Monday, July 17, 2017

10 Years After War



Oh my friends. 10 years gone now,
Burned in the bloom of age,
I will carry on your memory, this is my vow,
No matter how it saddens or fills me with rage.




We lived as few will know,
But those left have scars they do not show,
What would you say if you were still here,
I don't know, and I fear.



Now I grow old and grey, 
You would not recognize me any more, 
There's so much we wouldn't need to say,
Between old soldiers that have been to war.



I raise a glass to you fallen friend,
I toast you as you were in distant memory,
No matter what my life's trajectory,
I shall hold onto you. Until the end.






Monday, July 3, 2017

For Want of Sleep

I've come to accept that, like it or not I have classic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are a lot of things I do in my daily life that are affected by the reality of PTSD. Often I am easy to irritate, certain phrases or sounds leave me twitchy, and when I have angry outbursts they are often more extreme than the situation warrants. 

I've learned coping mechanisms for most if not all of these symptoms, much like a person with Crohn's Disease or Phenylketonuria (PKU) have learned to deal with their chronic conditions. The one symptom that vexes me most, and at times makes my life nearly unbearable is the poor sleep quality. 

I do have nightmares, but not often. Those, while they suck are not the worst part. The worst part is being utterly exhausted and not being able to drift off to sleep. It's going to work and trying to function through the fog that envelops you because you kept waking up at night. It's fearing that the cumulative exhaustion will hit you while you're driving. It's not being able to think straight because you've gotten 6 hours of sleep in the past two days. I haven't even gotten to sleeping through alarms and missing work yet. 

Sleep is my Achilles heel. As much as the old barracks saying goes "sleep is for the weak," lack of sleep will act like a hemorrhaging wound sapping your strength, and leaving you open for infection. It is maddening, like a buzz in the background that makes everything harder to do. Steps are slower, weight is heavier, and conversations are more difficult. 

It's not like I haven't tried every trick in the book. I've tried medications, meditations, and a pretty much everything you can think of. The problem is that any of the zen/yoga type things get disrupted by life, and all the medications either don't work or have side effects that are unacceptable. 

I've lived with this for almost 13 years now, sometimes it's so bad I think it will destroy my life. Other times I notice almost no effect, and can live my life much as I did before. Sometimes you can tell how tired I am and sometimes it's obvious that I'm suffering through with only a few hours of sleep. 

I feel sorry for my romantic partners too. To say I toss and turn is an understatement. I've woken up some times with my sheets completely off my bed and a pillow kicked clear across the floor. Imagine worrying about kicking your significant other, or accidentally elbowing her. It seems even if I do not remember my dreams, they are wild ones.  

Tonight I'll lay my head down. I'll try to sleep. I'm not optimistic that I'll get to sleep at a reasonable time. I'm even less optimistic that I'll wake up rested. This is my life, and I'll just have to deal. Good night, I'm off to sleep, perchance to dream. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Legacy of 2-16 (My Reaction to "Thank You For Your Service" Trailer)

Washington Post writer David Finkle wrote two books about my unit during the Iraq Surge. One, "the Good Soldiers" was during the deployment. It took me a long time to even attempt to read it. Even then, I got as far as the chapter that Harrelson's death is described and got no further.  I have the rather odd distinction of being the only person I know that is quoted in a book about historical events, and actually reading something that I said, and remembering why I said it was sureal, and gave me many sleepless nights.

If you haven't read it, or "The Surge: My Journey With David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War" I highly recommend that you do, it really does help people understand what happened during the Iraq War. Understanding is sadly lacking, especially with the rise of ISIS, and the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. 

David's second book, "Thank You For Your Service," was if anything even harder to read and often left me in tears. Danny Holmes was a good guy, and I was shocked when I heard he had hung himself. The last time we talked was when his daughter was born. Reading how he did it. . . It left me so despondent that I became deeply depressed.  Talking to Amanda Doster, and hearing how SFC Doster's loss has ruined her life was harder still. I can close my eyes and see the wound, the pale skin, the desperate efforts of the medical team on Rusty. I knew he would die. I told SFC Mays as much when I left. Then there's Aieti. Reading about how his life fell apart after the deployment. . . I felt like I had personally let him down by not being there for him. He was one of my guys. 

