mtvU Vets – HalfofUs


Age: 26

College: Hawaii Pacific University

Class: concurrent enrollment (CLEP and transfer credit); equivalent to sophomore year

Major: Psychology

How long were you a soldier? Are you still active?

6 years, 3 months on active duty. no longer in service

Where were you stationed for and how long (each place)?

Ft. Bragg, NC – 1 year, 10 months (paratrooper, 82nd Airborne Div.)

Schofield Barracks, HI – 2 years, 8 months (25th Infantry Div.)

Iraq – 14 months (served in Tuz Kharmatu, Kirkuk, Mosul, Samarrah, Tal Afar [twice], Najaf [twice], Hawijah, Syrian Border)

How would you describe your experience there?

Beyond the negative and positive aspects of any combat experience, I think I have learned a great deal about myself and others, especially in high-stress environments (you can probably tell why I enjoy Psychology). I could very easily say it was horrible and that I can’t wait to forget it, but if I were to dismiss it so quickly, I would also be dismissing everything that shaped who I am today. There are definitely things I wish myself and others were not exposed to, but it is said and done and I can’t take it back. All I can hope is that I can use my experience to better myself or others. Hopefully, in doing so, I can transform an incredibly traumatic experience into something useful and even regenerative.

Did your tour abroad change your life in any way? If so how?

Since having deployed, I have a much greater appreciation for geo-political issues. I have traveled to the West Bank and learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other global-scope causes. Anyone who has been to combat is basically forced into international affairs in the most personal way imaginable, and I think it changed me in that I didn’t want that experience to go to waste. I lived with our platoon interpreter for awhile, I tried to learn about Arab culture, and generally appreciate my experience as much as humanly possible. There are, of course, many things that I wish I was not left with (intrusive thoughts, vivid nightmares, flashbacks, etc.), but I try to take those one step at a time and not allow them to dictate the direction my life takes.

How was your mental health affected by serving abroad?

As mentioned above, I came back forever changed. There is no way I can share myself totally with someone, no way to really communicate what I and so many others experienced. I had a girlfriend leave me after a year when the difficulties I faced transitioning proved a bit too much. I was alone after that for awhile, and i think that actually helped. I really dug dip into myself and wrestled with more than a few demons. There are few outlets in language that begin to hint at the emotion that is wrapped up in Iraq, and vets especially are inclined to struggle with venting that. Many succumb to addictions and depression because a bit of what came in isn’t being let out, healthy expressions that help are hard to learn and measures certainly are not in place at the VA to really be able to really provide relief. For me, my PTSD symptoms have been exacerbated after being married, trying to communicate to my wife everything that I experienced and wrestling with negative thoughts and tendencies. She did not know me until well after I came home, so she has only known me this way, and it is almost doubly hard to express to her how I have matured (or in some cases not) and grown since my deployment.

Have you tried to improve your mental health in any way?

Yeah, I have been seeing a shrink both privately and with the VA. They have actually been really impressed with how I have coped and how far I have come, considering what I had gone through. Sometimes, just talking about it seems to trigger more symptoms, like thinking about it is admitting it’s still there. It’s a catch 22; if I think about it, I validate it, but if I don’t, it gets bottled up. I listen to a lot of music now, I skate and swim for a physical outlet, and I write about my thoughts. I have been getting reaquainted with my childhood Christianity, so that has also been very uplifting.

When will you start school again?

Fall 2008 , if I can afford it. The money promised at a recruiters office rarely is as guaranteed as it sounds, nor does it cover the full costs of school (it barely covers tuition, IF you’re at a public university).

How do you feel about your return to typical college life:

A bit hesitant and uncertain. I took a seven year break, so part of my questions if I can get it together enough to take tests, study and do homework at all! It will definitely be a shell shock, but I have a supportive wife and more than enough passion to learn, so I am hopeful that I can adapt to that environment again with little difficulty. Being around a lot of people on a busy campus will be a change as well (claustrophobia is a new thing for me since coming back as well, I tried clubs but I freaked out. I never went back, bars are a little more open and favorable to me).

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