Updated: May 8
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First, I will give you a little insight on my military service. Those who know me, know that I hold my service to this country in high regards. While also doing everything within my power to remain humble. We served so that others did not after all. But as a veteran, I also feel like I have a lot to say. And often I find myself in the darkest depths of my mind and guilt wondering who it is that will listen. I will always have an Army of brethren to place my confidence in when I feel like my demons confine me. But those conversations only go so far. We know what we did, why we did it and the manner in which we did it. Veterans can find themselves in the darkest depths of agony fighting for something as simple as a breath of fresh air. I find that in my daughter nowadays. I find that in my belief that one day I will feast in Odins great hall where I will be amongst warriors again. But my past found it in a bottle. If I had to describe the life of a veteran. I would equate it to a life of constant suffocation. Never ending strife that torments and confines the soul.
I never had a bad life growing up. But I always made bad decisions. I had role models, I had spirituality, a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my belly. My teenage years are a point of comic relief now that I have grown over the years. However, during those times I often felt lost and confused. Even at the age of 17 I was living on my own in other people's houses.
I joined the Army in 2005. Initially I had gone to the Navy recruiters because at that time they were accepting high school dropouts without a GED. That is right. I was a high school dropout. After going through the entire enlistment process, the Navy refused to let me join because they were no longer accepting applicants without a GED. Not long afterwards, I was contacted by an Army Recruiter who would help me later take and pass my GED. The Army was the best thing to happen in my life prior to becoming a father. I shipped to Basic Training on September 26th, 2005. Where I would attend Basic Training at Fort. Knox Kentucky to become a 19D Cavalry Scout. However, my basic training was not standard. I attended what the Army called One Station Unit Training (OSUT) which lasted a total of 16 weeks straight. Essentially 16 weeks of Basic Training. Which all combat arms go through in the Army.
OSUT is where I really fell in love with the Army but also where I realized that I was in it for the long haul. Basic training really wasn't a struggle for me in terms of ever wanting to quit. I struggled, miserably at times, but always felt the need to never quit. I had something to prove not only to myself, but the people that spent years doubting that I would ever succeed. I felt like I had to prove a lot. I will never forget the moment I earned my cross sabers and became a Cavalry Scout in the United States Army. After the final field exercise, we had to complete a 20k road march back to the barracks in order to graduate. This is the closest I ever came to feeling defeated. You are talking about a 5'6 150 pound, 19-year-old carrying over 100 pounds of gear for close to 12.5 miles. It was the most exhausted physically that I had ever felt up to that point in my life. But I never quit. I never wanted to. I knew it wasn't an option.
I will never forget the moment that we rounded the corner into the quad outside of our barracks. I felt such accomplishment and pride. They had a podium set up with our branch insignia pins. They were playing Eye of the Tiger and I just remember breaking into tears. Thinking about it often still makes me choke up. I had never in my life felt such pride in something that I had accomplished to the point it brought me to tears. I remember my Drill Sergeant pinning my sabers on me and feeling like I had finally done something others would be proud of. I remember thinking to myself that I was ready. I was ready to go fight for and defend my country. As soon as possible. And if my life was the cost of freedom, I would belong to a brotherhood of heroes that seem immortal. Being that I never graduated High School. I still feel pride in the fact that my class ring is the ring that I earned becoming a soldier.
My first duty station after basic training was B Troop 1-4 Cav 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany. I still remember the flight to Germany because it was on February 14th, 2006. Being that we were flying over international waters, I got to have a few on the plane. Upon arriving to my first unit, it was like attending basic training all over again. Nonstop yelling, smoke sessions and being treated like a child. Which never really bothered me. Being that you have to earn the respect of those you serve with. However, the Army can be highly toxic at times and there are plenty of leaders who fuck with you just to fuck with you. That is neither here nor there. But it was never something that made me a better soldier. It made me more bitter than anything. I never understood the point of fucking with a soldier just to fuck with them if they were otherwise squared away. I will never forget the first interactions I had as a private fresh out of basic. And the good ole boy club that existed before I arrived at Germany. I remember being asked by a fellow private what my 2-mile run time was and I stated that it was 13 minutes. Obviously, a passing score. One that I had to have in order to even pass basic training. But you would have thought I was bragging about being the fastest soldier that ever lived. I simply answered the question that I was asked. And answered it truthfully.
