I met Josh Walker online through the Dogs for Vets Twitter account. He graciously agreed to write on our website about his time deployed to Iraq and what is was like coming home and living life after combat. Little did I know that he would write something as touching and stirring as this. Today is Veteran’s Day and we are honored to publish this article written by Josh.
I was a 19D Cavalry Scout (Scouts out!) with the 101st Airborne Division. I deployed to Southwest Baghdad in 2005 and proceeded to perform daily combat missions as a dismount, a driver, a gunner, and more. We were responsible for accomplishing some great things, such as searching for and finding some of the largest buried weapons caches in the region, tracking down and capturing high-level insurgents responsible for IED attacks in the region, improved supply route security while we were there, and general humanitarian missions from time-to-time. We were in firefights, ambushes, and many IED attacks. We were targets.
It was a long year, but it was a defining year. I learned a lot about myself and how far beyond my physical and mental limits I could go. Surprisingly, though, a lot of what I’d learned about myself didn’t come to light till after my redeployment home and the years following.
After returning home to the United States, I couldn’t have been happier. I was engaged to be married, I could eat all the great foods I’d been missing, and I wasn’t getting shot at or blown up anymore. Life was good.
Over time, I started realizing I had retained some of the habits from my military experiences. In a blog post on my site, I speak about a few of the things I deal with from combat. I began noticing that I was experiencing things that weren’t normal and that I could no longer write off or brush under the rug.
At first, I noticed I hit the brakes hard at the sight of anything on the side of the road. I thought it was an IED on a US interstate. I had nightmares and hallucinations. I had to have my back to a wall or corner so I could see the exits and who was in the room. I was always on the lookout for snipers and IED triggermen. I had severe anger issues, and didn’t know how to communicate with the people I loved. I had an intense loneliness and didn’t believe anybody could understand what I was going through. I was affecting myself and those around me, and it wasn’t always in a good way. Life wasn’t so good.
Over the years, I’ve made excuses for the things I do, I’ve glorified some of them, and others I’ve just accepted that I’ll have to live with. Some things I have completely denied being a result of my experiences. All in all, though, I’ve said that I was the way I was and would just have to deal with it. I’d learned to hide stuff, put on a smile, and be a productive member of society in spite of what goes on in my mind. My mind was trying to deal with death, war, violence, survival, and more, all the while trying to function at a low-adrenaline pace in a normal routine. To put it extremely simply, it’s a tough thing to reconcile.
Like Training a Dog
It took me six years, but I’m finally to the point of accepting the fact that I do have PTSD. It wasn’t easy to admit, partially because of the stigma in the military that comes along with it. It is not a weakness or a sign of brokenness. It is a human mind dealing with things it shouldn’t have to. The military trained me to be a lethal and precise killing machine. After it was done with me (or I was done with it, really), the military just expects you to pick up where you left off as a civilian? That is impossible.
We are similar to fighting dogs (which I vehemently oppose), having been trained to do terrible things and coming to know that as a way of life. After we’ve been used for a time to accomplish things, we’re dropped back into society, left to fend for ourselves. Imagine one of those trained dogs and how it would interact after being dropped off on a farm with the innocent farm animals. Just like that, we have a very difficult time knowing how to deal with our issues and interact with normal society.
I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with some of the stuff we did over there. Doing things that in any other scenario you would be put in jail for. And we were trained and sanctioned by the government for these missions.
I have only recently started telling my story as a veteran. Honestly, I’ve only started discovering my story for what it is. It is so relieving and exciting to know that I am not the only person dealing with these things. PTSD is a very real and terrible scar. It is an invisible wound, one that sometimes takes years to show itself.
I hope to encourage other veterans and their families through my posts and words. I’ve found it to be somewhat therapeutic for me to put my thoughts down. When I read them back, I’m able to see patterns and trends. I’m able to take notice of my symptoms and get help with them. I’m writing these thoughts and my story at www.aVeteranStory.com. Speaking of training dogs (but in a healthy, positive, and loving way), I am also hoping to find a service dog that can help me with some of my issues and improve the quality of my life and in turn the life of my wife and those around me. I’ve read some inspiring and relieving stories of veterans that deal with the same things as me and have found a battle buddy in a dog. I truly appreciate sites like DogsforVets.com that are helping raise awareness of PTSD and how service dogs can help in tremendous ways.
This Veteran’s Day I would like to say two things to you:
- War is not black and white. It is gray. It is not easy, and just because you believe you are doing the right thing doesn’t make it any easier. Remember that veterans have had to deal with things that are sometimes unspeakable. And often times we continue to deal with them, even after the battle is over. Love them through these times and help them find help.
- When you thank a veteran, don’t be surprised if they are a little awkward or don’t respond quite how you’d expect them to. We simply don’t know what to say. “Eh, no problem. My pleasure!” or “Anytime, no sweat!” just aren’t things you’ll hear a veteran respond with. We truly appreciate your appreciation and support, but we’ve seen and done things that can’t be put into words. Thanking us for doing those things is great, but for us, formulating a reply is difficult.