The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

ON BEING HOME |

April 13, 2007

ON BEING HOME
Name: SGT Derek McGee
Posting date: 4/13/07
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Rhinebeck, NY
Email: info@crumpledpress.org

Framed_derek_mcgee_portrait_3I am home now; it’s nice I guess. Things are different. So am I. It is hard to get excited about things, anything really. Food is all right, I get sort of excited about that, and women  -- well one anyway. Maybe I’m more mature now; maybe I’m just bored, I don’t know.

I gave up hunting. I regret this because I love venison. I never was very good at hunting and now I just don’t want to do it anymore. I never actually killed a deer, but I scared the hell out of a few. What is the point? They don’t even shoot back. Part of me wants to never touch a gun again, and part of me wants to wrap my hands tightly on my old sixteen, get the scope dead-on, lovingly reapply the camouflage tape, strap two magazines together, throw a round in the chamber, use the meaty-tip of my thumb to flirt with the safety, and go home to Fallujah.

It’s not that loud noises terrify me. It’s just that I don’t respond appropriately to them. My heart goes off like a Led Zeppelin drum solo, my diaphragm sprints, pulling-in far more oxygen than I need, and I want to fight back. But there is no one to fight, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do. I’m supposed to just go on normally, but my body doesn’t know that and though I tell it, sometimes it takes a while for it to listen. There was a time, when a noise that didn’t belong was heard, people looked at me for some leadership, they wanted me to tell them where to go, and what to do; now they just look and think: who is the weirdo hyperventilating at the bar because a waitress dropped a tray. This woman I see at the Vet Center said that the body can reabsorb adrenaline in five to ten minutes. She said to control my breathing and concentrate on something else and remind myself that I really am normal. It works. She is a very smart lady.

I don’t sleep that much at all. Unless of course I’m drunk. It gets tedious though, to start drinking nightcaps at seven so that sleep will come at two. It’s actually worse than just tedious; it’s harmful. You think that drinking will make things better, but it doesn’t. It lets the bad thoughts in. It lets the irrational thoughts in. I spent twenty minutes at a bar the other night, pretending to play a golf video game even though I didn’t have any quarters and I hate video games and I don’t play golf. I watched this little jerky computer-generated guy in funny clothes drive a few white pixels towards a flag. He never got the ball there but I wasn’t thinking about him; I was thinking that if I had taken the vehicles and checked up on the foot patrol instead of deciding to give my worn-out men a break -- I wanted them to get a chance to take their gear off for a minute, the patrol was almost back anyway -- if I had checked their route for them, maybe, just maybe...who knows. So, this stupid fucker in plaid pants sucks at golf and now Mike and John are gone and when I said goodbye they couldn’t hear me because there were holes in their heads that maybe wouldn’t be there if I had decided to check up on the damn patrol. Drinking doesn’t help.

The smart woman at the Vet Center explained it to me. She is very smart. You see, for seven months I ran around everyday wearing eighty pounds of armor plates, ammunition, grenades, water, maps, little cards telling me how to say, “Where are the weapons hidden?”, bandages and tourniquets and this powder that burns the skin to stop the bleeding, radios, and little cards that say, “Sorry we destroyed your house -- go here and we’ll give you money.” It was hot and we carried all this stuff and when we took it off we lifted weights and ran and did all these things. Now I am home. I just had an operation and I sit around and do nothing except take Vicodin, which kills pain that I don’t really feel anyway. I don’t follow the directions; no, I save it up for special occasions. What the hell are special occasions?

Well, she tells me (the smart lady), my body is just not used to inactivity. She says that if I exercise, my body will feel normal again, and I won’t wake up five to six times a night. I suppose she is right. I want to tell her that I don’t mind waking up every forty-five minutes or so, it is a nice break from the dreams, but I’m afraid she’ll think I’m crazy. She is a shrink and has to deal with crazy people all day, so I don’t want to burden her any further. Tomorrow I will start running, or maybe the day after. I should stop smoking and drinking tomorrow, or the day after, as well. I tell her this. She smiles and nods and hands me a card where she has written the time I’m supposed to see her next week. This is good. I’ll come back next week and tell her that I should stop smoking and drinking tomorrow -- or the next day.

