A great day at the Nascar Coca-Cola 600. Military Appreciation. Many thanks to Mason St. Hilare and the Go Green Racing Team for taking such good care of us and giving us the inside look.
One Warrior Won getting it done, Providing four PTSd Service Dogs to Patriot Charities and deserving veterans. Saving Dogs and Saving Warriors. News Center 6 Vivien Leigh does a great job highlighting our program.
Over the Memorial Day weekend I had the honor of meeting these young men. CJ and Brother Max Band are spending their summer playing music to raise money on behalf of Patriot Charities of Charlotte, NC so they can provide a PTSd Service Dog to a deserving veteran. The wonderful heart these young men show, and appreciation they show for our men and women in uniform is second only to their amazing music talent. One Warrior Won looks forward to providing a great dog on behalf of these great young Americans.
One Warrior Won will become the premier PTSD Service Dog provider in the North. We have the winning combination and proven methods. Vivien Leigh from Ch. 6 News talks up PTSd Service Dogs showing our newest trainees.
The VA “Wait” list scandal is not confined just to new patients trying to be seen. It is rampant throughout every phase of the VA process. Be it for healthcare or benefits. Hear the frustration first hand with American Veterans Crisis Warning graphic language!
My attempt here is to try and describe, best as I can, the events of the day that ripped the innocence from my soul, and has haunted me EVERY day since. Like many warriors suffering with PTSd, I also suffer from physical injuries and ailments from my time in harms way. But those are a side note compared to the psychological injury that has been burned into my survival brain. Below is the day that stole my soul:
On September 20, 1984, a brilliant sunny day at 11:44 AM my life was changed forever. As I sat at a typewriter on the second floor of the American Embassy Annex in East Beirut preparing a duty roster. The crackle of gun fire erupted. Not particularly unusual for Beirut, but this sounded very close. As I rose to walk toward the balcony I heard the revving of an engine, and more intense gunfire. I grabbed my M-16, which was never far from my side, yelled for the people in the office to get down, and ran towards the sliding doors, as one foot touched the cool marble floor of the balcony I heard the screeching of tires, and the crashing of metal, then in an instant my world, and I, were turned upside down. I don’t remember much about the actual explosion, I think the concussion knocked me out as I sailed through the air. I remember coming to, buried beneath what was once the walls and ceiling of the office I had been in. I do not know how long I was unconscious for but when I awoke it was dark as a moonless night, and eerily quiet. I was bent in ways a body should never bend, but it appeared as though my body was intact. I felt no pain, no panic, just purpose; get myself out of here and help. I began to remove the debris I could move, slowly making my way from my dark cave to a light that had begun to shimmer through some cracks in the debris. As I came closer to the light I could smell the acrid smoke, and hear the screams, moans, and cries of the injured and dying. As I emerged from what I thought would be my coffin, what had been a brilliant sunny day was now clouded with smoke, ash, and debris floating through the air.
The walking wounded were everywhere, wandering dazed and confused trying to figure out which way to go. Others trapped beneath rumble, arms and hands outstretched pleading for help; many more lying motionless in pools of blood, various body parts strewn about. I found the center stairwell and headed to the third floor where I knew Mike Wagner and Ken Walsh, two fellow military men, had been. Feeling my way up the darkened stairwell I saw the shadows of bloody hand prints and smears on the wall, feeling the warmness of the wet blood on my own hands, hauntingly left behind by those fleeing the chaotic scene. As I reached the office that Ken and Mike shared I saw them both on the floor. It was obvious by their wounds that they too had been heading to the balcony doors as the blast occurred. Both men laid motionless, Ken back against the wall, a fairly large man, now crumbled, bent, and bleeding on the floor. Mike was closer to the balcony doors, large shards of glass embedded throughout much of his body; the only sign of life was a gurgle that appeared to be coming from the blood bubbling out of his mouth. My calling their names brought no responses, my touches elicited no motion. I knelt between them looking back and forth trying to figure out what to do. My mind whirled with thoughts. I know our training for these awful events dictated that you save the ones that can be saved and leave the ones who cannot. As I looked back and forth at these two bodies lying before me, bodies of once vibrant, jovial friends, I tried to block out the screams and cries of others, wanting to focus on these brothers shattered before me, but the anguished pleas of the injured became louder and louder, I could not wait, I had to decide, are these men beyond help, do I walk away and let them die so I can help others, or do I stay and not let them die alone in this hell. I stood, looked down one last time, praying to any God for some sign of hope I had missed before, but none came. My decision had been made and I turned and walked away. I would never see Ken or Mike again. Both died that day, with me looking on helplessly.
