Monthly Archives: July 2011

Zombies, Worrying, and #PTSD

Nightmares and Zombies

I have a recurring nightmare that my Bradley Fighting Vehicle is swarmed by the enemy and I cannot find my rifle or shoot my weapons.  Pretty much, replace the zombies shown above with insurgents and you get the picture minus me screaming.  I wake up in a cold sweat until I realize I am home again.  The nightmare is less now than when I first returned, but I still get a panicked visit quite frequently.  In theatre there were incidents of Soldiers being ambushed from behind while on their vehicles.  I remember one report about a Soldier who was killed at close range on his track.  I think there was a stigma about being on the receiving end of these types of attacks that most of my peers related to weakness.  Worrying about your covering your “Six” is standard for me.

This past week has been a rough one because of a number of factors, some of which are beyond my control.  Unfortunately, though they are beyond my influence, they are still gnawing at my thoughts.  My dog passing and the fever pitch in the news about the debt ceiling negotiations affecting Veterans benefits have me re-running scenarios and working contingencies.  Essentially I am worrying more.

Hot Hot Heat

The weather has been brutally hot and reminiscent of my time spent in the desert.  The intense heat always puts me on high alert.  I can grab winks in the heat, but it is far from sound sleep.  (My remedy is to put attempt to put frost on my windows with my AC…)  In each deployment during OIF I and III there always seemed to be a period of time where we were transitioning to a new AO and comfortable amenities were not readily available.  (Ah, the life of an Infantryman…)  The large operations were targeted in the heat of the summer to preempt an active fall and prey on the insurgents’ laziness and unwillingness to fight in the heat. Lucky us.

In one instance I remember the heat, lack of true safety, and little sleep colliding to wreak havoc on all of us as we laid siege to a town.  We rolled forward through our sector and eventually took over a school as a forward base in searing heat.  While the school did have an air conditioner, the electricity needed to run it was limited at best. Still, we tried to rotate everyone through that room to catch their little bit of sleep in the AC.

Each night of that operation we pounded the city with artillery, close air, Abrams and Bradley fire. (I have a sweet story about a trigger happy an LT for another day…)  We were close enough to the impacts and the forward line of troops that we had to be alert all the time.  We slept whenever we could on whatever we could and trying to achieve any comfort gave way to sheer exhaustion.  The inherent danger being around falling artillery, with insurgents close by, and the constant push of mission planning and execution, I feel that this operation (and others) organizes my mind to relate the heat with anxiety and restlessness and worrying.

Trained to Worry

I was trained as a leader that in combat you do not get second chances.  Attention to detail, flawless execution, and expecting the unexpected are so highly emphasized that when I finally reached combat, I spent each phase of planning and operating ruminating on how to keep my Soldiers alive.

What if x happens?  How would Y impact our next move?  If the enemy does Z, what do we do? It was constant and ever changing with these fluid and dangerous battlefields.  Overlay those thoughts with maintaining my own personal safety (Is this a safe enough position?  If I am attacked now, what are my first moves?  See zombie picture above.), and the result over time is ingrained hyper vigilance.  Again, the fear in my dream is that I cannot react to the threats and the vigilance is for naught.

It is well documented that this mindset is hard to turn off when a Soldier returns home.  In some way we are essentially turned into an efficient worry wort or super prepared boy scout in combat.  The Army calls it “risk mitigation” and it is important for being in combat.

However, the strain of survival and the burden of keeping my Soldiers safe became such a way of life that it was hard to remember what safe and calm felt like.  I was more comfortable pissed off and on edge.  Then, when an acute trauma was intertwined with the perpetual anxiety, some whacky stuff started to seep into my everyday thoughts. (I currently get into these fits where I work through detailed plans for responding to a Nuclear attack on Manhattan and getting off Long Island.  Normal?  Not so much.)  But, when you combine super anxiety with anger and depression you have some real fun between your ears.