As a result, I got the privilege of having someone scream in my face for hours. Dusting me off. Then heading to the 2-mile track to run a PT Test. Sounds logical. Let's make sure the guy can pass a PT Test after being dusted off because he said he can pass a PT Test even though I had to pass a PT Test to graduate basic. Where I literally just came from. This is when I started to realize how toxic the Army was. Don't get me wrong. I loved my time in service. But some leaders exist just to fuck with people. A solid example of what not to be as you progress in the Army. That is just one of many examples of having to do stupid shit just for the sake of having to do stupid shit. Entertainment for others. Watch me go fuck with this guy.
You want to know why veterans are so salty and rough around the edges? The amount of stupid shit that they had to do over the course of their career.
Of course, I got to do a lot of good things and I had a blast while serving in the Army. Especially being stationed in Germany.
In 2006 I got to attend Airborne School at Fort Benning. Which I graduated. But I will tell you a funny and short story of my first few days at Airborne School. I had to fly to Airborne School from Germany in December of 2006. Right before Christmas. The plan was to go to Airborne School then take my 2 weeks of block leave for Christmas. As soon as I arrived at the airport in Georgia, the airline lost my luggage. So, I had a backpack with my orders and the clothes on my back when I arrived on base. This is the funny part. My first morning in formation before Airborne School started, I had to explain to the Black Hats (Instructors) that all my uniforms and gear had been lost because the airline lost my luggage. At which time they told me I had to have it before the course started in a few days or I would be recycled to the next class. That night I went out with some friends I was attending Airborne School with. And of course, they bought me drinks. I did what any responsible soldier would. Returned to the barracks that evening and went to sleep. Just to wake up in the middle of the night in a puddle of piss. Yea, I pissed the bed at Airborne School. I didn't have a change of clothes. So, guess what this guy had to do. I had to strip down naked with a blanket wrapped around me in the laundry room. And stand there all night until my clothes were washed. I got to spend my first moments at Airborne School, naked and wrapped in a wool blanket, washing my clothes because I had just pissed the bed without a change of clothes.
Not really a meaningful story, but one that I find hilarious. Needless to say, the airline was able to recover my baggage and return it to me on base that morning before the course started. And I went on to graduate Airborne School on time.
Fast forward to the summer of my first deployment. My unit, B Troop 1-4 Cav 1st Infantry Division re-flagged to B Troop 1-91 Cav 173rd Airborne the summer before I attended Airborne School in 2006. By the summer of 2007 we were slotted to go to Afghanistan. Nuristan Province, Camp Keating. A deployment that would play a part in the book written by Jake Tapper, The Outpost, which would later become a movie.
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My first deployment was 15 months. Beginning in July of 2007. It was a living hell. Not just because of the amount of combat the unit faced. But because of all the bullshit life threw at me on top of fighting in a combat zone. While also dealing with moments of toxic leadership. This is where I always tell people. That I had moments during my deployment that left me scarred for life. Never mind the fact that I had just been married before deploying. I had my 21st birthday in country, and our unit had to endure one of the roughest deployments in Afghanistan. It was during this tour that I obtained my first medal for valor. Pictured below.
July 27th, 2007, our unit was ambushed by over 200 fighters outside a village named Saret Kholeh. There were roughly 40 of us spread out in the valley. Without going into too much detail about the day's events. It is still one of the hardest fights that I took part in during my time in combat. Our mission was to overwatch movement into the valley the night prior so that one of our platoons could engage leaders in the village the next day. I remember being up on guard all night from our OP site on top of a mountain overlooking the valley. Right before morning broke, I finally got the chance to lay my head down and catch some sleep. I will never forget it. Waking up in the middle of the day to the sound of gunfire and rounds snapping next to my face. I woke up engaged in a firefight that I had not even known I was already in. It was a constant barrage of RPG fire, small arms fire and machine gun fire. It seemed like the rounds were never ending. Our machine gunner, Tommy, ended up being shot in the throat about halfway through the fight. Another moment that I will never forget. Because another soldier and I had to treat him. Which is part of the reason I got my first ARCOM with Valor. I still remember having to plug Tommy's throat with my fingers as we tried to stop the bleeding. The smell of fresh blood, the smell of gunpowder, the screams and the nonstop sound of gunfire will never leave my brain.
But the hardest moment was losing our commander then-CPT Thomas Bostick. A memory that I do not wish to go into depth about. We lost a few soldiers that day. And had multiple wounded soldiers as well. The fight lasted all day. And even into the night. We went through so many rounds that we had to be resupplied by air drops not once but twice. What we call speed balls. Where a Black Hawk hovers over your location and drops body bags filled with ammo out of the door.
Of course, the Unit held a memorial service on Camp Keating after July 27th. It's the first time in my military career that I had to endure a fallen soldier ceremony. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby. The sound of a 21-gun salute will always make my stomach churn.
