Posted in: Chaplains, Combat Trauma/PTSD, Deployment
Life in Afghanistan was pretty boring–that is, for my first 72 hours.
They choppered us about 12 clicks from our FOB and our mission was to walk back through several small towns, seeing what they needed and trying to sniff out intel about insurgents in the area. We had just left town, and were taking a break. Suddenly, RPG’s lit up and screamed in from three directions while half a dozen AK’s started clacking from the ridge opposite us.
I dove behind a boulder and returned fire, just as I saw my sergeant get blown up by one of the RPG’s. Bullets were zinging past and chipping off pieces of rock all around me. My heart was beating so hard it felt like it was going to explode right out of my chest. I heard my buddy Reb groaning about ten yards to my right, so I crawled down a gully to get to him. I wasn’t ready to see what I saw when I got there. Most of the side of his face was gone. Reb died that day. My sergeant died. I killed a man with a long beard and a turban.
I felt real good about that at first, but now it bothers me. And it bothers me that I couldn’t save Reb or my sergeant. I feel real bad about the women I turned into widows over the next five months; the kids I made orphans. But it was war, right? We hit three IED’;s while I was there and were mortared dozens of times. I’m amazed and thankful I didn’t die—but that makes me feel guilty, too. Why did I live while so many of my buddies died?
I’ve been home eight months now. It was great at first, but then things began to change. I’d go ballistic over the smallest things. I began to have trouble falling asleep, and when I did, I’d have these vivid nightmares that jerked me awake and onto the floor, sweating, panting, looking for my weapon. I get drunk to help me fall asleep, but I still wake up in a panic after only an hour or two. I dream about Reb all the time.
Sometimes I think God might be able to help me, but go to church? Forget about it. I feel so exposed there–like a sniper’s drawing a bead on me. I keep hoping He will come find me. Is that possible? Is there some kind of Quick Reaction Force from heaven? I’m watching for it — but nothing yet.
I’ll be going back to Afghanistan in about four months. Sometimes I look forward to it. I miss the action and the sense that I’m doing something incredibly important. I miss my buddies. But at other times I ask myself, “How can I go?” Loud noises send me through the roof. The smells of blood and gunpowder make me shake and want to vomit. I’m exhausted all the time. And I’m supposed to go into combat like this? I don’t see how.
But I still wonder: Could God help me through this?*
The answer is “Yes!”
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(*excerpted from the Spiritual Fitness Handbook)