For the next three hours I and others went about pawing through what only minutes before were offices in the Annex, but were now just a shell of a building full of fire, and debris. We dug with our hands and carried people out on demolished doors and crumbled chairs, anything that could be used to carry a wounded body, gently lying them down in the triage area, before going back in to do it all over again. After what seemed like an eternity, but was only a few of hours, we were satisfied all the wounded were out, now came the task of removing the dead. A detail was assigned to carry out that gruesome task as I took a guard position at the entrance to the Annex to prevent unauthorized access to the scene. Even though the Annex had been blown up, people had died, and been horrifically maimed and injured; we Marines still had a job to do. We had to ensure that any and all classified material would not be compromised; we had to ensure some sense of security to the remaining diplomats, the buildings, and the grounds surrounding it. As I stood out in front of the embassy, flack jacket and helmet pulled hastily on, and an M-16 at the ready, I began to feel the heat of the day. I could feel what I thought was sweat running down my back and legs. As I tried to drink water, my mouth and lips began to burn; my vision began to narrow in, and blur. As the world began to spin I went down on a knee and then awoke with people removing my flak jacket as I lay on a hospital bed. My back felt as though a thousand bees had stung it, my body began to ache everywhere, and as they removed my flak jacket I saw the inside of it covered with blood, what I had thought was sweat running down my back, had instead been my blood.
After a few hours at a Lebanese hospital, stitches in my back, legs, feet, and a cast of sorts on my arm, I demanded to return to the embassy where I and my fellows Marines would remain on post for three sleepless days and nights standing guard over rumble and the shell of a building that had once been the Annex. We would continue to pick through the rumble, searching for classified documents that had been blown from their safes, and removing body parts and chunks of decaying flesh, which had begun to rot in the heat of late summer. On the third day reinforcements arrived and we were relieved of our duties. I would be taken to Germany for further treatment of my injuries before returning to Beirut in October of 1984. I would remain in Lebanon until November of 1984 when the United Statesevacuated much of their embassy staff and Marines to the American Embassy in NicoseaCyprus.
I had been in Beirut nine months before the bombing, there were many other incidents that occurred that still haunt me as well, snipers, mortars, the friends by day that turned to the enemy at night, learning to distrust everyone but your fellow Marines. These events do not happen and then simply disappear into the air. They are etched and ingrained into the inner brain. To be triggered and recalled by the slightest provocation to any, or all, of your senses that had been violated by the events.
This is but one of hundreds of thousands of stories that have left so many of us with deep psychological wounds, not a mental illness, but a wound sustained in the hells of war, in the defense of and on behalf of this country. We stood proud and have done heroic things, so why do I not feel like a hero 26 years later? Why do I still feel like I too should have died that day (part of me certainly did)? Why after 26 years do I still hesitate to claim the wounds inflicted upon me that day? Ashamed of them versus being proud of my actions.
I can either keep on suffering or take control of my healing, I choose to reclaim the part of me that died that fateful day 26 years ago. To allow my soul to soar, to fully enjoy the life I so rightfully deserve.
Again thanks for those that made it this far in the reading…..you are why I do what I am doing, in helping you, whether I fellow warrior, or someone just looking to understand, I heal.
It is true that sometimes even those closest to us do not understand, but how can they? Have we tried to let them in? If we, the ones experiencing this hell can not find the words to express it, how can we expect them to understand it. That is why this journey, this path I hope to follow to its end is not just for warriors living with PTSd, though it shall start with us, and then broaden out to include, mothers and fathers, wives and husbands,sisters and brothers of these brave men and women, so that they too may grasp the wounds of war that have been inflicted on their loved ones. This is not about just defining and treating PTSd, this is about creating a movement that starts here and swells across this great country. I am sick of hearing about people wanting to do, so I am doing. I am sick of having a label stuck on me that does not fit, so I am re-writing the label, not just for me, but for any warrior who wishes to stand beside me and fight yet another battle, and in many ways a much more important one.
I am humbled by some of the comments and graciously say thank you for the kind words and support, that is what we will need, your support, your willingness to educate yourself, your openness to help us heal.
This is indeed a mammouth fight, against an established misdiagnosed, and often mistreated injury; againist a society that has all too often forgotten the price they ask us to pay for the very liberties they enjoy, and against ourselves. We have to resist the urge to just “hold the line” or to “retreat” into ourselves. We must once again find the warrior spirit that kept us alive on the battlefield, and allow it to keep us alive on the homefront. And I do not mean merely allowing us to go through the motions of life, but to truly enjoy living. In short we must go on the “offensive”!
Also wanted to say I am not sure it appears on the blog page anywhere, but if anyone wishes to reach out and needs help in a more private way then the blog, or if anyone wants to pitch in and help in any other way you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This is the eve of the event that changed my life forever. My next post will be my attempt to describe the event. My sincere thanks to all who take the time to read and respond to this blog.
