Welcome Home

His eyebrows sagged and his countenance fell. His lips tightened as he went into a blank stare. He wiped a tear from his eye. He was somewhere else in the world right then, a different place, a different time. He had come back from that place years ago, probably before I was born. He had to come back from it again during our conversation sitting at the bar. I wondered how many times he’s had to come back from there in the last 45 years or more.

During my last trip to Ft Jackson, I stayed for a week instead of the usual weekend. When I’m there for only my army reserve weekend, I have a routine I generally follow. I get to town on Friday, check into the hotel, then go to Sonic. And why not? They’ve gotten my order right 3 out of the last 5 times now, getting better. Saturday is usually blur, and Sunday afternoon I head back to Florida. But when I’m there for a week at a time, I usually go to a couple different restaurants instead of eating drive-thru food for a whole week.

One particular night I went to a place I’ve enjoyed a few times before. It’s a sports bar with a killer burger. Not only is it good, but it might kill you, too, at half a pound of beef. Hence, a killer burger. But I’ll take my chances. The beer is cold, there’s sports on the TVs, and the people are nice. That’s where I met Chuck.

The conversation at the bar had to the with the heat that day. Then Chuck started talking to me, saying something about a “dry heat” like in Arizona or something. I told him that only works until it gets to a certain point. I told him it was a dry heat where I was in Iraq, but once the temperature got over 110 degrees, it was just hot. Dry or not, it was hot. Side note. For the record, I took a picture of the thermometer outside our Preventive Medicine office at my base in Iraq. It was at 146 degrees. But it was a dry heat. LOL.

Then Chuck told me he had been to the two worst places in the world. The first place being Detroit during the riots in 1967. The second place was Saigon, 1968. He was a Vietnam Veteran. He told me how he went from Detroit to the jungle. Then he told me that off all the men on the plane that took him to Vietnam, only 4 came home. That’s when he retreated into his mind for a minute. I imagine he was taking a moment to remember each of them. I believe he could see them in his mind, maybe as they sat next to him on the plane or maybe as they drew their last breath, I didn’t ask. Either way, he needed a minute.

When he returned to reality, we changed the subject of our conversation to sports. But in only two minutes before that, I knew his pain. I had a sense of his war stories. I could tell where he had been in some respects. His face spoke it all very clearly. Sports brought a completely different face to Chuck. His sports stories were amazing and fascinating. The sports figures that he met over the years, the autographs he told me about, the memorabilia he said he has in his sports room. It all had me in awe. And he was happy talking sports. It’s his life now, and his job.

Everyone I went with to Iraq and Afghanistan came home. I personally knew a few people that died serving, but everyone I went with both times came home. I can’t imagine what goes through Chuck’s mind when he thinks about being only one of four surviving members of the group on the plane that took him to Vietnam. The only inkling I have of what he goes through is what I saw in his face while he revisited the fallen in his memories.

I have my moments where I get triggered to memories of war. On occasion I get jumpy because of unexpected noises. Being in traffic is hard for me. I battle anxiety and depression all the time. I’m still figuring out a lot of this since coming home from my last deployment. I don’t know his stories, but I can very much relate to how Chuck reacted when taken back to 1968. I also do that from time to time. And I wonder if years from now I’ll still have my moments like that. We’ll see.

I’ll say again what I told Chuck the other night. Thank you for leading the way with your service. And Welcome home. I’m glad you’re one of the four that came back.

Thank you all for stopping this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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SGM Pamplin Saves the Day

I spent this past week at Ft. Lee, Virginia doing Army Reserve stuff. Specifically, I attended a conference put on by the training command I fall under. It was a gathering of all the chaplains and chaplain assistants (now called religious affairs specialists) within the command. A host of guest speakers were there throughout the week, all with a plethora of useful information, including a one-star general that took the time to address us. Ok, maybe all the information wasn’t useful, but if my unit commander asks, that’s what I’m going with. Overall, the trip was definitely worth it.

 

I had only one moment where I wasn’t happy to be there. I was trying to watch the and pay attention to a particular presenter at the time, but there was an attendee standing behind me, talking the whole time. He was either interjecting to the entire group, interrupting the speaker, or he was talking to the person next to him, disturbing those of us sitting in the area. At one point, I made a comment that the guy behind me should give the class since he knows it all and seems to like to talk. Yes, I said it loud enough for him to hear on purpose. Like I posted in a previous blog, I don’t really pull punches anymore at this point.

