You Don’t See Me

I had a conversation with the new Command Sergeant Major at my army reserve battalion. It was a little one-sided. Those of you who have served in the military know what I’m talking about. I’m coming up on the end of my military career in the reserves, an ending that is not as much my choice as it is the army’s. With that said, I’m a little less likely to hold my tongue than I might have before. I’m still respectful, I just don’t pull my punches anymore, I leave no doubt as to what I’m thinking. I don’t remember exactly what I said that started, “With all due respect Sergeant Major.” But I know it was the truth. Then the Sergeant Major spoke. And what he said was also the truth. I had hoped to talk with him more that weekend, but with a busy training schedule it wasn’t to happen. So, I thought I’d write out what I would have liked to say to him.

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me, the soldier. He only sees what’s left of me, the soldier. He sees the old guy whose best days are behind him. He doesn’t see that I came back into service at 36 years old after a 14-year break, because the army needed people to do a job. They needed people really bad at the time, and I answered the call. And I would do it again.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/26/the-cost-2/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that can’t pass the army physical fitness test. But he doesn’t see that until my deployment to Afghanistan (2013-14), I was passing the PT test at the standards of an 18-year old (the standards get easier as the soldier gets older). Yeah, I was in my early 40’s passing it with the numbers an 18-year old would have to do to pass. He sees an older, slower soldier. But he doesn’t see that the last two months of my deployment to Afghanistan I was injured. I sucked it up and completed my mission. He doesn’t know the doctor at my little base over there suggested I go to Germany for treatment, then home. He doesn’t know I decided to stay, despite the pain I was in.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/18/yard-work-and-running/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that moves slowly. He doesn’t see that on my two deployments, I brought my chaplains back safe and sound. And that on my last deployment, we traveled Afghanistan extensively. He doesn’t see that in the narrative of my Bronze Star award it tells how I performed my duties under hostile enemy attacks. He doesn’t see that while I was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were soldiers that had been hiding in the instructor unit (my current unit) for a decade or longer.

Left:  Kabul, Afghanistan 2103.  Right:  Umm Qasr, Iraq 2008.

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that lacks motivation. He doesn’t see my ribbon rack on my dress uniform. He doesn’t see that if I were to update my rack, I’d have 15 different awards on my chest. He doesn’t see all the times I volunteered for different things. He doesn’t see that at a previous unit, I had used up all my allowed time for the fiscal year but still drove 50 miles to give a brief for free (retirement points only). He doesn’t see that I coordinated the suicide intervention training for a CACOM I was in, and that my CACOM was the only command in USACAPOC that met standards by the deadline. Yeah, I got an award from the USACAPOC Command Chaplain for that.

The Sergeant Major sees a somewhat disgruntled soldier. He doesn’t see that I’ve been stuck in a broken system that hasn’t fully addressed my physical and mental injuries. He doesn’t see that I never chose to be a substandard soldier, that in fact, at one time, I was a damn good soldier. He doesn’t see that the circumstances and stresses of all that I’ve gone through have made me what I am now. He doesn’t see that the weight I bear from the physical and mental issues of not being able to perform like I used to was a contributing factor in my suicide attempt in 2015. That, among other things. He doesn’t see how much this kills me inside, only how it currently affects my attitude, something I know I need to work on.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/25/breathe-in-breath-out-if-you-can/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me. He only sees what’s left of me. That’s not fair to either one of us. He probably doesn’t see that I’m my own worst critic and that I absolutely hate that I’m not able to do the things I used to do or handle situations and stress like I have in the past. He has no idea how valuable an asset I can be in the right environment. I could see it in his eyes that he plans on creating the right environment. I could hear it in his voice when he spoke to me. It’s a big job he’s taking on, and I don’t think the odds are in his favor, only because the problems he wants to fix have been there for so long. But I truly hope he pulls it off. It’s probably too late for me to experience the right environment again, but perhaps it will be there for future soldiers in that unit. When my time in the army reserves is over, I will leave satisfied that I made my area a better place overall. I might limp across the finish line, or even fall short of it altogether, but I did my job and did it well. And no one can ever take that from me, no matter what’s left of me at this point.

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

Dave

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Last Weekend

Last weekend I had my army reserve training at Ft Jackson, South Carolina. I drive over 500 miles to get there and over 500 miles back home. Almost every month I make the same trip. I leave Florida on Friday morning and get back Sunday night for a regular weekend. I spend about as much time on the road as I do in uniform for my weekends each month. I’ve been in this unit for a couple of years, and despite the weekends where we don’t accomplish much, I like the unit. I don’t mind the drive.

