I received an email several weeks ago, purportedly from a friend of a friend who reads this blog. His claims are, of course, unverified--I'm no journalist--but he asked that I share what he had to say. As someone who knows well the sting of others trying to discredit what he feels or went through, I have no intention of speculating on his experiences or background. For every person who claims to be dealing with issues and isn't, there's another half-dozen who really are and don't talk about it. Therefore, I'm simply sharing what he has said to me, in its unvarnished format.
I have my own thoughts on what this young man has shared, but I don't have them entirely in order yet. As such, I'm simply going to pass his words along, and let it go from there. I'll offer up any comments I might have in a future post. Here goes:
A friend of ours gave me the link to your blog as he felt it might help me with some problems that I have now. I ask that you please share my story as I can’t due to contractual obligations with the US government.
I joined the military in 2000 when I was a mere seventeen years old. I joined so that I could work in a Special Operations. Just before my 19 birthday I was deploy because of Sept 11, 2001. A few weeks after I deployed I had the most traumatizing event of my short life. As my friend and I stood next to each other, preparing to light up a cigarette, we gazed into a building where my team was considering resting for the night. We had watched the area for several hours and had seen no movement, so we felt it was comfortable to be in a fairly open position. As my friend placed his cigarette to his mouth, and I light mine, I heard a shot ring out and felt something splash my face. I had seen where the muzzle flash had come from, kneeled down, took aim, and ordered my friend to find cover. I saw a dark spot in the window where a person was standing; I pushed every ounce of air out of my body as quickly as possible so I could shoot. I was so focused I could not hear my team leader yelling at me. Just as I started to squeeze the trigger I felt a heavy wind pass the left side of my face, then the recoil of my weapon. I kept my sights on the area where I had shot and noticed the dark shadow I had seen was gone. I shouted for someone to cove me so I could move to a safer location, unknowing if there were any more people in the building. I turned to my right as I stood, waiting to hear my friends voice telling where he was at, but as I stood I saw his lifeless body laying next to where he had been standing.
I collapsed to my knees; there was no thought, mere reaction from my body. Nothing I had trained for the past year could have prepared me for this moment. I grabbed my friend by his body armor, which we wore under civilian clothing, and before I could even speak or yell at him I felt a tear run down my face. I was a hard young man who had never cried in his life, not even when losing a family member, but I could not stop the tears from running down my face.
My team leader came from behind me, and told me we had to clear the building. We rushed the small building as fast as any of us could run. Most of the tactics we use went out the window as we approached the building. Despite having Senior NCO’s on the team, most had never seen true combat, and all of us were rattled by what happened. As we stacked against the door I took the first position, my friend’s position in the stack. I was so filled with rage I could not control myself. My team leader gave us the go, and we cleared the entire building without having to fire a shot, because there was only one person in the building and they already lay dead on the floor. I approached the body with hatred, wanting to kill him again, but as I got close enough to see his face I realized he was a boy, maybe 12 or 13 years of age. For the next several months I would not sleep more than an hour a night, even when we were on a semi-established base. I took endless sleep aids, but all failed to work.
When I returned from deployment all I could think about was returning to war, but I felt conflicted for what I had done. Yes, he had killed my friend, a man who can defend himself, but I killed a child. I was able to sleep some as I found minimal comfort being with my wife and dogs; however, every night I slept more than 4 hours I would wake up from terrible nightmares of that day. Sweat would pour down my face, some times so much I would have to change the sheets, but in my dreams it felt like my friends blood splattering on me. I could feel the round that passed my face by mere inches. I would even feel the of the recoil as I shot. My dream would flash-forward to when I saw the body, and then I would wake up.
I constantly asked to be deployed over and over again, even when I had just gotten back and knew another mission was coming, or if I was supposed to come home and I knew a team member on another team got hurt. We were supposed to be gone six months and then home for six; but I volunteered so much the first two years of the war I gone over 700 days. After one deployment, which I left for on Valentine ’s Day headed for the Iraq war, I found my wife had moved out and was living with another man.
At this point my command forced me to stop taking deployments for a while. They knew I needed the break even though all I wanted to do now was go back. I turned to alcohol despite only being 20. I would drink at least a 12 pack every night. My roommates and I drank so much we had a large freezer in the garage that we only put beer in. When that wasn’t enough I would just drink liquor with it. One night I drank half a bottle of everclear to myself. I spent almost 70 percent of my day drunk. I would drink as soon as I got off work until three in the morning, be drunk when I went in the mornings, and sneak a drink at lunch.
Out of nowhere an ex-girlfriend called, she was someone I had done very wrong too when we dated. She said friends had told her I had been deployed and all she wanted to know was if I was ok. We would talk, though most of the time I would drunk, and she couldn’t tell. She came to visit me one week, but this week would make things worse. The morning she flew in I picked her up from the airport. Just as we reached my house my supervisor called and told me we had last another person from my very first team, my team leader. When I got in the house I grabbed the bottle of vodka, filled a 32 oz class half way up, added a little OJ and chugged the whole drink. I filled the glass again, and started to drink it. I grabbed my cigarettes from my pocket and light one in the house, which I normally never did.
I got so drunk that morning I was in the hospital by lunch with alcohol poisoning. My friend convinced the nurses not to call the base and tell them I was there, and told them that I had just lost a friend. She called my supervisor and told him I couldn’t drive into work that day because I was too upset. When I woke up in the hospital my friend was there, the nurses said she never left my side. I felt horrible, but all I wanted was a drink. I checked out of the hospital late that night, as I told them I was just going to leave even if they didn’t check me out.
When we got home my friend ordered me to sit on the couch, I had never heard her order any one to do anything before. She walked to the kitchen, but I couldn’t see what she was doing. I got up to smoke a cigarette outside, but she saw my reflection in the sliding door. She barked again for me to sit down. I heard her pour out every ounce of alcohol in the house. She stayed with me for three weeks, and tried to help me, but I just wouldn’t let her. I took my last drink the day I deployed again.
When I came home, my mom told her I was returning from yet another deployment and she was there waiting for me. She helped me stay sober when I came, though I saw some of my friends get in trouble for attending an ASAP because they had similar problems, some even kicked out.
I have moved on with my life, somewhat. I still don’t sleep more than four hours a night; the few nights I do I continue to have the same nightmare I had eight years ago. I am married again, to a wonderful woman, and have an amazing son. My wife has asked me many times why I am physically affectionate, but still fell so cold. I have never shared this story with her. I still haven’t come to terms with that day, and think that I may never. I don’t know how to tell her I killed a child. None of my family members or my friends knows this story.
I want to share my story, because you are right about how we are treated. I have attempted to reach out for help with some select people from various backgrounds; some very religious, some not at all, some people who I felt I could trust. The problem I have found is just as you said, they want to hear the “war stories” and how we are heroes, but when it comes to talking about the traumatizing problems they just don’t want to hear it. I get bitched at for the problems that I have, and probably will have for the rest of my life, but they don’t want to hear what causes those problems.
Many follow anti-war protests but fail to understand what they want and what they are fighting for. Our veterans should have never been subjected to the conditions at Walter Reed, and the conditions probably would have stayed the same had someone, much like you, not brought it to the attention to CNN. Thank you for your prior service and for your continued service to us.
So... yeah. Like I've said, I think I may know the contributor, but I can't really be certain. Also, as is so common with these things, I can't do any sort of fact-checking. BUT... this individual clearly needed to get some things off his chest, and he clearly trusted me enough to share them. So, in honor of his request, I'm putting them out there for you. You can make of that as you will.