Veterans Day

Not all Vets feel the same about their service.

Veterans Day

Not all Vets feel the same about their service.

I served over 20 years and was deployed 3 times including the initial invasion of Iraq.

Here’s a photo of me in the middle/front of the team I served with in Afghanistan in 2012-2013 where I helped advise an Afghan army unit. Within the first few weeks of us being in Afghanistan the other teams we deployed with lost folks due to suicide bombers and we were told that our chances for being killed were at more than a 2x factor for police officers in the worst cities in the US.

I spent 9 months running through an OODA loop for more than 14 hours a day. One technique towards survival was to walk into any space and mentally rehearse having to kill everyone in the room. Nightmares started to become normal and I had trouble sleeping. When I got back I was a much different person than when I left. But because the deployment delayed my career progression I wasn’t incentivized to get treatment for PTSD. It remains largely untreated to this day. I still have nightmares. I have panic attacks. I have an unreasonable sensitivity to loud noises. Crowds are hard. I lose feeling in the right side of my face when stress levels get too high. At more than one point it’s gotten so bad the muscles around my right eye significantly relax to the point where my vision goes blurry because my eyes weren’t focusing. It was weird when optometrists were telling me that may eyes were technically fine, but I couldn’t get my eyes to focus so I could read.

The other photo here is of some very small plants. Afghanistan is an agricultural country. They take a lot of pride in their gardens. Usually their officers would have one of their low level soldiers function as their servants to tend the garden and serve tea and food during meetings. The servants were often abused physically, emotionally, and in more than some instances sexually. They had little incentive for loyalty to the person they were serving.

After we lost the folks on the other teams I learned a pattern for how they and others had been killed. I learned that it was often the servants who could be influenced to become suicide bombers. Once I knew that they also tended the gardens I called home and my parents, wife, and relatives helped mobilize a team of family members and friends who raided every seed stand at their grocery stores and sent me everything they could. I’m sure it’s illegal to ship this stuff across national borders, but I believe that illegal act saved my life and the lives of the team I was a part of.

When we we would visit the Afghan officers I’d take the time to admire and comment on the gardens and I’d be sure to pass on at least one few packet of seeds during the visit. Everyone would win. The servant would be able to make the garden look better, and the officer’s ‘wasta’ (loosely translated it means street credibility in Dari) would increase. Afghanistan has a long history and culture of being kind to those who give you gifts. Even small gifts count. It’s amazing how powerful a seed can be! Regardless of whether I can sleep through the night, regardless of the panic attacks and blurry vision all 12 members of that team came home. That gives us an opportunity to heal throughout our lives. I like to believe the seeds played a big part.

The other day we were at one of my older kids sporting events and the youngest was standing next to me asking why I didn’t care much to put my had over my heart during the national anthem. I told her that I gave at the office. For where I’m at in my healing journey patriotism isn’t part of the equation. Maybe that will change with time.

Hopefully my sharing helps to provide some diversity of perspectives in the veteran’s community. Hopefully people will be patient with those of us who don’t see the flag the same way as others or don’t want to talk about it much. Hopefully we can be a bit kinder when someone is having a bad day. I’ve learned there’s usually a lot more behind someone’s bad days than you might expect and a seed of compassion can go a long way.