“Hey, Captain I didn’t expect to see you here?”
“Why is that Sir?”
“You haven’t heard?” He paused. “Fox Troop just reported a KIA….”
I bowed out graciously and stepped outside to see the flag lowering to half-mast.
I raced back and got to our troop TOC to listen to the radio traffic. Confirming news that we lost four soldiers, one forever, hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer. The coordination had already begun and as I got back up on net. I spoke with our Seven and took the orders of what I needed to do for the Hero flight.
I needed to meet up with the Red platoon and coordinate with the morgue.
I pulled up to the outpost where no one went unless absolutely necessary; the morgue services. The section from Red platoon pulled in and each Soldier had the stare of shock and bewilderment. We were all in morning. I gave a hug to the Mighty Red Deuce and proceeded inside.
There he was. Laid out under the flag that would travel with him to his final resting place. It took everything I had not to start crying. I didn’t and I buried all those emotions as best I could.
My Comrade and friend was gone. He was heading home.
I have not thought about the specifics of that day in six years. I struggle to remember certain details, but the images of my comrade and the inside of his destroyed tank are still with me.
I can see him as clearly as if I was there yesterday. For a while, that image haunted me. I would see it when I slept and when I was awake. I thought I would see him alive in crowds or for a spit second in a mirror. It nudged me towards the edge of my sanity.
The Smell of Battle
One day a few years ago I came upon a fresh accident. It had just happened and there was a woman still in her mangled car. I jumped out of my truck and helped the woman out of her car as she was choking on the smoke from the airbag. The smell in the car brought me right back to the inside of the destroyed tank. The same smell of explosion and blood.
I managed to stay with her until the Police arrived. I did not see the accident, so there was not much else I could help with. I trudged back to my truck and drove a few blocks. I pulled over and I wept. Too close and too soon. I crashed for the rest of that week. One giant step backwards.
The Good with the Bad
The memories and experiences are seared into my brain. My instinct to help others and take charge of bad situations is there too.
My battle since exiting the Army is keeping the good and discarding the bad. It has been at times all consuming, and I am still not done.
For years I beat myself up that I was on the FOB taking care of paperwork when it happened. I still rack my brain at times trying to think of how we could have done something different. Rumination is not healthy and it has become a habit I have to steer away from. I am trained enough now and in control of my emotions enough where I can feel closer to the normal that existed before the war.
Motivation and Affirmation
Today I see the image, but it is different. Today it is inspiration. I see it on my terms. I invoke the image to keep myself grounded and appreciative. It is motivation.
I have had a long recovery preventing events like that from controlling my life. The only way I am here today is by the support of my family, my friends, and my comrades. I am here because of my therapists, of both of the professional and shithouse variety. I am here to honor those that have fallen and to support those that carry on.
I am here today a different man than I was six years ago. I feel I am better for taking on this trial and forging my beliefs. I am ready to help my comrades.
I linked in with a group trying to help Veterans. I do what I can and I share my stories and my talents.
We are approaching Veterans Day. Please think about what you can do to help these men and women who have also given so much.