Christmas in Iraq 2006 & 2007

During my last deployment we spent the Christmas of 2006 and 2007 in Iraq. We were initially going to be in Iraq for Christmas of 2006 but due to the extension of our 12- month deployment to 15-months during the surge of 2007. We spent two Christmases in Iraq, below are some pictures of the two Christmases. 

Pictures of my Office and my Room 

 

Warrior Chapel Christmas 2007

 

 

Christmas Eve Service 2007

 

 

Dining Facility Christmas Celebration 2006

 

 

Have a Very Merry Christmas 2017 

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WAKING UP TO ANOTHER DAY WITH PTSD.

Sometime I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “Yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.”

When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I was pretty critical about the diagnosis. I thought the diagnosis was just a convenient way for my treatment team to wash their hands of me. It seemed in my mind; by labeling me with PTSD, they could resolve themselves from the responsibility of actually helping me through my problems. I did not believe I had PTSD, I had not engaged in combat, I had not been “blown up” or received any type of physical injuries. I was a chaplain, a non-combatant; I did not even carry a weapon of any kind. There was no way I could have PTSD.dejection 2 What right do I have to claim such a diagnosis when so many others have a legitimate reason for having PTSD? For years I struggled with the question “Do I actually have PTSD or am I just making all this up?” To be honest, there are still times I wonder if I really have PTSD. I often feel guilty about being labeled with PTSD when there are others that truly suffer from PTSD. Sometimes, I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.” What I really wish for is some traumatic story of a horrific event that I survived, so I can look back and say, “This is the event that triggered my PTSD.” But my PTSD did not come from one event alone, it came over many events. For me, it is like I have to string together all these “little” events to somehow form a reasonable justification for having PTSD. I think some of the feelings come from Hollywood and the string of Iraq war movies that are coming out. Some films tackle the issue of PTSD. Pretty much all the movies are based on the Service Member going through a horrific battle or ambush where they survived while others died. The other scenario that seems to get a lot of attention in movies is a Humvee being blown-up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). All this leads to a sense of guilt for me. I often feel as though I’m playing a game and one day the truth will come out that I never had PTSD. Then I will be exposed as a fraud, a dirtbag, and a lazy bum just trying to get one over on the government.

“Sometimes the Greatest Wound a Soldier Suffers from is the Wound No One Can See”

It is hard some days to deal with my PTSD. There are days when I want to wake up and say “It’s all a lie, I’ve been duped by all these doctors and counselors who just threw this label on me.” Sometimes, I want more than anything to tell myself “Get over it and stop acting like you have PTSD, start living your life like a normal person.” There are other days when I wake up, and I tell myself, “Its all over, I no longer have PTSD, I’m cured, and I have conquered it.” Then a memory creeps into my mind, I have disturbing thoughts and dreams, I hear a loud sound, I see something that reminds me of Iraq, a car speeds up behind me on the freeway, I get lost and end up on a narrow road that I don’t know where it goes. So I become hyper-vigilant, I get scared; I have the urge to defend myself or run away from danger, I’m overcome with an urge to hide and disassociate myself from the world around me. When I first went through treatment for PTSD, I heard people say “I would never wish PTSD on anyone.” To be honest, I thought they were melodramatic; they were simply seeking someone to feel sorry for them. I know better now, and I understand what it means to “not wish PTSD on anyone.” Yet despite my desires and wishes that my PTSD would just go away, I still wake up each day facing another day with PTSD.  Some days I am very good at it, other days not so much.

50th Birthday Musings And A Tragedy

 

perfect 10sToday marks my 50 years here on planet earth, the “big 5 oh”, “the over the hill” birthday, the “your eligible for AARP birthday,” the “your half a century old” birthday. I suppose most people approach their 50th birthday the same way I have. I am looking back on my fifty years, and I am thinking how different my life would be if I had the wisdom, understanding, and experience I have now when I was 20. To have what I have gained in 50 years and still have my youth, to be in shape and have all my hair would be tremendous. I imagine many of the decisions I made would be greatly different. I imagine I would accept those opportunities that were presented to me instead of passing them up, only to later regret not taking them. I wonder if I would still have made some of the same dumb decisions I’ve made over my 50 years of living? Hindsight allows me to look at the good choices I made and the bad choices I made. I am able to take pride in the many accomplishments and good choices I made as well as recognize the bad choices I made. As I look back on my life thus far, I realize hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight makes it easy to ask myself “what was I thinking.” It allows me to feel both regret and delight in the decisions I made over the last 50 years. It also allows me to play the “what if game” What if I had said no instead of yes, what if I had gone to another school or college? What if I had accepted or stayed at a particular assignment? While hindsight can give us a better appreciation of our past experiences and decisions, it cannot answer the “what lays ahead” questions that I am now faced with.

