Chapter 7 Trying to Get Back to the Routine
America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration ~ Warren G. Harding
PTS and TBI are a one-two punch, many of the struggles with the two are so similar that they sometimes mask the other issues. A couple things that might put some clarity into dealing with life battling both conditions, with PTS the smallest things become a major struggle, when a stressful situation arises most people are able to sort out the scenario and process, when dealing with PTS because of the physiological effects (Which we will get into later) PTS makes it so that the processing factor is massively disrupted. This all manifests into a physical reaction, things like memory loss, physical illness, headaches, and a long list of related issues that one would never consider as part of a psychological injury. When you battle with TBI the physiological issues are much the same, short term memory is directly affected, headaches which manifest into physical issues such as balance issues and vertigo. Vertigo quickly morphs into nausea and physical pain, both come from the head spins and dizziness.
As you can see the two-walk hand in hand, these one-two punches is a lot to deal with.
After the attacks of September 11th, a lot of focus was trying to get back to life, for a lot of America this was a tall order but one that national pride and preservation would make feasible. The difference for us was even with the dust settled the remembrances still stood.
Over several weeks after the attacks there was still a lot to do, as a member of The Old Guard one of our missions was to conduct burials in Arlington National Cemetery, this translated into showing honor for some of the people who were victims of the attack. Over the coming weeks, plenty of time was spent in Section 64 of the cemetery where we all did our best to honor and remember those who paid the price for this horrible event.
A side note about the times conducting services at Arlington, over the next few years we would come upon funeral rotation every few weeks. Those of you who are not familiar there are several sections of the cemetery that are in a clear view of the attack site on the pentagon. Every time we ended up conducting a service in an eyeshot of that portion of the building a sickening feeling would take over. Still to this day during the few times I have returned to see friends there when I see this site that feeling returns.
Because my initial enlistment was for only 3 years by the time all the events of September 11th had come to an end, I found myself in the last two years of my contract. I also watched our nation move into the early stages of the war. The Old Guard is not truly a combat unit so there was a distance from what my brother in arms was a part of, yet I still felt like I owed something. I just did not know what my path would bring.
2002 would be a whirlwind, long days of ceremonies, training, and learning combined with battling personal demons at night. Overall the year would be full of prideful accomplishments. I was able to earn the coveted Expert Infantry Badge and attend some amazing events. I was honored to shake hands with some of the most powerful men in the world and get to know some of the greatest military minds in our history. All of this played a huge part in clearing the fog of my personal dilemma about what I owed our nation and those who dedicated time serving it.
Not all this time was bliss, it was during this cycle of time I had my first taste of leadership in its mediocre form. The reality is not all leaders that wear stripes or bars are good, I saw leaders who preferred drink over setting an example, I experienced my first cases of leaders who put their personal success over the needs of their men and I witnessed pride interfere with good decision making. One of the biggest pictures burnt into my memory was an officer who came from a family line of military service. One of these family members had done extraordinary things during his time in combat and is still owed a great debt of gratitude form our nation. However, his offspring felt it important to make his stake in the world, he did so with arrogance and pride. His actions on more than one occasion made it clear that regardless of who he injured or who he sacrificed he was going to make his mark.
There were just as many great leaders that passed through my life in this time. Guys who recognized that setting the example was just as important as knowing when it was time to care. The blessing of all this is it seemed like I came across more strong personalities like this than I did the ones who were not so good.
By September 2002 I had come into my window to make a choice. I could finish out my enlistment and head home to figure out life or I could re-enlist. As trivial as this sounds it was a major crossroads in my life and I was just not ready. In the end, I found a loophole that would allow me some precious time. I was able to manipulate a 1-year extension at The Old Guard, in turn, I was able to secure a 6-month break from daily army life and attend college. By this time, I had managed to achieve the rank of E-4 Specialist and had found myself under the tutelage of SSG Mark again. His confidence in me and my abilities gave me a sense of pride that I found addicting and this was emphasized when he assigned me as a team leader within his squad. This leadership position gave me such a sense of being I never did take the college time, instead, I continued to train and work.
As 2003 rolled around life became routine for the most part. I enjoyed work and I was accepting my role as a young leader; I had managed to work hard enough to get an appointment to attend the promotion board and gain Sergeant Stripes. Getting promoted was much more of a challenge than I had expected, between hours of studying and learning, coupled with working a regular schedule there was not much time for myself. In ways, this may have been a good thing because it kept my mind occupied and did not allow me to remember, on the same side it probably did not provide me with time to process things either.