I wake up early and feel compelled to get stuff done, like all good motivated people. I can’t get back to sleep, there is too much to do. I’m ready to hit the ground running and get everything accomplished. I’m so overcome with energy, even though I only got three hours of sleep, that it is hard not to flop around and wake up the beautiful girl next to me. I have so much I want to do, I can’t go back to sleep now. I should be studying maps and intelligence reports. There has to be a pattern to these ambushes. What if we put a sniper team in over Route Fran? They might see something. Fuck it, let me bring my team in there overnight, we’ll shoot something. Are we carrying enough ammo? Are the vehicles ready? What can I do to keep the next patrol from taking casualties? I don’t actually think about any of those things. What I think is that I should be doing something important now, but I’m not. Eventually the beautiful girl next to me will wake up, look over and see me staring at the ceiling, and most likely think: I wish he would get motivated enough to clean his room and do his laundry.

I miss all the guys. If they were all around me, piled into bunk beds, I would be laughing right now. We always laughed no matter how lousy things were. You didn’t think about the bad stuff -- well you thought about it just enough to make jokes about it. One day -- there were many, actually -- I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to make it. Not just me, we all thought like that when things got bad. It wasn’t paranoia; three marines had burned into nothing and one was found walking around alive, but still on fire, two days earlier and we were going to the same spot to show the world we weren’t scared. Don’t tell anyone, but we were. “Elwell,” I said to my driver, “I have no clean laundry.”

“Me neither; where are we going with this?”

“Well, I don’t want my parents to get a box of dirty underwear and socks.”

“Alright, I see where you’re going. You’re saying that today isn’t a good time for us to die.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t want to be a pain in the ass. But if it’s all the same to you, why don’t we just die some other day.”

“Fine,” he said, “I guess I’ll just stay away from the roadside bombs today. But Sergeant,” he continued, paternally, “you really should stay on top of your laundry; you’re a Sergeant for Christ’s sake.”

Somewhere around then my girlfriend left me, or I pushed her away -- I don’t blame her, love happens sometimes, that’s all. I found out that she was gone from an email she forwarded to me, which had come to her from her new boyfriend. She sent me this joke -- I don’t even remember what it was -- because she wanted to make me laugh. She didn’t realize that the email also contained a week’s worth of replies to replies between them. They seemed good for each other. It hit me in the face like a two-by-four.

Everyone said that they were disgusted because it was the worst time for someone to have to deal with a break-up. They were so wrong. It was the most thoughtful thing she ever did for me. When else can you say, “Well, my girlfriend is banging some other dude? Who cares? At least I’m not on fire. When does the next patrol leave?” If she had waited until I got home, when I would have had time to think and dwell on things; well that would have been bad timing.

The next day, when we were leaving the wire, I told everyone in my vehicle, “Don’t worry, boys. Nothing can happen to us. I’m invincible right now.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Well, think about it. There is no way God would let my ex-girlfriend and her lousy new boyfriend get my life insurance money.”

“It’s still in her name, you moron? Why don’t you change it?”

“Because,” I said, shocked at their ignorance, “Then I wouldn’t be invincible.”

It was always like that, always jokes. But they’re off living their lives somewhere else now, and it just isn’t as funny anymore. I see some of them from time to time. I talk to them as well.

I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior from my friends, since being home. I watched them beat the bejesus out of a guy at a bar for not really doing anything at all -- except maybe not backing down convincingly enough. Since then I’ve heard that two broke their hands on faces and one had his jaw broken for him; those are just the ones I know about. When we talk on the phone they tell me, in a light sort of way, about the bender they’re on and about the many wild fights that just seem to find them. Me too. We pretend it’s funny. Once I blurted into the phone, “Loud noises make me act, well, you know, a little odd.”

