reflections

My Iraq Story 11 years later on Veterans Day 2014 and the launch of The Guerrilla Life

Authors Note: The following post was written on two separate days about 5 months apart. The first part was written more as a journal entry; something I wrote for myself that would never really be read by anyone else. It’s hard to write something very personal and then share it with the world. We have been planning to launch our new site for a few months and I have spent that time trying to find a way to say what I want to say without posting the following content. I was unable to do that. Time and time again I kept coming back to the original writing, and even though it makes me uncomfortable to share, I realized there was no other option. 

 

For years I have wanted to tell a story. Not a long one, but one that is important to me. I have found writing to be therapeutic over the years but I never could convince myself into writing about Iraq, though I wanted to. I have become more reflective over the years. Maybe it was turning 30, having kids or realizing that it was over a decade ago that I fought my war in Iraq. 10 years gives one a lot of time to sift through all the bullshit and process the whole experience.

All of us in Iraq were fighting the same external war, but every soldier ultimately has to fight their own internal war when it’s all said and done.

This is an attempt to tell mine.

The internal war is usually some variant of PTSD, which I have. I always believed others would see that as weak. As the years pass I tend to care less about the opinions of others. Early on it manifested itself as paranoia, nightmares, sleepless nights and an impending sense of doom. As those symptoms dissipated over the years I began to feel as though I’d beaten it.

In what started as a casual conversation with my wife about this I realized that it had taken a new form. Over the years the same feelings of impending death and paranoia are now directed toward my family, not me. I have nightmares during the day and night that my wife or one of my kids has been killed. It is always gruesome and detailed and for those brief moments I am emotionally in the place of losing them.

It always seems out of my control and I can’t do anything to save them. My heart rate spikes, tears well up in my eyes and for a split second they are dead in my mind. I snap out of it tell myself those thoughts are ridiculous and do my best to shake it off and go about my day. This happens a few times every week.

Unlike most my memories of war aren’t intertwined with the memories of my fellow soldiers. I have only spoke to a few of them since Iraq. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t want to revisit those days and talking with them would do that.

I lost a great friend name Michael Karr on March 30th, 2004. He was killed by an IED. The type of IED where the only way they can identify who was in the vehicle was by finding pieces of name tags and boots. I wasn’t there. We were both medics and he was assigned to Bravo company in Habbaniyah and I was assigned to Charlie company in Ramadi. There were 4 other guys in the M113 with him who died as well.

We went to their funeral service the next day in Habbaniya. All I remember was the violence that we are capable of and his mom. When we walked out of the building my Platoon Sergeant was waiting and told me suck it up because we have work to do. And that was that.

A few days later a large group of Marines were ambushed and we were the QRF (quick reaction force) so we went to help. There were 5 Marines scattered about in an almost cul-de-sac at the end of a small village. One appeared to still be breathing. I jumped out of the track losing my shotgun and pistol in the process to help. I couldn’t, they all died.

Their images are very clear to me. One took several 7.62 rounds to the side of his face and when I arrived at his side. I remember not being able to comprehend where his face was. As he breathed his last few breaths I got shot at and the rounds were just above my head off the brick wall next to me. I dove for cover as the gunners from my Platoon took care of the shooter, more gunfire ensued as I along with one other guy loaded up all 5 bodies into the back of a Humvee for transport. I was covered in their blood from head to toe and we were stacking their bodies like firewood. I remember the feel of their blood running down my chest as there was so much of it. It sounded like taking a full gallon of milk dumping out all at once. The fighting continued for several more hours but I can’t say I remember much of it.

I was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor in combat that day. I was 19 and really had no idea what that even was or meant. My Platoon Sergeant, who I looked up to at that point because I was a dumb kid, told me I shouldn’t have been awarded anything.

I was told that I didn’t deserve it, I believed it. His words have never left me and I have always felt awkward about it.

Shortly thereafter, we were in another firefight and since the vehicle I was in was always the ambulance we were called to transport a local Iraqi man who had taken a .50 cal round to the hip. I was the only one in the back of the M113 and my LT was the gunner. We loaded him in the back of the track where he could lay out on his back completely. For several minutes from that point to the CCP (Casualty Collection Point) it was just him and me, staring at each other. He looked like a wounded animal and his stare was asking me for help.

I did nothing.