In the spring of 2003, I had my first of only a couple run-ins with trouble. I had received my sergeant stripes and was leading a team. I was still under the mentorship of SSG Mark and things seemed to be going my way in life. To this day I do not remember the occasion but for whatever reason, our squad had decided to have a get together to celebrate some type of event. As per the Army way we all got together for BBQ and drinks. As the day passed by, we all had a good time and enjoyed the comradery and fellowship. Toward the end of the evening, one of the guys in my team managed to consume too much and started acting a fool. By early evening we were on the search to find this intoxicated soldier who had wandered off in the woods. Shortly before dark, we realized his vehicle was gone and figured he had gotten someone to drive him home. Unfortunately, this was not the truth, it seems he had made the bad choice to drive his vehicle and was pulled over by the Military Police. During this stop, it took several of them to apprehend him and he had assaulted more than one of them.
The next Monday morning was a rough time, somehow in this soldier’s decision making, I was being held accountable because I was “with” him while he was drinking, and I was at fault for him driving. Still to this day, I believe that the stand that SSG Mark took saved me from total career annihilation. The commander during this time was the same one that prioritized his career over others who were in charge. I believe he had every intention of destroying my career in the effort of gaining the attention of those above him.
Needless to say, I was able to skirt through the incident a little battered and bruised but intact. I was issued a company level letter of reprimand and it was made clear that I would never see another promotion or advancement during this command.
As per the many blessings in the Army and things changing often this same command moved on shortly after.
Fall of 2003 came in a rush, I had used up my extension time gaining a lot of great knowledge, yes some of it should have been through the books of a college but none the less I had learned a lot. I had also seen our nation go full-fledged into war.
This is one of the many times I will admit that my pride and personality clouded good judgment. I was still angry as a young man over the attacks of 9-11. I was angry that people I knew were driven overseas to fight in a war trying to protect our nation and keep the war off our turf.
The tipping point in this anger came when I received word that a soldier, I had attended Basic Training with had been killed during combat operations in Afghanistan.
Initially, my plan was to reclass to a different job in the Army. I felt that I could better serve in a different role than Infantry. This proved to be a very tough move. Infantry is one of those jobs that is always a high priority in the Army. In order to reclass, I was pretty much stuck because it is next to impossible to leave a high priority job for a lower priority. I went over the list of jobs that I could transfer into and none of them had any interest to me.
Call it fate, dumb luck, or destiny but it looked like being an Infantrymen was my only option.
It was this that made my decision, over a couple of weeks in the fall of 2003 I got advice and input from as many people who had been to line units as possible. I was committed to finding an assignment in a combat-ready unit and seeing action/getting revenge/taking the fight to the enemy.
It was during this search that a Sergeant First Class that I had come pretty close to gave me some advice. At the time it sounded like good advice looking back I am sure my clouded judgment kept me from seeing it for what it was. SFC Y as we will call him was a British man who had served in the British Army. He somehow had ended up in the States where we went to the one thing he knew, the Army. Overall, he was a great guy and a superb leader but still to this day I think he had an addiction to combat I think the military and its duties were his escape from life. Either way, I will never say a cross word about him or his service. His suggestion to me was trying to get into one of the new Stryker Units. The Stryker was the new Infantry vehicle and it had become the buzz about being the next great thing.
After a little research, I found that Alaska was preparing to build a Stryker Unit and they would be looking for Infantrymen soon. Immediately sprung into action, after numerous calls to the re-enlistment office my odds were not looking too good. He continued to claim that because of combat losses the only option out there was for me to go to one of the traditional Infantry units. He continued to claim Alaska was not building a Stryker unit and that there were no options to go there. In our second to the last conversation, I simply told him, “If Alaska is not an option then I will finish out my enlistment here and go home”. Hours later he called me with an assignment at Fort Wainwright Alaska.
A short couple of weeks later I was raising my hand again to reenlist for 3 more years, this time it was a new place and the realities of combat.
In the next chapter, we will talk about “The Move” the whole new frozen world I was about to enter and how life outside of The Old Guard was a harsh one.
We will also get into some of the actual causes as I understand them of PTS and TBI, I hope to provide some insight on where it starts in the hopes that it can clear up why it is such a struggle.