At the end of that lesson, as we were going on break, the gentleman that annoyed me approached me. He looked at my name and rank on my uniform and addressed me, “Staff Sergeant George, what was the deep sigh for? You might be an expert on this subject, but others might need to hear this.” Oh, my goodness. Did he really just talk in a condescending way like that to me after he was talking the entire time over the presenter? I said, “Sir, can I speak honestly here?” He said yes, please do. So, I told him how I felt about him speaking the whole time, distracting us, that my sigh wasn’t about repeat information, that in fact it was my frustration of his non-stop talking. I got nothing out of that presentation because of him. He apologized, and I believe he was sincere. I took my break outside for some nicotine, actually a double dose of nicotine, I was still pissed, despite his genuine apology. Mostly because of his condescending attitude at the beginning of our conversation. He didn’t even know he was being an ass.

The next speaker after the break was Sergeant Major Pamplin. His presentation and his words were exactly what I needed to hear. For some reason, whatever he was talking about, seemed to put everything in perspective. I was no longer fuming about the rudeness I took personally. In fact, the guy wasn’t trying to be rude, he was trying to help the group, although it was still irritating me and others the way he was going about it. My frustration escalated his talking to rudeness and disrespect in my mind. But it occurred to me that my anger was as much to do with how I deal with situations as it was the guy that kept talking during the previous presentation. With his words of wisdom, SGM Pamplin saved the day. Again.

I first met SGM Pamplin in 2008 while at Ft. Dix (he was a Sergeant First Class at the time). He was in charge of one of the chapels and I was a chaplain assistant preparing for deployment with a unit I had just been cross-leveled to. Just a few days before my unit was to board a plane to Iraq, one of our Soldiers died. I had to help put together a memorial service with no materials, no venue, and with almost no training. I had just recently become a chaplain assistant at that time, after a 14-year break in service, and the training to become a chaplain assistant was very lacking, almost a waste of time. I had never put together a memorial service, not even in training. I was basically set up to fail. Not because it would be anyone’s fault, just because of the circumstances.

I went to the chapel, where I met SGM Pamplin. I told him the situation that my unit was dealing with. I explained that I was new to the job, that my unit was not prepared for this situation, that we were on our way out the door in just a few days. He didn’t bat an eye. He provided everything we needed, and then some. I had all-access use of his resources to put together the memorial service. He gave his guidance. He made sure I was set up for success. He saved the day. And I will never forget it.

I’ve seen SGM Pamplin at various events and functions over the years. He always has an encouraging word when he speaks to a group and always tells an audience that if we need something from him, to reach out and he will do what he can to help. Everyone says that. But I know SGM Pamplin means it. He’s a leader that I’ve tried to model myself after.

What’s the point of this story? Sometimes, just doing your job with a good attitude or helping someone develop their sense of purpose in a job can make a long-lasting impression on someone else. I’m sure the Sergeant Major had no idea the effect he had on me with his leadership and willingness to guide me. As far as he knew, he was just doing his job that day, just another day at the office. I’ve had people in my life, both in and out of the military, tell me years later how much an impact I had on them. I didn’t know. I never thought twice about things like that. I was just doing my job or trying to help someone along with theirs. We all have the capability to make a difference and might not always realize it in the moment. Think about that once in a while. Food for thought. It’s never just another day at the office.

Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Walk It Off

I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Telling someone with PTSD to get over it is like telling someone who is deaf to listen up.” I guess the same thing could be said that someone with a compound fracture of the leg should just walk it off. Or that someone with a stutter should speak clearly. Maybe we could tell a blind person to look closely. None of this works that easily. There is some truth to that meme. But there are also some things we can do to better ourselves.

I will never “get over” this thing called PTSD that I was diagnosed with in 2015. I will likely have to deal with the symptoms for the rest of my life. Just this week, I had a mild PTSD moment at work, for about a minute or so. And I happened to be working with the only other army veteran in my department at the time. Yeah, he gave me shit, but he was also understanding and helped me out. I have explained to most of my coworkers at my new job how sometimes I might need a minute to regroup in certain situations. In five weeks at my new job, that’s only happened the one time, for that one or two minutes. I’m nowhere near the bad place I was three years ago. I’m not as trapped in the darkness of my mind as I used to be. I feel better now than I have in years, many years. Some of it coincidence of fortunate events, some it is that I’m making decisions to be better.

Other PTSD moments->  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/18/ptsd-moments/

I do, however, still have some issues. I slept on my couch three nights in a row last week because I didn’t feel like taking my sheets out of the dryer and making my bed. Funny thing is, there are two beds in the guest room, made and ready to go. I still have trouble occasionally with sleep and dreams, even with the medications from the VA. I’m also lacking motivation. Especially with my writing, as can be evidenced with the fact that I haven’t posted here in a month. Depression is an ongoing issue, although I deal with it much better now than I have in the past. I’m continuing to learn how to deal with all this. It’s a process.