“You’re fine,” my friend said, “Just thinking about loud noises makes me act odd. I almost passed out in Best Buy the other day because of anxiety. You should talk to someone at the Vet Center. They’re giving me these anti-anxiety pills.”

“I don’t want pills,” I said.

“But you want to talk. Go see them. They’re smart.”

After September 11th I became addicted to CNN. I kept it on 24/7, even when I was sleeping. That lasted for years. I don’t watch the news anymore. Every time I see a clip of those in Iraq, I feel a guilt that makes me squirm. Why am I here on a couch with a beer and this girl, who I really like and everything is so great for me, and they are doing my job for me? I don’t belong here. I should be there. I don’t watch the news anymore.

I have been punched on two different occasions since being home. Both times I froze and didn’t do anything about it. I was afraid. It’s not that I didn’t know what to do. I do. I can. It wasn’t that I was afraid of whomever it was that was punching me. I was afraid that if I started punching back I wouldn’t stop. The last time I punched back, I stood in the turret of a humvee and sent four hundred rounds of 7.62mm, belt-fed ammunition into a residential neighborhood, into houses, peoples’ houses, and there was a mosque there, too. I didn’t ever want to stop. Part-way through I stopped shooting for a moment, ducked into the vehicle, opened the rear left door and kicked a cooler and everything else out. Then I sat on the roof of the humvee, lifted my legs up to my chest, eased my finger back onto the trigger, and the soothing “bup-bup-bup-bup-bup-bup-bup-bup” began again. Below me, where my feet had been so firmly planted seconds before, they shoved the body of Captain John McKenna. I didn’t know at the time that it was my platoon commander. I didn’t know anything that wasn’t in my gun sights. We sped off to the nearest base and I threw bandages down to the guys in the vehicle, pulled the radio receiver up from below -- everyone else was too busy to talk on the radio -- and it was then that I heard, from Gallagher, who was holding John’s head, “Hang in there, Sir.”

I prayed for the first time in a decade. I thought I had forgotten how. It comes right back. I suppose it is comforting to know that the next time I need to pray it will come back again. I tried to think of something profound to say. Something that would penetrate the unconsciousness and revive the man below me.

“Don’t give up, you tough Irish fuck.”

That is what I said. It was ridiculous and crass, but if anything would have worked, that might have been it. It didn’t matter. He was dead even before his knees had given out and left him pouring his life onto the filthy streets of Fallujah. We didn’t know that. He was gurgling and twitching and we wanted him to live so I said it again.

“Don’t give up, you tough Irish fuck.”

I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

So, I forget what my point was, but I think it has something to do with this; if you get a deer this year, I would love some of the meat.


Note: This post appears in Derek McGee's beautifully-produced small press book WHEN I WISHED I WAS HERE: Dispatches from Fallujah, which can be ordered directly from The Crumpled Press.

Comments

Should you read this...

"Don't give up, you tough Irish fuck".

Hang in there

Thank you

About the part where you wonder why there are guys in Iraq doing your job and you're home? You did your job. Thank you. Take a well-deserved break. and feel better soon.

She lies, I think. The therapist. My Dad did the liquor and pills thing to try and get knocked out rather than sleep, hope to skip the dreams but he didn't and we'd have to remind his dreaming self that he was in bed in PA and not DaNang. You only succeed in pickling your liver, an ugly death, I watched him do it. Long, slow, ugly. He couldn't hunt, either. But not because of 'Nam. The Occupation of Germany perverted that 'joy'.

Nothing you ever do again will feel like where you were. Nothing will ever make you feel as blessed to be breathing and as cursed. It is the one thing purposely not discussed in training.

The therapist did not lie. You can retrain the brain not to react as if it were there. Really. You can even learn to substitute new dreams for old. Isn't that a song from Mary Poppins? Anyway, you will rewire. Meanwhile, do your laundry. Do your therapy. Don't drink. Take up kick boxing. Make a baby.

