Fighting the War at Home

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For six years, I trained to be strong and to follow orders. I was trained to fight and to kill. I was trained to be a robot. That is the Army way. You are not to think, nor to ask questions. If you were to look at a unit going to war, you would see what I once was: Stone-cold fighting machines, programmed to take orders and to survive. Nothing fazed me.

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Photo: Mark Burrell/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When I returned from Iraq, I was edgy and short-tempered. The smallest thing could trigger an outburst. I viewed everything from a life-or-death perspective....

I couldn’t get out of The Zone.

That changed in January 2004, just a few weeks before we returned home. My squad was providing convoy security for a military VIP when an ear-shattering explosion rocked our Humvee and the vehicle behind us. The IED's shock wave threw me against my door, the stench of burning flesh and blood filled the cab. I looked over to my driver and asked, “You OK?” I looked up at my gunner and asked the same question, but I didn’t get a response. I screamed it again. This time, I heard a blood-curdling moan. Blood was everywhere—pouring from his face, splattered down the turret. I remember the terror on his face as clearly as if it were just yesterday. That moment still haunts me.

Once I came home, once my mind wasn’t racing at 100 miles an hour, I had time to think and to detox from the military. And as I processed my memories, I wondered if something was wrong with me. In truth, my family and my wife knew before I did.

Before I deployed, I was very laid-back, an easygoing guy. I joked around a lot. When I returned from Iraq, I was edgy and short-tempered. The smallest thing could trigger an outburst. I viewed everything from a life-or-death perspective. I would get ticked off if my wife and I left five minutes late for an appointment. On a mission, “five minutes late” can get someone killed. You can’t be “five minutes late” to a firefight.

I couldn’t get out of The Zone.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, I was constantly telling soldiers what to do to stay alive. I did the same at home. In the evening, when my wife would tell me what she did or where she went that day, I might bark at her. “What the hell’s wrong with you? You could have gotten hurt.”

I couldn’t focus on any one particular task. I had to juggle several jobs at once to relax. That’s why I thrived in the chaos at my workplace, at a job I hated. I had trouble sticking to a conversation, and I had no patience. I couldn’t sit still for more than five or 10 minutes before I had to walk around the house. I couldn’t sit through a movie with my wife unless it was full of action. I played war-based video games to put me in my comfort zone. They soothed me.