Now there's a movie. I feel 20 different types of emotions about it. From the outset the trailer makes it seem like Aieti and Schuman were in the same platoon, which makes me wonder what other things were changed for the sake of the script. I also really REALLY hope this isn't a war movie with some stupid ass message. I am so sick to death of Hollywood trying to impart messages or depict every soldier as either broken or retards that love America so much they use a flag to beat off. It's pretty hard to tell a complex story in an hour and twenty minutes, I get that. 



I don't know how I feel about this. Should I be angry at a studio cashing in on our experiences? Should I be hopeful that people will acknowledge the high price that is being paid to secure America from the kind of mentality that is ripping apart Aleppo? Should I acknowledge my own pain and give license to express it? What about a simple joy that we are not forgotten?

Still to this day I feel protective of my platoon.  The lengths I would go to to help them can not be understated.  They are my guys and I'd have done anything for them to get them back alive and whole.  More than that I know what they faced, I know what they went through.  A lot of these guys really do deserve a happily ever after.  I still kick myself for missing Aieti's broken fibula in my assessment of the casualties of 2-2's destruction on 17 July 2007.  I completely missed that and many other things.

I have not done well since I got out. I can freely admit that. I am barely getting by, but I am functioning which is a lot more than I can say for other folks. Still, as bad as the WTB was for me, it was a lot worse for other folks. As bad as the war was for me, for guys like Emory, or Schuman, or Aieti, it was worse. To this day I still can't listen to Sweet Home Alabama without being reminded of Harrelson's death, or the utter sense of failure I felt afterwards. As much as the war has colored my relationships with friends, lovers, and family, I know I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. 

I don't know if I'll watch this movie. If I do, I can almost guarantee that tears will flow. That I will not sleep for at least a day afterwards. I don't know if this will help heal old wounds or make them worse. Either way it has been made, and it will soon be here, so I'll have to deal with it. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Better Men Than I

Let me tell you about a man that died in June,
Too young to die, with a life not yet lived,
I tried to help, but could not be revived,
Just like that he was gone. Far too soon.

I close my eyes and I am there,
Stay with me. Hold on. Don't Give up.
But each breath poured him more to Death's cup,
I'm still here. Why? This isn't fair.

Let me tell you of a man who died in July.
He smiled and laughed as young always do,
A life planned, that he'll never go through,
Oh my friend, 19 years old is too young to die.

It was a bomb that blew his truck sky high.
Some said he was dead before it landed,
Others say she screamed as it burned. Awful images are branded,
Why not me? Why you? Why?

Let me tell you of a man that killed himself in May,
He was full of wit and sarcastic remarks, 
A battle buddy for any day, 
Without bitterness or its marks.

He had a new baby and a fiancé,
but wars stark image filled his brain, 
He must of felt it was too painful to remain,
How do I respond? What am I supposed to say?


These were better men than I,
Yet they are gone and I am here still,
I can not understand just why.
Is it worth? I have nil. 

Better men have gone before me, and go even now,
I want to make it right, but I don't know how,
There's a question I have to ask, but I fear,
Why am I still here?




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why I Do (and Do Not) Support President Trump

I'll be honest, Donald Trump was not my first, second or third or fourth choice for the Office of President of the United States. I personally don't like his style of speech, and his leadership style seems very chaotic. In a time of peace, he might actually make a good chief executive, we do need some serious business sense to correct some of the truly insane notions that crept into the running of the Federal Government.

I Do think it will be interesting what happens when we have a president that is so rich he doesn't really have to care about getting reelected, or even maintaining popular support. It is also interesting to see the populist movement and how it is shaping the country. Purely as a function of political science and sociology no matter what the Trump administration actually does, it will be the subject of great study for decades to come.

At best my personal opinion about the President could best be described as "neutral."  I want to judge him, and his administration on what he actually does, not what media, and elitist political leaders tell me. So far every "forest fire" that has been touted as proof positive that he should be removed from office has been tantamount to a "matchbook." His ability to send his opposition into complete and utter irrationality is amusing, and to be honest horrifying.

Seeing people without a hint of irony, calling themselves "anti-fascists" acting like poorly dressed Black Shirts and conducting political intimidation and violence is informative. Trump has acted like a lightning rod for both extremes of this country, indeed the West as a whole, and it really does let us see just how ugly our "tribe" that we associate with really is. People are starting to build bridges and there's been a move for more centrist attitudes.

He is unpredictable. Wildly so, and that may not be what America or the world needs right now. A stable figure, with a good head on his or her shoulders would have been a better choice. Nearly all of the dozen GOP leaders attempting to gain the nomination were capable, and had the temperament better suited to the Chief Executive. I don't like the joy he takes in antagonizing his opponents, nor do I like when he obviously panders to special groups. I despise even the suggestion of nepotism, and I truly hope that the people he has surrounded himself with are the best at their jobs, not just people that he likes (or relatives).

In the end, my support for President Trump will be conditional, like my support for all politicians. So long as they are on the side of the law, and are genuinely working towards the best interests of the United States I will support them. I will always have my own political views, and many of those are quite strong. I will criticize, lampoon, and lambast, but at the end of the day I want them to succeed.

I disagreed with pretty much all of President Obama's actions while in the presidency. Indeed I would argue had the Legislature more jealously guarded it's sovereign powers, he very well could have been removed from office. That is not to say that I did not want him to succeed. I did. I wanted him to do well and genuinely lead the country. He did not, but that is a criticism for another time.

I won't go to any Trump rallies, other than to see what happens. There's always some sort of spectacle at those things. If the President is speaking near me, I will take a trip and listen to the event. I'll defend him when the attacks against him are ridiculous, unfounded, or outright slanderous/libelous (which many if not most of them right now are). If he has a policy I agree with I'll be sure to tell you, but more importantly, tell you why. In that very broad way, you could call me a tepid "Trump supporter."

But let's be honest here, the real beauty of the Trump us the Lulz that follow him.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Speech, Rhetoric, and Violence.

In the wake of a nut job deciding to try to shoot up a practice for an annual Democrat Vs Republican charity baseball game, there has been a lot of finger pointing. There has been a lot of blame thrown around about the toxic rhetoric of the Left, and the political violence that is sweeping America. There are criticism, and accusations. Some are legitimate, most are simply being made in the heat of the moment when passions are high.  Generally speaking you have to ask yourself if Freedom of Speech is unlimited, or if there is legitimacy in silencing certain voices. 

I'm not even going to start talking about the gun issue and the Virginia governor's truly insane statement that 93 million people are killed every day in America due to gun violence. That's basically WWI and WWII combined (give or take). My own take is, if I were a congressman or aid on that field, hiding behind plastic barriers like a rabbit waiting for a wolf, I'd have wanted a gun to shoot back. 

But we really do need to examine what the hell is going on. There are some people that are using "violence" to shut down speech of people that disagree. The term "Social Justice Warrior" is often used with derision, but there are people who truly believe that disagreeing with progressive policies is a form of violence. If you truly don't understand Transgenderism,  and ask questions on the how or why, or if you believe there are only two genders, you are conducting an act of "violence" against these people. In Canada if you refuse to use the person's preferred gender pronouns you could potentially go to jail. 

That attitude is easy to lampoon. Speech is not violence. I don't care what you say, simply speaking to a woman is not even remotely equivalent to raping that woman. Free Speech advocates are right to lambast people why "No-platform" or try to filibuster intellectual debates. The scary thing is that the people who are talking about speech as violence are themselves turning to violence when their speech is not being effective. 

This is where we run into a serious grey area. We have seen the AntiFa (Anti Fascist) group spew truly toxic rhetoric about the "Nazis" that supported Trump. This is a play on Hillary Clinton's words describing Trump voters as a basket of "deplorables." Even Bernie Sanders' own words about how the rich are viciously taking advantage of the poor will create a toxic environment. The problem with hyperbole is that, said often enough, it begins to take on a life of its own. 

