Thursday, July 28, 2016


Introduction

I am privileged to teach Philosophy for Central Texas College's Distance Learning Program, which provides college credits for military personnel, many of whom are deployed in combat zones. The soldiers' writings in this site are from my courses. The site is linked to a teaching site, Your World Religions.  

The study of religion is not an idyllic interlude for ivy covered campuses, but an engagement of the heart on the cutting edge of life and death, courage and duty. Don't look for easy answers or regimented thinking as these soldiers reveal the richness and diversity of their quest for meaning. 

P.S. Ignore the dates of these posts. The dates are just a means of ordering them.

Featured Post

A Strong Mind

'I’m a strong-minded person who can control his actions and emotions even though, I’ve seen and done it “all.” I am an Infantryman who’s been to combat three different times for a total of 31 months both in Iraq and Afghanistan. I keep and hide the bad feelings and emotions in because I know it may hurt the person next to me. You may not know what bleeds inside my body, and you may see a waterfall on the outside, but you will never know. Thus, combat plays a huge role in a person’s mind, body, and physical ability.

'You grow to get used to the new “you,” we get used to saying goodbye to the one’s we love, fought next to, and you show no emotion, but you know the mission/life continues. When we return from war, a changed person is seen after days or even years after we’re back. The irritability, the impatience, the constant edge, and the emotional numbness we feel is noticed after time. It’s not the fault of the individual, but how his mind controls the experience, their five senses took part of. They want you to talk about it, but we as veterans don’t want to. Even though it will never leave my mind, permanent pictures that are stored in my brain are replayed throughout my day. Our kids, spouse, family don’t understand the change in their son, husband, father, etc. The marital arguments get worst, angry outburst, short temperateness, and irritability makes things worse. 

'My path is only to protect my family, friends, and country and we don’t mean to hurt the people we love, nor scare you, but we ask that you accept this process throughout my life because it will be forever ending. I was told personally that we must prepare ourselves for a crowded mall, streets, or simply how to cope dealing with our family which is from our mind. By practicing the meditation of relaxing our body once the anxiety hits, muscle memory will then kick in by taking a step back and breathing.'
~Martin D.



Mindful Breathing


The soldiers I teach often have problems with post-traumatic stress. I give them a meditation exercise in "mindful" breathing (which is actually mind-less but very conscious breathing!) This soldier describes her experience in quite original language that shows the healing power and grace of mere breathing, when we bring awareness to it....

"I used to practice breathing all the time when I was little just for the fun of it because I thought it was a silly little thing to do. Now, as an anxiety-filled adult, sometimes I forget to breath.

"My mind races too much and I'm so overwhelmed with whatever is going on around me, I forget to take a moment to myself and take a breather.. After doing this breathing, my body is so much looser compared to how tense and rigid I can get when I feel like I'm drowning in my own skin. Being able to take a few minutes to relax and un-focus, and just release everything I had been feeling the past few weeks has put me in a place where I feel like I'm floating...

"Revolving around the depression I have, the breathing was like a hug to my mind and my wild emotions. I was able to put a stop to the horrible things I was thinking about and it was all thanks to just a few minutes of silent and observant breathing."
~Pepper D.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Poems from the Zone


'The Weight They Carried,' by Niara S.

They touched the dry sand as the sun blazed above them
Carrying the fear I held as the clock had just started.
All my wants and desires to go home dragged behind me as the days went on.
That is the weight they carried.

From the days I couldn’t take it to the days I slept through, they never came undone.
The night we mounted up and put all our trust into God’s hands
They got harder to lift with all of the things that flashed through my head.
But yet and still they carried me.

They kept me down when my mind wandered and my heart was heavy.
From the ‘home of the brave’ to the ‘land of the oppressed’ they stayed by my side.
They held my darkest moments and heard my strongest laughs, for they kept all my secrets.
As the days ended and I closed my eyes I breathed a sigh of relief.
But no matter what, my boots, they carried my weight for me.


My Brothers, by Meghan C.

I wished to fight along side you "my brothers,"
I served my country, but my sacrifice 
was somehow never your equal.
I weaned my infant from my breast,
A month later I covered them with the same uniform, 

and my shoulders with the same patches as you 
and I boarded that white bus.
Before dawn broke, my baby slept

as I slung my M-16 over my shoulder.
She awoke that morning; and her mother was gone.
You all laughed about how you would miss your babies, 

but your wives were there to hold them safe and sound. 
Safe with their mothers? What assurance did I have?
A twenty three hour flight, a twenty three hour river of tears I wept.
I wiped my face, and changed my soaking bra, 

trying to command my body to forget what I had just done.
A woman’s body can never be as numb as yours “my brother”.
If I cry, I am weak and emotional.
If you cry, “my brother”, you are war torn and broken.
If I can’t hump that 80 lb ruck, I am weak.
I am one hundred pounds!
No sympathy from you, “my brother”, 

as my shoulders crack, my hips turn black and blue, 
and I slide on my blood filled boots, soaked from the blisters.
I bear my load as a Soldier.
I watch you, “my brother”, as you refuse to hold the door for me,
NO SPECIAL TREATMENT.
As you leave the DFAC, I see you hold it open 

for all your brothers to pass through.
Do you remember that “my brother”?
Remember me in my humiliation as I sawed off the top 

of a gatorade bottle to piss in, 
and you hit the brakes for me to spill it all over myself?
Our “brothers” looked on as we exposed ourselves 

to the Afghan countryside in search of relief.
We are vulnerable.
We are exposed.
We are STILL WOMEN.
You broke my heart last Veteran’s Day, when you proudly posted on your wall 

a banner to all your “brothers in arms”.
For your sacrifice.
And I must say, “What about your sister?”
I am an afterthought.
That night outside Shank?
I was there too.
Remember? How I thought the RPG’s were fireworks?
That’s how green I was.
I too watched him bleed upon the road.
I sobbed silently in my truck in the dark, 

as you all gathered somewhere else to mourn.
I was alone then “my brother”.
But I felt the same terrors as you.
I swallowed the same lump in my throat.
I carry the same lonely burdens of war.
I trekked the same miles, wore the same rank,
burned the same diesel fuel, made the same mistakes.
Ate the same shitty food, laid awake at night.
But somehow, you think I asked for it?
I bear the same ragged scars that will never heal, “my brother”.
I pray you would never treat your real sisters this way.
-Hooah-
________ 

These Harsh Places, by Adrian J.