It’s not easy->  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/09/02/harder-than-it-looks/

I took a new job last month. If you follow Story of My Life, you may remember that I left working at the restaurant in the airport for a new restaurant job. After two months at that job, I made another change, to what I hope will be my last job change. Here’s the thing. This new job is something I’ve never done before. Years ago, I had the self-confidence to do almost anything. Not so much the last few years. But I decided to make a complete career change. I built up enough confidence to take a chance and go to an interview for a job I had applied for. And to be honest, at the time, I couldn’t remember for which job I applied when they called me for the interview. But I accepted the interview. I had applied for a number of jobs late last year when I knew things at the airport weren’t going to work out. I knew it was time for a change.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/04/back-to-work/

At the interview I was asked, “Have you done this kind of work before?” Um, nope. I think I said, “Not exactly. But if you’ll teach me, I’m a fast learner, I work hard, and I show up on time.” In the last year and a half, I can count on one finger how many times I was late for work (not including the time I was subpoenaed for deposition last-minute or the time the VA took an hour and half to do something that should have taken 5 minutes). I was late clocking in one time, by one minute. And for the few of you that personally know me, you know that still bothers me. But my response to his question, along with me already having a commercial drivers license, got me in the door. On a side note, I’m glad I renewed my CDL a couple years ago even though I wasn’t using it at the time.

My newfound confidence paid off. I got the job. I’ve been there five weeks now. This confidence is something I’ve been rebuilding for a while now. It’s taken a long time. It’s not that I was able to “get over” having PTSD, it’s that I worked at it. I take my medications as prescribed. I go to my appointments. I work on staying calm in stressful situations, which doesn’t always happen, but it certainly works a lot better than it did just a few years ago. And I am open with people about what’s going on in my head. Believe it or not, that helps tremendously.

So, like a deaf person can learn sign language to communicate and function in the world, I can learn to deal with and overcome my PTSD. Yes, “my PTSD,” I own that shit. It’s mine, for life. And while the symptoms will always be there, I will continue to find ways to survive and function. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it. Just don’t tell me to get over it. It doesn’t work that way.

Thanks for visiting Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

I’m Back

I’m back. Finally. I’ve missed y’all. It’s been three weeks since I’ve written or posted. I think that’s the longest break for me in at least the last two years. This month has been busy and it seems to be flying by. And while I feel pretty good about life lately, I’ve lacked the motivation to sit down and write. I keep some ideas in my head, but none of it seems to make it to the computer. There’s been a lot going on. Let me catch you up.

The inconsistent weather had me sick for a week. I think Mother Nature is drunk. Where I live in Florida it’s been pretty nice overall. But the occasional drastic drop in temperatures at night followed by days that require the air conditioner to be run had caused me to get sick. Not bad, mostly sinuses, allergies, and headaches. But my power bill has looked good the last couple months, only having to run the A/C or heat a few times. Dear Mother Nature, please get back on your meds, sincerely, all of us.

That week was followed by a week on orders at my army reserve unit. For those of you that serve or have served in the “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” reserves, you may have had to do that. Most units do the “two weeks” as a unit, usually a training mission designed to enhance and broaden the skills of the soldiers. I, however, am in an instructor unit. Each instructor does a separate training mission in support of a greater mission. Since I’m in the process of a Medical Evaluation Board, I don’t have any real missions. That would have been a perfect week for writing, sitting around the hotel each night bored out of my mind. Unfortunately, after sitting in front of a computer all day at the unit, I was disinclined to do so at the hotel in the evenings. But I did get to watch the Red Sox on TV beat the Yankees 2 out of 3 games. So, that was a good week.

Now to my current week. I feel good. My kids spent the night with me this week, on a school night. They don’t usually stay with me on school nights, so that was a treat. We went swimming, had hamburgers, and watched Big Bang Theory for two hours before bed. Nothing terribly exciting, but I had a wonderful day. I had a physical this week for a new job I will start on Monday. A little more money, better hours, benefits, and weekends off. Weekends off. I’ll get to see my kids more often. That makes me smile. I had to go to the VA for lab work and they didn’t piss me off. Actually, they took me in two hours early. I showed up hoping to get it out of the way and they accommodated me. Another good thing this week. I could get used this “good week” thing.

