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

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PTSD Moments

For those of us that live with PTSD, depression, anxiety, or any other ‘invisible’ ailment that’s hard to describe or see, we have ‘moments.’ For me, I call them “PTSD moments.” All of us that are effected deal with them, sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes it’s not too bad. Most of my PTSD moments have to do with trouble falling asleep, weird or bad dreams, traffic, unexpected noises. Very minor stuff in the grand scheme of life. Since starting medication a couple years ago, and going through counseling, I have learned to deal with most of these things better than I used to. I have calmed down considerably compared to the time leading up to my failed suicide attempt and the few months that followed. But I do still have an overwhelming PTSD moment occasionally. This week, I had two of those moments, almost back to back.

The first of my two PTSD moments was at the restaurant I work at in the airport. I was changing out an empty keg in a walk-in cooler that has more stuff crammed into it than it should. It’s a confined space in the corner where the kegs are kept, and very difficult to change some of them. I got the empty keg pulled out with little problem, but when I was putting the new keg in its place, it slipped and slammed to the floor. The other kegs that were stacked on each other wobbled. The combination of the loud noise with the fear of being crushed by the kegs turned into a PTSD moment for me. I instantly got a headache. My vision blurred, I lost all focus, and just wanted to go home. I couldn’t even clearly vocalize my thoughts for a few minutes after that incident. It was a similar feeling to when I got rear-ended by a vehicle doing 40 mph while I was sitting still, but without as much of the physical pain.

My second PTSD moment was only ten hours after the first one, at 1:30 in the morning. My headache had finally subsided. I had gone to bed early and I was very much asleep. And sleeping well, I might add. I was awakened by a thud, loud voices, and the sound of a waterfall. I jumped out of bed, heart racing, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I was ready to throw punches, but I had no idea at whom. To make a long story short, the upstairs neighbors had a plumbing problem that caused gallons of water to make its way from the bathroom in their unit to the bathroom in my unit until they could turn off the water behind their commode. Until then, it was flowing through the vent in the bathroom ceiling all over the place.

I went upstairs and knocked on the neighbor’s door. Partly to make sure everything was OK, and partly to make sure they knew that their water was showering down into my bathroom. One of them explained, “The porcelain broke while we were going to the bathroom.” What entered my mind was “While WE”? But I didn’t say anything, just wondered why were “WE” going to the bathroom? I don’t about you, buy the porcelain in my bathroom is single serve. Perhaps they exceeded the weight limit on their porcelain by trying “WE”. Yes, even though what happened next is not funny, I still try to find the humor in most everything, even with the upstairs neighbors raining toilet water into my bathroom. On a side note, that was the first time I met my upstairs neighbors.

After the commotion, I went back to bed. But I could not fall asleep. It was after 3am, probably closer to 4am when I finally dozed off again. And when I did, I had horrible, dark dreams. Very demented stuff going on in my subconscious while I tried to slumber. I won’t go into detail about what I dreamt about after waking up in full adrenaline and defense modes, but it was very disturbing to me. It was the kind of stuff my previous therapist would spend a whole session on. My dreams that morning had lots of death in them after I finally fell asleep after the waterfall incident and I’m still bothered by what my mind had going on inside it. I know I can’t really control what I dream about, but it is still unsettling.

Life went back to ‘normal’ after the two PTSD moments, whatever ‘normal’ is. But while dealing with those moments, it was tough. And not just the specific moments, but the aftermath of each moment was somewhat overwhelming. Debilitating headache, horrible dreams, brief loss of mental functions. It’s what I live with. All the progress I’ve made in the last year and a half doesn’t matter sometimes. I know I’m still, and forever will be, on a recovery road with PTSD and my PTSD moments. It’s uncommon for me lately to have a PTSD moment as severe as the two I’ve written about here. But they will still happen to me none the less. And I have little, if any, control of how I or my body and mind react to them when the moments seem severe. I think that bothers me just as much as the moments themselves, not being able to control it.

But I’m always making progress, even if I take one step back to my two steps forward. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts related to this:

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

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

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

 

Making Progress

I have finished Chapter 5 of the book I’m writing. Finally! I took an extended break from writing and when I came back to it, I had to re-read some of what I previously wrote to get back on track. In doing so, I ended up re-writing and correcting and re-writing and correcting and…. I do a similar thing when cleaning out a closet, a dresser, or box of stuff that has collected over the years. I make a huge mess, reminisce about what’s there, then usually put it all back. It’s time-consuming and sometimes feels like wasting time. But even if slowly, I am moving forward with the book.

The word count for my book through Chapter 5 is over 45,000 words. That’s half way to my target of 90,000 words. It’s shaping up pretty nicely I think. There’s still a ton of work to do on what is already written, but I’m going to try to just let that sit so I can focus on getting the rest of the book written, and then go back and edit. But as I mentioned, when I have to go back to re-read some of it from time to time to make sure I have good flow with the story, I’ll get stuck refining what’s already written and finding mistakes. But it’s a process. And I’m feeling good about it.

