My Worst War Memory

WARNING  This content may be upsetting or triggering to some.  WARNING

This week, while on orders at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, I ran into a long-time army buddy. It was good to catch up with him while having dinner and a couple of beers. We reminisced and talked about the people we served with together, shared stories of what’s going on in our careers now, and had a couple good laughs. Most of my army memories are good. Most of my deployment memories are good, even if only because I try to remember the good ones. Most of the not-so-good memories can still be made into an amusing, funny story. But not all of them.

Not long ago I did some online forums where people could ask me questions about a topic I would post. One reader asked me what was my worst memory was from war. For a moment, I wasn’t sure. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the worst memories, so I had to think about it. And as discussed in a previous blog, I have memories that are hidden. One of which, not my worst, was discovered during a therapy session with my psychiatrist. And once I remembered it, it was back. My mind had hidden it for two years until my therapist walked me through it.

But my worst memory from being deployed happened while I was in Iraq (2008-09). I went a number of years with that memory tucked away, hidden from my consciousness. And I didn’t even know it. It surfaced a few years ago, hung around for a while, then was gone again. I think it’s been more than three years since I thought about it. Now it’s back. This is something I’ve only shared with very few, and even then, I generally only tell the main part of the story.

I was at Camp Bucca, Iraq. My chaplain and I were responsible for about a thousand Soldiers that fell under our battalion. The two of us went to the hospital to visit a Soldier that had been seriously injured in a motor pool accident. The Soldier was soon to be transported to Germany, then back to the States, I think to San Antonio to get specialized treatment and start rehabilitation. I never made it to the room with the chaplain to visit the wounded Soldier.

The bay-style room we walked through that would lead to a private room with the motor pool Soldier had three beds in it. In each of those beds was a child. Each child had been severely burned over their whole body. The chaplain and I both paused and inquired about the children. Their ages were approximately between four and nine years old. It was the most unexpected thing I’ve seen. I got the story from the medical staff that had accepted the children into the hospital due to the severity of their injuries.

Their father was dead. He was trying to steal fuel, propane I think, according to my memory of the story I was told, and the whole tank somehow exploded. Why he had his three little girls with him to steal fuel, I will never know. But the explosion killed him and engulfed the children in flames. They were brought to our hospital for treatment. They were almost completely wrapped in gauze, only parts of their faces showing. Only the oldest spoke while the other two whined and cried. I think the oldest was trying to comfort the other two. They couldn’t see each other, only hear the sounds of pain and anguish that filled that small part of the room.

After a couple of minutes with the staff, the chaplain was ready to move on to the injured motor pool Soldier. I couldn’t do it. I had to leave. I told the chaplain I would be out back, that he could come get me when he was done with the Soldier. I found my way to an exit, then I sat on the steps and cried. The reality and gravity of three children laying there, burned, crying, scared, barely alive– it got to me. It got to me in a way nothing else previously had in life. That includes losing a child one day after birth.

I could see that memory every time I closed my eyes, from that night on, for about two years. Then, it was gone. I forgot about it. It would reappear every 2-3 years, depress me, horrify me in my sleep, then hide again. Well, it’s back. This is probably the most details I have ever shared about this memory. I’m hoping that sharing it this way will help. I don’t remember ever talking to any psychiatrist or counselor about it. It must have been pretty well hidden since my psychiatrist last year was able to get the memory of a wrong turn in Kabul, Afghanistan to resurface, but the burned children never came up.

In preparation for this post, I reached out to a friend of mine that I served with in Iraq, Joseph Galvan. He told me that the event of the three burned children was one of his worst three memories he has of war. Being a medic, he was regularly exposed to more pain and suffering than most. He was on staff at our hospital on Camp Bucca during the time the children were there. I asked him if he would give a quote for this week’s blog about his experience there during that time. Just as I remember him during deployment, he didn’t fail to produce when called upon now. Here is what he had to say:

“As horrible as having three severely burned children was, the worst was after. The MRO (Medical Regulating Organization), who was the theater medical operations hub, ordered that we no longer accept any critically injured local national patients. The girls were in our ICU for about four months and we only had 5 ICU beds.

“’Try and imagine what that must have been like for our medics. Locals bringing their severely ill and injured to us, having heard that the Americans took care of children that were near death, only to be turned away. The begging, pleading, and crying they had to witness.”

 

 

My friend and hero, Joseph Galvan.

Galvan went on to say, “I can still hear them scream from their wounds being cleaned; there’s only so much morphine you can give a child and it’s not enough. That’s why I’d always bring my guitar to work. I knew the schedule for their wound care and I’d play for the kids after, while the nurses washed their hair. It got to be a routine. I’d even do it on my days off. The smell of burning hair and children crying or screaming in legitimate pain fucks with me pretty hard. And the burn patient smell…that sickly sweet, but acrid smell…I can’t do it.”