How the Cognitive Processing Helps

As I have completed and continued Cognitive Processing therapy, I am able to unwind the anger from the depression and guilt from the anxiety.  Though being able to separate the feelings doesn’t stop their onset, knowing what I am facing and applying techniques to “combat” the onslaught of impulsive and irrational feelings give me a fighting chance to fend it off.

The first line of defense for me is getting rest and taking the time to unwind and think.  This blog helps because I can logically revisit my thoughts and organize a plan for staying rational.  My plan for the heat is pretty simple: stay out of it. :)  But, when that is not possible I am ensuring my medications are current and I have adjusted my diet and added fish oil to my regiment.  Keeping a tight calendar and preparing myself mentally and physically is where I can get my edge.

This past week the calendar was very fluid and I paid for it by the end of the week.  This coming week I am booking up again, but at least I have visibility.

My Mom has a poster hanging in the kitchen that reads “Don’t let the worries of tomorrow drain the energy of today.”  It is good advice and takes a lot of work to achieve.

If I ever start thinking about Zombie attacks, I will really have to check myself out.  Though as I quickly think about it, I don’t think the scenario is much different from the nuclear fallout… I may just carry more blunt objects.

Vectors for Disease, A Death in the Family and #PTSD

The Granary, the largest building in town

The Granary, the largest building in town

Move In Day

Half way through my second tour, our entire Squadron moved into the city we were patrolling to establish a greater presence and apply pressure on the growing insurgency.  There were many parts of town that entering with US forces guaranteed an attack.  As we were attempting to build Iraqi defense forces it became necessary to work more closely with native Army and Police and be more responsive to the violence.  Sunni and Shia Muslims split the town in half, and sectarian violence, along with hatred for the occupying American forces, kept us very busy.

We kicked off the tighter integration with Iraqi forces by occupying key terrain and giving each Cavalry troop an AO (or Area of Operation).  Our Troop, thanks to some great work by my CO, built a good relation with the most influential Sheik in town.  As a result, we occupied a key infrastructure resource near the Sheik’s residence: a series of Grain Silos, codename: the Granary.

This massive structure could be seen from anywhere in town and was on a large piece of land surrounded by a high wall.  It was easy to defend, tied into the electrical grid, and essential as a staging point for the Squadron to move into the rest of the city.  A giant operation was brewing and the solid concrete buildings and a place to land helicopters for Medevac made it the first stop in occupying the rest of the town.

Vectors for Disease

However, there was some slight trouble when we moved in.  The normal staff at the Granary was about 15 to 30 Iraqi’s.  We moved in four hundred American Soldiers and two hundred Iraqi Commandos en route to blocking off the worst part of town.  Picture six hundred dudes, no showers, and no place to take a shit.  We were scrambling to get toilets and piss tubes set up so we could maintain sanitary conditions.

Disease was no joke when you are not near an established base.  Infections spread quickly and can make a unit ineffective.  In northern Iraq a Cavalry Troop of 120 men was exposed to biting sand flies and came down with leishmaniasis.  The entire unit had to be evacuated.  It was a serious drain on combat effectiveness and as a result Medics were charged with task of coming up with a plan for eliminating “Vectors for Disease”.  On move in day, and for a few subsequent weeks, we were living in filth.  The medics had their work cut out for them and here is a quick summary why…

The grain in the silos was going bad, but there was still more than enough to feed the rats.  The wild dogs that lived in the area would infiltrate our camp and eat the rats, the dogs would also relieve themselves on our newly attained compound.

Besides any trash that escaped our burn pits, the wild dogs would also eat human feces.  The human feces was graciously provided by the Iraqi Commando unit members who would walk into an open field with a bottle of water, drop trou and take a dump.  (Gives a whole new meaning to the term “mine field”…)  The other animal that loved the feces and the rats and the dogs and the grain were flies.  The flies were so bad you could not move food an inch from your face into your pie hole without a fly landing on it.  Disgusting.

On top of fighting the bad guys, we had to make sure that we could sustain our operations in our new area.  The work that went into our area beautification was constant and would be scheduled to a platoon on rotation in between missions.  We built burn pits.  We set rat traps.  We cleaned up the human crap. We set out insect traps. (A quick aside, the Western Style toilets were not favored by the Iraqi’s and they did not assign anyone from their unit to clean it up.  When they left, we simply doused them wood out houses with fuel and burned them to the ground.)