These places are harsh, the days are long,
the people have kind faces, which ones
want to do me harm, no time to ponder...
Sleeping on rocks,
sleeping in an abandoned castle of Alexander the Great,
sleeping and hoping not to be woke by explosions,
I think to myself "9 more months, then 6 .. then 3,"
then on a flight home, I shred the warrior
and bury him deep for no one to see.
The warrior has no place in this world.
He only knows death.
I only wish for life and the pursuit of happiness.
I embrace my wife, kiss my newborn.
My wife's tear smeared all over my cheek,
we are finally one again...
Aren't we?
___________


My fear, by Shawn H.
I live in constant fear.
Not the fear of being shot or blown up.
This fear is internal, everlasting and all consuming.
It controls my every thought.
It commands every moment of my life.
It is the fear that I will not be able to contain what is inside.
The anger the hatred the lust for battle.
This unwavering need to be in a place 
I once loathed but now yearn for.
The need to once again have a purpose, to have a mission.
The fear that I will not be able to hide who I truly am.
The fear that my family will not be able to understand me.
The fear that I don't understand me anymore. 
 ___________


War:  A Soldier’s Game, By Jerry A.
 
Growing up we played the game, war is fun!

Running through the woods, jumping out of trees was all for me.

When the Army called, I said SEND me.

Training was a blast; we all learned new things and made good friends.

When the towers fell we were all gung-ho and ready to go!

We said we would go anywhere to do anything 
and we were more than ready.

They said we’d go over and free a people who were oppressed.

Killing was what we had learned to do, 
what for some was hard at first became just another day at work.

Through the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan we went, 
killing those for whom we were sent.

Young and old, boy or girl; they were all the same,
 looking to take my life before I could take theirs.

In the end who was to blame?

To hear families cry, to hear them curse, 
it was the same coming from home and over there.

Losing many friends and the ones we love, we had to ask will it end?

The war, the pain, the memories both good and bad, 
just make them go away.

How can something we love so much hurt so many?

As a kid, running through the woods and jumping from trees, 
who would have thought it would happen to me.

What was once fun became so real,
 the losses were great and none will soon forget.

All gave some and some gave all.

The game we played, war; was fun no more.
________ 

One Night, by Monaliza G.
 
The sounds of sirens got louder and louder,
With every “boom” you heard, “incoming” being yelled
To the top of everyone’s lungs that were near you.
You hear it. You see them in the sky, like a fireworks show on 4th of July.
You run as fast as you can to closest haven of safety you know.
You see everyone praying, even the local nationals were praying with you.
Then the quietness came, you hear whistling as the rounds hit the ground.
You wait in this safe place, until everything is dead silent.
The siren then comes saying, “all clear.”
You go for accountability to make sure everyone is fine.
You go back to your room and hope it will be done for at least that night.
Next thing you know, there it goes again, “incoming, incoming!”
Everyone jumps out of their bed with their weapons in hand.
You try to look at the sky, to see where the rounds are hitting,
To make sure you’re going in the right direction.
Again goes the silence.
And again with the whistling.
And again with the accountability of personnel at your rally point. 
You thought everyone was fine.
Until later on that night, not everyone was fine.
Everyone is thinking what could have we done to save this life?
How could we have avoided this?
Why should somebody have to die?
It only took one night, everyone’s lives were not the same.
Everybody was not the same after that one particular night.
Not even myself.
________  

A Mother's Love
I wrote this poem to my daughter while I was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and was really scared about flying out to conduct missions on the day of my birthday. Unless you've been in the fight, no one knows what a Soldier goes through on a daily basis while deployed. I lost one of my good friends while deployed and could not imagine how her family, especially her little girls, experienced it.

A mother's love never goes away
No matter the distance and time spent away or apart
The love she has for you always remain in her heart
She hopes you understand the decisions she's made
Hoping to show you and give you brighter days
No matter the situation and circumstance
I relys on God to keep us in his hand
Mommy loves you and will be home soon,
Mommy's Princess Breonna!
___________

Choices, by Danny E.

One choice you make
Could take your life 
It all starts and ends with your right hand
A journeys end on a field of wet grass
The last smell of your mitt and a trophy’s new brass
The new life begins 
How quickly you grow up 
That brass now replaced by ribbons and medals
You run, You jump, You train, You fight
It’s not knowing where you’ll go 
Sometimes it happens quick in a blink of an eye
The lost love of family once near,
Now is accompanied by someone you hold dear
Military compassion is anything but compassion
There is a wife, kids, and dogs that make five
Anniversaries, Birthday’s, and holiday’s are missed
But reminds you to cherish the simple days in life 
To a military member each day now counts 
A moment wasted and not spent in a bliss,
Can’t be made up for the next day’s aren’t promised
Four hemispheres, Four tours, Four separate events
The zings, the flares, the booms, the sirens
Like the dangers around you
Each choice counts on both ends
The ceremonies on the long dusty roads filled with salutes on each side
The casket waits for the loved ones back home
A friend now gone and you find yourself in white gloves
The last shot now heard and in the cold air it echoes
Its dark, you pray and seek to find peace
Pictures remind you of your other life almost forgotten
The plane lands down and how quickly you change
A second ago it was dark and now there is light
Holding a wife and your kids at your side 
You run, You jump, You train, You fight
And you hug them and tell them you hope this is the last time
The kids are getting older and start asking questions
No longer can they remain in ignorance, for they know
Something, someone is missing and they want you to come home
This journey is only half way through yet it feels like forever
The choices you make in life they count
As soldiers we make them everyday
My choice is as a follower, a husband, a father, and a soldier 
We are one and we choose to live.
________  

 
The enemies of war, by Jesse D.   

I faced the enemy unharmed; 
I faced the enemy machine gun to machine gun; 
I faced the enemy machine gun to Rocket Propelled Grenade; 
I saw the enemy lying dead, 
lifeless after attempting to kill my fellow warrior.  
It is fun to do; but it is never fun when it is done to you; 
you will forever see the faces of those you kill, 
and the fallen brother next to you.   
The life of a Soldier is not easy.   
 ________ 
 
As I Watch, by Lakendra B.
I wrote this poem from my heart. I never though of expressing my thoughts though poetry, but reading the one that was posted inspired me.

As I watch!
You hear a boom
Watch out there's body
Wait! I hear a Scream
No! Oh NO! Blood
Look at my brother lay here
As I watch, What's Next
Please hold on, I love you I said
Blood coming from the eyes and mouth
I love you, As I watch
Yes he is still breathing, As I watch
Hold on I say
Wait Boom! Boom! Another Body
As I watch, my sister arm and leg's fly
Oh No! I cry I love all my brothers and sisters
As I watch, them all bleed
Hold on solider help is coming
They say ok ! As I watch
My sister  and brother are gone to safety
As I watch
 I love you as they leave
 As I watch, life is not promise
As I watched I said a prayer to my God
As I watch !!

These seem like just simple words but they are so true and dear to me. I said to watch people die because of a war they was never apart of. I feel that government needs to just leave it all only and stop the killing. I do love everyone and I hope you enjoy.
________

The life of a Soldier, by Marisol T.