I was angry, we didn’t know if he was Al-Qaeda or just some farmer who got caught in the crossfire. He was bleeding and his pelvis was basically mush. We dropped him off at the CCP (Casualty Collection Point) and I never saw him again. I still wonder if he lived or died, if he was the enemy or not, if I could have helped him or not.

I guess I write about these 3 stories because they are the most significant to me. Though there are more. In every instance I felt like I processed it alone and that bringing up your moral misgivings or problems with what was happening would just make you seem disloyal. So I processed it the best way a 19 year old could.

So here I am 11 years later. Married, 2 kids a business, a mortgage and a my aging recollection of 12 months in Iraq. It’s hard to watch the news these days as the very cities my friends fought and died in are now being taken over by apparently more radical Jihadists with relative ease.

It all feels for naught.

Time provides peace and understanding. My views have changed on just about everything due to that experience and the more time that passes the more at peace with things I become. I guess the main point is that the internal war will never end and its effect on our lives can be far more reaching than we think.

(Written Veteran’s Day, 2014)

I am compelled to share this story to give a clear picture of what Veteran’s Day represents to many us Veterans. It is, at times, difficult to go through the day and realize that the day has been distilled to “Thank you for your service” messages via Facebook and text, while waiting on your next free meal at your local Chilis. Though I can’t complain, I appreciate the messages and I am drinking my free cup of joe from Starbucks as I type this.

The Guerrilla Life Project has been a long time coming. It’s my opportunity to tell a story I’ve wanted to tell for years. Not only what I wrote above but what comes to mind to me moving forward…..

reflections

In the Dining Facility at Fort Benning, GA there hangs a painting (or at least it did in 2002). It’s called “Reflections” and was painted by a man named Lee Teeter.

The painting depicts a Vietnam War Veteran visiting panels 29 and 30 of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. In the reflections on the wall are men from his unit who were killed during Vietnam. The first time I saw it I was during Basic Training on Sand Hill in Fort Benning. It didn’t speak to me much then but when I saw it several years later it choked me up. I couldn’t stop staring at it and it now hangs above my desk in my office.

It made me realize that I am the lucky one. There are friends of mine and many other brothers and sisters whom I never met that died at a young age and will one day be memorialized on some slab of rock or stone in our Nation’s Capital. I’ll visit it one day and in my mind I will need to show these men and women that I did something relevant.

I need to show them that I helped others when I could and tried to do as much good as possible. That I never walked away from someone being mistreated and did my best to stand up for what is right. That I lived my life with the kind of enthusiasm and spirit found only in someone who feels that they have been given a gift, a second chance. Everything else is just a bonus. I got to come home, travel, get married, have a couple of kids, start a business and bring this project to life.

Our Mission Statement is as follows:

The Guerrilla life is a lifestyle dedicated to the pursuit of a healthy mind and body, accomplishing the extraordinary and living an inspired life.

We fervently believe that your life can be whatever you choose

Our mission is to connect you with the people, information and ideas to help you along the way.

 

We live in a land of opportunity and freedom because hardened men and women fought and died to make it so.

It is our job to not let them down.

12 thoughts on “My Iraq Story 11 years later on Veterans Day 2014 and the launch of The Guerrilla Life”

  1. Well I know you touched on what I’m about to say, but Thank you for playing a pivotal role in our countries fight for Freedom. I also want to Thank you for being an Amazing husband to my cousin and father to Jada and Jude. From the day I met you I felt an amazingly wonderful Ora from you. I know we as family have our difference and for what ever reason mine isn’t as close as myself and Auntie Teri would like us to be. I pray and believe that Jovanni and I will reconnect and continue to share the love and experience love that Auntie instilled in us. I can’t express enough how proud I am of you and Jovanni, even though I know so little of you. Thank you again and I look forward to building a better healthier relationship with you all. I Love you all.

    Namaste

  2. Wow, Justin! What an amazing series of events and emotional trials. I would never have know you have experienced any of this had you not written this. Jude and Jada have a real-life super hero in you!

  3. Justin, thank you for what u have written. I think it helps us all to hear what our soldiers have seen, felt, and how it truly impacts their lives. Thank you for your service, but those words don’t convoy the force of emotions that are behind that statement! I’m proud to know you and many blessing to u and ur sweet little family.
    Fondly, Lynn

  4. Justin,
    Thank you for a sharing this. In the way it helps move you along it also helps so many of us that have no clue what our veterans go thru on a daily basis. You rock!

    Greg

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