Home.

After two weeks at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, doing army training, I am finally home. Good training. Pretty easy stuff, but it dragged on for two weeks. I felt like I was there for two months. And it was all classroom instruction. I got bored rather quickly being in a classroom environment 8 hours a day for two weeks, but I survived. And I got a 99 on my final, so maybe I did more than just survive. The 500+ mile drive home went well. I made decent time, had great weather, and there were only a few idiots on the road. And yes, the idiots had Georgia tags on their cars.

There’s nothing exciting from training to write about and I doubt there is anything I can write this week that would be an adequate follow-up to last week’s post. If you saw it, it was a tough one. Very emotional. It was hard to write. It was hard to fall asleep the night before I posted it, with all those thoughts swirling in my head. I also second-guessed myself as to whether or not to even bring it up. If you missed it, I will put a link at the bottom so you can read it if you desire. But I think it helped. Getting it all out there, the way I remember it, opening up about how horrible a memory it is. Only time will tell, but I feel better about it for now, today anyway.

The comments and messages I saw and received after it posted were amazing. Many people who were also at Camp Bucca, Iraq during that time, a lot of whom I’ve never even met, shared their memory from that horrible time. My memory was slightly flawed concerning some of the details, but the main part of the tragedy, the part that haunted me, is exactly as I remember. A special thanks again to my friend Galvan who’s words really gave life to the story. Much more than I could have on my own. Thank you Galvan for opening up, I know it was hard.

After a long week in class and a long drive home yesterday, this is all I got. But thank you for taking the time to read my weekly post on Story of My Life. I hope to have more for next week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Last week’s post.  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/07/15/my-worst-war-memory/

 

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/

 

Tropical Storm Cindy and My Crazy Thoughts

This past week we dealt with Tropical Storm Cindy here where I live in Florida. Yes, the landfall was hundreds of miles away to the west, but the rain was far-reaching. With the rain came localized flooding, at least one tornado that caused damage, and over 5 ½ inches of rain right here from June 20th to the 22nd (recorded at the local military base according to Weather Underground’s website). That’s a lot of rain in just 3 days.

 

Views from my back door after the main part of the storm had passed.

But now I’m going to be controversial. All the hype the different weather sources put out about weather events, is just that, hype. At least most of it is. They need ratings, just like the news channels. They will play it up as much as they can to make sure you tune in. I have to do some research on the subject, but as far as I can tell, someone changed the term “tropical disturbance” to “tropical cyclone.” Why? Because “cyclone” sounds more scary. On a similar note, but going in a completely opposite direction, we got PTSD from changing the way it’s named. It went from “shell shock” to “battle fatigue” to PTSD. People will change the name of something to impact how you view it depending on how they want you to see it. PTSD doesn’t sound near as bad as Shell Shock.

But I digress. I do that from time to time. Let me grab another beer.

The reason I know the Weather Channel, and other weather outlets, hype things up is because I’ve seen it. In Panama City Beach years ago, they did a report about flooding from a parking lot that floods in an average afternoon thunderstorm. The roads were fine, no problems. But the reporter walked through the deepest part of the parking lot talking about how the flooding was affecting us. It was a lie. I saw a reporter on the Weather Channel once talking about how bad the winds were during a particular tropical storm one year. They were reporting from in between two condominium buildings, where the wind is tunneled as it comes off the beach and increases in strength. It’s always windy in that spot. I was on the crew that built the pool for one of those buildings and I know firsthand that the wind right at that exact spot is always much greater than on the beach. Again, they lied. Or at least in both cases, the source of the information was manipulating the truth in such a way that it was not accurate reporting.

 

Some tornado damage at a local park.

I have lived in the Florida Panhandle for more than 25 years. I’ve sat through every tropical storm and hurricane that has ever come our way. Some storms were worse than others. Some hurricane seasons were worse than others. But the common denominator in every storm, every year, was the reporters for the weather and news channels hyped them all up more than any of them ever turned out to be. The only one here that even came close was Hurricane Opal in 1995. Opal forever changed the landscape of the Emerald Coast. And 1995 was a record-breaking year for named storms at the time.

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This guy had a bad day.  But then again, the tree missed the house, so maybe it was a good day.

The point of all this is to take everything with a grain of salt. Have a little common sense, do some research. Understand that not everything is as it appears or is as reported. Not everything is what the name suggests. A tropical cyclone is still just a tropical depression until it becomes a tropical storm. And while I’m on the subject, who renamed the “War Department” to the “Department of Defense” in 1949? Someone that thought War Department sounded too harsh, probably. They still do the same functions despite the name change.

I’ve written enough for the amount of beer I’ve consumed tonight, so I’ll close for this week. Thanks for reading my bizarre ramblings. But I do hope you take some of this to heart and not be fooled by the appearance of things that aren’t true. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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