 

funny-50th-birthday-gift-straight-outta-1967-adjustable-apronWhen I went to bed last night, I thought about how different my life’s course has taken. I had many plans for this time of my life. On my 50th birthday, I expected to have reached the golden milestone of military service, 20 years on active duty. I assumed I would stay on active duty for another five years and retire at 55. Our goal was to retire and live in our RV full-time traveling across North America. What I did not anticipate was the results of spending two years at war. I went to war knowing  I could be killed or even come home with serious physical injuries. I was ok with that, and I freely took my chances and went to war. What I never thought about was coming home with the unseen injury of PTSD. I was unprepared for the emotional and spiritual struggles that go along with having PTSD. I did not anticipate the years of depression, hopelessness, suicidal tendencies and gloom that would follow me years after returning from war. I did not predict the extended psychiatric hospital stays, the treatments I would undergo and the medications I would end up taking. When I went to war, I never anticipated that soon after returning from war I would lose my military profession at the very pinnacle of my career. It never crossed my mind that going to war would cost me the opportunity to continue my lifelong love of being a full-time minister.

These were the thought I had last night when I went to bed. Then this morning I woke up and saw for the first time the horror that took place in Las Vegas. I was shocked and horrified by what I saw as the news was unfolding before me. I felt the same sense of disbelief I experienced when I turned on the TV on September 11, 2001. I watched about an hour of news this morning when I left for a doctor’s appointment. As I drove to my appointment I took the time to rethink my thoughts from last night in light of what happened in Las Vegas. I did not come up with any life-changing insights or ideas, I merely reflected on the fact that for many people life does not go as they plan. Not one of the 22,000 plus people who were at the concert last night had any expectations the night would turn out the way it did. Over an extended ten-minute period, the lives of tens of thousands of people changed forever. Hopes, dreams, and expectations all vanished in a hail of fire. Lives were lost, people suffered horrific injuries, while others suffered less threatening injuries. Some escaped the shooting with little or no injuries at all. Some will bear the hidden emotional and spiritual wounds of PTSD. In light of this terrible event, my life story seems small; my struggles don’t look as bad as others. My complaint of how my life is different from what I had planned, really does not seem all that important. My experiences, twists and turns and where I find myself today is just part of life.

My story is not unique; I’m not the only one whose life has taken a traumatic turn. I do not stand alone as an example of how life can unfairly mess with someone’s dreams. Although my life has taken a different course than I had anticipated, I still have my life. I still have those who love me, and I love them. I still have a future before me. I still have years of living before me, if God so chooses to grant me more days on this earth. I still have opportunities that lay ahead of me. I have no idea of what the rest of my life will look like, all I know is, I have this very moment in time, and it is my choice on what I will do with it.

 

I Miss the 4th of July

Tuzla

It was July 4th, 1999 at Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia. Where I have one of my favorite 4th of July memories. We were in Bosnia for 5 months, we were working long hours, 7-days a week. We had little time off, and the constant grind was becoming tiresome. There was a plan to have an outside BBQ for everyone. We were going to have volleyball tournaments, horseshoe tournaments, basketball games and have a concert by Larry Gatlin. There were even rumors the day would end with a firework show on the airfield.

When the 4th finally came, the day was beautiful, the sun was out, and it was a perfect day. We all enjoyed a day of relaxation and great BBQ. Larry Gatling was interacting with us, singing, joking as though he was at a family BBQ. The Commanding General even came up and sang Roy Orbison’s Pretty Women. He nailed it, and if you closed your eyes, you would think Orbison was actually singing. The day ended with a grand fireworks display on the airfield. I did not expect too much from the show, I figured it would be a few fireworks and maybe some flares, then we would be on our way. However, it was an actual firework show, and it was good. The thing I remember the most about the show. Was halfway through the show, the Bosnians came out and starting firing their AK-47s to help us celebrate. It is a fun memory one that I look back upon fondly.

Until 2004 I looked forward to attending a good firework show, I enjoyed them and waited anxiously for the shows. I miss those days; I miss the 4th of July. I don’t go to firework shows anymore. Instead of looking forward to the shows I now face the 4th of July fireworks with dread. July 4th of 2005 was the first firework show I attended after returning from my first deployment to Iraq. I took my family to a local park and was looking forward to a great night of fun and a fantastic firework show. It only took a few minutes to realize this was not going to be the experience I had hoped. Within a few minutes, I found myself back at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. The mortar shells that were exploding overhead reminded me of the constant mortar attacks we received every day at Camp Anaconda. Out of the year, I spent in Balad, there was only Balladone day we did not receive mortars. On my Birthday October 2, 2004, we spend almost the entire day in our shelters due to constant mortar attacks. During the show, as the whistling fireworks screamed into the sky and burst with a loud blast, I was instantly transported back to my tent in Iraq. Laying on the ground while listening to the incoming rocket fire. Wondering when and where the rocket was going to land. Those moments of waiting seemed like an eternity, “where was it going to land and was my tent going to be shredded with shrapnel” As I watched the fireworks, I remember thinking while I was in Iraq “am I low enough on the ground to avoid the shrapnel if it did shred my tent?” During the show, I was reminded of the day I was in my tent, I heard a rocket approaching. As it came closer to my tent, I could hear the rocket descend and I realized it was going to land in my area. All I could do was lay on Rocketthe ground and pray for the best. I heard the rocket hit the ground just outside my tent. I waited, but there was no explosion, after a minute or so I got up and stuck my head out of the tent flap. I looked to the left of my tent. Just on the other side of the small road was the rocket that had landed. The rocket was still smoking but never exploded. Throughout my 24-months in Iraq, I experienced many mortar and rocket attacks. But this one experience sticks out in my mind. Now when I see or hear the loud explosions of fireworks on the 4th of July. I mentally go back to the moment I was laying on the ground in my tent waiting for the explosion, wondering if I’m going to survive.

