Abstract

I fell asleep thinking about you, hoping to see you in my dreams. You didn’t show. But that’s ok, I know you’re busy. I should shave my beard since that’s what derailed the last dream and turned it into a nightmare. Even the smallest ripple can turn into a tsunami that engulfs my slumber when my dreams start to go sideways. And once it starts, there’s no stopping it.

I enjoyed a couple of naps this week. I’ve hired a nap coach so I can get better at it. I hope to turn pro at it one day. I wonder what the pay is for a napper at the top of his game. Could it be classified as a sport and what would the scoring system entail? And would the TV commentators whisper into the microphone, “Oh my gosh! He nailed it! Look at his form.” Regardless, I’m sure everyone who gets a nap is a winner. I think we should all explore this.

I’ve been wondering some things. What do the constellations look like from somewhere else in the galaxy? Or even outside the galaxy? Would Orion’s Belt become Orion’s Suspenders? Or perhaps the Big Dipper looks like a bottle of wine from opposite of where we are. Maybe a giant bottle of chardonnay? And we’ll need a colossal size bottle of booze in less than 4 billion years when the Andromeda Galaxy comes crashing into ours. That’s going to be one hell of a party. I should put a reminder in my phone for it.

Today feels like Friday. But, in fact, it is Saturday. I wrote this on Wednesday. You figure it out. Days of the week mean very little to me anymore.

I used to believe in Santa Claus. I’m trying to believe in myself again. I do believe in Jesus, so I got that going for me. But of those three, the only one I really talk to anymore on a regular basis is Me. You should hear the arguments I have with Me. But I am very happy that no one can see what’s going on inside my head at any given time. If you could, you would either be extremely entertained or terribly horrified. At least that how it works for me, having this front row seat to it.

Sometimes I have memories that I’m not sure are really mine. I don’t know how they got in my head; nonetheless, they are here. But I’m not convinced they belong to me. If you are missing some of your memories, please have your people call my people and we’ll work something out. Otherwise, the ones that go unclaimed will be put on craigslist.

I’ve had green tea in Japan, hot tea in England, chai tea in Iraq. As a southerner, you would think that I drink sweet tea. I don’t much care for it. But I like beer. The chai tea in Iraq was the best. But the grits were horrible. They definitely weren’t southern. And don’t get me started on the so-called red beans and rice they served us in Afghanistan. Not even close. Not. Even. Close.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Law of Diminishing Return is real. And the best way to counter it is to go backwards, then it can only get better. Read the previous two sentences again. It’s not confusing, it’ll come to you sooner or later.

Today’s crazy abstractness was brought to you by the number Twelve and the color known as Purple. I hope you enjoyed something a little different from me this week. I sure enjoyed writing it. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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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

Lessons Learned

When I was a young teenager, probably 13 or 14 years old, I had a dog that was a master at climbing the fence and escaping the back yard to roam the neighborhood. Eventually, my dad installed an electric fence kit to the top of the back-yard fence in hopes of curbing the dog’s desire to be free and explore. It should have only taken one jolt from the fence, maybe two, for the dog to no longer try to escape. That beagle sure could climb a fence. I’ve seen dogs that could jump a fence, but that was the only dog I ever saw that could climb one that way.

I was curious about the electric fence. I tapped it with my finger. Nothing. I touched it for a second. Still nothing. I decided to grab hold of it. Not the brightest thing I ever did in my life, but still not even close the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I was “shocked” to learn that the fence worked when I grasped it fully in my hand. It was slightly painful, but a life lesson that I still remember to this day. I won’t be testing anymore electric fences. No need, I satisfied my curiosity and fully understand how they work.

Most of the things we learn in life are directly related to the decisions we make, whether those be good decisions or bad ones. Ever since my children were little, I liked letting them make their own decisions about things when they could. When my two oldest were in pre-school, I would let them choose what to wear each day. Living in Florida, they usually chose shorts and short-sleeve shirts. One morning I told them a cold front was coming through and they should take a jacket. Neither wanted to take a jacket, so I took them to school with only what they had picked out to wear.

By noon that day, the temperature had dropped to a “frigid” 40 degrees. When I picked them up from pre-school, I heard one teacher comment that I should check the weather and dress them accordingly because my children were cold. Really? They weren’t going to die from hypothermia in 40-degree weather on the walk from the classroom to my car. I promise. And they both learned a valuable lesson that day, that sometimes, dad knows what he’s talking about. On the flip-side, on a trip to Colorado in January years ago with the kids, I made sure they had more than enough warm clothes. The trick is to know when to let them decide and when to plan for them. I don’t care what that one teacher thought, I was teaching my young children by giving them all the information available and letting them make the final decision. I think using that philosophy has more than paid off with them.