Being a Soldier means long working days
It means not being able to do whatever you want whenever you want
It means to make sacrifices for the best of the country
It means to spend long months away from your loved ones.
Being deployed means missing home
Missing the loved ones
Missing your baby’s first steps
Or the baby’s first birthday
Or not being there for the birth of your child
It means being alone for the holidays, not being able to spend it with the family
It means spending all day hoping nothing bad happens
Hoping that no one attacks so we can make home safe
Deployments aren’t always the worst
Sometimes you’re in a safe environment
But even then you have to worry about all those fellow Soldiers who aren’t
All the Soldiers who are on missions and away from safety
All the Soldiers who are out there fighting
All the Soldiers who really are in danger, 

praying that they could make it another day.
 For all those who really had it bad I commend you
I commend all the Soldiers who spent nights with no sleep
Those who had no water to bathe in
Those who didn’t have all the nice good meals
All those who simply had no good bed to sleep in
Or all those who spent countless days or even weeks without 

being able to speak to or see their loved ones.
All those who actually had to fight or got hit with IEDs.
And for those who didn’t make it back, I thank you for what you have done, 

and to their families I am so deeply sorry for their lost.  
____________


'Boots On The Ground,' by Maebhaaya O.

Boots on the ground, Where is my Brother!
Blasts all around, Where is my Brother!
Where are is my Brother, Where is my Sister!
Scream out, Brother
Scream out, Sister
I see fire all around, Where is my Brother!
Hey Doc, We need you, We need you! Where is my Brother!
I can't, I can't move, what do I do, Where are you my Sister!
Tables all around, MASCAL! MASCAL!
but, Where is My Brother!
"Pull it together, Soldier" I say to myself.
"Hey Battle, what's the injury coming my way" I say.
He replies "Double amputation of both legs, possible TBI,
strap metal in back": Where are YOU God!
I turn to the injured, I see...I see my Brother!
Oh, Brother I had no idea I would smile with You yesterday
to say Goodbye today.
Those injuries, Those wounds, I should have had them too,
Laying next to you, My Brother!
Days go by and bring you home.
Sister, oh Sister! I cry with Her.
When I cried out for Him, I cried out for you, too Sister!
You were not just a Wife, You are Our Sister
and I know he is physically gone.
But Sister you still have Us! My Brother Lives Forever!
Valor, Honor, Courage, Service!
My Brother Possessed them All!
Forever My Brother!
Forever My Sister you will Be.
Forever Family!
Forever ArmyStrong!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Featured Stories

A Desert Vision
This extraordinary story follows the ancient Biblical literary form of the 'Covenant.' It was written by a Cavalry scout in northern Iraq for the Introduction to Old Testament course. He was serving his second tour of duty at a remote outpost "roughly the size of a postage stamp in the middle of nowhere."

Then in the twenty-third year of the wandering a great unrest overtook my heart, greater than the ones before. The Sun was covered in shadow, and the only noise amidst the dunes was the whispering of my own heart.
“Foolish man,” my heart said, “Look upon the desert spread out before you. Life is but the same. Mankind has paved the springs and plowed the hidden gardens which once were his delight. Do you see how the sands shift beneath the marching of his armies? Do you see how each oasis has been filled with blood, to be used as a baptismal font of hatred? Gaze upon the harvest of man’s hands, and tremble.”
Then walking over the crest of one of the dunes I saw a sight no man should ever see. Spread out across the land were the dead and dying of all mankind. It seemed the aftermath of some great battle where no victor stood triumphant upon the field. In every direction lay the broken remnants of countless battles crying out and reaching heavenwards towards the gods they begged for mercy. As I fell upon my knees a great roar swept down from the eastern sky.
“Foolish man,” my heart said, “each of these is a murdered incarnation of some person’s hope. They went to battle against an enemy far stronger than themselves. They fought against mankind’s cruelty, and were killed for cruelty’s sake alone. That thunder is the cry of holy innocence at the sight of such injustice. It is the lament of those who went before; the dashed dreams of those to come. Gaze upon the harvest of man’s hands, and tremble.”
Tears flooded my eyes as I fell upon my face in terror. All day long I lay there until the Sun sunk below the distant horizon. With the coming of night the pitiful cries and thunderous roar died down. Looking out across the desert plain I found myself alone again. Nothing but the first cool evening breeze shared the night with me. Yet I could not forget. I could not stay silent.
“Oh Holy Spark of Humanity which burns within each of us,” I cried out, “Hear me! From my first moments, from the first beats of my heart you were with me. Your flame tried the actions of my youth. You taught me to recognize the same fire in other human hearts. When I saw tenderness and compassion I saw your handiwork. I also came to understand how easily suffering can smother you out, and learned that our own injustices dim your brilliance more than any other. Such a revelation was too much for me to bear, and it drove me to a place of darkness which deserves no name. For many years I fought there against my despair in your name. Even now I feel its shadow, but I found my faith in your flicker, and it holds enough light to keep the darkness at bay.”
“Yet the more I wander, the more I fall before visions such as this. Despite their horrid truths I will always hold allegiance to that which makes men human. Upon the open book of my soul will be written three promises which shall never be broken:”
“I will always love the gift of life that’s granted to human beings.”
“I will always remember the ease in which cruelty destroys the human spirit.”
“And I will always strive to live accordingly.”
To live unconcerned about the suffering of others is to live separated from all others. Such a life is a life of misery. It places oneself in a mirrored box the rest of the world passes by unnoticed. To alleviate the suffering of others in the smallest of ways is to fulfill our calling to be fully human and fully alive. To make war against that which makes war against all is to live with purpose. To go through life alone is a self-imposed curse. To care about another is to taste redemption. We write this covenant upon our hearts the moment we feel true pain. We are responsible to it the first time we cause true pain. It breathes within our actions, our intentions, and our sleepless nights. It is renewed each morning we wake to face the day. These thoughts and more flooded my mind that night as I stared out across the desert.
Sometime towards the dawn I took up a handful of sand. As it sifted through my fingers I spoke to it. “Dust of my past fathers, dust of tomorrow’s sons and daughters, bear witness what happened this past night. Breath of God which blows across the Earth, send this message to your master. Heart of man inside this chest, forget not your inner workings. Homage has been paid this night to the Holy Spark of Humanity. The first steps have been taken that we may never again have to gaze upon the harvest of man’s hands and tremble.” Amen.
                        ~Daniel M.


2. Breath of Combat
 ~ by Jared B., who wrote this while serving in Afghanistan as a student in a CTC World Religions course.