I miss the 4th of July fireworks show, I miss them so.

Ironhorse Fallen Heroes

IMG_0386Last Monday 01 May I drove to Killeen, Texas for some business. While I was there I made a stop at Ft. Hood, where I visited  my old chapel the Ironhorse Brigade Chapel. From May 2005 to July  2008  I was the chaplain in charge of the chapel while serving as the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Chaplain. Inside the fellowship hall is this memorial to the 49 Brigade Troopers who died in combat and the 4 Brigade non-combat deaths. We lost a total 53 lives between October 2006 and January 2008. While I was viewing the memorial, I though about our deployment, about our troopers who died, I thought about those of us who returned home. I thought about those who suffered the physical and non-physical wounds of war. I thought about our families and how this war in Iraq had forever changed our lives. I  thought about my own journey as the Brigade Chaplain and my struggles with PTSD. I don’t have any insights to offer today, no profound thoughts or spiritual lessons. I just have my thoughts.

Good Friday Reading From Mark 15

I have thought about doing some video recording to add to my blog and I finally decided to give it a try. I thought since today is Good Friday it would be a good day to try my first video by reading the crucifixion account from the Gospel of Mark and providing a few comments after. The ending is a little rough, but as I continue recording they will become smoother. Please let me know what you think and if I should continue to add videos to my blog. Thank you so much for your support, please feel free to like and pass the website onto your family, friend and veterans you may know.

Lost in Forgotten Memories

I can once again declare with all certainty “That God’s love is never-ending, that He does not leave us in a state of hopelessness to wonder by ourselves in the midst of trouble.”

One of the symptoms of PTSD is the inability to remember details or facts about the traumatic event. Frequently when we are missing details about our traumatic events we experience unexplained fear, anger, resentment or even dazed confusion. Generally, this loss of memory can affect us for years. Instead of remembering the event itself or the details of the event, we are merely left with a big black cloud of nothing. Many times we wish we could remember what actually happened because staring into the dark abyss of lost memories is exhausting and wears upon one’s emotions.

A few weeks ago, I came across one of my Battalion Chaplains Dan Kersey on Facebook. He was the chaplain for the historic 1-7 Cavalry Battalion when I was the brigade chaplain during Iraqi Freedom 2006-2008. I have not talked with him since I left the brigade in the summer of 2008. 1-7 was the unit I referred to in my first blog post “A Moment in Time.” I wrote that the attack on 2-8 Cavalry Battalion in Taji Market happened during the memorial ceremony for 3 of the 1-7 Soldiers. I knew the attack against 2-8 happened in August of 2007 but I was unaware of the exact date. So I messaged Dan and asked if he remembered the date of the ceremony. He told me he would check his records. Roughly an hour later, he messaged me and said the only ceremony they had conducted for multiple soldiers was in December of 2007. I was surprised by this news, I was sure the attack took place during the 1-7 memorial ceremony. I began to doubt myself and wonder if the memories I had, really occurred. I spent the next few hours searching the web trying to match up these dates. During my search I found two websites. The first was a website that listed the names and dates of Texas service members who were killed in the Iraqi theater. The second website listed the suicide attacks that occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Between these two websites my memory of that day become clearer.

Continue reading “Lost in Forgotten Memories”

We Are Not Our Trauma

We are not the sum of our trauma, Our trauma is simply a part of who we are now.

The attack on our Combat outpost  Taji Market delivered a spiritual blow that shook the very foundation of my spiritual life. The following morning I woke up to the reality of the attack on our COP. I was faced once again with the duty of supervising another memorial ceremony, but this time I asked myself what difference does it makecamptaji_fpo There is no way our Soldiers could sit through another ceremony and listen to our empty words of encouragement and hope. I could not bring myself to accept that what we offered to our Soldiers mattered and that our message of hope had any real impact upon anyone. How many times could we read the Psalms, pray for God’s comfort and healing, share our belief of God’s protection and yet watch as even more Soldiers die? I was convinced that our Soldiers must view us with contempt and view our message as senseless and offensive. It was a revelation that hunted me for many years, a revelation that brought me to the deepest spiritual struggle that I had ever faced in my life.

Continue reading “We Are Not Our Trauma”