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/

 

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Rest In Peace, Laptop

Well, I went a couple weeks again without posting. I’ve received a few messages asking about it, checking on me. Thank you to those that noticed and reached out. I’m doing well for the most part. Much of life is falling into place, or at least I feel good about life lately. It’s been a while since I could say that. It’s all a process, and I’m accepting that it all takes time. I have made progress in some areas and still have a ways to go in other areas. But I’m getting there.

 

I have no excuse for two weeks ago, but the reason I didn’t post last week was because my laptop died. Not just died, but DIED, all caps died. Services to be held at a later date, I’ll keep you posted. I took it to a local computer shop and the look on the guy’s face told me that my laptop had already crossed over to the hard drive in the sky and there was nothing to do to save it. He couldn’t promise that the data could be retrieved and saved, but that he would try. It took a while, but he saved most of my data. Thank you to The Tech Center on Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, you did a great job.

 

About a dozen pictures from the laptop were not salvageable, but here’s some of what I could have lost. The first five chapters of the book I’m writing. 4,000 or so pictures I took in Afghanistan. My writing, my poetry, everything I’ve ever written for my blog. Years and years worth documents I’ve been collecting from my army reserve career. All my medical stuff I had on the laptop for the VA. The only things completely irreplaceable, were the pictures. I have all the paper documents somewhere. I can rewrite the book, though I think it would be lacking since it was written with such passion when I started. I think I’ll start backing everything up on my next laptop. Currently, I have hijacked my kid’s desktop to get this done.

 

My laptop served me well. It was a gift sent to me while at Fort Hood by my parents after my laptop I had at the time died, very similar to the way the current one went, quietly, in it’s sleep. And where I was, on North Fort Hood in the summer of 2013, I was not able to just go shopping for a new one. For those of you who might have been to North Fort Hood, you know it’s a wasteland of Hell with very little in amenities. And it’s possibly home to the worst chow hall in the army.

 

My laptop was a low-end Toshiba that didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but was perfect for taking to Afghanistan. It did everything I needed and allowed me to stay in touch with the outside world. Every time I escorted the chaplain on a multi-day mission, I took it with me. I kept a journal of our trips on that laptop. I would log were we went, with whom, what we did, where we ate, how many times we heard the thunderous booms of the incoming enemy rockets. The most booms we heard were at Bagram, but the ones that got closest to us were in Kandahar. I logged every helicopter, plane, and convoy ride. I even noted the one or two times we walked from our base to another.

 

For being a low-end laptop, I would say it held up very well considering it went to war, traveled to and was used in six different countries, was dropped more than once, and exposed to extreme weather conditions. The casing is broken, some of the plastic is cracked. The actual laptop will never be what it once was, but it didn’t lose the important information I had on it. It needed some help from a computer expert, but the data was still retrievable. I have access to it again and can continue with the things I was working on. This ordeal was actually a wake up call for me to get my butt in gear to work more on my book and other writings.

 

In the last couple months, despite some things just not going well, I think I’m doing pretty good, or at least better than I have in a long while. I came to the conclusion recently that I should not be content to be miserable in life. If given the choice between happy or not, choose happy. I choose Happy. I can see a huge difference in my relationship with my children. I can see some improvement in my attitude and reactions while driving. I have become more patient in general with most things. I still have many PTSD issues, but I’m making progress. My sleep doesn’t always go as planned, my dreams are actually getting worse and more vivid. I still have too many days where I am unmotivated and lack energy and don’t do anything. I’m still very hyper vigilant to my surroundings. But overall, I see progress.

 

I think in some ways I’m similar to my laptop. There’s nothing hugely special about me, I’m kind of low-end, but I did the job required of me and then some. I served my purpose, I served my country. I’m broken and falling apart and I will never be what I was before, but I still have most of the information in my head. I can still access so many things I have learned in my life. The data in my brain doesn’t flow like it used to and often times gets out of order. I get confused sometimes and frustrated with how my brain works. But I have my weekly visit to my psychologist at the Vet Center, I have my medications, and I have a friend that keeps me smiling everyday and helped me realize that I do not have to be miserable in life. I’ll be ok, sooner rather than later, I think.  I know.

 

I do plan on going back to posting weekly, every Saturday. But if I miss a week here or there, I’m ok, I promise. As important to me as my writing is, I think I’ve moved past it being a necessity for my own personal therapy. I think I’m working through life’s situations better than when I started writing here again back in February. I’m certainly doing better than I was a couple months ago. I will keep doing what I’m doing, keep moving towards that light at the end of the tunnel, keep hoping for the best and believing it will happen.

