Happy Memorial Day

It is only the dead who have seen the end of war. -Plato

Today is Memorial Day and I want to thank my brothers and sisters who have served along side of me in the military.

I joined the US Army July 3, 2001. Right out of high school, only 17 years old. I was one day away from graduating basic training when 9/11 took place. Immediately I knew I was going to war. While initially scared, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to stop terrorism and make this world a better place.

I completed my basic and job training and went to Airborne school to become a paratrooper. I turned 18 years old while in Airborne school. I was then stationed in Fort Bragg, NC in the 82nd Airborne. The problems with Hussein and Iraq continued to escalate. On February 14, 2003 I was packed in a military airplane and deployed to the Middle East.

My unit staged our attack in Kuwait for nearly a month. We were to parachute into Baghdad International Airport and seize control of the airport and city. We trained for this scenario everyday. While there, sirens would go off several times a day indicating missiles were incoming. When they did, we would all run to concrete tubes and don our chemical masks. We would carry around pills and epinephrine shots in the event we were subject to chemical attacks.

The air strikes of Iraq started in March. Two days before we were to jump into Baghdad, the mission was scraped. Apparently while taking recon shots of the airport, it was discovered that many tanks were there. Heavy armor vs light infantry parachuting in equals disaster. The mission was changed and we were to convoy into Iraq the following day.

We pushed into Iraq and encountered many battles. Everyday we were subject to mortar and gunfire. We would move into a city, fight, and take control. We slept about an hour every few days if we were lucky. We continued to push north and fight our way to Baghdad. The entire country was like a wasteland. Everyone just threw their garbage on the street. The smell was horrible. There were thousands and thousands of gnats that just kept flying in your nose, ears, and mouth. I went over 4 months without any kind of washing because there are no showers, and the water we had was bottled and did not want to waste it. After 4 months I found an old spicket in a town that had running water. It wasn't very clean, but it felt great to wash.

When I got the chance to sleep, my favorite spot was on the hood of the Humvee. This was because the engine kept me warm on cold nights. The daytime temp was hot, almost always over 100 degrees. The gear worn was pants, short sleeve t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, Kevlar helmet, Kevlar jacket with ceramic plates in front and back, weapon (I had a M249 machine gun which weighs around 17 lbs, not including drums of ammo), and jacket with grenades and other equipment. All this had to be worn almost all the time. The salt from the sweat was so much, it virtually starched the uniforms.

When we finally made it to Baghdad around September 03, a large base was established and things got better. We were given cots, hot meals, showers in a trailer, and even a few pieces of workout equipment in a tent. We even got a few porta-potties, which was nice compared to our previous method of going in a community bucket, then burning the waste in masses with gasoline. That was not a fun detail to be assigned to, the smell does not get out of your clothes.

We were, however, still subject to daily mortar attacks. Many times the enemy would use taxis, pretend to be a civilian, and attack because he know we would obey the Geneva Conventions. At one point, my job became obsolete because of the type of war it had become. I was assigned to highway convoy patrol. We were to drive up and down the main highway of Baghdad back and forth for 12 hours straight. The purpose of this was supposed to be to deter militants from placing IED's (Improvised Explosive Device) on the side of the road. There were 2 teams each doing shifts of 12 hours on, 12 hours off. Although, quite often there were times you would have to pull a 4-hour tower guard shift right in the middle of your off-time.

One day after returning from patrol, I was torn between going to the tent to work out or go to the trailer to shower. I decided to go work out, and its a good thing I did because a mortar hit just outside the shower trailer and sent shrapnel throughout. Nobody was in there, it would have been just me, and I would have surely been severely injured if not killed.

A few days later I was back on patrol. It was late at night and I was standing in the turret of the Humvee as the machine gunner. The driver was improperly driving in the right lane and the lieutenant told him to move into the middle lane. Just as he completed changing lanes it happened. An IED placed on the right side of the road in a concrete shack used to sell drinks/cigarettes exploded. A piece of shrapnel slammed into my Kevlar helmet and the blast knocked me unconscious. I woke up to the lieutenant shaking me and asking if I was alive. I checked myself out and realized that I was not bleeding. The truck behind us did not fair as well. The passenger in that vehicle had lost his leg. I wanted to find that coward and I scanned the horizon. We medevaced the fallen soldiers.

The explosion caused a traumatic brain injury. I get migraines daily and have a horrible memory. I cant go to places where I don't know the layout. I sleep a few hours every few days. I take more medication than I can handle. Most of my friends and family have no idea that I suffer from these problems, as I have hid them because I feel guilty my issues are peanuts compared to other soldiers. I have hallucinations and paranoia, but the thing that bothers me the most is I still have no idea who pressed that button.

Soldiers don't forget the lives they had to take, and they don't forget the times their lives were nearly taken from them. I ask not for your gratitude because there are so many more that deserve it more than me. I share my story only to inform and remind Americans that soldiers are vital to our foundation, we care, and they did not die in vain.

While you are having a BBQ or watching the Marlins game this Memorial Day, take a minute to reflect on those who have given their lives, and have made this day such a sacred one.

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