Through a veteran’s eyes

For 98 years, we’ve celebrated our veterans, honored those who served in the U.S. armed forces and fought in our wars. This month, we celebrate with parades, free haircuts, free food and other tokens of our appreciation.  Seems like a fun time, until you remember that some of our soldiers never made it home. Children lost fathers and mothers, and parents lost their precious children. Some who made it back home were not in one complete piece. 

One who wishes to remain anonymous, we’ll call her “Sgt. P,” a mother and U.S. Army veteran, finds it hard to see the appreciation in the party. To her and many other vets, it seems false.

She spent six and a half years in the U.S. Army. 

“I was a gunner on the 50-cal,” she said.

In her convoy, she had the sole responsibility of getting her unit back home.

 “My job was to eliminate the threat. If there was a threat to our convoy my job was to keep my men and women alive at all cost.”

Thankfully, she and her unit did make it back home. They did so with our liberties as U.S. citizens intact, giving us a reason to celebrate our civilian lives. 

The joy for those who have known military life intimately seems different though.  

“Veterans Day and Memorial Day are two of the hardest days of the year for me,” she said, “because it gives me time to reflect on my time in service.  A part of me feels like that time was in vain.” Although she executed her job with much success and everyone in her unit came home, returning home has proven to be a different story mentally.

“When I got back home, I started having nightmares and flashbacks of Iraq. While I was doing the things that I was doing over there it never crossed my mind that I would have to come home and face those things that I did to those people. My job and sole purpose was to keep my men alive and bring them back home.” 

Some civilians celebrate war. Here at home, we see it as a victory because our loved ones return and we can go on with our lives seemingly uninterrupted. We have our freedom. We have our rights. At what cost though? Six and a half years proved to be a high price for “Sgt. P” and her unit. She reflects on how the war followed them home mentally.

“I brought them back home, but some have passed away due to suicide from PTSD,” she said.

 Every day in the U.S. 22 veterans take their lives as a result ofPTSD. It is often hard for them to talk about it or get outside help. 

“We do a battle buddy check, but when you’re in that state of the PTSD, you isolate yourself and you can’t do anything with someone that’s isolating themselves,” she said.  

“Sgt. P” is speaking from experience. She was called to deploy a second time but received a medical discharge for her service. Her own PTSD caused her to contemplate suicide and battle with the mental casualties of war.

“I isolated myself for about four or five years from everybody. It’s hard. You think about suicide. You have flashbacks and you get depressed. Over the last four or five years, I’ve gained almost 200 pounds from just sitting in the house, not being able to go out and interact with people. Overall, it is like self-destruction.”

Civilians celebrate, yet it seems as if they don’t understand what is really being sacrificed. She fights a war at home every day. At night, she has nightmares and flashbacks that hold her captive until morning. Yet people don’t know about that side of our heroes. 

“I have this recurring dream that my daughter is one of the kids over there in Iraq and I have to kill her. The military taught us to kill, kill, kill and when we come back over here we have to turn that switch off. They don’t teach us that.”  

“Sgt. P” realizes that she is home physically, but mentally the adjustments have not been completed.

“There are days I just don’t feel like being bothered, like the average person, but on those days, I am more focused on getting my head space out of that kill mode,” she said.

The cost of war rises as she speaks. Just recently another soldier she knew lost his battle with PTSD in a murder-suicide. One must wonder if there’s any amount of gratitude adequate to convey the nation’s appreciation for all the victories and sacrifices. 

“We don’t understand why civilians are so [profanity deleted] ungrateful!,” she said.

“Sgt. P” admits that country was not her reason for going into the Army. She viewed it as an opportunity to get out of the “‘hood” because she didn’t want to be another statistic. She gave her all for a cause that left her wondering if time serving in Iraq was in vain.

“They told us it was terrorists, terrorists, terrorists, but only 1 percent were actually trying to kill us because they did not want us there! They liked it the way it was, but that’s not how it was portrayed in the media. There were no weapons of mass destruction and it wasn’t about bin Laden. It was always about money.”

Going forward as we observe Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, we should consider the veterans who can’t enjoy the festivities due to PTSD. 

Some are grieving for those lost in battle and others are overwhelmed by the memories of combat. 

“Right now, I am in a battle to understand. Was my time in service in Iraq in vain? At the end of the day I love my battle buddies. My battle buddies are my family. We have faced hell over there in Iraq and we faced hell coming back home.”

She maneuvers through turmoil with prayer and a support system that consists of her daughter, mother and a few close friends. “Sgt. P” takes it day to day. Although it has been hard, she says it has been better in the last few years.

“Sgt. P” is on 100 percent disability with a mental disability. At the end of Veterans Day and all the honorable gestures that accompany it, she may have mixed emotions and celebrate differently than some. No matter the cost, one thing is clear for her.

 “If I was called tomorrow, to go back into the Army and if my battle buddies went back, I would definitely go back and I wouldn’t think twice about it. Even after all that.” 

It is for those like her and those who served with her that we honor veterans each year.