"While I was serving in Afghanistan for the second time overseas in combat, my team and I found ourselves walking through a wadi (empty river bank) which happened to be full of land mines. Unfortunately we found this out only after losing two of our counterparts by explosions going off within feet of us. After the first two explosions went off, we started to receive small arms fire from two different locations. At the worst possible moment one of my soldiers was seriously injured losing both of his legs, part of his hand, and nearly losing his life. Receiving so much different chaos all at once, and understanding that any wrong movement would more than likely injure or kill another one of us I truly believe that it was a test from God. I had honestly thought I was on my own, and that I had done something to anger God. By utilizing the Buddhist method of “truly breathing” I was able to remain calm, and elevate some of the stress that was going on around me. I understood that it was indeed my moment of truth, my test. It was up to me to get my soldiers out of the terrible situation that we had become a part of. I honestly believe that by utilizing this simple religious practice, I was able to think clearly, and to remove my guys safely from danger, and in turn successfully completing my challenge from God." 


3. Rites of Passage
 ~ by Steven W., who wrote this for a World Religions course while serving with the 82nd as a medic in Afghanistan.

"I find myself upon a mountain surrounded by trees as the leaves and eagle gentle fly past me.  I strain to see but I am not sure what my eyes are envisioning.  The smoke rises from the distant stream and I can smell a familiar scent in the air from my Native American past. I now can see clearly as my Grandfather is by the stream that runs down the mountain.  The eagle is still flying above as if he is guarding or protecting me from a danger unknown to me.  I am deeply moved by this and thank Wakan Tanka for allowing me to experience this moment during my young Sioux life.
"I’m young and not sure if I can give full attention to my teacher as I read and learn the Vedas.  I am just starting my studies and the first of four books is quite interesting I might add.  The first book is about the mythology of the Aryan gods and my teacher informs me this is the most important of the four books.  My studies are now complete and I have married a younger bride who is within my caste and this is pleasing to me.  I hope to become a great pillar within society as I enjoy the wealth and pleasures that I may be blessed with.  My grandchildren have grown and now my journey takes me to the forest where I will detach myself from the world.  I will meditate and offer sacrifices as I try to make myself a better person.  My journey ends as I become a sannyasi and I am at peace with my Hindu life.
"The country I have left I will never see again.  As I leave China I think of all I have learned from Lao-tzu my Old Master.  He showed me “the way” and I am grateful for his teachings.  I live my life as simple as I can and realize that life itself is the greatest of all the possessions I have.  I try not to get involved with too many of life’s distractions such as fame and power which will bring strife and discord upon me.  I wish that all people would be humble and enjoy what has been given to them and live life day-to-day within the Tao.
 "I find myself back on top of a mountain once again but this time is different.  These mountains I have climbed are much larger and I stand in awe as I gaze upon them.  Their majestic beauty and grace are of those I have never seen before.  They are pure and whole.  A few days later I become ill and very sick.  I visit a lady by the name of Nakayama Miki and suddenly I am healed of my sickness.  I am not too sure as to what has happened to me but nevertheless I am thankful for her help.  As I leave this place with the mountains I have worshiped and the strange healing to my illness I am still puzzled as to where I am.  It is not until I see the torii rising from the water that I realize I have journeyed to Japan and have been touched by the Shinto religion. 
"My journey continues as I cross a bridge called the Chinvat Bridge.  This is a wide and easy path and has many pleasantries along the way.  I am pleased by this but this emotion is quickly changed.  I see another bridge with the same name but this bridge is turned on its side and is the complete opposite of the other bridge.  I am confused and seek to find an answer.  I am confronted by someone called Ahura Mazda and he tells me I have witnessed Zoroastrain heaven and hell.   My deeds are balanced and judged by Mithra and because my life has been good I am allowed into Paradise. 
"The blood from my hand falls to the ground as nails are pounded into them.  I hear a crowd of people coming from the distance.  I see a man carrying a cross and being beaten as he moves.  The crowd is violent and very angry.  They place this man next to me as we prepare for our fate.  This man says his name is Jesus and there is something different about him.  I can sense he is kind and compassionate unlike those in the crowd.  I ask him to remember me and he tells me today I will be with him in Paradise. 
"And now, Iraq. While on a convoy I watched as the vehicle in front of me got hit by an IED.  This all seemed to happen in slow motion as time stood still for me.  As the smoked cleared the vehicle was pointing towards my vehicle and was on its side.  As my buddies began to come out I was counting and to my relief all of them came out.  As I began my assessment I noticed none of them had any significant injuries.  Later when the recovery team came and the area was more secure I had time to reflect on what had just happened.  God had reached down with his protecting hands and saved the lives of all of my buddies.  This shook me to my core and has had a lasting impact on my life.  I am thankful for everything I have and I will never forget how soon it can be taken away."


4. I Was Never Home Even When I Was Home
My war time experience began on September 11 2001 in a motor pool at Fort Hood Texas.   I had only been in the Army for a few months.  I remember being underneath an HMMWV doing a service when the music stopped.   I think we all thought the same thing, that it was just the normal ‘test’ of the emergency broadcast system.  Then it happened; we huddled around the radio listening carefully to the news.  After a few minutes the boss came out and told us what happened, and that Fort Hood was on lock down.  None of us could leave.  
Not long after that I found myself in Kuwait staging to go into Iraq.   Twenty years old and living in the desert, in a tent with no ventilation.   Then to make matters worse, missiles started coming.  Fortunately I only remember one getting through: the rest got shot out of the sky.   The one we missed didn’t land close enough to hurt, but it really shook things up.  It gets worse.   We didn’t know what was being shot out of the sky or what was in the one that landed. Could have been ballistic, could have been chemical.   Not knowing meant we had to live in full chemical gear.  So now I am twenty years old, living in the desert, the ground trembling, the heat sucking the life out of me, and in full chemical gear.  It really can’t get much worse.  After a phone call home it did get worse.  My dad told me that my little brother decided to join as well. Now everything that I am going through he will have to go through too.  This was the first of five deployments. 
Five deployments later I found myself married, with two little girls and this time I am in Afghanistan.   Having been married for eight years and deployed four times since my marriage, my life began to fall apart.  The wife wanted a divorce.  I couldn’t really blame her, I had been gone over half the marriage, and training a good portion of the time I was home.  So I was never home even when I was home.  
This deployment differed from the rest.  On the first deployment I remember being scared, being the first one to run to the bunker when something shook the ground.  I wasn’t like that anymore.  I remember being asleep, and getting woken up to what sounded like hail landing on the roof of the wooden hut.  I rolled over and attempted to go back to bed.  A little while later it got louder, so I sat up and listened.  The sirens were going off, the base was being hit, and here I sat in my bed.   The noise was not hail but a helicopter firing and ammo casings landing.  I was scared, but not like I was on the first deployment. It seemed the shock factor had left me.  
Back to the divorce. While in Afghanistan, I had realized that there was nothing that I could do to stop it at this point.  So here I am in the worst place on earth, waking up to gun fire and mortar rounds, and I am getting divorced as well.  It always seems to get worse for me.  Instead of letting it get worse I sat up almost every night thinking about the things that had lead me to this point in my life.  I asked myself, was I a good husband?  Was I a good father?  What could I have done differently?  It took me the whole deployment, all twelve months, of laying there in my hut thinking about this to figure it out.  When I was home I was not very supportive.   I may have been physically there, but mentally I had never left Iraq.   It took me five deployments, twelve months, and a lot of missed sleep to figure my life out.  I got it though.  I wasn’t able to salvage the marriage, but I was able to salvage the friendship.  I became a better dad to the girls. And I started living in the “here and now”.  
~Shad. S.


