Common Language and PTSD

hurt lockerMy flight is delayed due to a freak “tarp flew into the engine” incident. Cue the “standing in line chit-chat and eavesdropping dynamic.” I partake in the latter, as generally opening my mouth, as my wife will easily agree, gets me more trouble than it is worth.

But oh, the nuggets of pure gold people pass around when they think they are out of ear shot. Also, add a little frustration from a delayed flight and poof: instant blog fodder.

A lovely couple just a few feet away are discussing something. I am more interested in tweeting to Southwest about a crappy experience and only half paying attention when the fateful acronym hits my radar: PTSD. Now they have my keen attention. From listening to earlier conversations they are newlyweds and both younger than I am. They seem like lovely people. The most interesting part to me is the way in which the conversation developed and the way the stress disorder worked it’s way into the conversation.

I am totally paraphrasing now. “So and so and whoseyamacallit are rooming together again. I swear “So and So” has PTSD. “Whoseyamacallit” said she totally flipped out about some white powder being on the floor when they moved in. She allegedly thought it was Anthrax or something…”

I am not sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, I am glad that PTSD is working it’s way into the common language. On the other, not knowing all the facts, but also not being new to this game, I am concerned about gross mis-representation of what PTSD is and how people are truly effected.

The media and Hollywood certainly aren’t doing us many favors. The recent shooting in Washington DC quickly alluded to PTSD as the shooter was a prior service member. Seemingly most Veteran stereotypes are portrayed with demons of war. Around Veteran’s day, there are many feel good stories about recovery and support. But, the common language and a greater understanding is still muddled.

I had not really thought about it until hearing a piece of casual conversation. If “So and so” doesn’t have PTSD, then her characterization is a phenomenon of broadly overgeneralizing as we do with other labels and ailments. Is this just part of our assimilation into culture? I remember in my youth freely using ADD to wholly describe someone who would not concentrate or acted hyper, even just for short spurts. Today, I have a loving family member and other close friends who have tackled or are battling ADHD. After meeting and knowing them, my respect for those with ADD or ADHD is thousands of times greater. Does this mean I have to go meet more people and show them a face with actual PTSD? Should I have challenged the newlywed on her use of the term? Food for thought.

The more I trudge through this continuing and complex reintegration, the more sympathy I have for those not just with PTSD but with all sorts of ailments. While I have been blogging for over two years now, I am not sure it will ever be my style to get in front of someone and challenge them without really knowing them. I prefer this longer form and medium.

In any case, I still have to crank one more post out today. Six down. I owe you five. Thanks for reading.

Mental Preparation and PTSD

“I always won in my imagination. I always hit the game-winning shot, or I hit the free throw. Or if I missed, there was a lane violation, and I was given another one.” ~ Mike Krzyzewski

If you listen to athletes and coaches long enough you will invariably find a few talk about the importance of mental preparation. So many aspects of sinking a putt or making a free throw exists between our ears and in hours of preparation before the real competition begins. Athlete after athlete will comment about visualizing the medals placed around their necks, or throwing the game winning pass.

In combat, the preparation is similar, but just different enough to have side effects. As any good leader will tell you, being prepared is an imperative. I remember many a night before a mission reviewing battle drills or nine line medevac requests. I spent hours staring at maps of objectives and playing out the worst case scenarios. Thinking about your Soldier’s getting shot or killed is no picnic. Unlike Coach K’s quote above, the luxury of relative inconsequence in sports is not afforded to a Soldier.  We have to take exceptionally hard looks at negative paths to minimize their impacts.

One of the more difficult tasks as a leader is keeping a positive attitude while staring down everything that can go wrong. I fully believe that over time this task becomes harder and harder. When bad scenarios transform from mental preparation to real world experiences the validation of negative ideas are more difficult to explain away as outliers. When I returned home I had enough reinforcement of traumatic experiences that these patterns of thinking were deeply entrenched. In mental health profession parlance they are “Stuck points”. Contrary to an athlete who is mindful of scenarios but is focused on success as the prize, I don’t know if I ever really emphasized “winning” in combat. The reward for success was having to roll the dice again on another mission, and after more than a few close calls, that eventually didn’t really feel like a reward.