Derek,
As a Vietnam combat vet, my heart goes out to you. When I came back, it was months before I broke the habit of sitting at the dinner table sideways, so I could hit the floor as quickly as possible when the rockets came in. Thirty years later, I still have flashbacks. Your feelings, your memories will slowly fade but they will never go away. That is a good thing. You don't want to forget totally. That is why we are in Iraq now - because many people forgot totally. On the good side, at least you came back a hero. We came back almost incognito. And we didn't talk about our experiences for fear of being vilified. Hang in there.

I weep for you, Derek. I thank you. May you heal and find peace.

Derek,
Painful and well written. Another trick to help to metabolize the adrenalin is eat something sugary, a Lifesaver (pardon the pun) or other candy. A teaspoon of plain sugar will do. Your cortisol levels are probably pretty high also. What your BP? Push the therapist for some blood work. I don't know if the VA facility in the Hudson Valley is doing this; you might have to come down to the city. It's not just your mind; your chemistry has changed as well. It will improve; physical exercise helps too.

I would give anything to take away your pain and won't patronize you that I know what you are going through. Only those who have served similarly. If you can talk to them. Keep talking to the "smart lady". I don't know if this will help, a long time ago if I didn't like the way a dream turned out the way I liked, I learned to rewind it and redo the dream till it turned out the way I want. Good luck.

P

Ah, I have no advice but I understood and forwarded what you wrote for its value to those that have knowledge or complete ignorance about what happened to you and all those others that come back with the job not done, not having done all they could when they think they should have. "Gates of Fire" explains it well - but then they all died and no longer dreamed in nightmares. I haven't done enough, I allowed the same government that gave us Korea, Vietnam now Iraq and Afghanistan to think that they can win something without paying the price. I apologize, they should have sent me instead of you, you could have replaced me later... but then you wouldn't have done so much in Iraq and in this letter. Keep doing your best and it will be heroic one day soon.

It's funny. All us old guys are saying, we know, we wish we could have done this for you, we wish we could have taken the blow for you. We did our turn in the barrel. We ( I fer sure) didn't want you, our kids, nephews, neighbors kids, to ever have to fight again. But ya did. I'll just stfu 'cause I'll get all pb over it if I go on.

Sure we'd go back, except we're too old, too fat, too worn down and too onery to ever take the military again. After 9/11 I tried. They said I was too old. Bummer, eh?

Which really sucks because you did it, and now have to go through the unwind bullshit. And there is a lot of it. The worst of it is that alcohol will lie like a fu_ker to get you to worship it. And never forget; it is a poison.

You've heard that joke? About the earth opening up under you, humiliation all around you and shame within you. Bad news is; You'll probably live through it. Well, ya did.

The really tough part is that you did live through it and you ar enow obliged to go on living and not self-destruct via some really goofy bad behavior. I won't go so far as to say the VA is excellent, but it seems you have a real helper there. This stuff never really goes away, but it does wind down, and you can live with it.

The pretty lady sleeping beside you can be the greatest helper in your life. If you let her. Man up, and let her know how you feel, what you fear, what you need, and what you like. If she's the right sort, these things are of tatamount interest to her, let her in.

I'd say life really sucks sometimes... You have an incredible way of putting your feelings down on paper that allows us to really feel what you are feeling... I feel like a have a huge rock on my chest/heart right now... But reading some of the posts helped it lift somewhat... Obviously you respect and listen to your doctor, please continue to do that... The only thing I might suggest is to talk to your fellow "vets" that have been back a little longer than you... Meet with them a couple times a week (not in a bar)... Maybe one could become a running partner... They are all right, exercise will help tremendously, alcohol will not... Keep talking, listening and writing, that too will help... God be with you and hopefully peace will find you soon...

When I was a little girl and would go into my grandmother's bedroom to say good night to her, she'd place a hand on the top of my head and say "May the Angels guard you through the night and give you a peaceful night."

I'll say that for you tonight & every night until I see posted otherwise.