Of course, we returned back to Schweinfurt at the end of the deployment, and I went on to become an SGT and serve as a team leader with the 173rd again on another 12-month deployment 2009-2010. Where I earned another medal for valor.
This is where I want to talk about how the military fails it's servicemembers, where the VA fails veterans and how society in general fails our combat veterans. My first deployment was a living hell. Because I feel like we were fighting every single day. But on top of that I feel like I was fighting my leadership as well. They made the experience that much harder. I have a chip on my shoulder because of the shit that I was forced to endure mentally on top of having to fight to keep myself and the men next to me alive.
When you are deployed it is always a running joke to sit around and crack jokes about the wives of soldiers hooking up with Jody back home. And as petty as it sounds. That is not the type of shit that you need to be saying to your soldiers. Especially young soldiers on their first deployment. We already had to endure the mental anguish of fighting in a combat zone. But there is nothing funny about fucking with the mental state of your soldiers in the middle of a combat zone. I myself had to listen to joke after joke about how my wife was back home fucking other guys. I failed to see the punchline. But when you tell an NCO to shut his fucking mouth and stop talking about your wife. The first response should not be to dust that soldier off and tell him to show respect. That is exactly what happened. Until I ended up reaching my limit, charging my weapon and telling an NCO the next time he mentioned my wife we would have problems.
This is the type of shit that happens behind the scenes in the military though. Toxicity. Halfway through my first deployment I ended up going through a divorce. And the Army in all their infinite wisdom, decided to put me on anti-depressants. I was 21 years old in a combat zone going through a divorce while fucked out of my mind on Zoloft. And the only support you had was a bottle of pills and the occasional "suck it up" we have a job to do mentality.
I am not saying that I did not enjoy serving my country. I love my service. And I would have spent 20 years in had I not been injured. I love all my brothers in arms. But there are a lot of things that most veterans do not talk about because they fear talking about them while still serving. It isn't just combat experiences that fuck with the mental state of servicemembers. It is also the petty bullshit that they have to endure. But cannot talk about openly because of targeted harassment. Or being forced to go talk to mental health officials about your problems. Which runs the risk of being chaptered from the military for mental issues.
Leaders on deployments who get away with drug abuse and alcohol abuse. I drank too. It is no secret. But I know for a fact we had soldiers and leaders using drugs in Afghanistan and it never got addressed. Other soldiers, however, were chaptered and kicked out of the Army for the same issues. It all depended on who you knew and who was willing to protect you. If you were not part of the "cool" crowd, little to no protection or leadership was offered. And you couldn't talk about it openly. Because you would be seen as weak, or a fucking rat. Even though you had certain leaders who made your life a living hell in the process. Just because they themselves are shitty people. People who stay in the military and know nothing outside of it. Which is why veterans kill themselves at alarming rates once they either get out or get back from combat zones.
You aren't allowed to talk about your problems because it is seen as a sign of weakness. Hell, you can't even get proper medical care for basic health problems because you are seen as a weak link. "Well private joe is at sick call again this morning trying to sham out of doing PT."
Which is why the VA has so many disability claims in the first place. I still remember the time I had to have surgery in Germany. On my throat. And the only concern was whether or not I shaved properly every day. I got hurt towards the end of my 2nd deployment. Where I had an injury to my jaw. I could not go out on missions anymore as a result. With less than a month left on deployment.
You would have thought that I was some piece of shit NCO who was just trying to get out of doing work. Even though that injury resulted in having to have surgery on my jaw and throat when I returned to Germany. I was a Team Leader with 2 medals for valor and over 2 years' experience in combat. And I got treated like a fucking child who just wanted to play sick. But that is what the military does. They make you feel weaker than you already are. For things that are completely out of your control. They make you feel like a dirtbag for taking care of yourself. And I am not saying that I had bad leaders. I am not even saying that all leaders are the same. But the military absolutely stigmatizes itself and does nothing for the welfare of soldiers. They just pretend to. How the fuck is a soldier supposed to shave with stitches in his throat? And why is that a point of concern? Petty. But things pile up and leave a chip on your shoulder.
You sacrifice your mind, body and spirit defending your country just to be tossed to wolves and expected to fend for yourself. If you have just a single moment of weakness, where you are no longer an asset, you get pounced on. And I know a lot of soldiers feel this way. But are too worried about the ramifications of saying it.