 

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rites of Passage


 












A Secret Community
"Combat is a rite of passage that can only be completely understood by others who have been there. Once you have successfully been engaged in a combat environment, you seem to join a secret community of all that have served in wartime." (C.B.)

With Hell Raining Down, Religion Gave Me Stability
"When I was going to Baghdad for my first deployment to Iraq, we stayed in Kuwait for a short period of time to do a final train-up. During this time, the insurgency was at the height of successful attacks against coalition forces, and I was a young Private who had left Airborne school the month before. As a young man, I was confused and scared, and knew I would soon see war. I was baptized in a small outdoor tub the day before I flew into Iraq. It was at this moment the fear subsided and I knew I would be okay.  

"A couple of months later I was knocked unconscious by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). When I awoke, I knew something had been there to protect me. Eleven IEDs later I believed, without hesitation, that God had protected me. A few years later, I was on a patrol in the hills of Afghanistan. Now I was a senior Soldier, a combat veteran. I prayed before, during, and after every patrol. I found myself constantly rubbing the talisman, a Saint Christopher medal from my Father, on a daily basis. It provided me comfort when I needed it. My Sniper buddy and I received a Hard Compromise (our position was discovered and assaulted by Taliban fighters). We were in a bad situation and it quickly looked like our position would be overrun. However, I no longer felt the fear I had on that first deployment. Instead, I felt a sort of comfort come over me; I knew regardless of the outcome I was just following the plan set before me.  

"When all seemed lost with hell raining down upon us, my religion gave me stability and strength. Soon, two A-10 aircraft came in and gave close air-support, which enabled us to leave. 

"It wasn’t training that abated our fear, or super human resolve; instead, it was the religion we clung to."  (Paul M.)

Two Angels
“I was running a checkpoint outside of Baghdad.
A car bomb went off 300 meters away.
I was on the waterside of my checkpoint doing checks.
After the bomb, insurgents started firing around me.
Everything was in slow motion.
Then I seen 2 big white figures grab me
and I was being whisped behind the barriers,
running triple my speed.
When it was over, the Iraqi soldiers in the towers
and my interpreter
asked if I seen the two angels
guiding me to safety.
I thought nothing of it
till those soldiers approached me.
I assumed it was adrenaline and all the stress.
But having three others see it
really had me thinking and thanking
God
for saving my life.
That to me was more than
just a vision.”

 Baptism of Fire
"Two rites of passage stand out in my life: Combat and Baptism. Without the one, I don’t know if I would have the other.  While deployed to Iraq during the initial occupation, I was convoying on 8 August 2003 when my vehicle was struck by a RPG (rocket propelled grenade), fired by an Iraqi insurgent.  The blast was significant and basically threw my upper body away from the vehicle while the lower portion of my body was still strapped in by the seat belt. Once the vehicle drug me about 30 feet across the hot pavement, it came to a stop.  My femur was broken and I sustained numerous burns on my hands.  I now have a titanium rod and eight screws in my leg as a result of that attack.  Once I returned from combat, I realized how fortunate I was to be alive. What happened in combat caused me to return to my Christian beliefs and practices. I became saved and subsequently baptized.  Combat proved to be my trial and baptism symbolized that my old life was over: I now had a new lease on life."

The Reality of War 
"I am going to discuss the day I became fully aware of the reality of war, fully aware that any moment could be my last. It was the day I truly matured. Before it happened, I was thinking about how hungry I was, hoping they would have something good for dinner. After the explosion, all I could think about was my buddies. I believe God intended me to witness this, to prepare me for something in my future.

"I was only nineteen years old and had been deployed for 11 months. We were on a routine route-recon and clearance mission when the lead vehicle of our convoy was struck and completely destroyed by an improvised explosive device. I had a front row seat to the carnage that ensued, being the driver of a much larger vehicle directly behind the hunk of twisted metal that used to be my squad leader's vehicle.

"I watched helplessly as my squad leader was carried to the casualty evacuation point with a hole the size of a soft ball in his head. I knew for certain he was not alive. Tears started to well up in my eyes. I shook off the overwhelming urge to cry and told myself that those men evacuating my buddies needed me to be vigilant or more lives may be lost. I started to scan the terrain in my sector when I heard something that I will never forget. It was a man that not twelve hours prior was playing cards and telling jokes across the cot that we used as a card table. He was moaning and asking for water. A soldier was telling him that it wasn’t that bad, but I could see otherwise. His legs were a mess of mangled bone and flesh and blood. He was the gunner and he was going to survive, or so I thought.

"He was stabilized. The corpsman had started an IV in each arm. He knew what day it was, and his childrens' names, but then he went into shock. I heard him scream. I turned to look. He had pulled the IVs out and was flailing his arms frantically. I can not watch. I must continue to scan my sector. Later, I am told that he died before the medical evacuation helicopter landed. There is so much more to tell. This was the day I became a man."

It Was Here that My World Changed
"Rites of Passage are rituals carried out at key transitional points in an individual’s life. My personal rite of passage is an extremely unconventional one. I was still a kid, merely 19 years of age, and fresh from the nest, as my dad once referred to our home. It was a day during my first deployment to Iraq that marked my transition from adolescence to adulthood. It happened during a cordon and search mission in Iraq. Prior to this event I was going about my time in Iraq with a nonchalant attitude. It was there that I was enlightened to the harsh realities of this world.

My squad kicked in a door during the search of a target house in an Iraqi village. The lead man got shot in the chest. An onslaught of shots followed. “Doc, Doc! he needs your help!” I heard one of the guys scream. I reacted without thinking twice and got him to safety before I started to treat him. The bullet that entered his chest had nicked his lung, causing fluid and air to build up in his chest cavity, and preventing him from breathing properly. I neutralized the bleeding, inserted a tube into his mouth, and a 14 gauge needle in his chest which would help let out some of the pressure, therefore, stabilizing his breathing. After this I decided to call for evacuation. Eventually, we got him out of there via helicopter.