MariaChristina

It gets better, over time. Give yourself that time, keep seeing the smart lady and the pretty lady, let them help. And keep writing; I had a fellow Vietnam vet friend who used to say, "Write or die, mother-f---er, write or die."

And take a bit of your own advice: Don't give up, you tough Irish f--k.

WOW...keep listening to the lady and writing. Your honesty and openess will touch many of those who stuff it all. I really appreciate the photo , that gives me a human face to picture speaking those painful words. I deplore war and what it does to people who are protecting our freedom.i could never be so brave!!!!

Derek- i live in Berkshires, about an hour away from Rhinebeck- our youngest son went to Bard College for three years, my Dad was traumatized by WWII...... it seemed like there were alot of connections and I had to write.

You did your job as best you could- work with "the smart lady", what she does is HER job, you are not a burden to her. You are helping her to do what she needs to do in life.

I send healing wishes your way. You have been through alot, cut yourself some slack. Yes there are people worse off (some are better off) but your job is to live YOUR life and to do so, you need time and help to mend.

Best to you>>>Rachel A.

God bless you, Derek. I have you on my special thoughts/prayers list. Thank-you for all you have sacrificed and endured on our behalf. You will get past this phase. May the future hold much happiness and fulfillment for you Irish!!

Wow. I can't say that I relate to what you are going through, but I sure feel that you have really opened yourself and talked about something that you don't often hear about especially via media related sources. I hope that you find your way and peace within yourself. I hope that you can appreciate the sacrifices that you have made for the United States and find meaning in your future in reflection of your past. I do not know you, but I am glad that you are home.

Brandy

I have a feeling that many are trying to apply a "cookie cutter mentality" to returning vets, i.e. give them praise, or give them therapy, whichever fits. Would that it were so simple. Bottom line is -you've been changed by your experience over there, and there is no one way of helping you return to "life in the States". Question is- is it you or us that really need to change our perspective? Perhaps both citizens and returning soldiers need to find a new common ground where democracy and free speech are rights which are earned and not assumed.

I know the guilt (that's what it is) about being home safe and sound while your buddies are still in the cross hairs. I think everyone who makes it back feels the same way. I actually got out and then came back in and went back to Nam. The second time, I knew I had done all I could do and I had to let the other guys do there bit. You can rationalize the feelings. They don't go away but you can live with them. And writing is good therapy. Put your feelings into words. Let the "pretty lady" and the "smart lady" read them. Take their comments to heart and form up your words into a book. I'll buy a copy. By the way, those two ladys are probably both pretty and smart. Take the time to look at them and listen to them. You're lucky to have them in your life. All the best to you soldier. -JJ

What you have revealed is honest, moving and profound. I haven't walked in your shoes, and I am sorry for your pain. Please keep writing.

Derek, you didn't say you were asking for advice, but I have a few tricks, so here goes. Do not use alcohol to sleep, unless you really want another monkey. There are some supplements that may help, melatonin, St. John's wort, SAMe; talk to a clerk at your local (independantly owned) natural foods store. Assemble an aquarium with fish, real plants, and a grow light. Put a couch in front of it. When you thrash, or wake and go rigid (just as bad) lay down on the couch and watch the fish. Learn to make good hot chocolate from scratch. Your girlfriend will think you're cool.(chocolate and soymilk are good for her.) Find a hypnotherapist, and do some sessions for relaxation. Tape them, and listen to them several times a week. Learn to nap when you feel drowsy, there are smaller rest/arousal cycles within the 24 hour day/night cycle. Take advantage of the shorter cycles for short naps. Dreams don't get too heavy with a short nap, and it gives you practice in falling asleep. If you find youself getting hugely sleepy at odd moments, you'll know you're getting better. Keep a blanket in the car, it can hit hard and sudden, and you WILL need to pull over. You will be fine in 15 or 20 minutes, just relax, don't fight it. Fixing your sleep patterns and self is a long slow process of tinkering. Wash all the laundry, pull out a three day supply. Put the rest in a big box, don't bother to fold it. Hide the box. If you need it, you got it, meanwhile, you don't have to deal with it. Excercise will burn off stress chemicals that your body is stockpiling. It may make an impressive difference in how you feel. However, may not directly make you sleep. People are punching you because, literally, your body is still looking for a fight and finding people who want one. Ah, the intelligence of the body! Try reprogramming it with a new non-competitive skill to change how you carry yourself. Lap-swimming is excellent if you have access to a pool. Tai chi, yoga, what's wrong with learning ballroom dancing? Oh, too many women...when your body learns to carry itself differently the hostility will ebb. The noise thing may never go away completely, but will lose it's edge when other stuff gets better. You can't second-guess reality, and the what ifs are only going to take you in circles. You are going to lose people the entire time you're alive... keep in contact with the ones you have left. Go camping with a camera and some field guides, you'll find something to do with them. I've found that lean lamb tastes a little like venison, and good goat meat can taste even better. I don't hunt, I do the camera thing, and no more brother means no more venison. His son that hunts is now drinking too much to connect with a deer...not only war screws people up. My goal is to not add to it.