 

Thanks for reading. Choose Happy! Good day, God bless.

 

Dave

 

The VA is Killing Me

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything here. I just haven’t felt like writing. It’s also been a while since I’ve read any of the blogs I follow. It’s been a rough few weeks. I have been busy. My busy doesn’t equate to productive by any sense of the definition. But the thoughts in my mind keep me busy, yet also inhibit motivation and desire to do the things that I need to get done or even doing the things that I enjoy doing. I’m stuck in a cycle of doing the bare minimum to survive. But there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I can see it. It shines bright enough to lead me to the end of all this. I just don’t know how long before I get there. But I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

There are two main issues lately that have my mind in the darkness that I fight on a daily basis. One is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA). The other isn’t worth talking about and has no bearing on my future anyway. Some fights just aren’t worth fighting. The VA, however, is a fight that I have to keep fighting. And despite being set up for failure in that corrupt system, I must win. In reality though, who am I fooling? They would rather me die and save money for bonuses and art than to help me get well again. But I will go down fighting and swinging no matter what it takes. And before anyone reads anything idiotic into that, “going down swinging” is simply a figure of speech, not a threat. That disclaimer is for the one person that doesn’t know the difference, she knows who she is.

Concerning the VA. I had some appointments recently. Four out of five of them were with a medical group contracted by the VA to determine compensation and pension. My eyes were opened to how things really work, how things should work, and how veterans are just plain screwed in the system. First, every time I’ve seen my primary care physician at the VA, he tells me my breathing is fine. However, he’s the only one. I went to sick call at Ft. Jackson a couple months ago and the doctor that listened to my lungs wanted to order x-rays immediately because of how my lungs sounded. A follow up with a civilian doctor after returning home from that trip had similar results. The doctor I saw most recently for the compensation appointment asked me why the VA hadn’t already diagnosed me. She said there was already overwhelming evidence that the VA sent to her that I should have already have been diagnosed.

va_scandal_map

The breathing test is a scam. I didn’t realize the first couple times I took it that I was taking it multiple times each visit until I passed. That’s how the VA works. Make the patient test until they can say there’s nothing wrong. But the doctor is sent only the results of the passing test. They don’t realize that it took me four times testing to get the minimum score. All total that day I took two different breathing tests seven times and passed one time on each test. Basically, I can breathe well enough 29% of the time. That’s good to know. That must mean I don’t need any breathing treatments or meds to help. They can now spend that money on other things that don’t benefit the veterans.

I saw something a while back where a person made a statement that veterans shouldn’t complain about free health care. I wanted to reach through the internet and choke that guy out. (again, just a figure of speech that isn’t possible anyway). I paid for this so called care. I paid for it with my health and my sanity. I paid a dear price for it. In addition, it’s not free anyway. Everyone in the VA gets paid. And they get paid pretty well, some more than others. It’s not a charity. It’s not a non-profit clinic that treats the poor. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that has no accountability to the ones it is supposed to be serving. I don’t want free health care. I want the health care I already paid for. I want the health care that our taxes pay for with the VA.

In August of last year after my failed suicide attempt I went to the VA with the false hope of getting help. I spoke with the patient advocate at my local VA. I didn’t know where to start so I started with her. She assured me that I would get the help I needed and started making phone calls. When she finally got through to a live person the conversation switched from getting me help to her and the person on the other end of the phone bitching about not receiving their bonuses. And I quote the patient advocate, “Yeah, I haven’t got my bonus either. I’m about to drive over to Biloxi and ask her to her face where my money is.” I looked for her business card so I could call her out by name, but I don’t know where it is. Nice to see how much they really care, or what it is they really care about. She was going to drive 400 miles round trip to get in someone’s face about a bonus. Not sure why that needed to be discussed while I was sitting there.

My primary care doctor at my local VA has told me he didn’t want to diagnose me because it would have consequences on my career in the army reserves. Don’t treat me because I’m still in the reserves? In other words, “maybe you’ll die before the VA has to take full responsibility of you.” And at my most recent appointment he commented on my lungs, “We aren’t going to do anything yet. Let’s bring you back in in six months and see how they’re doing.” This is not what my body and mind paid for in Iraq and Afghanistan. I demand better service and better care. And I’m going to be as loud as I can to show everyone what veterans go through in dealing with the VA.