Goodness knows the consequences in my new profession are not nearly as dire as in combat. Still, the need to mentally prepare to face each day does not simply melt away with a job in civilian life and certainly should not be limited to athletes and Soldiers. In the early days of my therapy it took me a long time to work past the crippling effects of those negative patterns. A key to my early small successes was thinking about how I would tackle the next day. However, as my therapy better prepared me to handle each day my habits relaxed. When time is short and the family and work life stack up, making time to prepare is tough. This blog is my mental preparation, especially this time of year. It helps me listen to my inner dialogue and challenge being depressed or moody. I wind down thinking about how to handle tomorrow and it is critical to take one day at a time. I run through scenarios with one conscious change from combat: I think more about winning and success now. I don’t ignore potential problems, but I focus more attention on the positives than the negatives.

This past week I am forcing myself to prepare for the days ahead. I know there are challenges ahead of me. Staying positive and thinking through the definition of success is even more important. I encourage you, no matter your profession, to take some time to mentally prepare for whatever it is you have coming up. Be mindful of scenarios, but be positive in your outlook. I believe it will pay dividends.

Alrighty, 5 posts down. I owe you six. Thanks for reading.


The Stigma of seeking mental health and PTSD

I said I would write a blog a day until Veteran’s Day.  Well, I have a few minutes to crank out the post for today and keep on pace.

I am pretty frank about seeing my therapist.  When I tell people (read my civilian coworkers) I am a Veteran who served in Iraq and I sought the help of therapists upon returning home, I usually get one of two reactions. One, the listener doesn’t even bat an eye and listens to me prattle on about this or that. Two, they nod and say, “Of course you did, that makes complete sense. I can’t image what you went through.”

I wish newly returning Veterans could see or hear those reactions from civilians more often. What would be even better, is if we could heard it from more of our own “kind”. I would be curious to find out a comparison between civilians and the armed forces on the percentage of population in therapy. I imagine the closer you get to the tip of the spear, the more disproportionate the numbers will be. Though, I do not think this is a problem or stigma solely limited to the Armed Forces.

I think the stigma lies out in the civilian world too. If you talk to my Mom, she will tell you I ask her to see a therapist on average once a month. She has yet to take me up on my advice. Still, the difference between my Mom not seeing a therapist and me not seeing a therapist have drastic differences in the impact on our lives. There were plenty of months were I lived session to session. My mood, creativity and energy all swung high and low from day to day and were only normalized by meeting with my therapist.  For a returning Veteran this can be the difference between a successful readjustment and taking their own life.

The number that touted by Veterans advocate groups is still 22 Veteran’s a day commit suicide. That number is still staggering. Through it all, I keep returning to the idea that removing the stigma of seeking help from a mental health professional is the most significant blocker to reversing this trend.

Ok.  Four posts down, Six days left and I owe you seven.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

PTSD and the Troll


In a letter to my wife, I once wrote that  “when this war was over for us, I want to move far away, buy a small piece of land and live the rest of our days in peace.”

I quickly found that returning from combat was a much longer trip than riding on a plane.  The impacts of exposure to war, especially prolonged combat living under a constant threat of attack, deeply engrained in me experiences that are complex and tough to understand at many levels.  In most respects, the war is not over for those of us that have returned.  The laws and morality of war differ enough from life at home that adjustment is problematic at best, impossible at worst.  Talking with Veterans of other generations, I am not sure if the wars in our hears and minds ever end.

The Troll

I can describe my combat self as a troll who thrives on stress, fear, grief and uncertainty.  He is the ugly and mean part of my soul.  Like the trolls from myth, he feeds on flesh and tears.  He is kept at by by sunlight and comes out at night when all is still to stalk and prey on the weak issues that linger in my mind.  He takes refuge in my inability, despite my work, to understand fully or process my experiences.  He digs up issues that I have tried to bury and lines the path to peace with bodies on pikes.  He slips in and out, leaving horrific reminders that any effort to forget him will be punished.   To him, trying to live in peace as a Veteran is dissent.