Hey Sarge, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. One thing I know is that the booze, the pills, the pot, whatever, will take you far away from yourself. Perhaps that is where you want to be right now: away from yourself. The thing is: the more you try to avoid your self, the thing inside you that needs to heal, the harder it is and the longer it takes to get back to where you once belonged. I wish you the best on your journey back to peace and stability. Your journey is America's journey.

Thank you so much for your service and for writing this blog entry.

Writing will help you so do it often. People are reading it and learning from it.

I am glad you are praying...that is what will help you the most: PRAYER and reading the Bible.

I know, I know, it sounds so simple minded and archaic, but reading God's word will calm you down and silence the demons waiting.

I have a friend who lost her 23 yr. old son in a freak car accident and she told me the ONLY thing that kept her from medicating was lying in bed with the open Bible on her chest and repeating Scriptures over and over. She would wake up the next morning having realized that she slept through the night.

It works.

God be with you. He is there for you....cry out to Him.

Psalm 9:10 "And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,
For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You."

God Bless,
Ruth

I don't know how people come back from the war and live a "regular" life, it must be a terribly hard adjustment. For what it's worth, you have a lot of support and gratitude for all that you have accomplished-even though most of us can't imagine the price you paid.
I wish that I could take away some of your pain.
Keep writing and talking. And thankyou.


I feel you brother. I was there for OIF II. It gets better. Driving was very hard for me when I got home. I just wanted to run everyone off the road. The loud noises still get to me. I work on a military installation near an EOD branch, so I guess I'll never get over that one! My wife really helps to calm me down since I got back. We just had another child and that really helps too. Best of luck to you man.

Keep writing...peace and low stress...mdmc

Hi Derek,
I'm just writing a comment because I am also from your hometown. That really touched me, when i read you are from Rhinebeck. The world can be so small sometimes. I'm sorry that you're struggling. The good thing is, once you recover from surgery and you're active again, you can spend all that energy at all the mountain peaks, parks, waterfalls, et al that surround the Hudson Valley. Get better soon. And THANK YOU.
PS If you wanna get together with a Rhinebecker and her videogame-loving friends, send me an email. =)

Derek, Hi thanks for an amazing insight into your world and the world of the men and women over there. It made me think of something I have not thought of in a long time. While in college, I dated a vietnam vet, who saw a lot of combat, too much. I liked him very, very much. We went away together, lived together for a while. And yes I related well to his pain, and his needs. We all tried to love him and understand. But ultimately it was the alcohol and "pills" that turned everyone away from him. I hope you take the advice of the fellow vets and do whatever it takes to avoid that trap. You survived combat, you can survive addiction. Good luck and God Bless you .

Derek,
keep writing - it'll help you, and it helps the rest of us to understand what you've been through.

you have an amazing voice...

peace to you

Derek,

I don't know what to say (not that you ask for feed back), but I am compelled to say something. After reading your thoughts I just couldn't justify my silence.