So what about the dogs?  Well, for a while we let them be…  But their was a group that was becoming increasingly hostile towards our Soldiers.  One mangy Cujo in particular started to chase one of our guys.  As he snapped and barked our Joe pulled his 9mm and killed the dog on the spot.  I can remember the sun was low in the sky and getting ready to set.

The decision was made.  The dogs had to go.  When you are in combat and you are told you are a killer everyday in your training, proving that you are tough takes on a wider birth than just the enemy.

I remember the decision being very clinical.  We cannot have people wandering around camp randomly shooting things.  The task must be controlled, and policed.

I formed up a group of Soldiers in our TOC and we let the radio watchman know that we were about to sweep the area and rid ourselves of these “Vectors of Disease”.  In our own minds we could now justify a test fire of our weapons.  I took a hand radio and told the RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) that the code word that would precede our shots was “Old Yeller”.  (In other units it was called Operation Snoopy… )

It did not feel like we were going to exterminate dogs.  The name “Vector of Disease” gave us enough distance from the animals.  Back in the states most dogs are treated like humans.  Like the assumptions made by previous generations in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, dehumanizing your enemy is supposed to make killing them easier.  I guess we “dehumanized” the dogs.

To this day I regret that it came to those actions.  Looking back on the decision, the dogs were the least of our problems at the time. The effort used to try and move them in a humane way was a luxury we could no longer justify.  We were trying to stay alive and protect ourselves.  These unfortunate animals picked the wrong place to try and live. Our mindset was indicative of the hard fights we had been in up to that point.  We had already taken losses and a Survivor mentality surrounded by a cold callous gave us little pause in deciding the fate of those dogs.

We formed a line shoulder to shoulder and swept across the compound.  When we were done, our Soldiers stacked the dogs in a pile and burned the remains.  I did not stick around after the dogs were killed.  War sucks.

A death in the Family

Thursday afternoon my dog died.  As I sat next to him and cried I could not help but think about some cosmic balance that was restored somewhere.  I try not to believe in a vengeful God, but the thought has lingered with me that my actions in my time spent in Hell on Earth are going to play themselves out over the course of my life.  Sometimes I will be saved, sometimes I will be punished.  I believe more heavily in the previous than the later, but I cannot help but feel that my dog dying is the later. This one is affecting me pretty hard.

I got Dozer when I exited the Army.  He had a mess of physical problems and did not have a long life expectancy as a result.  It was shocking the day that he passed because he had acted the same way many times before.  He was an English Bulldog and the heat along with his respiratory problems got the better of him.

To me, this past Thursday marks the end of a chapter in my struggle with PTSD.  We lost a family member who had been with me since I became a civilian again and embarked on getting right.  His endless affection was always something I could rely upon.

Dozer my English Bulldog Rest In Peace

Dozer my English Bulldog Rest In Peace

The period of reflection I have taken over the past few days has led me down many paths in my mind, and I can confidently say there is still so much work to be done to keep getting better.  I will put to test the skills I have learned through my therapy these next few weeks, albeit with a slightly smaller scale.  Please wish me luck.

Stir Crazy: Crawling up the walls with #PTSD

Knock. Knock.

Through the door, “Fox 5, Grim is in contact.  Outlaw 26 just took fire.”

Fuck.

Outlaw 26 is my wife.  (pause to let that sink in…)

I scrambled from my CHU (containerized housing unit) and ran up to our TOC (Tactical Operations Center).

The radios were screaming.  Grim Troop was ambushed as they approached a school in a bad part of town.  They took casualties and then worse yet, their Armored ambulance was struck by an IED flipping it over and wounding and killing their medics.

I had just assumed temporary command as my Commander was taking leave.  Talk about out of the frying pan…

Then the next report came in, Outlaw 26 taking fire, damaged, returning to base.  Nauseous?  You betcha.