Reminders Close to Home

December always brings the nightmares of dead children to haunt me.  I keep my house cold to help me sleep, but my son is a restless sleeper–the blankets don’t hold him.  He somersaults in his sleep, thrashing covers as he rolls.  When I go up to check on him, his foot is dangling out from the covers. His tiny digits mirror the dusty foot of an Iraqi boy blown from his shoes by a mortar.  It is after midnight and I selfishly climb into my son’s bed to hold him and cry.  I clutch him tight as I try to reconcile the images of grief-stricken fathers holding the blankets that wrap their precious dolls robbed of life.  Avoidance is nearly impossible.  The tiny foot of my own son is all it takes.  I cannot hold him tight enough.

I believe the troll I mentioned lives in many people, and especially in combat Veterans.  The geek in me likes to label him a troll because then I can hope to outsmart and conquer him someday.  If I can ever claim victory,  I think it will be in my ability to keep him from appearing often and when he does, in a smaller diffused role.  Until then, I have further to travel. My destination is finding peace and hopefully I will help others along the way as they have helped me.

Further Along the Road

All these years and I still struggle to live in peace.  I have given up the pastimes of fighting and martial arts in favor of yoga and CrossFit.   I want to be non-violent, but I still cling to violence as an option.  I aim to be calm but my boys will tell you there are times in frustration and weakness when I am anything but.  I try to live in the moment, but my wife will tell you I am easily distant and distracted.  If you compare my demeanor to other Veterans with PTSD, I believe this is typical.  Discovering and learning more about these contradictions make the journey so important to me and my family.  We need time, and space to explore, to find peace.

3 Down.  1 Behind.  More Tomorrow.  Thanks for reading.

Non-profits and the Veteran

CharityWatch_RGB_180I have been around a number of social entrepreneurs who are making a tremendous impact in the Veteran community. As a Veteran, and one who has branded himself as an advocate, I often wrestle with where to best place my time and my money.

There are thousands (a few listed here on of not for profit charities that assist Veterans or their families. From service dogs, to mortgage assistance, to rides to the VA, there are so many people doing great work. However, as these wars have wound down, it feels as if the pace of creating new Veteran’s non-profits has slowed. I think this is a good thing. A point that I am keenly more aware of now is that non-profit does not mean “can lose money and survive”.

Once Afghanistan shuts down, we will hopefully close up shop and effectively stop our production of “Combat” or “War” Veterans. I am totally fine with that state of being. This, however raises an issue for our community to continue to generate stories of interest in the population at large.

I often think about the “market” for charity dollars. Our 7% total population of America is declining in numbers quickly with the steady expiration of the Vietnam Generation. That generation, which had the draft, makes up a huge portion of our voter base and voting power, as well as a stable pool of funding for these new and needed charities. We have less news coverage, a small and declining population, and we are fractured and heterogeneous in our coverage across the country.

With the decline of the Vietnam generation, from an interaction and personal connection standpoint, we are an even greater endangered species. I venture to say that more people know someone with breast cancer or have a smaller degree of separation than someone who knows a Veteran. Granted, near our military installations, that is probably not the case, but in large metropolitan areas, I think that is most likely the case. Believe me, putting aside the struggles of all peoples, we face an uphill battle in the public consciousness for charitable, private dollars.

I think that we will, and should, enter into a phase where we consolidate and reorganize our Veteran groups. A key to this, in my mind, is to drop the “war” or “theatre” qualifiers for Veterans and Veterans groups. If you served and never left America’s soil, you still served. I talk to a good number of Veterans. I often hear many Veterans refer to themselves as “Gulf War Era” or “Vietnam Era”. This attempt to attach some other adjective to try and compare themselves to the current crop who served overseas is where we are failing to strengthen our numbers. This includes the many VFWs, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, IAVA, United Ware Veterans Council… you name it. I understand that people want to take care of their own, but we have to endear more and future generations now, with and without war. Anyone who has ever put on a uniform, or is wearing one now and will not see combat needs to be in our ranks, the rank of proud Veteran.

So, when you take out your wallet, or donate your time in the coming weeks, please keep in mind our story and the need for private dollars to keep coming in to support all of the Soldiers who, war or not, need these services to continue to serve with honor.