My uncle is a Vietnam Vet (not that it makes me an expert by any means), but I read an excerpt in a book of his regarding Vietnam that seemed to fit appropriately.

"May God give back everything that man has taken away"; if that is at all possible.

I ordered your book from The Crumpled Press today and look forward to reading it. God Bless.

Carrie Lynn Novakovich

I appreciate all the comments you have left. I felt like I ought to tell you all that I am really doing quite well. Most of the things I described went away after a few months and I have returned to very near normal. I now run, drink very little, sleep the right amount, but still smoke. I just don't want you all to worry about me. There are many who remain silent but who are far more deserving of your thoughts than I. Keep an eye out for them. Thanks.
-Derek-

Derek,

Glad to hear you are doing much better. I would like your permission to print your words to share with others. I am a therapist and I work with vets/trauma survivors.

I feel you have normalized the re adjustment process and can help others make sense out of what they are feeling.

You put a "face" on PTSD.

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

You have a lot of strength.

Kelly

Hang in there. Life is a struggle but it is oh so much more of a struggle for a combat vet readjusting to life in the world. You have a God given talent. You are able to put into words and convey the struggles and emotions that returning vets feel. I am so glad to hear that your readjustment is going well.

Derek... What a relief... Obviously by all the posts, we Americans do worry and care about all of you guys/gals in the services... You really touched us all, and I, for one, am happy to hear you are doing much better... God bless you and thanks for taking the time to let us know... I shall keep an eye and ear out for the others plus many prayers, especially for the ones who are silent... But it is the ones like you who put this into words that keep us informed of how bad things can get and how much better things can also get... Hopefully the ones that are silent read these posts and your posts/writings, so they know we CARE and want to help... Peace found you, I pray peace finds the silent ones...

keep writing man. Read Michael Herr, and keep writing. Turn it all into illumination.

Derek, Thanks for all you've done. I'm glad you're home.

Here's a bit of wisdom I've collected from fellow cancer survivors.... Chemotherapy can't compare with getting shot at, but
the whole crisis-mode, not sure if you're going to die thing does sound a little familiar. :-)

Anyway, I hope it helps:

* You lived. It sucks that some of your friends didn't. That is NOT your fault! Don't let survivor's guilt stop you from taking care of yourself or asking for help when you need it.

* Forget what was "normal" before it all started. Get used to the "new normal" and go with that.

* It takes a while before you remember how to have a future. That's okay. You do have one.

* If the "smart lady" offers you pills to control side effects, try 'em! If you don't like 'em, you can stop, or ask for something else. (Anxiety, insomnia and depression are just side effects, ya know.) There are way more effective and less harmful drugs out there than alcohol. (Vicodin is for pain, not anxiety. Be honest about the problem, and get the right meds.)

* Exercise. Jog, bike, whatever. Just get out of the house to someplace safe and quiet and work out the stress/fear/anger.

BTW, one of my nurses told me a funny story about flashbacks. She had a patient once who had terrible trouble with nausea. Apparently the patient was a really nice lady and they became friends as the chemo dragged on. But, after she went into remission and a few years passed, they gradually lost touch.

One day they ran into each other at the supermarket. Hugs, good wishes, "Oh my God, you look great!" and so on. 2 seconds later, the patient vomited in the frozen food aisle! "What can you do?" my nurse asked me. Apparently they just laughed and left their groceries in the store...

The point is, you can't control how you're body is going to react to a sudden reminder of the past. You don't owe anyone an explaination, either. Just hold your head up and walk away. Don't worry if you confuse a few people now and then... People get confused every day :)

Good luck.

PS The problem isn't that you're not still there with your buddies... it's that 4 years after "mission accomplished" they're still not home like you.

Derek,

You have the eternal gratitude and admiration of a nation and a town.

I am proud of you. We are proud of you.

Your pal,
Frosty.

Wow, I'm amazed. My husband was in the big Fallujah battle. He was lucky enough to not lose any of his men, but he lost plenty of friends. We don't talk about it much, but I imagine it's in there somewhere. You've done your part, and we all thank you

Derek, thank you for writing this.