I know experiences vary. I know of a couple friends that got great service and care from their VA where they live. But they are few and far between. From what I can tell, most of us go through the same thing I’m going through with the VA. I can’t fix it. But I can make some noise. Maybe it won’t do any good, but I will be heard. The system will continue to remain broken. There’s nothing I can do about it. But I will keep moving towards my light at the end of the tunnel. And I will survive.

Thanks for reading this week. Sorry it was somewhat scatterbrained and all over the place. I only wrote it as it came to me. There’s no real flow in my writing lately, too much going on in my head. But I will make it to where I’m supposed to be. I am confident in that. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts from me related to this:

https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/breathe-in-breath-out-if-you-can/

https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/crossroads/

 

2nd Excerpt From My Book

I got nothing this week. Except anger, pain, and horribly dark thoughts. However, I will not have a meltdown in the blogosphere that I did a month or so ago. I thought about skipping this week and not making a post. Instead I will share a second excerpt of the book I am writing. For the other update I posted from Chapter 3, you can find it here: https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/448/.

In this part from Chapter 5, the main character, James, is in the middle of telling one of the stories of his war experiences to the psychologist during his stay in the psych ward at the hospital. I am slowly, but surely working on my book. I have added some content since the last excerpt, but mostly have cleaned up and re-written much of the first five chapters. I would like to finish by the end of October. We’ll see if that happens. I hope you enjoy the small part of the book here. All feedback welcome. Thank you for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave


One day when James was by himself in the office the warning sirens sounded as the first explosion shook the small building. James calmly, but with purpose, grabbed his gear. James could tell from experience that this blast wasn’t dangerously close, but close enough to get his attention. This was nothing new to him. He had been there for four months at the time and had probably heard over 200 explosions that originated from somewhere in the mountains. James and the others had become pretty good at approximating how far away the blasts were by the sound it produced and the shaking of the building. Most of the time the enemy was aiming for the airstrip, which was fairly close to their office, but far enough away that if the first blast didn’t get the small building, anything that followed would generally be getting farther away.

Before James could exit the building to take refuge in a nearby concrete bunker, the second explosion hit surprisingly close. This one shook the building with more force, causing books and DVDs on shelves to fall to the floor. James ran out the door with his weapon and protective gear and got in the bunker. He sat in the dirt and leaned up against the wall listening to the sirens and voices over the broadcast system. Looking back and forth out both sides of the bunker James noticed there was no one else around him. He was alone in the bunker. He wondered where his two office mates were and where on the base the last rocket fell. James knew it had definitely landed somewhere close, closer to him than any previous blast had landed.

The third explosion felt like it was right on top of him. It crossed his mind that he might become a statistic, a number on the list of those that never made it home. But then it occurred to him, he would still go home, just zipped up in a bag instead, that is, if they could find all the pieces. James knew the enemy was ‘walking them in.’ They would fire a rocket, mark where it lands, make adjustments, and fire again getting closer to the intended target. Based on the sounds of the first three explosions, James believed in his mind that if they got off a fourth rocket, it would land right on top of him. James waited alone in the bunker with only his thoughts. The noise from the broadcast system, still blaring the warnings as loud as it could, faded in his mind. He could only hear his heart beating and a couple voices in his head. He thought about his brother Bobby grilling him a few years ago about why anyone would want to join the military knowing they would go to war and possible get killed. This thought presented quite a quandary to him. James thought that maybe Bobby was right, but if James died Bobby wouldn’t be able to tell him, “Told you so,” like he always did when they were kids. James smiled a little at this catch-22 of a situation he found himself in. Then he thought of Donna and the possibility of never seeing her again. His smile quickly faded.

There was not to be a fourth explosion on that day. The sirens eventually stopped and were immediately replaced with a loud voice telling the base personnel what areas were now safe to resume movement. Sectors two and three were to stay put, but the area James was in was cleared by the big voice and those in that area could return to normal duty. He wondered where his co-workers were and hoped they were safe. James walked out of the bunker and headed back to the small building he had evacuated a short time ago. Though it felt like hours stuck in the bunker, in reality it was only about twenty-five minutes. He didn’t notice any damage to the outside of the building as he surveyed the area before entering, but saw the mess of books and DVDs that littered the floor inside from the shaking of the building. James sat back down at the main desk, picked up the phone to see if it worked, and logged on to the computer. He would give the other guys a few minutes to get back before he checked in for accountability with the unit. It was Sergeant Jacobs’ job anyway, but if he didn’t come back it would become James’ responsibility. James did not that responsibility, not this way. Miller came bursting through the door after a moment, startling James.