“Good.” I thought as she reporting in that she made it back to base.  Her and her copilot will swap out and have another crew step in.  I should have known my wife better… or maybe I was in denial at that point.   She hopped in another aircraft and went right back to the fight.  That pit in my stomach grew much larger in an instant.  I was crawling up the walls of the TOC and out of my skin.

We had a section of Bradley Fighting vehicles in the area and they moved in to report and assist.  They were attacked too and one of our platoon sergeants took a round in the plate. The fight lasted for hours.

Stir Crazy

It was a long hard day. Everyone performed with extreme valor that day, including my wife.  Listening to the shit storm on the radio drove me batty.  I did not want to be in a tent.  I wanted to be out with my unit.  I sure as shit wanted to trade places with my wife (though I cannot fly a helicopter…)

Listening and waiting and enduring were a common part of the type of combat we faced. There were many other times where the mission and rules of engagement forced upon us helplessness and being targets all at the same time.  Minimizing collateral damage and being less agile than the enemy condemned us to play by an uneven set of rules.  Many days were spent chasing enemies while shackled to ROE and slow reports.  To clarify, those days were spent locked on a piece of land taking pot shots from the enemy and trying to maneuver.  Even though we had armored vehicles and lots of firepower, we were still sitting ducks.

The day Outlaw 26 took a round in the fuel tank and limped her aircraft back to base is a high anxiety point branded in my brain forever.  What made it worse was I sat in a tent on a Forward Operating Base where the only thing I could do was answer the radio and stare at pushpins on maps.

From all the times sitting taking fire or guarding myself being out in the open and supporting others for hours on end, I feel I have developed a serious agitation point when I sit in one place too long.  The anger and anxiety and helpless feelings that accompany me when I sit around too long are points I am still working on.

One symptom of PTSD is a lack of concentration and focus.  I think I can refine mine to extreme focus with little attention.  The hyper arousal that remains with me to constantly check my surrounding is a little timer in my brain that keeps ticking.  I imagine it is like having ADHD.  When I am working on something and focused, I can plow through it.  My brain however, tells me to go check on other stuff instinctively.   It comes in handy when my kids are in their room and just a bit too quite.  Not so much when trying to get certain types of work done or relax and sleep.

Guinness for Strength, Meditation and Vitamins for focus

I am currently tinkering with a bunch of techniques to try and keep focused and drive on.  Caffeine (see previous post) and some vitamins are what I am rolling with now, though I am going to try out yoga.  I have been reading a lot of articles about meditation and its benefits for PTSD, so if anyone can recommend a place on Long Island for Transcendental Meditation or a good Yoga houses out on the Island, I am game.

I have a few more posts brewing about living with my wife in a combat zone, so stay tuned.  Thanks!

Side Effects May Include… and #PTSD

Off Balance with Stimulants

I have a dependency on my medication and caffeine.  One of the vicious side effects of needing the meds (besides gaining weight) is that I need stupid amounts of caffeine to counter the super-sluggishness I feel from the Celexa.  To achieve and maintain any amount of productivity, I need a steady supply of caffeine.  But here is the kicker: I’m a bundle of nerves to begin with and sucking down a speedball of 5 hour energy and a Venti Starbucks with a triple shot espresso just to get moving is not healthy and it gets me on edge.

I have tried to keep my caffeine lower in the afternoons, but that is no always feasible.  Either way, if I don’t keep caffeine to a minimum, I have to start increasing or decreasing doses of meds just to balance out.  And as always, both of those courses of action have serious side effects.

Increase meds and cobwebs at the same time

I try to be a creative problem solver each day.  Whether that is with work, family or my PTSD symptoms, I try and approach it with a thoughtful steady strategy.  I am in this for the long haul.

However, life often dictates situations that I need a little help.  Instead of accepting avoidance as my method of coping I choose to medicate and keep tabs on my balance.  When requirements come up, like driving, taking the train, or dealing with crowds, I have used the recent tact of taking a higher dose of meds going into the situations.