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 5. In this piece, the main character, James, is still stuck on the second day of being in the psych ward after a failed suicide attempt. He has already been to his morning session with the psychiatrist, a session which was very trying on him, and is now about to get lunch. I hope you enjoy this short excerpt. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

(From Chapter 5)

James kept thinking to himself and occasionally mumbling, “This is only the second day.” He hated that he was lied to about day two being better. James was convinced there was a conspiracy against him and he had to figure out how to keep from falling into their plan. He was certain that he could not be helped in the hospital. James started having a conversation in his mind about how much worse he felt in the last two days than in the time leading up to his failed suicide attempt. The voices in his mind were reminding him that he was a failure and offering suggestions for next time. They scoffed at him for not being man enough to handle his problems and being a miserable disappointment to everyone. The voices assured him that he would be able to succeed in his quest to die once he was released from the hospital, that he only needed to be patient long enough to persuade the doctor and staff into thinking he was well enough to leave. Then he could finish the job and be free from the numbing anguish of life that he dragged behind him like a ship’s anchor.

This was not the first time James had a conversation with the voices in his head. This was, however, the first time he felt like he and the voices were on the same sheet of music, that he would stop fighting them and give in to their whims. James was accepting that the voices could help him and he believed the things they were telling him. He knew the voices were right, that he would be better off dead, that he was a burden to Kevin, that Donna could do better without him, and that his brother had enough on his plate that he would probably be relieved to not have to worry about James anymore.

In the past, the voices brought fear and turmoil to James, but now he found comfort in their existence and trusted their ideas. The voices were the only thing he trusted anymore. Since he had become unable to make decisions for himself, he now considered the voices an asset. James would now follow their lead and no longer fight or question their motives. The voices were going to lead him down the path of their choosing and he was going to follow, no questions, no resistance. He became oddly calm in accepting the fate that the voices were laying out for him. If he could only find a way to be released from the hospital, he could get a second chance at death.

2230 Hours, Kabul, Afghanistan

2230 hours (10:30 P.M.), Kabul, Afghanistan, about five or six weeks into deployment. My two roommates and I had already turned out the lights and called it a day. I was half asleep when the loud knock on the door startled the three of us from our bunks. Who the hell was banging on our door so forcefully at that hour? One of us may have even yelled to the person at the door using some colorful language. Oops. To our surprise, it was one of our Master Sergeants. He informed us that Bagram was “getting lit up” and that intel reports were suggesting we were next. He told us to stay put, but be ready. Then he was off to the next room, banging on that door.

Really? “Stay put, but be ready”? Needless to say, I didn’t fall asleep until 3 or 4 A.M. I got online and messaged my friend that was stationed at Bagram and asked if he was doing alright. He told me there was some excitement going on up there, but he was well so far. There was not an attack that night at my base. Where I was stationed, at New Kabul Compound (NKC), there were very few attacks like those at other bases outside of Kabul. My base was across from the U.S. Embassy and ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces). Because of those places, we were fortunate to have greater security.

During my deployment to Afghanistan, I spent a good deal of time traveling. I used to call Bagram my second home because I was there so much. I became very familiar with the rocket attacks that would come in from the mountains there. Same thing at Kandahar and Shindand when I visited there on missions. Loud, unexpected noises still startle me, bother me, and get my adrenaline pumping for a moment. But our threats in Kabul were different. Usually they involved attacking a convoy in the city with an explosive device that could be slapped on to a vehicle stuck in the slow-moving Kabul traffic. Other threats were vehicles loaded with explosives that might try to penetrate the gates of one of the bases or detonate next to a convoy. Small arms fire was always a threat everywhere over there. Then there was the one big threat that was hush-hush, secret.

Whether these threats got carried out or the bad guys were disabled, the threats were real. Dealing with those threats in our minds was very real. We had to be ready no matter what. And having to deal with them over and over without anything happening most of the time took a weird toll on me. I am still having to learn what is a real threat and what is not. I imagine police officers go through that at their job daily. To me, when I’m driving to the store or to pick the kids up at school, I’m looking for threats. I seriously doubt there are any real threats on the roads here where I live, but I’m looking. When I see a car change lanes hastily without a turn signal, I see a threat. When people walk through traffic without using the crosswalk, I see a threat. When someone is driving the wrong way in a parking lot or trying to exit at an entrance only, I see a threat. I’m conditioned to see a threat even though in my rational mind I know it’s not.

At the end of one mission to ISAF we were waiting for the drive team to retrieve us. The two vehicles were separated before they could both enter the base and the second vehicle didn’t get in. A truck supposedly packed with explosives was trying to get in the base and traffic was halted. It was a mess. We were advised to move to the opposite side of the base until the threat was taken care of. The one vehicle that made it into the base met us in the rear. We exited the back gate and eventually met back up with the other vehicle and returned to our base without further incident.