After my first deployment I really started to break out of my shell and become the soldier and leader I would retire as. But as I stated, I was going through my first divorce at the time. My wife had lived with me in Germany for a few months when I returned. And we were working on trying to repair our marriage. When I was sent to WLC, a course to become a sergeant and NCO. Just days before I graduated and was set to return back to my unit. I get a phone call from another soldier in my unit. Stating that he and his wife had just dropped my spouse off at the airport in Frankfurt to return to the states.
You want to talk about taking care of soldiers and their families? How about leadership having a private meeting with your wife and giving another soldier the day off from work to take her to the airport without telling you. I returned from WLC to an empty house. No money in my bank account. And no food in the fucking fridge. The only thing that I had waiting on me was a counseling statement because my wife had left me. When I asked where all my belongings were, I was told that my wife had given it to the wife of the same soldier who was given the day off of work to take my spouse to the airport behind my back. And here I was being counseled for it, as if I had done something wrong. And what could I do about it. Nothing. There were no domestic abuse concerns because I have never touched a woman. There were alcohol issues, drug issues, or health concerns.
My chain of command simply helped my wife leave me behind my back and made sure that another soldier had the day off of work to do it.
After my time in Germany, I served 4 years as an active-duty recruiter. I thought mainstream Army was toxic. Recruiting is toxic.
Never mind the fact that they micromanage you like a child as well. Whether or not you are worth anything to recruiting command, depends on how much you can bullshit someone into enlisting. I will always take pride in the fact that I remained genuine as a recruiter. I never went out of my way to lie to the people I was enlisting. And not once did I ever sacrifice my integrity in the process. But recruiting was by far the worst experience I had in the Army. I watched coverup after coverup. I watched shitty leaders take the spotlight and watched people join the Army who should have never been there in the first place. Put em in boots though. Working long hours, sometimes till 1 or 2 am. Just to be told that you didn't make enough phone calls harassing high school students and manipulating them into joining your branch. I watched recruiting duty break down some of the best soldiers and leaders that I ever had the pleasure of meeting. You didn't make enough phone calls today or enlist enough people this month. So, you get to work all weekend making phone calls until you get someone to join the Army. Fuck your family and your family life. Which is why the suicide rate amongst Recruiters was so high at one point. I had to endure a good friend and fellow Marine Recruiter commit suicide because of what recruiting did to him and his family life.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in service. And I am thankful that I had a successful career while I served. I never faced non-judicial punishment. I never lost my rank. And I was even DA Selected to be a Recruiter in 2010. I retired with an Honorable Discharge in 2015 after my wounds and injuries finally caught up to me. I was fortunate enough to medically retire with an automatic 80% disability rating through the VA and free medical for the rest of my life.
But not every servicemember is so fortunate. They get what they can from you then toss you to the fucking wolves like scraps. And expect you to assimilate into society without any issues. When you go to the VA to receive compensation for injuries you sustained while serving. They make you prove that those injuries were service connected. Knowing full well that you did not seek medical attention while serving, because you would be seen as weak. Therefore, most of your ailments are not documented. I have lost countless friends and brothers over the years because of suicide. In situations that could have been prevented had the VA and Government, not shit on them when they left service.
Then you go get treated at the VA. Where they just pump you full of drugs and treat you like a 2nd class citizen. They don't address your health concerns. They get you addicted to drugs. When you go seek mental health help. You have to sit down with psychologists who have no real understanding of the shit you had to do. But make you feel weak for talking about it. And in the process, they pump even more drugs into you to numb your mind. Trapping you in a prison you created with no way to escape.
We do absolutely nothing to help our soldiers. We pump them full of drugs. And honor them a few times a year when we feel like virtue signaling. Meanwhile, you have combat veterans out here drowning in their minds with no escape. Which is why so many veterans find escape at the end of a bottle or the end of a barrel. And it seems more and more like society has forgotten about our heroes. No one takes the time to listen to their cries. We stigmatize PTSD to a certain extent. You can't even mention that you have it, without someone thinking you are fucking crazy.
I cannot even count the number of times that I have been called a baby killer, a murderer, or told that I need to get more help from the VA because I am crazy. If society disagrees with you on politics, religion or morals. The first thing they tell you is that you need to seek mental health.
I have had family courts try to use my service against me. And I know plenty of male soldiers who endure the same thing.
The fact of the matter is this. Our servicemembers sacrifice and endure more than can be stated. And I could write for days about my outrage and discontent. No one takes the time to listen to our heroes. They just give them a pat on the back and an ole "Thank You for Your Service." Yet, we do nothing to help them. I have personally gotten to the point where I cannot even look at my medals anymore without feeling disgust. Disgust with the way the country is heading. Disgust with the way our veterans are treated. But most of all. Disgusted by the fact we have forgotten our veterans.
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