The first few months I was in my unit, I would drive up I-65 to I-85 to I-20 to get to Columbia, SC, where Fort Jackson is located. But my disdain for driving through Atlanta got the best of me so I found a different route. Now I take I-10 across the Florida Panhandle, then go north, driving back roads in Georgia to I-75 before getting on I-20 somewhere around Augusta. It takes a little longer, but the distance and frustration is less than driving through Atlanta. And the view is much better than being on an interstate.

Most months, the drive is good. I like road trips. There’s an always an adventure out there or a new sight to view as I drive. But this trip didn’t work out that way. As it happens from time to time on the road, I became anxious and irritable on my way up to South Carolina. I don’t know which came first, but they worked in tandem to make the whole weekend stressful. Unfortunately, that happens to me sometimes. I was in a funk all weekend.

I have a theory. I used to think it was just traffic and bad drivers in Atlanta. But, after almost two years of research by driving to South Carolina every month using multiple routes, I have concluded that my frustration is with Georgia motorists in general. I’ve been in traffic in India, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and many other countries all over the world (I’ve listed the three worst). Congratulations, Georgia, you suck at driving just as bad as motorists in third-world countries.

Here’s a suggestion. Stop spending so much time trying to figure out if you should call your mom’s brother “Uncle” or “Dad” and look in your state’s driver’s manual and learn how to drive. In that manual, you might find exciting information on how to properly use the lanes on an interstate. For example, stop camping out in the passing lane. Pass, or get out of the way. As far as your inability to use blinkers, refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. But here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: The blinkers are operated by the stick that comes out the left side of your steering wheel. Move it UP to turn (or change lanes) to the right, move it DOWN to turn (or change lanes) to the left. You can sit in your driveway and practice if you need. Your manual might have them listed as Turn Signals. Don’t let that confuse you.

On a brighter note, after almost seven months, I finally got some paperwork from the VA that I’ve been needing to turn in to my army reserve unit. It’s paperwork from a psychological evaluation I had last year that will have some bearing on whether or not I stay in the reserves. At this point, I don’t care what they decide to do with me. I just want to know. If I’m staying in, I will continue to give it everything I have. If I’m being put out, fine. But after more than a year and a half of being in Limbo, it’s time for the army to figure it out and tell me what’s going on. Is my career still going or is it over? This has been beyond frustrating for me. Either way, I’m satisfied and proud of what I did in the army. And I’d do it all again, even knowing what I know now.

DSCN6614

(and there’s one more ribbon I still need to add).

Thanks for reading this week. And to my friends that have Georgia tags on their vehicle, sorry, but the part about most of you not knowing how to drive is true. And you know it. And before my Alabama and Louisiana friends laugh and enjoy too much what I’ve written about Georgia motorists, y’all are right behind them on my list. Ha Ha! I hope you all have a great week, thanks for letting me rant, this post made me smile.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/01/21/the-soccer-game/

 

Don’t Work Too Hard

My brain gets stuck on things sometimes. Some of those things don’t make any sense at all to be obsessing over. But I do it anyway. And in a week where nothing came to me for my blog, I’ll write about what’s been stuck in my brain. I have nothing profound to offer in this, but at the very least, this will be a glimpse into what goes on in my head occasionally. So, if you see me deep in thought and I look like I’m pondering some important life-changing knowledge, I might only be contemplating some trivial nonsense that popped into my thoughts and is driving me nuts. Like this….

I’ve always wondered about the phrase “Don’t work too hard.” What does it mean? Be lazy? Slack off? Don’t give your full effort? I’ve always answered that statement by responding with, “Too late.” In school, our teachers always encouraged us to study hard. In sports, our coaches implored us to play or run hard. When mowing the grass as a teenager, my dad would tell me to do a good job, or I’d have to do it again. So, why then, when we get to adulthood do we tell each other “Don’t work too hard”? Isn’t that a contradiction of everything we were taught growing up?

But I’ve been thinking about this lately because someone at work recently told me “Don’t work too hard” as they were leaving for the day. And it’s been stuck in my head ever since. I know this topic for my blog might be a little different or weird compared to most of my other posts, but that’s how my brain works. Or, in some cases, doesn’t work. It’s just a corny, cliché phrase, something to say that might be funny in an ironic way. But for some reason, my brain is fixated on it.

I have worked hard in my life at every job I’ve ever had, at least in my adult life. I pride myself on being a hard worker. I also pride myself on being a smart worker, efficient and productive. Work smart, not hard, right? Either way, I earn my pay, that’s for sure. But then I think about some of my Army Reserve weekends and wonder if I do always earn my pay. There have been a few times that I was amazed we even got paid for some of the unproductive weekends I’ve been part of at various units. In fairness, some of the boring weekends are a result of budget cuts after the wars “ended” and the Reserves was again put at the end of the money train.