Maybe his sharing this with me will help him in some way. He told me earlier this week, “I just realized that I’ve never told anyone about that. The folks that were there (in the ward, on shift) knew, but I’ve never talked about it.” Joseph Galvan is a hero. His heart for those children makes him a hero to me.

This is why it’s harder to come home from war than it is to go. The memories never leave. Never. They may hide for a while, but they always come back.

Thank you for reading this week. Good day, God bless. And a special God bless to our military medics.

Dave

The 4th of July

Happy Birthday America! This week we celebrated 241 years of Independence. A lot has changed in America since we told the British to bugger off and leave us alone. The Founding Fathers of this great nation had the courage to stand up and fight for the freedoms we still enjoy today. I for one am grateful. I’m not sure I could pull off the British accent, so it’s a good thing that 241 years ago we became our own sovereign nation. LOL.

With the celebration of our Independence comes many festivities, including fireworks. And with that comes social media posts about veterans dealing with PTSD and the yard signs that some put in their yards asking people not to do fireworks around their home. That seems to be a topic of debate from what I saw on a couple of Facebook posts. I have PTSD. I served in Iraq, then later in Afghanistan. I avoid being outside during fireworks, it only for my own sanity. I don’t have flashbacks or lose my mind, but my anxiety skyrockets and some of the memories of the fear I experienced resurfaces. So, I simply stay indoors.

Here’s the debate, as far as I can tell. The post I saw states that some veterans are milking the benefits of being labeled with PTSD, which in turn is stigmatizing all veterans, also that they are looking for attention and disability ratings with the VA, and that many who post the signs never heard a shot fired at war and that the rocket impacts they heard were miles away. I think there is some validity to some of those arguments. Many years ago, I thought most people claiming PTSD were overreacting. But I don’t speculate on that anymore. It’s not for me to judge. I can’t speak for any other veteran, but I can tell you what I have experienced.

One thing I experienced were rockets landing on a base I was at. Multiple times, multiple locations throughout Afghanistan. Building-shaking, loud booms. While I handled it well at the time, I never took the time to process it all until I got home. By then it was overwhelming. I was trying to process everything all at once while trying to adjust to being home. And I wasn’t doing it properly. I wasn’t talking to anyone about my mental problems or getting the counseling that I knew I needed. I was trying to avoid the stigma that I had created in my mind of being labeled with PTSD. And I desperately wanted to avoid that label. In 2011, I talked the VA out of diagnosing me with PTSD more than a year after I got back from Iraq. I toughed it out and Soldiered on, which in retrospect was a bad idea. In 2015, there was no way to avoid it. I had reached rock bottom and was forced to get help.

During one rocket attack, I remember feeling the building shake from the first explosion. Then the second blast- it was much closer, shaking the building in a way I had not experienced before, all while grabbing my gear and getting to cover. As I sat alone in the bunker, the third blast felt like it was almost on top of me. It was loud, it was close, it was the only real time I thought I might die over there. On only two instances do I remember having that kind of fear while in Afghanistan, that attack was the worst one of them. I could hear each boom getting closer and closer to the bunker where I was taking cover. In my mind at the time, if there had been a fourth one, it would have been right on top of me, based on how each blast was clearly closer than the last. Fireworks elicit those feelings and memories in me.

Even so, I don’t want anyone to not celebrate with fireworks. This is America and that’s how we celebrate, we blow up stuff. I can stay inside and be just fine, for the most part. The noise and booms will still get to me a little, especially when there is a long pause followed by a firework that is obviously too large to be discharged in a neighborhood. As I write this, neighbors are firing off an impressive amount of pyrotechnics at almost 11pm on July 4. My anxiety is through the roof. But I don’t want them to stop. Keep celebrating. It is America’s birthday after all. I can handle it.

During each of my two deployments, I never had to fire any of my weapons. But for the more than two dozen missions I went on in Afghanistan, I was locked and loaded, ready to go every time. And on the handful of missions that I needed both my rifle and my pistol, they were both locked and loaded. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, ‘locked and loaded’ means there is a magazine in the weapon, and a round (bullet) in the chamber. I would only need to flip the switch from safe mode and pull the trigger. I was always ready. And I wonder if being ‘ready’ that many times and never getting to use my skills and training had some kind of adverse effect on me.

I’ve wondered for a while if sitting in a bunker through all those rocket attacks and never actually engaging the enemy contributed to some of the symptoms of my PTSD. Maybe because of all the adrenaline spikes without being able to release that energy right then and there. I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a study on that somewhere, I’ll just have to do some research and find it. How, or would, I be different today if I had in fact fired my weapon and directly engaged the enemy? Would I have handled post-deployment better? I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know and accept that I have PTSD. But I can’t let that stop me anymore. I work. I live. I function. But there are moments where I can’t deny that it has some power over me, but not as much as it used to.

