" as the derrogatory term. I actually laughed inside every time I heard it. I was actually pretty entertained by the whole system of Basic- good experience there. It wasn't until I went to Tech School that I started hating my life while I was in.

Anyway, is there actually anything we can do aside from bitch (I'm bitching, not you) about it? Great issues to bring up with my therapist that I've totally supressed (thanks for bringing it out), but what else can we do?
 

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First, this is a very thoughtful and well-written essay. Thanks for sharing.

Second, I'm not sure if you feel pride at your psychological resilience, but I certainly admire the adaptive and intelligent methods you have used to cope (minus the alcohol). You seem to have displayed competence in the face of pressure and that is worth admiring as well.

It's interesting that one of the most upsetting parts of this experience was the military ethos of expendability. Do you feel that this should be changed, and if so, how? If you were a general / emperor who was designing an army from scratch, could this aspect be done without?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
It's interesting that one of the most upsetting parts of this experience was the military ethos of expendability. Do you feel that this should be changed, and if so, how? If you were a general / emperor who was designing an army from scratch, could this aspect be done without?
I don't think there is any way around this. In hind sight, I probably should have been an officer. I think I think too much for enlisted life.
 

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I just wanted to get a feel for anyone who might like to read a paper I wrote as a form of PTSD catharsis from when I returned from Iraq. It is essentially my thoughts about how my mind changed into a soldier and then back into a civilian during my time overseas. I should warn you, it's 25 or so pages long. Anyone interested?
im interested as i want to join the army for a while and would like to hear experiences and thoughts from someone as similar as me
 
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