Ups and downs this month. But for right now I’m on a high note. And not because yesterday was 420, I don’t participate. LOL. I just feel good about things right now. And that feels good. I am tempering my excitement to an extent because I’m a realist. And because I’ve been here before. I know life will continue to go up and down and some of the downs can be pretty bad. I wonder if that’s why sometimes, some of us won’t let ourselves be as happy as we should be, because we know the high peaks won’t last. We know the rollercoaster called Life that we’re riding will go up and down, turning, looping, jarring from side to side, until it makes an abrupt stop. It may be a week, a month, or even tomorrow that something comes crashing down that forces me into a battle with depression. But for now, I’m enjoying this feeling of feeling of good. And I’m going to milk it for everything I can. Because it will be gone soon enough.

Find something good today and enjoy it while you can. Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

The Hanging of Saddam Hussein

My deployment to Iraq (2008-09) was pretty boring for the most part. I was at a little base called Camp Bucca and my job was not very exciting, it kept me at a desk in the chapel most days. A few times a week, I would escort the chaplain to the TIF (theater internment facility) to visit our troops, medics, and command staff. Sometimes when the chaplain was counseling with a soldier, I would get to pull tower duty over one of the compounds while the chaplain and soldier walked around and chatted. A couple of times when visiting the SHU (special housing unit, where the worst of the worst were kept in solitary confinement), I was overwatch during a detainee being moved from his cell to the small fenced patio for his outside time. That was almost exciting. I held the taser for that job, just in case the detainee had the guts to do something stupid while being moved. They never did, they knew better. That was one cool thing about deploying with a Military Police battalion. I was trained on their non-lethal weapons, trained in combatives, self-defense, and other exciting things. I could have done without the required OC spray (pepper spray) followed by an obstacle course, but that was part of it.

Overall, it was a boring deployment. Nothing like my time in Afghanistan (2013-14) where I traveled all over the country escorting my chaplain. Camp Bucca, Iraq, at least while I was there, was not exciting. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. Very few times was our base threatened, and even if it was, it wasn’t anything like I saw in Afghanistan. I probably saw and heard more attacks in any particular week of travel in Afghanistan as I did my entire deployment in Iraq. Boring can be good in that case. But boring can also be tough on morale. My fellow chaplain assistants and I did what we could to make Bucca a little better for those of us stuck there.

Sometime in 2008, a bootleg video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was circulated via email. It was a very different view from the official video footage released by the Iraqi government after Hussein’s hanging on December 30, 2006. That video stopped just short of his actual hanging. The unofficial video being circulated that I saw was of poor quality, obviously taken on a cell phone. Lights seemed to be flashing, but that was probably the cell phone camera not having enough light to take good video. And the picture was unstable, lots of movement. Obviously, whoever was filming the execution was moving with the action as it happened, while Saddam was being escorted to the gallows. I watched that cell phone footage of him being led to the noose. I couldn’t understand the Arabic being spoken. I watched that video as the rope was put snuggly around Saddam’s neck. He spoke defiantly, or perhaps he was praying, I don’t know, but it was no help to him. The floor dropped out from under him, and after a few seconds, he hung lifeless and still.

That was a morale boost for me. Does that make me a bad person? Nope. That’s why we were there. Do you have any idea how hard it was to be present during the times a soldier was notified of a death of a loved-one from far away, or to organize a memorial service for a fallen soldier, or to inform a spouse that her husband’s plane went down in Afghanistan and there were no survivors? Do you know how hard it was to read casualty reports on the secret-side email and see how those events unfolded? Do you know how hard it was to see those burned children? Honestly, I think it would have been easier to see corpses instead of those children in pain and suffering, crying, scared, with no chance of ever being bodily normal again. Sometimes I still see those three children when I lay down to sleep at night.

I’ve seen some horrible things and I’ve seen some wonderful things. And I can say that the only time I’ve ever witnessed a death (on video or in person) and smiled about it, was watching the hanging of Saddam Hussein. The unofficial video was a couple of years old when I saw it, but at the time, that bootleg video was new to us. To me, it put to rest any doubts. There had been talk for a while that Saddam wasn’t really dead, because the official video didn’t show his neck snapping like the bootleg video did. The official video stopped just before the floor fell out from under him. But the scratchy, unprofessional, dimly lit video from a cell phone that I, and others saw, was enough to make it a good day for me. Saddam’s neck snapped and all life left his body. I smiled. And I didn’t feel bad at all when watching Saddam die in that video. It made me happy, really happy. Once in a while, though, I do think about it and wonder if my feelings about watching that video were normal. That doesn’t usually last long. Maybe I’m demented, but I don’t feel bad about it. He got what he deserved.

I write about a lot of things here, some uplifting, some dark. When you visit Story of My Life, you agree to take the good with the bad. Thank you for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave