Nineteen years ago today…

Nineteen years ago today, I left the Middle East.  I was sent back to my European post early due to symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with depression and anxiety.  I tried to extend in the Middle East, planning on dying there.  The Command denied my request for an extension and sent me back early.  I remember all the questions.  “Why are you back so soon?”  “What happened?”  “I thought you were supposed to be there for longer than that.”  “What’s wrong with you?”  It was a very difficult time because I felt that I’d failed myself, failed my country, and failed my fellow soldiers.  Who was going to protect them if I wasn’t there?  That question haunted me for the next year.  No immediate action was taken to assess my mental health when I got back to Ramstein, Germany.  I was actually promoted to the Group level and, without an interview (which was unheard of), made an armorer.  That was a coveted position.  I was doing extremely well in that position until I got the supervisor from Hell who was a sexist pig.  No offense to pigs…

I remember all the heartache that went into coming back to my permanent duty station early, though.  All the thoughts that I had let my buddies in the Desert down.  All the questions surrounding what PTSD was and not wanting anyone to know because I didn’t want them to know I was crazy.  I didn’t want them to know that the Command in the Middle East didn’t think I could handle the combat and all the other ugly stuff that happened there.  I felt crazy.  There was no doubt about that.  I was having flashbacks and nightmares and was paranoid about avenues of approach and crowds and withdrawing from my friends, isolating myself from anything that might bring on a panic attack, which I carefully hid by running to a bathroom or locking myself in a closet until it was over.  The weirdest part was that I felt like I was still in the Middle East.  I had never left.  I was still, mentally, in the Desert, and I couldn’t escape.  Now, 19 years later, I’m still there.  Still in the Desert.  Still in the combat.  People are still dying in my arms.  I’m still a machine-gunner with one mission, and you can guess what that was.  It wasn’t until my supervisor from Hell issued me an unlawful order, which I refused to follow, took my gun, my badge, and my beret, and had me sent to Ward 9C at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center that I was diagnosed with PTSD and began to get some help.

I remember Ward 9C.  Major Swanton, an Army psychiatrist, evaluated me and made the determination that I had PTSD with depression and anxiety.  He was shocked at what had happened to me in order to land me in his ward of the military hospital.  He made some very angry phone calls to the Command I was under.  That was the beginning of the end of my military career.  In hindsight, thankfully so in some respects, and sadly so in others.  It is what it is.  I’ll never forget the people who stood up for me, though – officers who lost promotions over me because they wouldn’t throw me to the wolves.  They know who they are, and to them, I still say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

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