Heroes, villains and the wussification of America

I’ll be honest: I have come a long way in life in the past three years – spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. I believe I am more mild mannered and cool tempered than I used to be by a long shot. However, there are some things that I still believe are worth fighting and being willing to die for – namely freedom and the idea of America. I do believe that if somebody hits you, you hit them back; I believe you hit them as many times as you need to in order to secure your safety. I believe if your family is in danger you must be willing to fight by any means necessary in order to prevent their harm.

Maybe that’s the Marine in me, maybe it’s the guy who was passive to a fault in high school and figured out the hard way that passivity doesn’t equal safety. Whatever it is, that’s who I am.

That being my disclaimer, I will say what I’m going to write is not for the faint of heart or the weak kneed. If you taught your kids to never hit back, this post isn’t going to sit well. If you believe that “talking things out” with people who only know communication through violence and force will work, you are probably going to be steaming mad if you even make it to the end of this post.

Now that I’ve let you know where I’m coming from, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

War is a nasty thing; no doubt about it. However, throughout time it has existed and, I believe, will always exist until Our Heavenly Father places paradise on earth. With that, there are warriors. Some of those warriors are ones who do their job and are grouped with others who do the same. There are also those warriors that stand out for their exceptional expertise and ability to perform their job. One of those people was Chris Kyle, of whom the blockbuster release “American Sniper” has proved that America still believes in recognizing exceptional individuals.

Those type of men go forth and provide examples of phenomenal abilities; there is a cost, though – their reputations come from decisions made that will forever be under the microscope. Decisions semi-similar to the one President Bush made to place our men and women in the military under harms way. Decisions that are still being made by leaders to send their military in to a fight that will cost some lives and change other lives forever. It’s all a field-day for Monday morning quarterbacks.

However, as a former Marine and Iraq Veteran who was part of 47 convoy missions in Iraq in 2005, I recognize the need for these actions to be taken when the fabric of human dignity and respect is under fire.

That dignity and respect for America was threatened on September 11, 2001. That same dignity and respect for life was threatened by Saddam Hussein when he gassed his own people, when he paid families of “martyrs” (of which I have seen the checks he wrote), and when he refused almost two dozen times to abide by a UN resolution he agreed to 10 years earlier that would allow the world to know he wasn’t fabricating nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

I also recognize the need to show and use force against a people who behead, burn, cage and torture innocent individuals who are defenseless. People who do this, in the name of religion or otherwise, do not understand diplomacy. They are not interested in reconciliation. And they are not “on the run” anywhere except toward the front gates of bases manned by American Marines.

Because they don’t understand anything but force, I am forever relieved that the country of Jordan has entered the stage in the capacity it has.

After one of their soldiers was burned alive and that burning was placed on the web for the world to see, they have chosen to respond with force. Good. At least somebody is.

You see, when there is a bully on the block, that bully will continue to punk everyone he can until somebody stands up to him, is ready to fight back, and is ready to “hit him back as many times as you need to in order to secure your safety.” Will Jordan do this? I don’t know. But what I do know is they have symbolically done more with the little they have than America has with all her might.

Now, given, it hasn’t been all that long since America was something to be feared. When I left Iraq, America was in a good gun fight. When Bush left Washington, DC, we were winning that fight. So while I believe that we are weak kneed, and are viewed as such around the world in 2015, all is not lost.

But the way to gain that back isn’t by praising Michael Moore and Seth Rogan for badmouthing one of America’s modern-day heroes. It isn’t regained by electing passive leaders who can’t seem to mutter the words “Radical Islam.” It isn’t by creating bully legislation and legislation protecting everybody from everything including their own shadows.

It’s done by being willing, as a nation and as individual citizens, to realize that war is sometimes necessary – and when we get in it, we do so with the resolve to accept nothing short of victory. It’s done by teaching our children there are some things worth fighting for. We do it by not letting those who would have us wear elbow pads and helmets to leave our home continue to wussify our nation through media and Hollywood, public schools and universities.

Man up, America, and quit letting pacifists ruin the honor we give our heroes, and villains continue to run amok without response or repercussion.

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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.

A veteran’s thoughts for Veteran’s Day

As we approach the coming holiday in which we celebrate veterans who served our nation, I hope that each of us takes the time to ponder what that actually means.

I am one who served with the Marines for five years; four during peace time and one serving as a vehicle commander running convoys out of Fallujah, Iraq. Those convoys, many of them hostile, changed who I am and how I will forever view life.

