Me, Jess Rollins, and the world around us

In August, News-Leader reporter Jess Rollins wrote an article titled Me, Nick Ibarra and the shame of a nation. I thought I would reciprocate, hence the title of this post.

Recently, Jess wrote another article, What does a veteran think when taps are played.

As I read it, I started to get the same feelings he talks about in his article: a bit of anxiety, a dash of panic, and a sadness that comes with the meaning of Taps.

Soon after the article, I began a conversation via email with another veteran, one who is now in television media. We talked about the disappointment many had when I went downhill personally, leading to my resignation as the Zone 1 City Councilman in Springfield, Missouri.

Last night, at church, a newly elected county representative spoke to the church Boy Scouts and stated the one thing he regrets in life is not joining the military and that doing so – in general – is an honorable thing. Knowing that, at minimum, there was me and one other veteran with PTSD in the room, I was fascinated by the truth to the statement, but also the caveat two of us in the room live with because we believe in that statement.

These three things, along with the feelings that come with them, prompted this writing.

I remember when I was a kid and loved watching war movies. The heroics, the patriotism, and the idea that one man could become a part of something bigger than himself were all things that made the concept of military service appealing. That, along with the long train of military men and women in my family, led me to join the Marines in 1998.

After I was discharged in 2002, Iraq and Afghanistan started to heat up. Watching reports day after day, I got to the point of “being the football player on the sidelines of the Super Bowl I had trained for years to participate in” syndrome. So I called the recruiter, told him to send me to Iraq, and told him I wanted to go outside “the wire”, or outside the confines and safety of the military base and into a hostile zone.

I got what I asked for.

This writing is not to reminisce, so we’ll suffice to say that after 47 convoys, I saw more than I needed to in order to understand that war is a phenomenal (remarkable and extraordinary) experience.

What is more phenomenal is the fact that the brain does things that are beyond the understanding or awareness of the person it is doing those things to.

I will never forget reading the police report from when I was charged with assault (part of my downhill sprial). In particular, the statement from my stepfather, who is a Vietnam Veteran with PTSD. When interviewed, he stated that I had been “mad” since I came home from Iraq.

I read it, re-read it, and re-read it. He was right. However, I didn’t realize it until that moment.

At the time I read the report I had just started to come to terms with the fact I had been diagnosed with PTSD. I mean, what “others” said was PTSD. I knew what PTSD was… and I wasn’t having flashbacks and thinking I was literally back in Iraq, hiding under tables, waking up choking people; none of that.

All I was dealing with were small things that were “supposedly” what PTSD “is supposed to look like.” As I learned more about PTSD and about myself, I realized that what I thought was PTSD is not the “only” PTSD that exists.

I was always anxious. I was always with a gun because “who knows when the store is going to get robbed or a carjacking is going to happen, and I need to be there to protect those who need help.” I could at all times tell you who appeared to be the biggest threat in a crowd. I would see trash cans curbside for pickup and think about how many explosives a terrorist could fit in to it for the perfect roadside bomb. I got stomach butterflies when watching movies like Black Hawk Down or Hurtlocker. I would get sad at the sound of Taps and cry thinking about the “bombs bursting” when the National Anthem played. I would need to control things… all things… because not controlling them meant I didn’t have control. I could continue with symptoms, but the point is I never took it for me having a problem. Until I was forced to.

As difficult as the circumstances were that brought me to having to deal with it, the stubborn Marine in me probably wouldn’t have been able to do it any other way. Regardless, I did and am dealing with it and wouldn’t trade the journey of recovery for anything – it’s mine and it’s unique.

Going back to Jess’s article on Taps: he hates Veteran’s Day… and loves it, too. I agree.

I hate war movies, and love them to.

I love the concept of young men and women wanting to serve their country, and hate it, too.

I have respect for Jess that he wrote the article, but hate the fact that the concept of what he is really saying is beyond the comprehension of most.

That last part is what I want to conclude with. I hate the concept that as well written as the article was, most people do not truly understand what he means. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m reminded of a quote from a Soldier at the Battle of Khe Sanh (Vietnam): “For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.” That flavor doesn’t go without a bitter after taste.

Thanks, Jess, both for the article and for the continued effort to keep in the spotlight what so many men and women are dealing with.

Thanks, Jess, for reminding me that I’m not the only one who has a love/hate relationship with the world around me.

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