As an Army Ranger I was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. While on deployment my squad was part of a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) Team. We were constantly being tasked out on missions. We didn’t have much down time, and we always had the looming threat hanging over our heads of hitting an IED while out on patrol or being mortar attacked.
In the heat of combat while you are taking enemy fire you don’t have much time to get emotional about the situation you just react. It’s at this point when your training kicks in to high gear. All of the repetitive drills you hated doing, all of the daily trips to rifle ranges, all of the practice clearing buildings with your squad is finally put to use. Muscle memory takes over and it’s go time.
Between missions I was usually too tired to think about anything other than hitting my rack to get some sleep. It wasn’t until I returned back home to the United States that I started noticing little differences in myself. I started having nightmares and I couldn’t sleep well at night. I became very irritable with other people. Little stuff that shouldn’t bother me started pissing me off. I remember losing my temper, on several occasions, to the point where I was ready to fight over something stupid.
I was always in alert mode. I had to be ready for the enemy to attack at any time. I could go anywhere like let’s say a store or restaurant and I would be watching everybody making sure they were not a threat. I would asses every room. What was my avenue of escape? Who looked suspicious in there? What was that guy over in the corner doing with his hands in his pockets? In combat it is vital to survival to be hypervigilant. The only problem was I wasn’t in the Middle East anymore I was back in the states.
I would see things, hear things, sometimes even smell things and it would take me right back mentally to a specific moment in combat. These triggers made it really hard for me to function at times. I started drinking more heavily to cope with these issues. I ended up arrested, then homeless, and lost everything I had. I eventually got some counseling and started to talk about all the things I was experiencing.
I wish is I could say it has been an easy road to recovery, but it hasn’t. I still struggle with PTSD on a daily basis, but it’s getting easier. I am not where I want to be mentally, but thank God I am not where I used to be either.