Forget, Celebrate, or Both? I Choose Both!

With any life changing event, we never forget. Some we would like to forget, and others we can’t wait to celebrate. This time every year I have mixed emotions. Part of me wants to forget it along with the things leading up to the event, and part of me wants to celebrate it.

When I came back from Iraq in 2006 I was at the top of my game professionally. I had been Step Promoted to MSgt 6 months earlier, won just about every award under the sun for 2006, and was awarded a Bronze Star by the Army for my efforts in Iraq. I was also put in charge of the largest division within the Intelligence Directorate and Headquarters Air Mobility Command. Needless to say, it was a mess on the enlisted side. Airman were behind on their training, failing their Career Development Course, and generally fell through the cracks. But, like I said, I was at the top of my game, and all of this was taken care of and squared away in record time. I can’t take full credit though. I had some kick ass NCOs that did most of the work. One of them being Heath Chellberg, who tirelessly got all the Airman’s training under control. I had the respect of everyone in the Directorate, and quickly became the “go-to” guy. Which, in my mind, was my job. My sole purpose in life as a Senior NCO was to take care of the NCOs and Airman, and I loved my job.

During this same time, my personal life was, well…..to put it bluntly, a fucking mess. While I was in Iraq, I found out, from a couple of different sources, my wife at the time (affectionately now known as Satan) was cheating on me. Of course, she will deny it until the day she dies, but remember what my career field was; Operations Intelligence. So my job was to take pieces of information from different sources and put them together. Granted, 75% of it was gut feeling and patterns, but my military training helped. Needless to say, it cost me almost $30,000 to get rid of her. That’s not an exaggeration either, because I paid almost everything off, and she kept it all. It was worth it though to just get it done. The day we left the court house after the judge approved the paperwork, I literally skipped across the street. To top that off, I was struggling internally with something that had happened in Iraq.

6 Jan 2006 is another day I will never forget. I was part of a Military Transition Team assigned to the Directorate of Intelligence, Iraq. Our mission was to train the Iraqis how to do Intelligence. We basically trained their equivalent to our Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). They would get their start in Taji at the Intelligence school and then go back to their areas where we would travel out and build on that training. Anyway, there was a class graduating and we needed to convoy up from Baghdad and pick them up. We had Rhino Buses, which are basically a big ass armored bus. I was put in charge of coordinating the convoy security team (our escorts with all the fire power). So, I called the unit that conducted the convoys for us and was told that they wouldn’t be able to support it. That’s not the answer I wanted to hear, because they had to be picked up. After about 5 phone calls (basically begging) and me explaining the importance of this movement, they agreed to the mission. The convoy commander even mentioned that it would be good training for the new guys. See, 3ID and 4ID were in the process of changing over. Meaning one was just getting into country and the other was going home shortly.

A day before the convoy a couple people from the office asked if there was room for them to go. I said sure, it’s just a “routine” convoy and we should be up an back in no time. However, NOTHING in Iraq is routine. We met that morning with the convoy commander for his briefing. That covers all the procedures, route, what to do if attacked, threats in the area, etc.. Once the briefing was complete, we got all geared up, loaded our weapons, and headed out. Roughly halfway there, there was an explosion. The HUMVEE directly in front of the Rhino Bus we were in was hit. It took an immediate left, went across the highway and ended up in the brush on the southbound side. The driver of our bus, a translator immediately slammed on the brakes. NOT COOL, you DON’T STOP. So now I’m pissed. Not only is the convoy separated, but we are sitting smack dab in the middle of the “Kill Zone”. I’m yelling at the driver at this point, when there is a knock on the door. It’s the convoy commander telling us to stay put and keep our asses in the bus no matter what. Well, now I’m really pissed because I’m stuck in a bus while they are out providing security and waiting for the Quick Reaction Force. So the area gets secured and about 10 minutes after that explosion, we see 4 M1A1 Abrams roll up and two Apache Helicopters arrive on scene. So now the are is REALLY secure. There is nothing like seeing that fire power roll up to assist. On a side note, the Iraqi police showed up too, but they’re about as worthless as tits on a boar.

I’m pacing back and forth in the bus trying to see what is going on, when I see some action behind us. The medic and convoy commander are going to go check on the HUMVEE that was hit. They start running across the highway and just as they were approaching the median, there was another explosion. A second IED was detonated. What I saw can never be unseen. I can see it as clear as day as I type this. The medic caught the full brunt of the explosion. All I could see was dust and “pink mist”. You hear that term allot in old military movies, and now I know EXACTLY what it means. When the dust cleared, the convoy commander was still crawling towards the HUMVEE. The medic was in more pieces than I can count, across the highway. I remember turning around, taking my kevlar off and just sitting down. I couldn’t really comprehend what I had just witnessed. We sat there for probably 3 hours or so, while they attended to the HUMVEE and retrieved what they could of the medic. Obviously, we never made it to Taji. We were escorted back to Baghdad. 2 people died that day. The medic, and the driver of the HUMVEE that was hit. I believe there were 4 others injured pretty bad, but they survived. When the investigation of the site was complete it was learned that there was a camera hidden in a pile of rubble watching the area, and the IEDs were remote detonated. It was an ambush.