That soldier lived and I could not help but think: what would have happened if a medic had not been near at the time of his injury? I was there for the soldiers, for my team, my comrades, to help save their lives in case they needed me. Until this moment, my time in Iraq had meant absolutely nothing to me. It was here that my world changed. I was not a kid anymore. I had adult responsibilities and I needed to oblige them. Someone’s life depended on it."

Combat
A rite of passage I had to pass through when I was twenty-one was combat. The Army uses rigorous and repetitious training scenarios to instill automatic reflexes to respond to any given situation. The Army does this to short circuit the fight or flight reflex that is build into humans. The passage usually comes when your emotions catch up to the situation you find yourself in and whether you pass or not depends on your actions after that point. Something else often missed is that every time you find yourself in that particular position you have to go through the rite all over again. A veteran can freeze just like a new soldier facing his first combat experience. I personally had experiences where I was totally disinterested in the situation, I felt cold, furious, and mechanical, or I had the sickening feeling that “I am going to die”. The key to passing through the “rite” is how you act and your first indication of whether you have passed is your buddies’ reaction to you."

Fatherhood Is My Rite of Passage
"Fatherhood is my rite passage, a change from a man to a complete person. I currently have six children with my wife. I have been deployed to combat zone five times in my career. I have had soldiers and good friends wounded or die in combat. I never showed much emotion accept anger. But when my first son was born, I cried. It was an overwhelming emotional experience for me. This was the biggest event in my life. His birth changed me forever."

A Soldier's Call
I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, here I am; send me. ISAIAH 6:8
"How would I know if God was calling me?
I really could not see where any of this could possibly relate to my personal experience. I was standing about twenty feet away, looking out of a very small window. I had confusion confound my brain. I joined the Army at 30. What could this have to do with a calling? I guess all I needed was a nudge in the right direction.
Mine were baby steps to that window. I was pointed in the right direction, by a few good NCO’s and a great Officer, Chaplin Borders. As I neared the window, I began to notice, the picture growing. I saw a world opening up before my eyes.
I was living life for myself. I was making good money, but somehow I felt unfulfilled. Everything I had done up to this point, brought me to this point. I needed something in my life, that was bigger then self.
The window got closer and the picture swelled before my eyes. I suppose all the people I spoke with before my enlistment, in a sense, were my personal conversations with God. I was very conflicted at the time. I felt it though, I felt the burning need for something bigger then myself. So I enlisted, and met one of the greatest men I have known. He was a Chaplin at Fort Jackson and he guided me through my conflict of faith. I still had a long journey ahead, although I could not yet see it.
The test came, and it hit me in the chest like a shotgun blast. Home on Christmas Exodus, of all times, my son passed. The window shattered. I stand at the sill, surrounded by the shards of my broken life, a crossroads. What do I do? How do I coup with such a thing? This singular event could send me back to the other end of the room. It could send me back to seeing only what I could through this little square hole. My world was destroyed. So I prayed, truly, for the first time in years, I prayed. Regression was not the answer. Falling down would not bring my son back. So I put my faith in the same place where my only son now resides, with God.
I stepped through the window, took a deep breath, and a whole new world opened to me.
I am here for a reason. I may not understand why, I don’t have to. Why is not for me to question. If I help one person, touch one life in a positive way, it was worth it. Yes there is a purpose, that person I help could be me.
When God calls will you hear him?"

Wrestling With Faith 1
"I don’t really believe that there is a god or a higher being. However, my mom prays every day for me while I am here in Iraq. Being in this environment, a person needs a source of comfort to go to in order to survive a year out here. I am a non-believer, but I started to pray in my room at night, asking to leave this place unharmed. Why did I start believing? I have no choice. When there are rockets and mortars landing near me, and I lie on the ground helplessly hoping that I will be lucky enough to live another day, I comfort myself by hoping there is Someone who can help me."

Wrestling With Faith 2
"I have also been in harm’s way and felt the overpowering need of prayer, wishing God to see me through. Yet after all that praying, never once did I say, Thank you, God. Instead, I picked myself up and thanked a buddy for looking after me. I seem to reflect Feurbach's theory that religion is just the projection of our wishes. When people become more knowledgeable or powerful, their religion withers away..."

On That Day In January
"The rite of passage that I have experienced is transferring into manhood. My Transformation was not the normal one that every boy goes through. It was realizing that I am not bullet proof. 

Sure, I went through the normal stuff. I thought when I turned 18 that no one could break me. Then, 20 years later I got sent to Iraq. One day during a normal deployment I was woken by a knock on my door with one of my soldiers telling me to get to work. Something was wrong. When I arrived at work I was informed that an aircraft in my unit’s formation was shot down. I knew my job and did it flawlessly. Not until about 4 hours into the event did I realize that one of my very dear friends was the pilot of the helicopter.

At that moment I grew up. I had to be an adult. There was no time to grieve for my friend: only time to recover my officer and his crew. It wasn't until four days later that I had an opportunity to realize what had happened to me on a personal level, and react. At that moment, the soldier gave way to the man. Only then did I realize that I finally had become a real man. No matter what I thought or believed for the 20 years prior, I crossed over to adulthood in Iraq on that day in January."

Becoming a Marine
"In my life, I consider to have made it through several Rites of Passage; the most important to me is my earning the title of United States Marine. In 1985, I began this journey that few men and women make to become one of the Few and the Proud. It was a passage from being a civilian, young, seventeen-year-old boy to earning the title of United States Marine. Three months of cognitive and psycho-motor skills were honed, and then evaluated by The Crucible. This transition from civilian to military was the first step in a long career, which gave me tools of courage, poise, and self confidence, because of the mind set instilled upon me at Parris Island, South Carolina."

Combat
"In looking back, I have had many rites of passage.... I think one that had an impact on me is the first time I actually went into combat. I recall that, in the late 80’s as a young Marine, the Marine Corps was lots of partying, drinking, and traveling, with bouts of training in between. The training was serious, and sometimes dangerous, but in the end it all appeared to be one giant amusement park, where we had a great time, worked hard (but not too hard) and life was one big party.

During the deployment to Saudi Arabia and Desert Shield, I got the sense that things in my life were changing very rapidly. Suddenly people around me trained harder, talked survival and combat. We focused on the long term plans instead of immediate gratification. As the ground fighting commenced, I felt this bond with the others that I never noticed previously. We were prepared, focused, and anxious to meet the enemy. We had made this transformation from boys to men, and we were about to enter the ultimate test of our manhood. I was a Marine now, in the finest sense. Hardened by combat like the Marines we remembered from the past, tested in the fire, and bonded to our fellows as only those who share the battlefield can be. I look back at those times even now, and I believe that rite of passage to be quite possibly the defining transition in my life."

Response
"Your rite of passage was very inspiring. Thank you for serving. I know it had to be tough, but I am sure it did make you go from boy to man real quick! The marines seemed all fun and like a party life at first until you deployed and then it was all about staying alive.

