Lost in the Fog of War

(Page 5 of 6)

When we arrive in Germany, my gunner turns and asks me how we got there. For the life of me, I don't know. I remember scenes and faces, but they're like shimmers on a pond.

The next two weeks are a flurry of tests, scans and exams until a doctor finally sits me down and explains what's wrong.

Shadow of a helicopter flying over the Iraqi desert.
Photo: Adam Hennig/Flickr/cc-by-nc-sa 2.0

When we arrive in Germany, my gunner turns and asks me how we got there. For the life of me, I don't know. I remember scenes and faces, but they're like shimmers on a pond.

I feel like my world ends.

Brain damage. I don't believe it. There's no way! I've studied psychology, I'm going to finish my degree, and I'm intelligent! This is not real!

My mind is in a whirlwind. Each thought is a struggle to make sense of this insanity.

The doctor says that my gunner will be on a plane in a day or two to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. His TBI isn't as severe. Mine is different.

She explains my brain injury is worse due to the way blast waves travel and bounce, by being tossed around in the rear of the truck, and being hit in the head by gear. My previous injuries increased my vulnerability, she says. Each blast you survive makes the next one more dangerous.

It's not long before I'm on my own flight to Washington.

That was four years ago. Since then, it's been a rough homecoming.

Walter Reed was closer to hell for me than IED hunting in the Triangle of Death ever was. Every week was the same as the last one. A lot of tests and vain attempts to convince me I was hurt. I could still walk, so in my mind I could still fight. Till the day I left I never gave up trying to rejoin my unit.

Meanwhile, I watched friends and brothers from my division, the 10th Mountain, come into the hospital shot up full of holes. These were guys I knew from Fort Drum or when I was in country.

It's hard enough seeing your friends in Iraq get shot, burned alive and blown up. It's another thing to not be there to help them. To instead watch them come in wounded and not being able to do jack shit about it. It tore me up inside.

Outside the gates of Walter Reed was another world. At times, it was almost unexplainable.

One day you would walk out of the front gates and be cheered as a hero and almost feel good about being you. The next day there'd be people there who would scream "Baby killer!" at you.

The first time I encountered that, I was pushing a brother in a wheelchair to a roti shop off hospital grounds. When they saw us coming, the protesters started up. I could see uniformed soldiers in the crowd booing us.

When we came out of the gate, I was spat on.

It seemed surreal. How could this still happen to our nation's wounded?