Now, I still do my mental preparation and review my CPT and PET lessons, but when the time is short, slightly upping the meds is a safe and quick way to allow me the latitude to carry on.  The side effect is that I spend a big portion of my day banging out cobwebs and ramping up, then trying to relax and wind down.  Is this safe?  Is this really a good long term plan?  It is too early to say.  But, it has been working ok for me. (And no, I only reserve the Caffeine Speedball for really special occasions…)

Angry Mike

Cobwebs are much better than the alternative.  If I forget medication, mistime a refill, or try and gain some creative clarity by not taking meds, the Mr. Hyde like form which my wife has dubbed “Angry Mike” has a greater likelihood of making a guest appearance.

When my medications are working normally they blunt a lot of the emotions.  Blunting the emotions gives me enough time and space to recognize when the emotions are coming full force and reason my way through them.   That little extra edge makes a big difference.  I had a temper growing up.  My post deployment feelings went from anger to rage with a hair trigger.  By the same effect, my ability to be mean in a social context is greatly enhanced.

I have a lot of smashed gadgets from Angry Mike.  Still, amongst the hit list of things I am not proud of when I was completely off medications the smashed gadgets don’t hold a candle to the awful things I have said to my wife, mother, sisters and even my kids.   I have gotten better at not being venomous.  I think the farther I get away from my deployments and settle into civilian life, the better I get.

In one instance when I was home on mid-tour leave, well before taking medications, I managed to call my college freshman sister fat and make her and Mom cry in the span of one hour.  The more messed up part was that at the time I felt I was justified in calling it like I saw it.  Everyone else be damned.  My deployment gave me the right to do whatever I pleased and tell everyone exactly what I thought.  Life in combat is hard and I wanted everyone else to feel it too.  I would also pass around the dirty looks pretty freely.  Needless to say, that is not how you build a strong family relationship or get people to lend you a hand.

Caffeine nation

So, last night I was up until three AM.  I banged out most of this post while trying to avoid other thoughts that were not serving me well.  This morning, I am plowing through without coffee or Red Bull or 5 hour energy.  It is rough.  I spoke to another Veteran friend of mine late last night. He is a Gulf Warrior and he recommended taking a walk to air it out.  I got up this morning and took a lap and that little bit of exercise gave me the jolt I needed.  Still, I have a 5 hour energy sitting right here, and it will get cracked as I push “Publish” on this post.  It is a far cry from college and Ranger school where I didn’t consume any caffeine or tobacco products.   I have a passport for Caffeine Nation, and the side effects are just something I am still sorting out.   My center of balance between medication and caffeinating is ever changing.  I expect with time and effort I will get more in tune.

Josh Hamilton, Guilt and #PTSD

The Tragedy at Arlington

As I have been watching Sports Center and the tragedy that unfolded at the stadium in Arlington Texas, I cannot help but empathize with Josh Hamilton. I can see the pain on his face and the anguish behind his eyes.

A routine act seemingly ends in a death. The unfortunate part is that of all of the thousands of variables that led to the tragedy in question, the one that his mind focuses on is the act he had control over. For a Veteran with PTSD, there are many instances where ultimately, the lines are drawn in our minds that raise the little voice, “If only I had just….” It is not fair, and it takes time to remove.

Guilt with a Capital G

I claim my Catholic up brining as a contributing factor to the Guilt that, after an extreme dose of war, helps me ruminate on the series of events that led to more than a few tragedies. As a parent now, I know that Guilt is a powerful tool ingrained in us to conform and act appropriately. But, life dictates circumstances where that guilt does us more harm than good.

The stuck points and the “If only…” took me years to work out in therapy. I still look at events in that light, but I can now do it with a healthier perspective. In one instance, in a prolonged raid/firefight I instructed a group of Soldiers to move on and assist another team forward of our position. I can see them in my mind’s eye forming up and moving out after my instructions. There were dozens of points of enemy contact that morning and we all had our plates full with reporting, maneuvering and avoiding getting shot ourselves. The group of American and Iraqi Soldiers moved away from my position in a neat tactical formation. The point man never returned alive.