I’m no different than the millions of other veterans who have experienced similar situations. Many of these veterans are not in good situations, and I personally count myself blessed to have been through what I have and, as my counselor has put it, still be at the card table refusing to fold. But hey – I’m a Marine; expect any different?

However, there are as many as 22 veteran suicides per day, equaling pretty much one per hour. The men and women who served come home to a situation they are not prepared for, many times leading to broken homes, homelessness, and legal trouble (so often that many communities are implementing Veterans Courts).

In short, the price paid has been massive. In our time off of work (for some), attending parades, or while we see all the signs about Veteran’s Day Sales, I do hope we take the time to recognize the sacrifice those who served have made. Specifically, I do hope that when we see the remaining WWII and Korean Vets, we thank them for their service. As much as that, when we see Vietnam Vets, I hope we can all give them the “welcome home” they never received.

As I end this post, I do want to leave you with a poem I wrote during my final days in Iraq. I hope you enjoy.

The Marine
From the Lexington Green to Fallujah,
Patriots have stood by one another,
In defense of our nation’s liberty,
Fighting with each man as a brother.

Now it is my turn to go,
And to stand for what I believe,
I will do my part to defend my nation,
And won’t quit my post until properly relieved.

The sand makes the sun a little more bright,
And beads of sweat roll down my face,
It is my first time outside of “the wire”,
This feeling I will forever embrace.

Time has passed, missions have gone,
Repetitive motion has taught me to stay calm;
Thoughts often revert to family and friends,
And also to the 91st Psalm.

But I have to remain ready,
For when it happens, it happens fast;
And there is nothing I want less,
Than for any of us to become a memory of the past.

Now time is getting short,
Though my posture remains erect,
And looking back on time,
I begin to reflect.

I have received the command “Lock and Load”,
A total of 94 times,
I wouldn’t choose to do it again for a million dollars,
But wouldn’t trade the memory for that 10 times.

I’ve witnessed the wounded and carried the dead,
Helpless on the stretchers they straddle,
I’ve been close enough to being one myself,
To make my ears ring and my brain rattle.

In time I will look to these days,
A time when I kept my honor clean;
It will always make me stand taller,
Not only because I’m an American, but a United States Marine.

Sgt. N. Ibarra, USMC
Fallujah, Iraq
October 2005

The Light at the End of the Fight

“For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.” -Unkown Soldier at the Battle of Khe Sanh

It has been a few weeks since I’ve had the time to sit down and write; but the reason has been a good one – or so I hope you’ll think.

Several months back I was approached by the Veteran’s Center in Springfield, Missouri. They explained a new certification the Missouri Department of Mental Health recognizes, and this same “title” is one the VA is trying to capitalize on to help veterans of the United States military, and in particular veterans of foreign wars.

A “Peer Specialist” is one who is certified through the Missouri Credentialing Board after training and testing, similar to a counselor, but with one caveat: the Peer Specialist has experienced the same issues psychologically that they are helping others with.

In my case, the issue is Post Traumatic Stress (commonly referred to as PTSD), from experiences I had in Iraq and some elsewhere. I completed the training and am preparing to test for my board certification. I truly look forward to helping other veterans (emphasis will be put on Iraq and Afghanistan Vets) who have come home to find a different “self” and need encouragement dealing with the issues they face.

I am also humbled to know the Veteran’s Center sees me as having made enough progress with myself to be able to help others.

But that isn’t what this post is about. What is it about is the humbled spirit I have after being with two Vietnam Vets and one former Navy SEAL for a week. These guys reminded me of the fact that while I may have my experience, to know what they went through truly makes me feel honored to have served under the same flag and for the same country these fellows did, albeit at different times.

While humbled and honored, I was encouraged. To be around these guys that carried themselves as former service members often do (confident, secure, and not to be messed with), I found that underneath I was with a group of loving, caring, understanding men that truly want to help those that still struggle with “demons” from experiences in war.

The experience made me see hope in mankind that I often miss because of the rough and grueling schedule I have, and I’m sure most of us have. It reminded me of a thought I had several times after coming home from 47 missions in one of the more rough areas of Iraq: “War, it will definitely show you the worst man has to offer; but it also shows the best man has to offer as well.”

I don’t know if there is a specific intent in this post other than to say that the experience I had with the guys I was with while we all trained to become Peer Specialists reminded me of the camaraderie and esprit de corps I often miss – feelings that are only shared by those who experience situations in which life depends on one another.

Moving forward and being in the position I’m about to be in, I sincerely desire to make a difference in the lives of those who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel because of the barriers in their way from the experience they had… it may have taken me six years, felony charges, a lot of money and humiliation to realize it – but the light is there and it is attainable.