Much like the racial situation or the battle of the sexes, one side has found that it is easy to shut down debate by simply throwing out the "sexist" or "racist" label. The problem is that a lot of people, the people who have gotten intellectually lazy because of this tactic truly believe it. If a person thinks welfare is terrible than it is assumed that they hate the poor. In truth there are a lot of legitimate criticisms of welfare, but if you can boil down the debate to "hate the poor vs. want to help the poor" you remove any nuance and turn rational individuals with a difference of opinion into unthinking uncaring monsters. 

We've entered an age of low information voters. Often times the Smart Phones seem smarter than the people holding them. Policy debates have been reduced to tribal squabbles. Democrat Vs. Republican has become a more intense version of Patriots vs. Stealers. As high as passions get during that experience, how much higher do you think they would get when there is the perception that there are actual lives on the line?

Rhetoric can be dangerous. Freedom of Speech is a fundamental value to our society. We also have to acknowledge that at one point Adolf Hitler, and Vladimir Lenin only had rhetoric. Rhetoric has the ability to do a lot of damage when we give that rhetoric power. How do we find a balance? AntiFa is certainly acting like the Red Guards or the Sturmabteilung, and we need to treat them like what they are, a legitimate threat to our way of life. Political violence is extremely dangerous.

More than that we need to acknowledge that the more toxic the rhetoric, the more crazies will pick that up. The shooter who tried to kill republicans, was clearly an intolerant angry man. His clear love of senator Sanders and belief that ending the Affordable Care Act is going to cause actual deaths. It seems clear that in his own mind, Republicans are truly evil, and only by killing them could he prevent a disaster. Our own rhetoric allowed him to pick up that thought and run with it to its sad and unfortunate ending. 

In the end, all we can do is chill the hell out. We need to calm down and act like adults. Stop pointing fingers and start reaching out to each other. Rather than making statements, ask questions, and truly listen to the answers. Unless we can calm our rhetoric, we will soon find ourselves in the middle of an extremely violent experience. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Vulnerability

Don't judge when you see my shoulders sag,
You don't know the weight I carry,
I have trouble opening that bag,
Share my burden? Nothing could be more scary.

There are many things I hide,
I don't know what you'll say if you see, 
The things that have wounded and shape me,
Do you think it's easy to confide?

I try to be strong,
But this trial is so long, 
I wish this pain would cease, 
So I could know some peace.

I let my jokes hide my sorrow, 

It's better if you think me witty, 
If I'm honest it's hard to maintain,
Because most of the time I just want to cry. 

Sometimes I only continue hoping for a better tomorrow, 
It keeps my going even when I'm feeing shitty, 
Please excuse this lamentable refrain,
Let me go on with this burden, It's better you not pry. 

I tried to show my pain to another, 
But they left me so now I deal with it 
alone, even when I want nothing more than to quit,
Sorry to be a bother.

Please don't ask me to show you my hurt, 
I couldn't see pity in your eyes, 
That would make me feel lower than dirt,
Please let me tell you "I'm fine" and other lies.

A friend suggested the title after I'd texted her the first stanza. It's been a long time since I've seriously done any kind of poetry and after the last few days, especially after I decided to put up my last post I've been feeling open, raw. I hoe you like this. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Trauma I Don't Talk About.

A few days ago I had the rather odd experience of going through a screening for a study for a medication for PTSD patients to help them get to sleep. During the process I had to list the types of traumas I had experienced. The ones you might think we're there of course. Natural disasters, death, dismemberment and the like. For the first time I checked the box "unwanted sexuality advances" and "unwanted sexuality experience."

It was the first time I ever have admitted about an experience that happened while I was in the WTB  that I have tried very hard to forget. You see, I was raped.

Even now it's hard to write these words. Am I lesser of a man? Am I throwing gas on to a needless fire? Do you really need to know about this misadventure? I can almost hear people that would line up to provide me with sympathy or conversely tell me I'm full of shit and taking attention away from real rape victims. At some point I need to stop trying to anticipate what everyone else will say, and just say what happened.

So what happened?