With all that I shared here, none of it even comes close to my most traumatic memory of war. Tune in next week when I will share a story that I rarely talk about. It’s a memory that resurfaced uninvited recently and maybe writing about it in detail will help.  Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/23/ptsd-is-contagious/

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

 

My New VA Psychiatrist

For the few of you that are also on my Facebook page, you know I had an appointment with a new psychiatrist recently at my local VA. The reason anyone knows about it is because I posted my displeasure with the new psychiatrist there. At the end of the appointment, I left unsatisfied and wondering if she really cared or if she was just checking the boxes. I know for sure, she gets paid no matter how I feel when I leave her office. I think it was a waste of my time.

The main thing that upset me was the changes she made to how I get my medication. First, let me back up. A while back they gave me a prescription for a 30-day supply of my medications, but made my next psych appointment 50+ days out from that. I had to ration my medication so I wouldn’t be without them for too many days in a row before I could get them refilled. I would always get a paper prescription and take it to the base to be filled. It’s a process that has been working for a long time. It’s flawless. That process has never failed.

My new psychiatrist says I can now only get my medications through the VA. Well, one of them, which they keep in stock at my local VA, only comes in twice the dosage I take. Now I have to cut the pill down every night, whereas from the base, I can get it in my prescribed dosage. Not a huge deal, but still annoying, especially since I’m not fond of change when something has been working for as long as it has. That might be the PTSD coming out in me, I don’t know. The other medication is NOT kept onsite. They would have to mail it to me. I’m already out of it by the time of my appointment, and now I must wait up to ten days to get it in the mail. How does that help?

My new psychiatrist told me the reason she wants to change how I’ve been getting my medication for over a year is so that she can have control over it. She also mentioned that I would have to be at my house to sign for the medication when it arrived, although the postal service may allow another adult to sign for it, she didn’t know. It is a controlled substance. But that didn’t work. The postal service let my 13-year-old daughter sign for it. Tell me how much control the new psychiatrist has over that? Please explain to me how the way she wants it done is better than me taking a paper prescription straight to the base and getting my meds the same day, without a controlled substance being signed for by a 13-year old?

I plan on bringing all that up at my next appointment with her. And I may have already made a formal complaint about it before then. This is one of the reasons I find the VA so frustrating. Why fix something that isn’t broken when there are so many broken things they should fix? Why change something that has been working without fail and create a process that I am not comfortable with? She cared more about controlling my medications than she did about what was going on in my life, or at least that’s what I believe to be true. That’s how she made me feel.

That’s my frustration with the VA for the week. On a lighter note, the AMAs I’ve been hosting seem to be going well. I found out there was a glitch in the way they counted RSVP participants, so last week when I thought I was up to 500+, it ended up being a little more than 100. They fixed it and the numbers are now accurate. I’m still happy about all of it. I’m amazed by the number of people that take the time to ask me questions on there. The site I’m doing the forums on is still very new and will only continue to grow. And I’m getting paid to do it. I love that part. Go check out my next one if you want. And RSVP to it when you get there to help my numbers if you feel so inclined. And, ask a question. That’s the whole purpose of the AMA anyway. Hope to see you there.

https://militaryama.com/during-my-two-deployments-one-to-iraq-and-one-to-afghanistan-my-camera-took-158812/

That’s all I got for the week. Thanks for listening me to vent about the VA. I’ve said many times that all the good doctors leave the VA for better jobs. My new psychiatrist will probably be there forever. But anyway, Good day, God bless.

Dave

Subpoenaed for Deposition

I was subpoenaed for deposition this week as a witness to a wreck I watched happen. A wreck that happened in 2012, 4 ½ ago. The attorneys wanted to question me as to what I remembered from that day. From 4 ½ years ago. Sometimes I have trouble remembering why I went into the kitchen and they want to know details about an event from 4 ½  years ago. Let’s see how that went.

I clearly remember the wreck. It was the kind you don’t forget. I watched it from my work truck, traveling on Highway 98. It was right in front of me. A Jeep swerved into the median, then came back across the travel lane, nailing a pickup truck. The Jeep then continued at full speed off the road, became airborne, and landed hard in a ditch. I thought for sure there would be serious injuries to the driver of the Jeep.

I stopped. I went to the Jeep and opened the driver’s door. The woman in the driver’s seat asked me to help her move her Jeep. I think she was asking me to help find her keys. She was drunk. She appeared to be uninjured, but was most definitely inebriated. The passengers in the truck seemed to be unharmed as well. When the State Trooper arrived, he ordered me to wait in my truck until he could get a statement from me. It’s from that point on that my memory is less clear. The adrenaline rush of the wreck made the immediate details clear and lasting in my mind.