Thank you for not giving up.

And thank you for bearing the adrenaline rushes, the nightmares, and the memories to keep us safe.

You are in my prayers.

Thank you for reaching into the dark corner of my soul and writting down the pain I also felt, the fear I have also tasted and the uncertainty I still live with.
14 years on, it is still there, but I have learned to almost master it all, and like you, it has made me stronger. Never let it win over you.
One thing that I have found that does work and you have that ability, let your writing make people feel. Your story had tears rolling down my face as I felt those familiar feelings again. Use that gift to make people feel what you felt, deal with what you dealt with and make them stronger the way you have.
I look forward to reading more from you.
Thank you and I am so glad you are on your way back home where you are needed.

SGT McGee,
I loved the way you write,very well put. And I agree with some of previous posts, keep writing, I'm sure it helps. The alcohol is just a quick fix and will eventually destroy you. It almost did me, back in January, I stayed drunk and didn't realize how sick I was. I thank GOD everyday for you and all the other troops for being there for us. The "smart lady" seems to be helping you, that's great. That's why she's there. God Bless and Peace be with you. Sheldon USN 1978-82

SGT McGee:

Thank you very much for your service to this great Nation, for your tremendous personal sacrifice and we are all very glad that you made it back from Iraq as so many of our friends and loved ones have not.

You have a wonderful talent with putting your thoughts into words and when I read your BLOG, I felt every bit of pain and angst that you were trying to convey, although, I will never walk in your shoes I am thankful for what you have done and for the message you posted. It is a rare occasion that one can experience what a combat veteran has, but you did an incredible job in sharing your experiences with us and I hope it brought you some relief because your story is amazing and your are a brave young man. I can only wish the best for you in your recovery from all of the trauma that you faced and still face in your dreams and daily life.

Please continue to listen to the "Smart" Lady at the VA and listen to the advice of many of the other posts to stay away from Alcohol and Drugs because they always lead to a very bad ending for those that succumb to their vices.

God Bless you and your special woman. I hope she can be the pillar that you need to lean on when the times are rough for you.

Thanks again for your service, sacrifice and for sharing with us. Get well soon!

deep thoughts there...thanx for sharing. i can only imagine all those things and i see them and hear about them all the time. The 1 thing i want to tell you is get real close to GOD , he's the only way out of any pain, disorder, trauma, etc. He can give u peace and happiness. Go for it. Oh and the exercise thing is also good. Dont stop it. Having a family also changes ones life completely. Well im not as good as you writing so im gonna leave u with those words. May God bless you and ur family, and give u direction and wisdom. Amen

God bless you. You are a blessing to us all. Take care, one day at a time.

As I read, my thoughts said, " You could be my son" (he is on his second tour in the raq) and my tears flowed sending prayers of healing and peace your way. Thank you, thank you and remember "One day at a time Sweet Jesus, thats all I'm asking of you" God bless you!
Tammy Hinkkanen, Elma, WA, A VERY Proud Army Mom

Thank you. I could never find the way to express myself, until i just read this. I was in the ivasion in 03, lost some good friends, and those loud noises, I still aint used to them. Again thanks.

Derek its been a while, i just bought your book and i'm am looking foreward to reading it and probably reliving some experiances once again. its been a couple of years now and i am glad to hear your doing better if i am down in rhinebeck i'll be sure to try and look you up. i do miss the SUC and Fox Co i'll have to admit. if you get a chance e-mail me at anthony.guadagnino@us.army.mil

Derek,
My thoughts and prayers are with you. I'm glad to hear you are doing better and I think that your post has really put things into perspective for me. Keep writing. it does wonders for those silent ones out there who find solace and comfort in your words. All the best and thank you for your service. In this life you have accomplished far more than others can even begin to dream of, and for that you should be so proud. Thank you!

I was very pleased to find this site. This is an intelligent and well written article, you must have put a fair amount of research into writing this.

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