I had a friend that was in Rear D with me (after I had been CASEVAC'd for Pancreatitis) that wanted me to come with him to hang out with a friend he'd met. He wanted to get with this girl so I was an unofficial wingman. I was all for it because it got me out of the barracks, and if I'm being honest I was starting to feel some of the negative effects of the anti-depressants and anti-psychotics that the mental health department at Irwin Army Hospital had put me on. One of those effects was a grey dull sense. Like I was living in a fog. Part of me was starting to rebel against that fog, and I was at the beginning of a self destructive spiral that damn near killed me.

It should be stated that there were very clear warnings about drinking while on the medications I was on. You really should not drink at all when you're on drugs like that. I, rather foolishly drank. I thought at the time "it's beer. it can't be that bad." Unfortunately for me, the combination of having been in a dry country for almost a year, and the medications I was on had an unusual effect. I couldn't feel my face after three beers.

My friend was annoyed with me because this girl who he was trying to impress had eyes only for me. I had no clue of this. I was about as observant as a blind man waiting for a street crossing light. As the night wound down it was clear that all three of the men were too drunk to drive back. Somehow sleeping arrangements were figured out. I was about to pass out on the couch when the woman brought me into her room.

I can't honestly tell you what was going through my mind. I was trying to be a wing man, but a part of me thought there was another bed or something. I'm not sure why I followed her. I wasn't thinking at all to tell you the truth.

Then we were on her bed. Then we were naked. Then she was on top of me. I know we had sex, and I also know that she wanted to go again but in my state I was unable to get an erection. I can't honestly tell you at any point I agreed to have sex with her, and really didn't want to have sex that night, I was trying to be a good battle buddy for my friend.

The next day still in a daze I woke up, and vaguely remembered that I'd had sex. I was still not clear in the head. She wanted to confront her ex who she told me was violent. I agreed, and sat there as she had an argument with a man I didn't know, then pointed to me and said "This is my new boyfriend."

Uh. . . what? I had my buddy take me right back to the barracks as soon as he could, and began to have a slight freak out.

What followed was her trying to get in touch with me and me trying desperately to hide from her. It's not that I wanted to hurt her feelings. Far from it, but I had not intended to sleep with her, or get drawn into her life like that. She wanted a hero with dog-tags. I was not that man and never was. More than that I had had no control that night. That scared me more than anything else. Her constant calling and attempts to get in touch with me only made the situation worse.

Eventually I had my buddy tell her I'd gotten committed to a mental institution because I was suicidal (the lie was sadly not too far from the truth). That had the desired effect and eventually she stopped calling. Almost a year later I ran into her again as I was about to get out of the Army. She had unfortunately contracted HPV, and suggested I get myself checked. I'm almost certain that night had not included condoms. Thankfully I came back clean, but that was just another reminder of what COULD have happened. A very scary reminder.

I'd like to say I dealt with this incident in a healthy way, but in truth. . . I didn't even remotely deal with it. It, eventually, became one of the many reasons I swore never to take any such medication again, however in a lot of ways the damage has been done.

I am sure my view on this incident won't be typical. I don't want this woman hurt, and I'd never tell her how I saw that night. I wouldn't want her to be charged with a felony for something that was my mistake. As traumatic as that loss of control was, as terrifying as suddenly being someone's "boyfriend" and not having a clue how it happened, I genuinely do not want this woman hurt. She's had enough hurt in her life, and I am sorry I added to it.

There is also the small mater of proving that I was completely incapable on consenting, and moreover the stereotype that guys always say yes to sex. How could I have gone to my command and said "I drank while on medications that say not to drink, and a woman raped me." I can almost guarantee that if I'd pressed charges there would have been an Article 15 waiting for me. There is no such thing as a rape kit for men (at least not for vaginal sex).

I know that my experience and the way I view it is not nearly the same as most female rape victims, or males that were anally/orally raped. I know that in some ways the fog the medications had me on kept this event from being more traumatic, despite the fact that they were the cause of the situation in the first place. Most of the time I don't even think about what happened, and have generally speaking moved on.

Still, the trauma is there, and for the first time in my life, I'm admitting to it. That counts for something.