The Story of an American Soldier in Iraq

Life as a soldier in Baghdad, Iraq is definitely interesting and full of life changing experiences, like... being shot at and blown up! Yee haw, what fun eh?

Actually, it has its ups and downs, and as a journalist in the US Army (assigned to CJTF-7 Public Affairs) I've had the chance to see many things that others have only heard of through the news themselves - I hope you'll enjoy them too, through my eyes. ; )

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's been almost three years since I returned home from Iraq, but it still regularly affects my life.

I'm now out of the Army, and a student at WSU Pullman; using the money from the Montgomery GI Bill to get an education in Zoology and Wildlife Ecology. I'm in my first term here, and I can tell you the absolute freedom that college students enjoy is a blessing that more adults should add to their lives. I see all the 18-year-olds around me sloughing off school work or griping about how 'tough' life is and I can't help but scoff; they have no idea what life even is yet. Every day that I can go to class, learn new things, say whatever I think, and even just enjoy the warm sun on my face is a blessing.

I was diagnosed (officially) this summer with PTSD, but I've been able to avoid most of the things that trigger problems.
I still haven't watched a true war movie (things like Xmen or Starship Troopers don't count... I mean like Blackhawk Down or Private Ryan). And I avoid news and TV shots about the war; the images give me bad dreams (or just strange ones) too often.
This past 4th of July was the first one I've been able o enjoy. When I expect the blasts, they're okay. There was just something 'wrong' about not being able to enjoy fireworks.
This past month has reminded me the the PTSD is there though. The state decided to make the highway out front of my home into a 4-laner; they have been blasting to break through the rock and have their big machinery going pretty much 24/7. I've been a bit of a wreck; not obviously, like shaking in my boots or anything (not that easy to define). Instead, I toss and turn all night and wake my poor roomie up screaming sometimes in the night; I don't remember it in the morning, but I'm very tired, and have to drag myself out of bed (making me late a lot). If I hear the blasts when I'm awake, I get really jangled; uptight and on edge like a mini-adrenaline rush. They keep catching me unawares, like when I'm walking the dog or carrying groceries; I haven't hit the dirt, but my heart jumps into my throat and takes hours to slide back down where it belongs, and a few days to relax back to normal.

Since returning, my concentration level has gone into the toilet too; I feel like a kid with ADD and I can't remember half the tasks I'm supposed to do. The road work has made it a lot worst, but it has been a problem since I go back. It's really frustrating -- I swear I'm an intelligent person (IQ about 140) but it sure doesn't feel like it lately. I think most people would describe me as 'dunderheaded' and that really bugs me, because I'm really not. I've always been forgetful, but it's nearing ridiculous at times; one night I put on water to boil to make noodles and forgot about it until I heard the pot popping because it was dry. I keep begging forgiveness from those who are stuck 'picking up the pieces' I leave behind. Someone asked me the other day if I was 'this irresponsible while in the Army' and I wanted to bawl (and I'm not a crier...) I pray that I go back to 'normal.' So far this part has been another the doctors just wave off like it's not real; VERY frustrating because it affects my life the most seriously. How can I go on to achieve great things in life if I can't make a frickin' dinner without messing it up?!? :*(
The machinery moved down the street earlier this week, and some of the problems are fading, but a month of it has been tough to handle. They've only just broken through the rock - I can only hope that the paving part throughout the next year isn't as bad. There won't be any blasting (I think that's the worst), but the tank-like machinery will still be there in the night. I know I'll live through it just fine, but it's hard to get good grades when you can't focus on what you're doing.

I've also had skin problems since last September. I thought it was job-related at the time, as I was using some nasty chemicals for kennel cleaning at the local HSUS, but I don't think so anymore. I've been see at the VA in Spokane a few times, and they said they're seeing it more and more in OIF guys. My skin will dry out in patches and crack in all the lines; mostly on my wrists and hands so far. It's painful because it lasts for months - your movement keeps the cracks from healing and it feels like something between badly chapped lips and road rash. At my last job the cracks in the skin let ringworm in and I got a bad ringworm infection that didn't want to die. The fungus is gone, but the cracks keep coming back. I get a lot of scaley, dry patches that don't crack too, just look gross. I hope it will heal with time, but the doctors seem kind of clueless; they've been guessing it's something related to the sandflys over there. I guess if it's the worst I end up with, I'm still doing better than the poor buggers with Desert Storm Syndrome or Agent Orange, so I can't really complain. It's just frustrating when you can't even get a diagnosis (or when they won't even try to).

Like I said earlier, overall I'm just happy to be here and to be whole. I enjoy the little things more, like the sound of the leaves in the wind or when my dog 'snores' because he likes his petting, and just the ability to walk down a street freely. I do feel lonely a lot; the camraderie in the Army just isn't found in the 'real' world, but hopefully I'll find some good veteran's groups to help fill the void there.
Well, I'll sign off for now; I just wanted to give whoever wanders across this board a peek into 'what happened afterward'.

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