The 2 soldiers that died were 3 days….3 FUCKING DAYS, from going home. Remember earlier when I said I basically begged these guys to do this convoy? Yeah, so that’s what I live with everyday. I know it’s not my fault, but there isn’t a person on this Earth that can make me feel any different.

Why, as rough as it was, did I share all of that?!? Well, it’s important to what happened 8 years ago tonight and my mindset at the time. See, after everything I went through in Iraq (multiple mortar attacks and a second convoy attack), I’ve come to grips with death. I don’t want to die, but I’m not afraid of it, if that makes sense. I had the “10 foot tall and bullet proof” mentality I guess.

I was a loose cannon personally and on a path to self destruction. Making choices that weren’t the smartest, especially when it came to women. I got involved in 2 instances in which I shouldn’t have. One involving a 2d Lt in the Directorate, and the other a Senior Airman who was divorced from one on the Airman in the Directorate. — That’s all for another time.

That last paragraph leads into this night 8 years ago. We were at our commanders house for a going away function. I was in charge of the kegs (my commander knew me well). I delivered the kegs, then went home to shower. I returned on my CBR 1000RR. My neighbor down the road was also in the squadron and rode his BMW as well. I did that because I knew I wouldn’t drink as much and would stop at a certain time before leaving. Was perfect logic, until I received a phone call from the 2d Lt. She chewed my ass about something, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but It set me off. That’s when I started hitting the kegs harder and I didn’t quit at said time. It came time that people were starting to leave. The commander asked if I wanted to stay and if I was “ok” to leave. I said, “Yes Ma’am, I’m good to go” as I was walking to my motorcycle and putting my gear on. So one of the airman leave and my neighbor and I follow her out of the subdivision. We get out to the main road, and he passes her. So, I pass her as well. That’s all I remember.

I woke up in the hospital with my commander and Director of Operations on one side and my best friend, Heath on the other. I was paralyzed from the waist down, had a broken neck in two spots, and the doctors wouldn’t let them notify my parents at the time because they didn’t know if I was going to make it. Apparently if the swelling around my neck continued there was nothing they could do, I was a goner…. Now I’ve got a 6” titanium screw holding my head on and I’m a walking talking ray of friggin sunshine. 🙂

All of this set into motion my exit from the military. My commander was relieved of duty and forced to retire. Her boss directed an investigation on me into the 2nd Lt and Senior Airman. Top that with the motorcycle accident and the interim commander wanted nothing to do with me. In fact, the rest of my leadership didn’t either. I went from top of the world, to scum of the Earth in a matter of 4 months. Needless to say after a 16 year stellar career, I was administratively separated. For those wondering how that happened, well, they were smart and started the process 1 day before my 16 year mark, which meant it didn’t have to goto the Secretary of the Air Force for approval.

After reading the above, is it safe to assume that you understand why I would like to forget this life changing event? If you’ve read this far you’re probably wondering how one could possibly celebrate something like this.

Well, the obvious reason is because I’m still alive. But it’s more than that. It has to do with overcoming adversity as well. Granted, I couldn’t have done it on my own. The main reason I am who I am today is because of my wife Angie. I really don’t know where I’d be today without her, and it frightens me to even think about it. But her love and support kept me going during my darkest hours. When I was separated from the military, I had to get rid of pretty much everything because I couldn’t afford it. Angie didn’t care. All she cared about was me. She always knew the person I was deep down and knew that person was still there. I just didn’t know it. When I would second guess myself, she was right there to kick me in the ass. We will celebrate our 5 year anniversary next month. I still wonder what the hell she see’s in me, but I’m not complaining. She puts up with my shit, yet somehow still adores me.

8 years ago, I was at rock bottom. Through hard work, love, and support, I’m at a point where I am doing WAY better than I was before all of this.

So for those of you reading this that are going through a rough time, just remember, it’s not the end. Things will turn around and your life will get better, just keep digging. If those around you are doing more harm than good, get rid of them. Life is to short for negativity and petty shit. Live your life to the fullest because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. If you feel alone, seek professional help. I went to counseling after my accident. I’m telling you right now that had I gone when I came back from Iraq, I probably wouldn’t be typing this right now because it never would have happened. I was to proud to get help. “Oh, I don’t need help.” “I’m fine, I got this.” If you are telling yourself that constantly, you’re lying to yourself. I’m not a religious man, but I do believe in God, and he damn sure works in mysterious ways. I don’t wish what I went through on anyone, but you know what? I wouldn’t change a damn thing because it got me to where I am today.

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