I miss the Army.
My body aches and hurts everyday from the physical abuse my brief nine-year career provided. Each ache tells a story. Every pain is a memory. I sit here chronicling my thoughts without any regrets. In fact, if I could do it all over again, I would without hesitation.
My spine spins a tale about when the vehicle Grace and I were operating was struck by a tank. That was January 20th, 2002. Later that day, the US Army and the world lost an awesome human being. SSG Crooms, my Squad Leader, passed away during a training accident. When the sides of my spine swell and the pain becomes almost unbearable, I think that SSG Crooms would gladly take my pain for another day on this Earth.
My lungs, scarred from sucking the bitter Ft. Drum cold during the run phase of my Physical Training test after arriving from a much warmer Korea. I knew vaguely about acclimatization but I became a pro shortly after. Too little, too late. I know what it feels like to run with ease and I also know what it feels like to run until my lips turned blue from lack of oxygen. I fought hard to stay in the Infantry with my disability for seven years. I most likely continued to injure myself throughout those years of constantly pushing the edge. After contracting exercise induced asthma, I ran for thousands of miles over seven years and even ran ten miles in a stretch once. Was it smart of me? Hell no. But, I did it because not even a disability could keep me from something I loved. Would I do it again knowing the consequences? You bet your ass.
I don’t hear very well from my left ear. I was told it was an occupational hazard when my disability was diagnosed in 2006. When I was told I’d never regain my hearing, I shed some tears thinking that I’d lost something precious. And, I did. When you partially lose one of your senses, a bit of mortality sets in, or it did for me, that I was no longer immortal. But when I think of all the time on rifle and grenade ranges around the world, those memories are unique. I’ve hit a target from 900 meters and watched rockets and grenades explode. I’ve seen tanks fire their main guns and I’ve spent years off-roading in a track vehicle in Hohenfels, Germany. I think only a soldier can truly understand the trade-off value.
Like a lot of vets, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. I’ve come to grips with my reality that I’ll take a daily anti-anxiety pill and medications to sleep in a dreamless state. Let me dispel a myth about PTSD before going on. The only attention I see on the disorder is negative-based and casts veterans in a terrible light. This makes me sad that America focuses on the deeds of the 0.1 percent of the PTSD vets that stereotype the rest of us. What does PTSD mean to me? It means that I made it through a few difficult times that could have easily gone the other way. No more, no less.
My walls are decorated with plaques, medals, awards and promotions that I’ve received over the years. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in my nine years of service. I can say I’m part of the “Band of Brothers,” the 506th Infantry Regiment. I can say I’ve done a lot of things. And the memory of those great times brings a smile to my face while aiding me in sucking it up and driving on.
The best part about being an Army Infantry veteran is the I will always strive to live a life of honor. Before the service, it was just a word that people said while typically referencing The Karate Kid. Honor is very real to me and a majority of vets I know and continue to meet. Jack Nicholson said it best in A Few Good Men, “We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something.” I’ve been dishonorable lately and plan on getting back on track. I know what right looks like but chose to go the other way. Honor demands I right the ship in order to live with myself.
To all the veterans out there. Your aches and pains tell the story of your service. Some are more tragic than others and others sacrificed it all. My hat’s off to all of my brothers and sisters in arms, both past and present, who have signed on the dotted line to do something bigger than themselves. Thank you for your service and our continued freedoms. I love you all. You will never be forgotten. Happy Veteran’s Day 11/11/13.