I went through a similar situation. I was 18 and wanted to leave my mom and dad's house, so I joined the army. When I first enlisted, I came here to Fort Hood and was having the greatest time of my life! It was like a big party when we weren't working. There was a lot of bonding, like sister and brotherhood. Well, we all became real close and then it came time to deploy to Iraq. I was a young party girl, and then when I deployed I changed my life forever.

My great friend Bryan became a triple amputee when we deployed to Baghdad. We all grew up real quick when we were there. It was all about staying alive. Then a team leader in my squad was KIA. After that, I came home and I have changed so much. I don't party like I used too. Life is too short."

Near Death: My Rite of Passage
“My rite of passage came when I was on my death bed, and God asked me if I was ready. At that time, I had just given birth to my second child and a couple of weeks later I got sick. While in the hospital, I was passing in and out of consciousness and I awoke to see all these people in white standing around me stating they couldn’t understand why I was not dead with all the problems I had going on in my body. I recall managing to look at them all and to smile and to say, GOD.

As I was drifting, God asked me if I was ready. I said, Jesus, if I’ve done my work on earth for you, yes, but I don’t want to leave my infant baby and have my husband raising the children by himself: you know he will be a nervous wreck. I actually saw God smile and say, OK. All the while in my head I could hear myself: I was calling, Jesus.

I was scared as they had flown me in a helicopter to another hospital and my family was many hours away. I recall that the next day I awoke to a nurse beside my bed, smiling and stroking my hand, telling me I was going to live and not die, because God said I could be with my baby. As the doctors came to take me to surgery to operate on my heart, I asked the nurse not to leave me, and could they check my blood again as I did not want to go to surgery. She smiled. Later on, the doctors said they were not going to do surgery, because what they had seen earlier in my echo-cardiogram was no longer there.

That night, the same nurse came to sit with me and talk to me about my life and what I was going to do with it. I told her, I ask God never to leave me: let me stay on earth at least until my daughter is seven. I think she will be OK then as my other daughter is seven. The nurse visited me every day, and in two days I was able to get out of bed to walk, and I went looking for the nurse.

At the time I remembered her name and I went asking for her and they said they had no one there by that name. I described her and the clothes she had worn each day and they stated they had never seen anyone like that. I was totally confused, and then it hit me. Jesus had talked with me: he sent his angel to be with me since my family couldn’t be there. Psalm 91:11 says, He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. Jesus was there and gave me another chance at life, a chance to change my life. That was my personal rite to passage.

As a result of this, I live each day as if it is my last. I have to have an intimate relationship with God. In everything I do, I do it unto God. I not only had to have work done on my heart medically, but more important, spiritually. I now treat people with the utmost respect and kindness.

If you were to die now, what would have been the last thing you said? What is the last thing someone would remember about you?” (Deborah J., soldier and mother)

A Paratrooper 's Rites of Passage
"The most symbolic rite in all of this, would have to be my "Blood Wings". This occurred when, during the pinning of my wings at graduation, Sergeant Airborne punched the wings without the backs on them, and I then had to pull the prongs out of my chest. If not for this, I would not have endured what nearly every Paratrooper before me has endured. I considered it a way of not forgetting the pain that often accompanies the life of a Paratrooper."

Never The Same After You Almost Die
"The one rite I could have done without and consider the most stressful would of course be the passing from a Cherry to a Veteran. This rite isn't an option for most people. One minute you're a rookie, never seen your life flash before your eyes, and the next you're making life or death decisions. You're never the same after you almost die. It's hard to explain, but you're different. You appreciate everything more, and you see everything new, as if your eyes are just now seeing the world. It's a huge transition from a Cherry to a Veteran, and not one every body is cut out for. Among the Native Americans, if a youth fails to survive the Vision Quest in the wild, they are no longer accepted in the tribe. The same is true of soldiers who fail to act in times of crisis: they are shunned by team mates and considered unworthy to serve with. This Rite of Passage marks the transition from being just like 90% of the Army, to being a Soldier."

Dark Night of the Soul
"I am Jewish by birth right and I practiced until my rebellious teenage years. I believed Catholicism was the answer until I was 24yrs old. During my first tour in Iraq, I lost 7 brothers in a helicopter crash. I was at rock bottom. I could not help but search the skies for an answer, but I did not like the one I received. My wife also left me that year. On that note I denounced my faith and started believing in myself as the driving force of my life. I am taking this class to see how other religions and cultures deal with such tremendous losses, and still retain their faith."

Second Tour
"There have been times that I wanted God to deliver me from suffering, but I had to go through something that would cause a change in me before I could be delivered. Sometimes we need to change before we can expect a change in the situation. I wonder if that's why I was sent back to Iraq for a second time. I feel there is still something within me that needs to be changed, and the only way that God can get through to me is to remove me from my normal comfortable environment, so that He can speak to me and I will hear Him."

Air Assault Qualified
This student studied the classic stages of primitive Rites of Passage. He carefully relates them to his military training. These classic stages include: (1) Being outside the blessed community; (2) Introspection, leading to the desire to seek entrance; (3) Induction and separation from the world; (4) Liminality: the twilight between this world and the next; (5) Re-incorporation and re-entry into the world as a member of the blessed community.

"My rite of passage had nothing to do with age, but passing into a select group of Warriors who call themselves Air Assault Qualified. Following the stages, I was among the population without. Then upon introspection I found a need to join the ranks of those who have gone before me, by passing through the gates of the Sabuliski Air Assault School, Fort Campbell, Ky. On zero-day, we were separated into those able and those unable to successfully complete the physical requirement for entrance. Of the remaining 50%, another 50% may not complete the liminality phase of the rite, which is the classroom instruction and testing. This includes hands-on testing plus physical demands. The final stage of the rite, incorporation, occurs on graduation day when students, after a loud rendition of the Air Assault Song, cross back into their unit, Air Assault Qualified."

Response to A Soldier from Another Student
"I sit here in solemn silence as I read your words. War as a rite of passage is mind-boggling. I am lost in thought wondering how we are dealt the cards of life, making marriage one woman’s rite of passage and war anothers. Words can not express my admiration and gratitude to you and all the amazing soldiers, both male and female, that risk their lives to allow people like me to have something as ordinary as marriage, my rite of passage. I was amazed by your strong faith and resilience. How amazing are you. If it wasn’t for you, in the midst of something grim and dreadful, unbroken by the will of evil and destruction.... You are in my thoughts and prayers, now and always. Thank you for being extraordinary so that I can be ordinary."