2 down. I am one behind, but I will make it up. Thanks for reading.

Revisiting Anniversaries and PTSD

calendar imageWell it is November and I have not posted in quite a while. So, with the countdown to Veteran’s Day less than ten, I will attempt to write a blog post a day. Goodness knows, I have a digital folder full of scraps of drafts. A blog a day. 11 days. Until Veteran’s Day.

A while ago I wrote about anniversaries and their significance to me. That post is over two years old yet traumatic dates and countdowns still dot my yearly calendar. As more life events have papered over smaller dates, there are plenty of times where a date comes and goes and I don’t notice until well after it passes. As more life events stack up, I am less fixated on dates and the events that caused so much pain. For that, I am truly thankful.

Still, there are major dates that my mind will not let fade into the background. These handful of dates, days when mounds of conflicted emotion stack high, are days when the lead in to the memories is particularly tricky.

I have written or talked about June 7th 2005 in many therapy sessions. It was a long day where a pre-dawn raid turned into an excessive search and our element of surprise gave way to hours of searches and subsequently let the enemy organize. From that day the largest emotions that stick with me are guilt and anger. In a box in my basement is a piece of asphalt I picked out of my gear from that day.

Each year on that date I take the time to mourn my fallen comrade. I still have trouble sleeping that week. I still hear the contact report on the radio. I can still see him receiving aid that came as quickly as it could but ultimately too late. The sight of our fallen comrade, the sounds of gunfire and mortars and acrid smell of cordite and unmistakable odor of blood linger ready to trigger vivid memories. The fuse is shorter that week.

Yet, there are other anniversaries that have come to take hold. The birth of my sons are two that bring me such joy no bad day in Iraq can compete. And, this past week, to a less extent but with a strong significance to me, I hit one year at my new job. I don’t often write about work, but I am meaning to change that in these coming days.  I have to admit, it was very odd to get congratulations for hitting that mark.  However, knowing that I should celebrate my own achievements with this new normal early and often, I took it as a gentle reminder to try harder to let go of more harmful dates.

Letting go is a tricky balance because it feels good to hold on to some things, even if they can sometimes bring pain.  At certain points in my recovery the pain and suffering defined me.  Though I did not want to be know or acknowledged as the guy working through his therapy, it was so all consuming I had little other choice.  After much therapy what I can say for sure is that time and process have made these dates pass easier for me. One emotion in particular that lingers around anniversaries is the need to feel as though I am adequately honoring my fallen brothers and sisters in a significant and meaningful way.  Early in my therapy it started with smaller and more trivial acts.  An inner monologue that continually chirped over how much effort or sacrifice I was still making knowing my friends paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Over time, as my confidence in my own thoughts and emotions matured, I am grew less concerned with keeping score on myself and more focused on being positive and in the moment.  Now I look to build more positive memories on top of the old and potentially harmful anniversaries without the burden of constantly checking to see if I was carrying that guilt or whatever emotion was on call.

Building memories is not necessarily a quick and easy method. For me, things have to feel right. They have to be planned, and even when they are planned they must completely remove me from the reminders and memories I am trying to build over. That is why this year anniversary at work is great. I had to “work” at getting to the work anniversary.  Other successes I have had generally take me far away from my everyday routine and have special time set aside.  Because I often see the dates of the past coming each year, for me, the planning is all the more important.

I know from my Facebook feed that many of my friends and family honor their loved ones with anniversaries. I hope that in time they are not bound by grief or other emotions and they find peace and energy to create great and meaningful memories.

One blog post down. Ten to go. Thanks for reading.

A Shared Perspective on PTSD: The Gospel according to Spooner

I am fortunate that my service and continuing this blog has connected me with an extended group of supportive people.

A particular article came across my facebook feed and it is so impactful that I must send it forward.

Scot Spooner has done Veterans everywhere a great service. In many of the conversations I have with others about staying on track, I explain that the teachings of twelve step recovery heavily influence my daily structure. Scot, as a recovering alcoholic before he entered the service, had to stare down a big life change once before. In reading his article, I’m sure he leaned on those experiences in combating PTSD.

So, I encourage you to read his article, but first, here are the gems that I personally found myself nodding up and down.

