It’s been 12 years since the day it happened. 12 years ago the way I perceived time and life, the way I viewed my enemies, and the day I questioned my own self worth all changed. I don’t recall the time of day, or even the day of the week, but in Iraq none of that really matters unless you have a mission briefing, or a start time for the mission. The mission itself was simple, Early morning sunrise our mission started. Due to my injury I was a dismount during the mission. I was moved from my normal truck to dismount for someone else. We where looking for ways insurgents might be smuggling weapons into Ramadi. Our mission was to travel along the railroad tracks, and mark on GPS possible points small cars could fit through, and bypass our checkpoints. My knee killing me, and still slightly swollen I sat in back of the Humvee looking out the window. We where coming up to the railroad tracks, and the dirt cross over when a sinking gut feeling came over me. I’d never had a feeling like this before, but I felt I had to say something. I told my driver to look out for wires. He responded “Are you afraid of IED’S?” My feeling in my gut wouldn’t go away. The mission continued as normal. We went from point to point logging them, and noting them on the GPS. On our way back we stopped at a house to talk to the owner. Waiting outside and keeping watch I could hear the discussion going on at the front door. He had a single AK, but several magazines. According to law he could have 1 rifle, and 2 magazines. He argued they where for alibaba, or thiefs. Regardless, the man was forced to give up the rest of his mags. It was about that time I was looking over toward the railroad tracks. I didn’t know what I was looking at, at the time. I saw the plume of smoke first, and then the sound wave hit me. The biggest boom I’d ever heard, and the biggest bloom of smoke I’d ever seen. In the midst of the black smoke I could see a tan object 200 feet in the air. I refused to believe I saw what I thought I saw. Then our squad leader yelled IED. That’s when I realized what was had happened.
NOTE THE FOLLOWING IS VERY GRAFIC
We all raced back to the truck, and before the doors where shut we where hauling our butts back up to the tracks. We rounded the corner at what seemed like 60 mph. It came over the radio that Saber 4 was the truck hit. Coming up the hill we could see the truck. It looked to be in two pieces. (Out of respect of the families I’ll be keeping their names private.) I jumped out and went to the back of the truck to grab the Aid bag. Running as fast as I could with my knee still swollen, I came to the first person I could see. I recognized the mangled body instantly. A close friend of mine lay there lifeless, pale, and unresponsive. His wounds where extensive, he had massive lacerations on both legs, cuts on his neck and arms. He had a very low pulse, but before starting compressions I wanted to tie off his legs. If he where to survive I knew he’d loose his legs. I tied the tunicate as tight as I could, but it didn’t seem to matter how tight I pulled. The rope just wasn’t getting the job done. I did the best I could with it, and moved on to compressions. I check again for a pulse but this time I felt nothing. I started compressions. I pushed hard over and over. I counted each thrust, and then felt for a pulse again. I felt a low pulse, and waited for a medic. A medic I thought, our medic was in this truck! Where was he? Again feeling for a pulse and there wasn’t one. I needed to keep his heart going. I started compressions again, this time I wouldn’t stop. I pushed and pushed. I don’t know how long I pushed but eventually one of the other medics came up to me, and knelt down next to me. He reached for a pulse and said there wasn’t one. Based on how soft his chest was, and the lack of blood, Doc called him gone KIA, killed in action. I screamed at him that he wasn’t gone, but doc told me I had to let him go. I screamed no at him again, that I felt a pulse. He said something to me again, but I wasn’t listening, I was doing compressions again. Doc grabbed me from behind and pulled me off and held me in his arms. “He’s gone (My Name) .” He said softly in my ear. He held me while I struggled to get free. “(My Name) he’s gone.” He said again. I relaxed my muscles and he let me know. I leaned back to my friend. I closed his eyes, and covered his face with his fractured vest. I stood up in a fog. I looked around for our medic. Where was he? I was still unsure at what all was happening. I asked my squad leader. He was still missing. Looking around I saw a tan object about 40 meters away in the water. I asked if that was him, and was told it was too far. Leaving my rifle behind by my fallen friend I walked the road looking for my missing medic friend. He had to be in the water. He was driving. He was on that side, but wasn’t on the hill. I slid down the side of the hill, and left my vest aside. I slipped into the freezing cold water. Another buddy got in on the other side of the pond and swam to the same tan colored object I saw. I looked at his face when he got there. It told me everything I needed to know. He was gone, but I just didn’t know how bad, or the images that would haunt my dreams. He swam to me to get our friend out of the water. Lifting him out I saw how bad the injuries where. The explosion severed everything from belly button down. By this time several of the guys met us at the top of the hill to help lift our fallen medic out of the water. The side of the hill was mud, and while lifting my footing slipped, and I fell forward. I landed face first on doc’s stomach. Barely holding it together I pushed myself up and after they got Doc up and on the stretcher, a few of the guys went back to the water to look for more remains. I was helped out of water and up the hill. I grabbed my vest, my rifle, and still in a haze made my way back to my truck. I put my vest back on, and stood there looking around with a fog over my head. The captain who looked at my knee just days before was in critical, the only survivor. Our platoon Sergeant was also killed. We mounted up to escort our friend back to camp to get him off on a helicopter to Baghdad. In the 5 minute drive back radio traffic told us Doc didn’t make it. The first physician assistant to be killed during the war in Iraq. By the time we got back the Charlie med we were greeted with two of our great female medic friends. Getting down from the humvee they asked who. I didn’t realize how I said it till it came out of my mouth, but it was cold, and blunt. I couldn’t feel anything, I was still processing. All the medics much like the scouts where close friends. The girls cried, and us guys where angry. My truck commander crabbed me and swore we’d find um and kill um. I nodded in agreement. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to think.