War Really Can Change You
"I am a combat arm soldier (11B) In Iraq and i tell you them IED's they do not discriminate. The war has changed me as an individual i used to feel bad for those people over here in the middle east, but not now. Seeing dead bodies over here at first used to bother me, but a month or two i became numb. I think being in a war situation really can change you, some for the worst some for the best."

"Rite of Passage Under Moon"
(Should a teacher correct this soldier's grammar, or nominate him for the Penn-Faulkner Writing Prize? Perhaps we should just send this to the White House with a note that says: 'Please, be very careful when you sacrifice the blood of lambs.')

"My rite of passage was over 3 years ago in July 2004. I went trough a very difficult rite of passage from being a civilian to become a mighty warrior in July 14 2004 arrive basic training at FT Knox Kentucky. First time away from home no clue how to survive by myself a pair of blue jeans and a white t-shirt my only belongings. Nervous but ready to start my odyssey. PVT C----- with a lost look clueless of what is about to begin. The drill sergeant arrive. Oh my GOD what did I did this was voluntary my mind wanders around. My rite of passage just start I lost my freedom my dignity I lost complete communications with the exterior world. My path to become one soldier in the world finest Army begin I went trough sleep deprivation than never seen in my life before. Physical deprivation I took my body over the limit. 16 weeks summit to a total stranger he said and I did, if he said jump I jump if he said run I ran he know what I need to become a warrior he trained me to be effective under stressing combat conditions in 16 weeks I learn all need to go to combat and defend my country at the end of 16 weeks we conduct the conclusion of the rite of passage under moon we conduct the ceremony that recognize us as soldier of the finest Army in the world."

The Rite of Returning Home
"Rites of passage do not necessarily have to be for birth, marriage, puberty or death. For me, the one rite of passage I will never forget was simply returning home from Iraq. The Army did a good job of giving a home-coming celebration, but it was nothing compared to walking in through the front door of your home with your wife and kids in tow. The feeling of peace and tranquility was the only thing that convinced me that, that night, I did not have to worry at all about any thing happening to me. It was late when we got home, so I put my children to bed, and held my wife as we watched TV till we could not stay up any longer. Nothing fancy, we just came home, watched TV, and went to bed. The simplest acts marked a major point in my life, and when I return from the next tour, we will probably do it the same way again." (J. J.)

“Congratulations Soldier”
"One of the most significant points in my life was when I became a Father. I was 21 years old when I had my first child. I was simultaneously participating in another “rite of passage”, Basic Training. I was recently married and in training to become a Soldier. I needed to provide for my wife and soon to be born daughter. While I was conducting extra physical training one evening I received a Red Cross message that my wife had delivered my daughter. My Drill Sergeant yelled, “Private Romeo, get over here.” I ran over to him as fast as I could with my Battle Buddy right beside me. I was standing before him at Parade Rest. My knees were shaking. I thought to myself, “What did I do wrong now?” He looked me in my eyes and told me my wife had delivered my daughter and both were fine. I was then told to call her. Once I completed my phone call my Drill Sergeant walked up to me. He stood right in front of me staring me straight in the eyes. He extended his hand and said, “Congratulations Soldier”. It was at that moment, when this man, who looked at me everyday with a glare of anger and unworthiness in his eyes, treated me as an equal that I realized I had finally and truly become a man. 

Shortly after, I completed my training and was assigned to For Bragg. Three months had passed and I was finally reunited with my wife and met my daughter for the first time. I held her in my arms a realized that it wasn’t about me anymore. Any “rite of passage” in your life is significant. I had gone through three in quick succession. I became a Husband, Father and Soldier."


 Being Humbled Helped Me Be A Stronger Medic
"A traumatic event in Iraq is my rite of passage as a combat medic. Going through the struggles and tests of basic training and Healthcare Specialist/Combat Medic training were tough, but nothing could prepare someone for their first serious trauma patient. You can go through the algorithms that are supposed to stabilize someone from dying over and over, but sometimes you can’t avoid the inevitable. The trauma team tried everything they could to save a life. The patient was terribly wounded, and this was my first time seeing something so grotesque. After trying everything we could to help, the patient then passed away. The thought of someone leaving their family and loved ones frustrated me. There was nothing we could do that could have saved that patient's life. After that, I was humbled and it helped me become a stronger medic. I will proceed to try to help anyone that I can in any way possible, life-saving or not. Events like this can make someone turn back to religious values. Most religions that I have encountered so far mention that good spirits end up in heaven. The dead and all the memories and thoughts of that person must end up in some type of afterlife. It really makes you think that there must be an other worldly force out there, even if you are atheistic."

A Message for Our Politicians
"If there is one thing I have noticed over my last two deployments to Iraq - hearing soldier stories, eating with Sheiks, working with Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army, including the Sons of Iraq - it is that Politicians don’t know the hardships soldiers face. They don’t know the direct evil of war, and at the same time they don’t know the good being done here. As Sun T’zu said in The Art of War, if you want to understand, then talk to soldiers who have been on the ground, who have experienced the evils of war. And if you want to know what good has gone on here in Iraq, and how much the Iraqi people appreciate us, talk to those who have trained Iraqi Security Forces and supplied schools, talk to medics who have mended wounded Iraqi combatants. Then you will know what goes on here. But all too often, the politicians are just pushing their own personal agendas."


 Karma in Combat
"Though I am Catholic, I do have a firm belief in Karma. I feel that if you do something bad or good that things will be returned in the same way, never knowing when or where it will happen: but it will. 

"A good example and lesson was learned while on deployment. There were some Afghan children going out into an impact area to get brass and play.  One day two kids were tossing around an unexploded mortar round and it detonated on them and the two children died from their wounds.  The next day in preparation for a mission my platoon and I were confirming our zero's on our weapons and we observed some children playing in the impact area again. I told my guys to standby while myself and our interpreter drove the gator out to get the kids out of the area.  When I got out there our interpreter told the kids to leave and they would not listen. I told them, "fine, continue playing around with this crap, I hope you die." Upset we went back to the platoon. I reported it up and continued on preparation. 

"About thirty minutes or so later we heard an explosion: one of the kids set an unexploded Rocket Propelled Grenade off and died and the other kid was hurt pretty bad.  We went out and rendered aid to the child and got him to medical treatment. The next morning I loaded up on a chopper and headed out on mission to conduct a raid. During the movement in towards the target location we came under small arms contact from the enemy. 

"While taking cover I moved next to a building with an improvised explosive device laying next to it.  Needless to say it was set off and I got hit pretty good. While trying to move, stumble to another location, and bleeding all over the place, I was shot through my legs and decided I had moved far enough at the time.

"I was medically evacuated shortly after.  I obviously survived, but my firm belief is that if I had not been so heartless to those children the day before, then what happened to me may not have happened at all.  Lesson for me was: no matter what you have to do, try to do the morally correct thing and follow the path of the hard right over the easy wrong." (J.L.)