For local missions, we traveled by convoy. Before each trip, we were always given safety and situational briefs by the convoy commander. This covered the route to be taken, who does what in the event of an attack, and current threats in the area. During one brief, we were advised that intel indicated that we should be on the lookout for a white Toyota that was carrying a trunk full of explosions. That information narrowed down our potential threat to about half the vehicles in Kabul. Maybe not quite half, but there were more white Toyotas than any other vehicle on the roads it seemed.

For out of town missions we traveled by helicopter and airplane. One trip coming back from Bagram, a short helicopter ride from Kabul, we were delayed for a day or two because of a threat somewhere in the mountains that we had to fly over. Finally, a pilot decided to make a flight back to Kabul. We got on the bird to head “home”. We took a different route back than we usually would. When you travel as much as I did, you get used to the terrain and route. Needless to say, the change of route was a little uncomfortable to me. We flew around the “bowl” and found our way in and made it safely to our base.

All of the threats were real, some came to fruition, and others never did. But either way, the threats were real in that every one of them had to be treated as such. Every threat brought a sense of self-preservation and wondering about our own mortality. Every threat had an element of reality that any of us could be going home in box draped with an American Flag. I’m still working on what’s real and what’s not in my life now as far as threats go. I’m getting better, but I still can’t help it when I have a flash of feeling threatened during certain situations and events. Some things just trigger that in me. Maybe it will go away one day. Maybe not. We’ll see in time.

Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts related to this one:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/19/the-fear-in-the-eyes/

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

 

Suicidal Anonymous

What if there were a meeting to go to for those of us that have attempted suicide, or been stopped just in time? If I went to that meeting would I stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Dave. It’s been 4 months since my last debilitating bout with suicidal thoughts.”? Would I have to go into what brought me to that point? Would I have to disclose all the stuff about my PTSD and depression and fears and general weirdness that I deal with in my head every day? Would anyone go to such a meeting and share their innermost thoughts? I have compared recovering from suicide to alcoholism more than once. I think both are a lifelong recovery process. Both need a support group of some sort. And both require the person to be completely honest with himself. Suicidal Anonymous? We might need a better name for our group.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with a fellow Soldier talking about things in life. Like many other fellow Soldiers I talk to and share my story with, she was intrigued that I was so open with something so personal. Many of the people I talk to one-on-one have gone through a situation similar to mine, or have other behavioral health issues that I can relate to, not just suicidal thoughts. The most asked question of me during a conversation about my story is, “Aren’t you afraid people will look at you differently if you share that stuff?” Actually, there was a time I did fear that.

In the military, there has always been a stigma placed on those who sought help for mental health issues. Granted, it is more accepted now to seek help than when I came in in 1989, even encouraged now. The Army has come a long way in the last couple decades in dealing with the matters of mental health concerning Soldiers. But it’s that first step a person has to take to get help that is by far the hardest. Asking for help or sharing the deepest secrets of your mind can be very uncomfortable. And you can’t make someone get help until they’re on the verge of it being too late, especially if that person doesn’t want help. Or at least, that’s my personal experience.

Back to the question, “Aren’t you afraid people will look at you differently?” I have accepted that I need people to look at me differently than they used to. I am different now. I see myself differently. My brain doesn’t always process things rationally anymore, although I am making progress. But I still cannot be expected to perform on the level I did before my brain changed and I got diagnosed with PTSD and other things. Therefore, I need people to understand my situation and see me for who I am now. And I need to share my experiences because it keeps me in check with myself and allows others to keep me accountable to continuing my recovery.

We don’t have a Suicidal Anonymous group for those of us recovering from our own dark thoughts and actions. Even though I went to group therapy after my hospital stay last year, in the beginning of my recovery, it felt like each one of us was our own solitary group, an island, alone in the waves somewhere. I intend to change that, and I have for myself. I tell my story. I read some of the blogs posted by others on the topic of their experiences with suicide, some posted anonymously, some with a name. I make myself available to those that need to talk about it. And I connect with all those people as if they are in a group with me, going to our anonymous meetings, whether they know it or not.

I imagine I will be in recovery for the rest of my life. Just the fact of how close I came to dying, I know it will always be somewhere in my mind. I know there are experiences that will trigger my PTSD and drive me to being severely depressed or having anger issues. But I am choosing to not be anonymous about it. I am choosing to share my story even if people look at me differently. I am choosing to be better. Not because it’s easy to choose to be better, it’s actually very difficult. But because I want to be better, choosing to be better is now a viable option.

I’m bringing this meeting to order. Hi, I’m Dave, it’s been four months since I last seriously thought about suicide, 15 months since my last attempt. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad you’re here, too. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts of mine related to this one:

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/16/the-pysch-ward/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/06/battlefield/