I have carried his death with me to this day. When they retrieved his body and tried in vain to resuscitate him I had a front row seat. I can still see that too.

Unhealthy Rumination

I have replayed that day in my mind thousands of times. What could I have done differently to prevent that? I strain my mind to recall details that would contribute to a different scenario. It wasn’t until a poignant question by my therapist about stuck points that the rumination began to lessen and unwind.

“Did you pull the trigger on the gun that killed him?”

“No.”

“So is it reasonable to say you didn’t kill him, the enemy killed him?”

“Yes.”

“So even if you changed everything you could affect that day, he still could have died?”

“Yes…..”

I hope that the people that surround Josh Hamilton are effective in convincing him of his minor role in this tragedy. Could he have thrown the ball harder? Absolutely. But, there could have been a net installed below the seats, and there could have been a higher rail, and the gentlemen could have been wearing sneakers instead of flip-flops and he could have not reached for the ball and…. You get the point. I’m not saying it will be easy. The mind has an uncanny way of not letting us forget. I hope it gets easier quicker, and he is able to maintain his performance, and more importantly, his sobriety.

The Aftermath and #PTSD

Fourth of July is over, and with it comes recovery from a myriad of ailments.  Over eating BBQ, little sleep at night, and of course, recovering from fireworks and the memories I carry with them are the typical aftermath of this holiday weekend.  (my dad has a soft serve machine, it is impossible for me to resist helping myself to many ice cream cones…)

Quick reflections on July 4th

My neighbor behind my house must have a connection with Grucci because the fireworks display was spectacular.  It was a solid 40 minutes and a loud 40 minutes at that. My boys were in my lap and they asked to move from our behind glass indoor position to our back patio.  I obliged and we sat through the remainder on July 3rd outside.

It was intense.  They sound the same and bring the emotions right back.  I was overwhelmed at first, but remembered that the In Vivo only works if you remain immersed.  Plus, my son was firmly planted on my lap and he was not having me go back inside. I was able to talk with my wife and get through it.  By the end, I was proud that I succeeded in tackling my PTSD goal for the weekend.  It wiped me out, and I spent most of 4th on the couch, but I did it.  Which is my lead in to the title of this post: the aftermath.

What happens after?

I feel that the aftermath of traumatic events, and how they are handled and processed, both in groups and individually, is a critical step in lessening the severity and long term impact of the events.  Trouble is, in war, you are most definitely dealing with immediacy and not trying to get to far ahead of yourself.  If you look to far ahead, you get distracted, lose focus and miss an important mission.  If you dwell, you get bogged down and stuck in the mud.

You have to keep moving.  Moving keeps you alive.  We most often cannot take a timeout to review what just happened and explore our feelings. And that is exactly where the trouble starts.  It is a more exquisite form of a catch-22.  We must pay later to get through today.

It is my opinion that tempo has a lot to do with the lasting effects of PTSD.  The longer and harder the tempo, the less time to deal with what may be creeping up, the deeper it is ingrained.

Again, it is not the Armed forces job to completely manage the tempo.  The situations, dire and dangerous, dictate the pace.  But, I can assure the Army that the prolonged grind and staring into more deployments led to my exit, and I am sure it led to a few of my compatriots exit as well.

The Makeshift Field Hospital

In one particular instance, we did an out brief after a horrendous day.

The morning started with a car bomb vaporizing a dozen people and leaving hundreds more injured.  My unit housed the Forward Aid Station (FAS) and when the hospital in town was overflowing, we opened our gates to treat the wounded civilians.

They came in literally by the truck load.  Missing arms and legs, facing third degree burns, and quickly reaching our max capacity I spent that day doing triage assisting our stellar Medics.  It was so bad we pulled our line mechanics in to give IVs just so we could have more hands.  It is an understatement to say I am haunted by the children I saw that day, and unfortunately there are many.  We worked for hours upon hours calling in MEDEVAC choppers and treating the wounded.  When we were finished, we were left bleaching out all of the blood stains in the concrete at dusk still reeling from our impromptu hospital.