The New Normal

“…post-WWII, they conducted a survey to find out who was affected (back then they called it shell shock) at a psychological level by mortal combat. Their findings were that 2% were unaffected. This 2% was made up of psychopaths. This means that to be affected, to have shell shock, soldiers heart or PTSD (call it what you will), is NORMAL.”

On comparing experiences

My view: don’t. His view, more eloquent:

“My experience is real and it is mine alone, just as you have yours. It is not the amount of time on the ground, the number of buddies killed, the number of enemy killed, or any other “score card” that matters. What I am here to talk about is that if you experienced mortal combat on the field of battle, you are forever changed, just as I am.  And no amount of score keeping can quantify individual effect on our mind body and soul. This issue is unique to each and every combat veteran and it is in relating to one another, not comparing, that we find common ground and share common solutions.”

Trace to the root, deal with the problem

“I had to realize that there was a reason for every single symptom that I was experiencing and until each one of these symptoms was traced to the root and dealt with through appropriate ACTION, nothing was going to change. This bring up another point of discussion that will tie in my earlier correlation to how dealing with PTSD is very similar to dealing with addiction.”

On Suicide:

“Just like any other issue I have had in life, I will only take action when the pain level takes me to my knees. The scary part about this fact is that some take it to the extreme, which is why the veteran suicide rate is what it is. People believe that suicide is a coward’s way out, and I say to those who say that: “You have no idea, and should keep your short sighted opinion to yourself“. Those who have committed suicide due to their inability to learn how to live with the “new normal” were not and are not cowards. They are people that need relief. We are all creatures of comfort and will always seek comfort. Hell, that’s why we squirm around in a chair – to get comfortable. These individuals end up in a place in life that is so painful that the only way to achieve any level of sanity or comfort is to end it all.  Unless you have ever been in so much pain that death looks like a good alternative to continuing to live in hell in this life, you have no right to judge a veteran that makes this sad yet too common choice. This is what we must strive to change!”

And finally, a great list, affectionately from heretofore called

Spooner’s 18:

1. Went to ART therapy to process traumatic memories.
2. Read and studied a book titled War And The Soul , by Dr. Edward Tick.
3. Researched the symptoms of PTSD in order to get some intel on the enemy.
4. Went to and continue to go to acupuncture and take natural herbs and supplements to support my vital organs and critical systems.
5. Do my best to stay on a solid PT regiment . I suck at this – that’s why I joined the Army so I could be made to work out!
6. Find a therapist that I am comfortable with and make the appointments count every time. Being honest and taking advice.
7. Telling my story to civilians in an effort to heal and to give them some of my burden.
8. Getting involved with non-profit ventures to try and give back.
9. Having the courage to admit my struggles with the world, especially when i didn’t want to (which is always).
10. Writing a daily journal entry in order to get what is inside of me outside of me.
11. Writing a daily gratitude list to remind myself of all that I have to be thankful.
12. Writing a Daily Design and schedule.
13. Mentoring other vets who are struggling.
14. NOT spending time telling war stories with other warriors for the sake of feeling the “old rush” or a good laugh.
15. Learning to be present wherever I am.
16. Removing negative people from my life.
17. Spending time with people that are living in the solution, not talking about the problem.
18. Maintaining a relationship with a power greater than myself whom I choose to call God.

Link to the article here.

So, read, share and huge thanks to Scot Spooner for staying in the fight.

A Letter to a Stranger about PTSD

My PTSD Google Alert passes many interesting articles through my inbox. The volume of disturbing articles seems to be increasing over time.

This morning a link from Gawker was at the top of my news feed. I am not a huge fan of Gawker, but I felt compelled to read this article. I read it and was overwhelmed with the tragic stories that are still persisting and were presented there.

I have been avoiding the shit out of many things and unfortunately the pressure has built up too high. The bottom of the article had a link. So on a whim I penned a letter.

Dear Hamilton,

Reading the accounts of other Veteran’s is upsetting to me, but a story that needs to be told.

I exited the Army in 2006 after two tours in Iraq. They were in relatively close order and the ten month break in-between trips was not nearly enough time to readjust. The second trip was worse than the first and exposed me to new and different horrors of war. That deployment compounded what was most likely a case of PTSD from the first tour.