The Attorney for the Plaintiff asked relatively easy questions. Basic stuff. Mostly questions about the actual wreck, where I was in relation to it as it played out, why I stopped. Things I had some answers for. He asked about 20 minutes worth of questions. The defense attorney, however, asked a bunch of different questions. He would ask, then rephrase the question, seemingly trying to get me to change my answer. I know how it works. He’s the defense attorney, he’s supposed to try to discredit any witness that can make his client look guilty. He even asked me if I could tell him what kind of shoes his client was wearing that day. Seriously? When I got to the Jeep, I expected to see someone in dire need of medical attention. I wasn’t looking at shoes.

After the defense attorney finished with his questions, I thought I was done. I was hoping to be done. The deposition had already gone 30 minutes longer than I was told it would and I was now running later for work than I had told my boss I would. But then, there was a third attorney, a gentleman sitting at the table that I thought was just there observing.  He turned out to be the attorney for the ex-husband of the defendant. The ex was the actual owner of the Jeep at the time of the wreck. The attorney for the ex-husband only asked one question and then I was free to go.

I have chronicled my memory issues in previous blogs. Some of the things I remember are detailed and vivid because of the circumstances. During my travels in Afghanistan, there were many times we found ourselves under attack from the enemy. I can probably remember certain details of every time we came under attack. I can’t remember much of anything after an attack ended. But the particulars of where I was at the time, who was with me, what base we were at, what I was thinking, time of day, how close or far away the explosions were…. I can remember all that stuff.

It’s ‘funny’ how the memory works. And I have no idea why mine remembers certain things clearly, but other things, I’m clueless. In the link here, https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/, I mention a memory from Afghanistan that for two years I had completely blocked out or forgot until one of my appointments with my psychologist. And it all came back. The memory was similar to the dangers of the attacks I mentioned, so why did my mind suppress it? Why did it take a session with my psychologist to pull it out?

I kept a log of all the missions I went on while in Afghanistan. And between my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan I took over 8000 pictures. Both of those things help me with my memory. I don’t look at the mission log much, but I do occasionally browse my pictures. And every time I do, I find pictures that remind of things I seem to have forgotten. I would really like to know what memories are hiding in my head that I didn’t get pictures of or put in the mission log.

I don’t know how much help I was in the deposition. Maybe I should have taken pictures of it all or wrote it down. But it didn’t seem that complicated at the time. To me, it was cut and dry. A drunk driver caused an accident. I don’t what they can be doing to drag this on for 4 ½ years. But I’m sure the lawyers are getting paid no matter who wins.

Thank you for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

P.S. Join over 500 others that have RSVP’d to my next AMA that will be on Wednesday evening, June 7. Check it out and ask me a question. Follow the link if you are interested. Hope to see you there.

https://militaryama.com/hi-im-dave-as-a-disabled-veteran-much-of-my-health-and-psychiatric-care-157850/

My First Paid Gig

I skipped posting last week. And I’m running late getting this one done. I have been busy, tired, and have a lot on my plate. But with two days off in a row from work, I feel recharged. This is the first time in at least a month, probably two, that I’ve had two days off in a row that didn’t involve having to go to an army reserve weekend. This is just what I needed. A little relaxation, some much needed time with my kids, and catching up on some things that I’ve been needing to do.

One of those things I desperately need to catch up on is writing more in my novel. I haven’t worked on it as much as I should, but it’s still there. I worked on it some recently, just not enough. But, the story is writing itself in my head every day. I can see the whole thing coming together. It’s just hard sometimes to put all the words to it in the right order when I sit down at the laptop, or to find the time to sit down at the laptop. For those of you who write, you know exactly what I mean.

I do have some exciting news to share about my writing. I secured my first contract. It’s not a normal writing assignment, but I will be getting paid. I found a site where writers can browse job offers and decided to give it a try. I was offered a 5-week job that involves hosting a forum for three hours at a time, once a week. I will be answering questions about a topic of my choosing from readers that are interested. Apparently, this is not new, although I’ve never heard of it before, but my 20-year-old son tells me this a thing. And I get paid to do it. It’s not much, but it’s a start. And I’ve submitted proposals to other more traditional writing jobs that I found. We’ll see how that works out. I doubt I’ll get to quit my day job any time soon, but I can dream, right?

I’m very excited about this. My first forum, that happens Monday night, already has over 300 RSVP’s to it. Wow. I’m not sure how it all works, but I am looking forward to it. I’m hoping that more contracts are to follow, of various types of writing work. But for now, I’m completely stoked about my first paid gig. I’ll attach the link to what I’m doing in case any of you would like to check it out. I know it’s short and sweet this week, but thank you for reading. Hopefully, I’ll be back on track next week with my postings. Good day, God bless.

https://militaryama.com/my-name-is-dave-im-a-military-veteran-of-iraq-and-afghanistan-i-had-some-153549/

Dave