But what about the times when a decision is made without any idea of what all could possibly happen? And what if a decision is made with the best of intentions, but it turns out to be a disaster? That’s a great ethical question that has been debated for centuries. I don’t have the answer to it, in case you were wondering. During an army reserve weekend years ago, a fellow Service Member found a puppy. There was no collar with identification on the dog. And after asking around, he believed it to be a stray or an abandoned pet. He went to the store and bought a dog bowl, some dog food, and a leash. He was going to give the puppy a home. Since it was a couple hours before quitting time, he put the puppy in the bed of his truck with food and water, and put a collar and leash on the dog and tied it to the inside of the bed of his truck. The puppy climbed up on the wheel well and hanged himself trying to get out of the truck. The man’s intentions were pure gold, but the outcome was tragic.

In 2007, I decided to go back in to military service in the army reserves. I wanted to serve my country again and take care of Soldiers as a chaplain assistant. Although my life does not reflect it now, it was a matter I prayed about and truly believed it was something God wanted me to do, so, I rejoined. I still believe that. I volunteered to go Iraq in 2007. Then, I volunteered to go Afghanistan in 2013. My intentions were admirable, but the outcome of my decision cost me my mental health, my physical health, my marriage, relationships, a business, my favorite job I ever had, and who knows what else. I basically lost Me, the Me I used to know, the Me I used to be. I lost my identity. I had even lost my will to live at one point.

There have been times when I would figuratively touch the electric fence just to see what would happened. There were times when I learned from my decisions like my young children did from theirs, in learning that sometimes we should heed the advice or warnings of others. And there was a time when I was like the puppy, trying to escape, even though I didn’t know it would kill me.

All the decisions I’ve made in my life make me who I am today. Same goes for you, too, by the way. I’m grateful and lucky that to have survived some of my decisions. And even knowing what I know today, I would still rejoin the military and serve again. There are definitely some things I would do differently, but I know for certain I made the right decision to rejoin the army reserves. I don’t understand some of the consequences I’ve had to endure since I believe that decision was made with the best of intentions. And I don’t care to debate it or dig into the philosophical principles of whether or not it was the right decision based on the outcome. I’m moving forward with life.

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

Dave

Other related posts you might like:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/13/the-irony-of-life/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/06/suicide-intervention/

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

The True Risk

This post was removed for a while to make someone happy, even though it had been approved for publishing here. So, I’m putting it back. Enjoy.

Every weekend in September my chaplain and I travel from our compound to another to provide religious support and to participate in a ceremony honoring the fallen of our NATO forces. For more on the ceremony, see my blog entry titled “The Ceremony.” Every trip comes with some element of danger. Some of our trips have even been canceled. Most of the trips we made were in armored NTVs (non-tactical vehicles). One time week we walked to our destination for a trip that lasted only a couple of hours. We were walking on the roads for about 5 minutes, but it was quite an adventure to be on the streets, to see the people and the traffic up close. Turns out, we weren’t supposed to walk, at least not those of us in my unit. But that’s a whole other point of grief I won’t get into here.

On this particular weekend we were all geared up, ready to walk. We were wearing our protective gear, including a protective vest, helmet, gloves, etc. I had my M9 and my M16. I was ready for the adventure. At the last-minute we found out that our walk was canceled and began scrambling to find a ride. We did, our drive team came through like the professionals they are.

Early Sunday morning we are setting up for chapel service. The Navy Captain that plays piano for the services asked me to go to the gate of the compound and escort his Afghan National Army friend to the service. So I set out on my mission. I made my way through the compound to the gate. I went out to where I thought I was supposed to meet him and found myself on the street, outside the compound, without my gear. I had only my M9 with me. I looked around to see a few locals walking the street. There was almost no vehicular traffic. I walked toward the entry checkpoint down the way from where I exited. I wasn’t afraid and never felt threatened. But it was a very surreal feeling.

I found the gentleman I was looking for. He was dressed in his uniform talking to another Afghan Soldier who was also waiting for an escort to get into the compound. He had a genuine smile and was very happy to see me. I greeted him in his native tongue and he returned the greeting in English, shook my hand, then embraced me. I led him through the gates and checkpoints and then to the chapel. We talked about his training he had been to in the States and where I was from back home. He spoke very good English.

As it turns out he is a Christian, something that puts his life in jeopardy here (hence, I will not use his name or rank). As I sat there during the service, I pondered all this. Here is a man who not only is willing to risk his life to make his country a better place, but also to risk everything in his life to go to church and fellowship with other Christians. This moved me.

They say we, as American Soldiers, risk our lives everyday by being here. I know this to be true when I attend the ceremonies and see the names of the fallen. But I have never felt threatened or in danger since I’ve been here, not on any of the missions I’ve gone on, not even when we walked in the streets. Maybe that’s my American culture of taking things for granted or maybe I’m just old enough to know that we can’t live forever anyway. Whatever the job at hand, we are willing to do it not matter the cost. But in thinking about all this, I am humbled and ashamed that I take so much for granted. It’s easy to do what I do with all the cumbersome protective gear I have to wear. There is some safety in it. There are no repercussions for me going to church or being a Christian. But this Afghan Soldier, to do what he did, to go to church, to be a Christian here, is far more risky than anything I have ever done. His reward will be great.

So I ask you this question as I close: What are you willing to die for? More importantly: What are willing to live for. Dying is the easy part. Can you handle living for what you believe?

Good day and God bless.

Dave