Since then I have found myself replaying that day over in my head from time to time. The days where my anxiety is higher, or something happens to remind myself of worse times. I was then and occasionally now suffer from what’s known as survivor’s guilt. Along with the events of that dreadful day, I have an abundance of other trauma’s and my own run ins with Hell on Earth. I felt guilty for years that my gut was telling me something was wrong that day. Even though I did say something, it didn’t matter though the outcome was the same. 12 years later I still feel guilty and ashamed. I know in my heart there was nothing more I could have done to save anyone, or prevent the tragedy from happening, but my head lies to me. Now I have gone through my own physical traumas and I am faced with a new problem every day. I do hope and pray that one day I might find myself more at peace, not just from my time in Iraq, but times from before, and after.
It’s not easy loosing loved ones to cheating, or other means. The first thing is to evaluate reasonably the level of guilt that is owed to you. No one is innocent when a relationship ends, but to what level is the culpability of guilt. When we look at the Gospel we see a man Crucified that was innocent of any wrongdoing. He died to free us from eternal damnation. His death left us with hope. It is in that hope that I find comfort. No matter how hard my day, no matter how badly I feel I remember that I am a faithful child of the King. I will one day take up my place in the Kingdom and live in peace and harmony. I will not only see my loved ones who’ve died before me, but all my friends from Iraq, not just the 4 from that day, but everyone we lost. I will also see my friends who’ve died over the years. With as many people as I’ve lost close to me you’d think I was in my 60’s or 70’s. Sadly that’s not the case.
There are several lies the Devil tells to us and it’s our job to fight them.
Lie #1 You were supposed to die.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. If it were your time God would have taken you. If you’ve survived it was for a purpose, a greater meaning. We never know what our worth is, and what our part to play is. We may not always be directly responsible for something great, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a role to play.
LIE #2: YOU OWE A DEBT TO THE DEAD.
You don’t owe the dead anything. You owe it to yourself and those around you to honor the deads memory. You must continue to live so the memory of your friends or those you couldn’t save can live on in our hearts.
LIE #3: YOU COULD HAVE PREVENTED THE DEAD FROM DYING.
Unless you’re God, which you aren’t, you cannot control if someone lives or dies. Firefighters can’t save everyone. Police can’t save everyone. Paramedics can’t save everyone, and it’s not practical to think we have the power to alter the plan. We may not always know why God takes a little child, or the honor roll student and not the drug dealer, but again the big picture we can’t see. We must have faith in God.
LIE #4: YOU ARE LESS WORTHY THAN THE PEOPLE WHO DIED.
This is just utter nonsense. Feeling down about your own self worth, thinking they were a better man, or woman then you, thinking the world would have been a better place without you and have them instead is just nonsense. Even if we could see into the future, we are all special. We’ve all overcome great odds just to be born. The Lord doesn’t make mistakes. When the world is hard, and we feel low and discouraged, that’s when it’s most important to turn to the Lord and ask for help. Seek Godly counsel from close friends who live for the Lord.
LIE #5: YOU ARE DEFINED BY YOUR PAST.
This is the one I struggle with most. In my past I am worried that telling people of my past they judge me on it. That somehow everything I’ve gone through will one day come back to haunt me. My past is what has molded me to be the man I am. I wouldn’t be here Blogging, or helping others, getting involved with ministry, had it not been for the horrible things that happened. Why was I bullied as a child, why did I move around so much, why did I loose so many friends, why have I lost two loves in my life? The answer is never simple, but it was part of the plan. We must not be our own worst critics in defining our future by our past. Make every day a new day and believe in yourself. It’s hard for others to believe in us if we don’t show ourselves the same amount of respect. Don’t let your past define you future. Put your past behind you, and focus on the good you can pull from it. Focus on the stories the testimony you can offer to those struggling through similar times.
After loosing two loves from my life I often feel similar symptoms to a death in the family. Someday my princess will come into my life. Someday I will find a place to build my castle to call Camelot. Someday I’ll find my peace in this world. Someday the battle will be over and God wiling I will be able to make and have my own family. Patience if seems is my biggest fight. I have faith.
Don’t let go, don’t give up because you may have lived to leave behind a great legacy. Don’t stunt your own growth by living in the past. When you live in the past you miss your present, and destroy your future. We only get one shot at this life, and because of it, we need to have fun. Enjoy life, and God will provide for us the fruits of our labor, and replace the suffering with adulation and love.