In five days I will “celebrate” the 26th anniversary of the Embassy Annex bombing in Beirut. The day my life was literally and figuratively turned upside down. The fun has already begun; the increased anxiety, the vivid recalls, nightmares, edginess, anger, sadness, tightness in the chest, jitters, and the ever present survivor’s guilt.
All this and I still have five days to go. There’s not enough drugs or booze in the world to stop this shit!!! The healing has to come from somewhere else. That is what’s driving me, there has to be a better way, I know there is, and we are trying to put it together. But what really sucks is the shame I feel about all of this. The inability to tell friends and family about the inner torment because they will think I am crazy. I mean after all it’s been 26 years, get over it!!!
I am so tired of the shame this brings, if I had been blinded by the blast, or lost a limp or two there would be no shame cast upon me, no doubt cast upon on my condition. Instead people could “see” what I had given for this country. Yet because my scars are internal, many not yet healed, my sacrifices are somehow questioned. My own neighbor this evening was talking to me, he knows of my situation, my service and my current circumstances. He was kind enough to ask how everything was going, and I told him I was holding my own at the moment. His reply “because from the outside it looks like you are doing fine, and we’re just wondering if you are gold digging”! Gold digging, what the fuck..for what the scraps of money the VA may someday pay me, if and when they ever get around to reviewing my file. It took 2 1/2 years for them to settle my first claim, and it has now been 5 months since I filed again and I do not have an appointment with them for another month and half. Oh yeah I am gold digging because I love living the way I live. I love shaking, nightmares, flashbacks, having a back that barely allows me to lift my three and five year old children, having lapses in memory that have begun to rob me of days spent with my family and so much more shit. Would he ever had said that if I were missing a leg, or arm? No.. I do not want his or anyone elses sympathy, I served, I fought, I bled, I am damn proud of all that I have done on behalf of this country, I do not want your sympathy, I want understanding and respect. I want to be treated fairly and justly. I do not think that is too much to ask. Do not speak out of ignorance, instead ask questions out of curiosity, I will answer them, I want to educate any and all that which to be so; but if you wish to remain ignorant and propel stereo-types forward, do us all a favor, sign up for a tour in a combat zone, spend a moment in the shit, then come back and open your mouth and if your not willing to do that simply shut-up.
Sorry tonight was more of a rant than anything else. I am burning out a bit. Ever once in a while I look at numbers and see how slowly our efforts are moving forward and it frustrates the hell out of me. What we are doing is RIGHT, yet to get it done you have to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops, red tape, and dole out some serious ass cash, and that is even before you can help anyone.
Everyday when I type on this blog I realize on average at least 18 veterans have killed themselves. And I think if 18 were successful, how many tried and failed? How many had a plan and pulled back at the last moment? How many thought about it? And I wonder how many of them will succeed in the next 24 hours.
And I all do is keep typing on this blog, waiting and hoping for paperwork to come through, money to fall from the sky that will finally allow us to get out into the communities where these vets are and show them there is a better way….May God give me strength because sometimes I feel pretty damn weak. (and yes that is a very hard statement for a proud warrior to make, but you know what, it is true for EVERY one of us)!!
So what happened after 23 years of “sucking it up”, more aptly put as suffering in silence, but the other way just sounds more manly and warrior like, that made me seek help. Simply put I wanted the life I always dreamed of, and was tired of self sabotaging every good thing that had ever happened to me, yet always managed to find a way to blame some one or some thing else for it. That and a good swift, well intended, kick in the ass from my wife.
At the time I had a two year old and number two was due any moment. I had been in one spot, holding down the same job(s), and with the same woman for longer then I ever had since leaving the Corps. I was a husband, a father (of almost two), living in a nice home in suburbia, teaching at a private school, and being a cop in my “spare” time. On the outside I was the warrior I had once been, tough, no nonsense kind of guy. My students knew where the line in the sand was and they never dared cross it. I always walked tall and loved the fact that I was a Marine, a combat veteran, a purple heart recipient. At home I was like superman (without the tights and cape, I do have some pride left) I could do it all, King of the Castle on speed. I was always revved up, even though I was easily consuming large quantities of alcohol every night, each night needing a bit more to mellow me out.
There was no where for me to hide anymore. No where for me to just crumble and become a puddle on the floor. I often yearned to be alone, to have no responsibilities, no wife, no child(ren), so I could go live in the world that Thoreau used to so eloquently describe; just me in the woods living on my own terms. So with the picture “perfect” life being ever so present for my facade, it became even more difficult to to admit that on the inside I was slowly dying. The best way I could manage to describe when I finally went to see my doctor was that I felt I was living a lie. That on the outside I was living the American dream, and on the inside I was living a nightmare.