When I returned home I slogged through the VA benefits process with the help and support of my wife and family. For a while I lived away from my wife and newborn son. For a while my father drove me to and from work as the medications I was on rendered me unable to function as I was coming up from them.

Each week for the better part of six years I saw a therapist at the VA and chipped away at learning to deal with a new normal of persistent anxiety and depression. In that six years I fired two therapists and cannot speak highly enough of all the rest.

I quit drinking and all drugs but I am still addicted to work to keep my mind away from the negative patterns of thought that are ingrained from years of training and fighting. I finally got off the antidepressants about a year ago. Despite all that, some days I still break down and cry in the bathroom at work. I consider myself lucky to even have a job.

I wish I could say that after these six years I am an integrated happy member of society, but I am afraid that will not be true for many years, if ever. I can keep the wild and extreme thoughts at bay, but they still linger in the dark corners of my mind. One day seven years ago I took out my gun and considered getting some rest from those thoughts.

That day I doubled down on my family and my therapy and today I am able to survive and more often than not, flourish. I did not do it alone. We Veterans cannot do it alone. It takes lots of hard work and discipline to maintain this steady state. My perspective coming through the other side of this is now valued by my coworkers and family, but only as I am able to present it currently. If it was any rougher or more graphic, I don’t think they could handle nor tolerate it.

I am now dedicated to see my two boys grow up and reach a ripe old age with my wife.

I write a blog about PTSD and my treatment. (my friends were harassing me about not having a post lately)…

Thanks again for raising awareness.

Sincerely Yours,

Michael “Mikey” Piro

It was liberating to write this little summary and confess how I feel. I am still deeply emotional about by my experiences in war, but I have so much to celebrate and be thankful. I am flourishing. These past 16 months have been the best since I came home and each month continues to be better. I could not have done it without you that are reading this right now and this convention of bearing my soul into the internet. I am doing fine, thanks to you.

So here comes the ask, find a Veteran, give them a hug. Accept them for who they are and give them an opportunity to flourish.

Poems For Memorial Day

Nothing screams silent reflection to me like Memorial Day and Poetry.
My outstanding roommate and PTSD Survivor Daily resident Poet Laureate Melissa Parrish curated these wonderful Poems.
Martial Cadenza – Wallace Stevens
Only this evening I saw again low in the sky
The evening star, at the beginning of winter, the star
That in spring will crown every western horizon,
Again . . . as if it came back, as if life came back,
Not in a later son, a different daughter, another place,
But as if evening found us young, still young,
Still walking in a present of our own.
It was like sudden time in a world without time,
This world, this place, the street in which I was,
Without time: as that which is not has no time,
Is not, or is of what there was, is full
Of the silence before the armies, armies without
Either trumpets or drums, the commanders mute, the arms
On the ground, fixed fast in a profound defeat.
What had this star to do with the world it lit,
With the blank skies over England, over France
And above the German camps?  It looked apart.
Yet it is this that shall maintain–Itself
Is time, apart from any past, apart
From any future, the ever-living and being,
The ever-breathing and moving, the constant fire,
The present close, the present realized,
Not the symbol but that for which the symbol stands,
The vivid thing in the air that never changes,
Though the air change.  Only this evening I saw it again,
At the beginning of winter, and I walked and talked
Again, and lived and was again, and breathed again
And moved again and flashed again, time flashed again.


Facing It

by Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

From Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa. Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa.

SGT Jacob Simpson

Simpson_memorial2It has been 8 years since SGT Jacob Simpson, my friend, former crew member and Soldier died in Tal’Afar Iraq.  My memory is not so good anymore.  There is a murky haze around the details, so when I jump around in this post or if you remember it different, please forgive me.

When I first came home I would have described what I was doing in the third person.  It would have a deluge of Army specific terms like “avenue of approach” or  BOLO (Be On the LOokout).  I would describe these events tactically and clinically.  It is easy to summarize events, even events that are horrific, when you avoid the emotions.  As time has passed those terms are mothballed, but the feelings remain fresh.   I write about my feelings a bunch but I have never verbalized this day eight years ago until today.  It is too hard.