And then I thought, I shouldn’t feel bad about getting paid for not doing much once in a while on my Army Reserve weekends. I’ve been on two deployments, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, where I earned my pay ten times over. No overtime, no bonuses. Just work, every day. Long days. Hard days. Every day. I’m not complaining. I did sign up for that, and I wanted to be there. I volunteered for both of my deployments and I would go back right now and do it all again, the same hours for the same pay. This is simply a comment on how things balance out sometimes. And I don’t in the least feel bad about it.

I’ve worked with people that have taken “Don’t work too hard” seriously. It’s bothersome to me. And I’ve seen road crews where one guy is working and four others are standing around not working too hard. I’ve been in the Veterans Affairs system where it seems like only a few of the people I’ve dealt with even work at all, and even fewer work hard. Maybe this is the part where it’s balancing out for them. Maybe they already met their quota for hard work. I guess I can relate to that on some level, considering some of my Army Reserve weekends.

So, if you can get away with it once in a while, “Don’t work too hard.” But I don’t recommend that being your lifestyle or motto to live by. And I’m not sure what I accomplished with hashing this out here as opposed to in my head, aside from trying to stay disciplined to post every week. In any event, thanks for reading. I’ll do better next week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Back to Work

For the few of you that follow and read Story of My Life every week, you may have noticed that I missed two weeks in a row. I’ve been busy. A month ago, I started working again after a year of being self-unemployed. Except for my Army Reserve weekends, I wasn’t doing anything outside the home for employment. I really missed working. Now I miss being lazy. LOL. My psychologist I was seeing at the Vet Center and I discussed work and decided last year early in our sessions that I wasn’t ready for the stress of work. By the time he relocated to another job in December I had made great progress and started passively looking for work.

I had to find the exact right job for me. While I have improved in many areas in my mental health, my brain still has issues. I’m still easily frustrated, although I am dealing with my frustrations much better now. I’m getting better at not being so jumpy and anxious, but still have my moments. And I still hate crowds and being around groups of people that I don’t know very well or at all. And let’s not forget traffic. I doubt I’ll ever do well in traffic again. I know an argument can made whether I was ever good in traffic to begin with, but I see a difference between getting angry at a fellow motorist and having bad memories from deployments because of traffic. I actually don’t get angry much in traffic anymore, but the feelings I have from being in certain traffic situations can only be understood by someone who has “been there.” In my case, Kabul, Afghanistan. For others, somewhere else in Afghanistan or Iraq, or wherever.

I got hired to cook at a restaurant that was opening in our local airport. In my interview, I said I had not worked in a year and would like to ease back into things, maybe four days a week, perhaps working 30 hours or so. I let the interviewer know that I was still in the Army Reserves, that I had previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And also that I was dealing with PTSD, among other issues, but that I was capable of doing the job I was applying for. So, I went to work. First, we had to get the restaurant cleaned, painted, and set up. Then we opened. And then I cooked. And now I’m tired.

My plan of easing back into work did not work as planned. I worked over 40 hours three weeks in a row. There was a time in my life that 40 hours was a piece of cake. I was told recently that I have a history of going from one extreme to another. While that has some truth to it, I certainly didn’t mean to go from doing mostly nothing to going full speed. But I’m glad I did. I’m very comfortable where I am. The kitchen is small. The staff is small. I work with some good people. And often I’m in the kitchen by myself since it’s a small operation. And the best part? Since the restaurant closes after the last departure, I’m out of there before 8 pm on nights I close. I found my groove, my niche, and a schedule I like. For those of you that work or have worked in the restaurant industry, you know that getting out before 8 pm on a closing night is completely unheard of.

Working at the airport requires a background check, fingerprinting, and a test about airport security that must be passed to get the ID badge. No problem. And working at the airport has a few perks. I took my twin girls to the airport this week for a class trip to Washington, D.C. I parked in the employee lot, no cost to park. I was able to go to the gate with them since I have a security badge while all the other parents had to say good-bye to their kids at the TSA checkpoint. On a side note about the class trip, an anonymous donor paid for most of the kids to go on that trip. That’s the only reason my twins could go. I have no idea who that mystery person is, but a huge Thank You to him or her. I am forever grateful.

Well, I’m back to work and handling it fairly well, except that I was too tired and busy to post here the last two weeks. My body is getting used to being on my feet all the time again. That is not a fun process, but one I must go through. I miss the Me that didn’t hurt so much after being on my feet all day. And that was only a few years ago. I’ll probably never be as fast or as good as I was in the kitchen back then, but I’m keeping up. I still have some memory issues, but not as bad as it was a year ago. And lastly, I’m very thankful for the opportunity I have with the company that hired me. I feel like they have taken a chance on me and I appreciate that. It was a huge confidence boost.

I’m still here. Busy, but here. Thank you for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/11/hostage-negotiator-or-hostage-taker/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/30/recovery-its-not-that-easy/