Soon it was inevitable the the two “lives” would collide. I was frantic, I was dealing with hormone driven teenagers at school all day, and then came home to the “why” stage of a two year old. All well preparing for parenthood take two! The crying, the high pitched shrills and shrieks of one child was driving me to the brink, now I was facing number two and was not sure my insides could handle it. To me the crying and high pitch sounds were not the sounds of the child(ren) that I loved, but of the injured and dying that were calling out some 23 years ago. Early on with my first child, she was sleeping in bed with us, I was having a nightmare (more on those later) and managed to fall out of bed. The noise woke my wife and scared my little daughter who began to cry; I was still in my nightmare/flashback mode and the crying was piercing every fiber of my being, I started to yell at my daughter to shut-up (though not really at her per se but at the sound in my head) which prompted my wife to become upset, and there I am the “warrior” standing in my sweat soaked shirt and boxers screaming into the darkness at the two most precious people in my life; it was time to look in the mirror and ask the question, is this who I want to be? With the answer being “NO” I set out on the journey to figure out why I felt crazy. Was I really crazy? Why after so many years could I still be living the nightmares of bombings, bodies, beatings, snipers, artillery? Was I weaker than those I served with? Was I not the warrior I so proudly held myself out to be? Was I not “man” enough to have the life I always dreamed of having? How could I have been man enough to do all the things I had done, to survive, to come home and not be able to handle the “easy” life? These and many more questions plagued the reflection looking back at me that morning. I was tired of being tired. the energy I put into this dual existence of maintaining a beautiful facade, as the interior continued to crumble had exhausted me. It was time to put my energy and effort into defeating this thing within me, before it defeated me.
In short it was time to be the proud warrior I once was, and still professed to be. It was time to be honest. And don’t we know the truth can hurt.
For those that made it to the end of this ramble session, thank you for you time. For those facing circumstances and questions I described above and think I can help, reach out, I will. It is a long journey, but one well worth taking, especially with other warriors walking beside you.
I guess this is what we “bloggers” do we basically type to ourselves..Interesting concept!! When I first started down this path I wanted to make sure my views of the data I was looking at, or that the sources I sought out were not skewed by my political opinion, or of that of anyone elses. As the famous saying goes ‘just the facts Ma’am”. I am dating myself here, but nothing wrong with being finely aged!! I consider myself political astute, active and a self-described news junkie.
With that being said the issue of treating veterans correctly is not a Demorcratic or Republican issue, it is not a right, left, or somewhere inbetweeen issue, it is simply the just thing to do. No one party can claim a right to us as a group, nor should we allow them to. Where I, or any of us, fall on the political spectrum should not have any bearing on this issue. That is why One Warrior Won will remain free of any political influence or endorsements. If you support us, it is because you believe in the work we are and will be doing, and that all veterans deserve to be treated fairly by the citizens they so proudly, honorably, and bravely serve on behalf of.
We are rolling now, slowly, but hey it’s a start and I know as we roll on together we will grow into the force needed to forge a New Way Forward and Change the Face of PTSd forever.
A friend just sent me a message and asked when I was going to post something personal so that others may follow suit? Yeah like I have ever blogged before! This is the first time in my life I have felt passionate enough about anything to lead a charge for change. There is a saying out there “from our wounds, comes our calling”. I hear the calling; the echos of warriors from past conflicts as decades later they yell out from their sleep reliving images burned into their brains. I hear the screams of today’s protectors as they struggle to figure out why they survived being at war, yet the battles still rage within their minds.
I am blogging when I really do not know how. I am writing for grants when I have never done so. I am facebooking, tweetering and linking all in the hopes of changing the lives of those that fought before me, with me, that are fighting today, and for those who will fight long after my generation is gone to keep this country free, safe, and great.
Why do all this? Because I am one of those warriors who ran around for years thinking I was crazy, and anytime I spoke with someone who was suppose to be an “expert” they seemed to merely confirm it without ever really asking me, about me. So for over two decades I buried myself, and isolated myself, in school, in work, in the bottle. I lived a dual life; the one the public saw, my “friends” saw, my family saw, and the one that raged inside me. Until three years ago, when I decided to fight the beast known as “PTSd” as hard as it had been fighting me for over 20 years.
It has been since that time that I have studied the beast, like any good warrior would study his enemy, and I have found that in the 30 years of having and official name, what was once known by many different names, yet never really understood by many, was still not really understood even though it had been given an “official” name of “PTSd”.
I do not know all the answers, I just know that much of what is out there now is not right. I know what I am doing is right, as I do indeed hear the calling. And using whatever means I know, and obviously many I do not know, I will find a way to continue defeating my own enemy within, and help others who have suffered much longer than I, and others so they do not have to suffer as long.
Well that was a bit personal and I hope others feel free to respond with their own stories, help is here, reach out! And if you do not need help, but can help I am reaching out to you!!!
Article by David Hench of the Portland Press Herald.