That night we sat with a counselor as a group and talked openly about our feelings and what happened.  I started with this, “Every time I walked past my room all I wanted to do was go sit on my cot in the corner, put my poncho liner over my head and cry.”

I didn’t.  I kept moving and stayed alive.  The aftermath is where you can get a lot of good work done, if the time permits.  I am grateful for that hour we spent talking that night.  It is a luxury in a combat zone that doesn’t come often.

The Aftermath has just begun

But, this just reinforces the need for our VA system to be stocked with staff eager to take us on.  The aftermath is still going on.  It will be for years.  We need the system that understands us and is sworn to continue our care to step up.  We need citizens to accept us as Veterans and embrace us on our road back to normalcy.

I can still vividly see a small boy who was burned down half his body and barely crying on a cot while we gave him an IV. The aftermath of these wars has only just begun.

The Obligatory “F-ing Fireworks!” and #PTSD 4th of July Post

Aptly Named Artillery Shells

Look at the pretty fireworks…

Last year was the first year since coming back from Iraq that I actually enjoyed watching fireworks.  Granted, it was from a distance, behind glass, with music playing while holding my kids on my lap, but hey, I will take whatever wins I can get.

My first deployment we received mortars steadily.  To put it bluntly, they suck.  In that deployment, our particular flavor of mortar attacks was even harder to swallow since we could not return fire.  Somehow, when you get to shoot back, you feel better because at least there is a remote chance of catching the bastard trying to send you the mortars.

At one point we were mortared every night for a week.  By the end we averaged an attack every three days.  Receiving mortars is one of the most helpless feelings you can have as a Soldier with the worse style coming when you lose a friend because of them.   The reason for this post is that those feelings come rushing back when you are caught off guard by some celebratory fireworks, and sometimes even when you prepare.

“INCOMING!”

When a mortar attack starts you hear, and sometimes see, the “flash”. Seconds later, with the “Bang”,  all hell is breaking loose in a whirl of screaming metal.  As I reviewed my journal from my first deployment I re-read entries about the mortar attacks, and having nightmares about mortars.  With fourth of July coming I have been trying to think of witty ways to approach and describe what it feels like to be mortared.  Unfortunately, I am at a loss.  It is, like love, something that needs to be experienced.  Once you have, you can stumble around for the rest of your life looking for the words.  You can read Shakespeare, but until you know love, you will not fully appreciate his words.  I can write about it.  You can read it.  But, full appreciation is not reached without experience.

I will say this, when you have been mortared and they land next to you, you can truly say you know what  terrified and helpless feels like.

An aside for a Charmin Moment..

(I can also add with with respect to mortars, they are most terrifying when you are trying to take a shit.  All of my journal entries exploring mortar attacks revolve around wanting to die with my boots on and my rifle in my hands.  And I quote, “I just don’t want to eat it with my pants around my ankles on the shitter.” We even had an Air Force guy in a neighboring camp get knocked out when a mortar landed two shitters down from him.   Most guys, for this reason, try to time their movements away from the mortar attack trends. But I digress…)

Still give me the shakes

I was riding my bike not a week ago and rode past, without seeing them, some people setting off fireworks.  When the unexpected fireworks go off, my first thought was and continues to be “Mother fucker!”.  (See, there is that anger again.).   If I know they are coming and I can prepare, I can tolerate the noise and the feelings.  Unfortunately, living in the burbs, there are not fireworks announcements or advertising like at a baseball game.

Look, I’m all about celebrating our nations’ Independence.  I love BBQs and sparklers.  I’m not going to bash, criticize or suggest that people are insensitive to Veteran’s when they start lighting those fireworks off.   It’s just that when the fireworks start going off,especially the mortar type, I would rather be inside.

Knowing this, I am going to take the time this year to embrace my avoidance of fireworks.  Hell, I may even go buy some.  I will count this as my In Vivo exposure for the weekend and report back later.

So, for all you fireworks fans out there, let’em fly!  (and I’ll be sure to try and schedule my “movements” during the day.)