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My 9/11 Three Years Ago

There will be no shortage this week of reflections about 9/11. People will share where they were when it happened, what they were doing, who they were with, and how they felt. On September, 11 2001, America changed. The world changed. I changed. The events of 9/11 brought me back in to military service, as it did for many who had previously served. There were also many young bucks that signed up to do their patriotic duty as well. Many of us that answered the call were in uniform, sometimes far from home, during 9/11 remembrances that would follow in the years after the original attacks on that date. I think I have been away from home 4 or 5 times on a 9/11, twice serving out of the country.

Below is a post that I originally wrote and shared three years ago while in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was an amazing sight to behold. I have some video of that night, of the tracers flying across the sky overhead, the commotion in the streets just outside the barrier walls of our compound, the noises, the lights, and the people around me at the time. I won’t share those videos here. But in one video of all the crazy commotion, you can hear me and another Soldier talking calmly the whole time, debating why leadership was going to move our smoking area from where it was to somewhere else. We were having a normal conversation while bullets flew over our heads across the night sky. Neither one of us were very concerned about our surroundings. All the chaos that Afghanistan had to offer became normal for there, at that time, in that place. It wasn’t until later, when it was time to transition to a new normal, that didn’t include war, that I found a challenge like nothing else I had ever faced. I’m still dealing with that challenge. I miss the chaos. And still don’t know what my new normal is.

Enjoy the post that I originally wrote and posted on 9/11/2013. Good day. God bless.

Dave

 

9/11 in Kabul

for original post: https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/911-in-kabul-afghanistan/

Twelve years ago today America changed. We weren’t looking to change, we didn’t necessarily want to change, but it’s a change we were forced to go through. We will never be the same again. I’ve followed all the posts today on Facebook in my news feed about all the remembrances, the pictures, the support for both the victims of the attack and the Service Members still fighting a war that’s supposed to be winding down.

As 9/11 approached, we double checked ourselves, made sure everything was good, and stayed vigilant. No worries. We’ve been doing this for a long time. But I think what happened today caught everyone off guard. No one saw this coming.

As I came out the door of the building to throw a box in the dumpster I could hear the commotion on the streets outside the walls of our compound. It was after dark. I could hear people yelling, horns blowing, and noises that sounded an awful lot like gunfire. I could see flashes of light in the air. I noticed that everyone outside was calm. Looking to the sky, but calm. Why wasn’t anyone taking cover? We are in a war zone after all and I know for sure that is gunfire I hear. After my trip to the dumpster, I walked to the gazebos where the daily gossip and b.s. stories could be heard for the day. That’s where I found out what was happening.

The Afghanistan soccer team beat India to win its first ever international trophy in soccer. The people were celebrating. Since I don’t follow soccer, I’m not sure, but I think this puts them in the competition for the World Cup. The Afghans have something to cheer about. And they were cheering. Fireworks and real gunfire. Hollering in the streets, horns honking. I could only picture it from where I was. I sat at the gazebos for about an hour listening to the people on the other side of the walls. I watch tracers fly over the camp and could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns. Don’t these guys know those rounds have to come down somewhere? I saw one of the Afghanistan interpreters sitting out there. She was smiling, taking it all in. I could see the APPF (Afghan People’s Protection Force) guards at the gate. They were happy, shaking hands with some of the Afghan workers from our compound that walked by on their way to their quarters for the night.

Afghanistan is a nation that has been torn apart for the better part of 34 years by war and government unrest, Soviet occupation, Taliban choke hold, corrupt politics, and more. And for many years before that this country has dealt with tribal and ethnic divisions as well as religious unrest. The Afghanistan soccer team has brought some unity and happiness to this otherwise dismal place to be. The people here have a reason to stick their chest out, something to be proud of. I am truly happy for them. I hope they win again. Maybe with less gunfire next time, though.

I heard a sports announcer say one time, “Winning changes everything.” I don’t believe that to be true in the broad perspective of life. Tomorrow will be the same as yesterday, only today was different. But I do know that here, for today, winning a soccer game meant the world to a nation. And I’m glad I was here for it.

Good day and God bless.

Dave