Up and Down

I was patrolling blocks away when “CONTACT” burst over the radio.  That word, in that intonation, spikes your adrenaline.  If you are outside the wire, it means FIGHT.  If you are not near the fight, it means GO TO THE FIGHT.

It seemed like only moments before that high turned into a pit of despair.  The highs and lows always seem to still affect me.  This and other events linger as reasons.  The voice on the radio, alarmed and excited seconds before reported to us with the solemn words that dropped us all:

“He’s dead.  Simpson’s dead.”


Why?  Where? What?

The updates rolled in and my troop deflated.  The enemy disappeared back into the population.  The attack was so quick our response bore no gains.

We were providing security for Iraqi’s trying to receive treatment at the local hospital.  There were gruesome reports of mistreatment along sectarian lines.  Our presence stabilized a city resource and brought relative normalcy to a town where the mayor’s son was killed and booby trapped not months before.

None of that sh!t mattered now.


The next few days are a blur.  I remember wanting to cry at the hero flight but being so Angry that I wouldn’t.  That rage fueled us all for a while, but these days, mine has given way more to sorrow.  A Bradley Fighting Vehicle brought his body back to camp. As the track plodded along slowly towards the tarmac the reality set in.  Our Troopers bravely escorted him into the plane painting an all too familiar picture of a Soldier draped in a flag en route to his final resting place.

My Commander and First Sergeant had the impossible task of eulogizing Jacob at the farewell ceremony.  They nailed it.   The images of boots, rifle, bayonet, Stetson and dog tags still give me pause.  We crossed in front of it, gave our last salute, gently touched the dog tags and walked away hoping that those ritualized acts could seal the wound.  They didn’t.

The day after the attack I remember talking with our Regimental Commander and telling him the good stories about Simpson.   There were only good stories about Simpson.

This is what I remember.

I met Specialist Jacob Simpson the first day I arrived at my troop.  I had a different Combat patch (4ID), a Combat Infantry Badge and a screaming high and tight haircut.  I didn’t look, smell or act like a scout and Jacob could see that so he started pinging me with questions.  He had the look of a squared away Soldier and was extremely attentive to my replies, so I immediately took note and liked him.

I had the further good fortune of getting Jacob on loan during gunnery before our deployment.  Even though he was not officially assigned, he took his job with a seriousness that impressed me.  It would have been easy to slack off or do the minimum.  He did the opposite.

We had jumped around but settled outside of the dry fire range one day.  We had all of our crap just strewn in the back and it was annoying him.  He wasn’t able to do his job as well, so he took out a wrench and started mounting straps on the outside of the track.  Then he hung our stuff out there.  He didn’t do it to win points, he did it so he was able to do his job better.  He took initiative and just did it.  Moreover, he did it with a smile.  A little rock n roll on the radio, a little sun on his face and this Specialist was happy to contribute in any way.

When it was our turn to shoot our Gunnery, he put us in a position to excel by counting rounds and keeping track of the firing scenarios.  We could come in second in our Troop in large part from the teamwork he helped foster.

When he earned his Stripes I saw the pride and determination enter his face.  Ready or not he displayed what all of our great NCO’s showed us before and during that deployment: the NCO corps is the backbone of the Army.  He was a professional and wanted to earn the respect of his peers, superiors and subordinates alike.  He had great tough NCO’s above him and while the learning curve was steep, he rose to the occasion.

When the Troop shuffled the roster and he received his team members he continued the excitement and initiative that I witnessed months earlier.  They followed him around and knew he was the big brother type the was going to show them the ropes.  He moved with urgency and when he got excited he would stand on his tip toes.

He wanted to go to Selection for the Special Forces.  I had a number of friends that completed selection and I had been through a few other schools, so if he ever caught me with down time he peppered me with questions.  I was happy to answer.  I knew with time and more experience he would be a fine SF Soldier.

He was taken this day eight years ago.   He was taken too soon.  He died in service to this nation defending the defenseless.

As my commander eloquently pointed out at his eulogy, he is a hero and we will always miss him.

Until we meet again my friend.