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.

WHAT I MISS THE MOST |

July 25, 2007

WHAT I MISS THE MOST
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 7/25/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, New York

I spent the last year as an American Soldier embedded within the Afghanistan National Army. The time I spent away from home was both rewarding and damaging. Like the Afghan mountains we lived and fought in, my year there had emotional high peaks and valley lows. I experienced the loss of close friends, both American and Afghan. I inflicted my personal share of destruction on my enemies, and managed to avoid my own violent demise through chance, skill, and dumb luck.

And now I'm home. The adrenaline rush and combat euphoria are slowly being smothered by a wet blanket of safe mundane civility. This feeling of suffocation has made my return to safety and comfort ironically uneasy. It's probably counterintuitive, but now that I'm home, what I miss the most is being back there, among my brothers in arms, facing those that wished to kill me.

This seemingly unhealthy longing for the danger and thrill of combat would bother me more if I were experiencing it alone. But I've got plenty of company in this withdrawal drama. Many of the men I fought side by side with in Afghanistan are experiencing the same difficulty in kicking their adrenaline habit. A quick roll call can shed some light on how it's impacting reintegration into our American lives. 

Right before I left Afghanistan, I received an email from a close friend who had left the country two months before me. It simply said, "I would trade everything I have to be back over there." This fine soldier has more recently taken to alcohol binges and high risk late-night activities. Just last week I received an urgent phone call from him. His voice was tweaking with excitement. He had just totalled his car in a high speed drag racing accident. Listening to him talk on the phone was like listening to him talk on the TACSAT radio, calling in enemy contact. Instead of lecturing him on his irresponsible drag racing, I was feeding off his buzz, trying to capture a long-distance high.

Another close comrade of mine leaves me voicemails using our Afghan radio call signs instead of our real names. His messages tell of fist fights with his VA counselor, being kicked out of his father's house, and weekend-long alcohol-induced blackouts.

Within days of my return home, the front page of my local newspaper reported on a recently returned Afghan Vet who was arrested after a violent alcohol-induced spree. His impressive and unprovoked rampage involved extensive property damage. At its climactic peak, he climbed to the rooftop of a building and rained cement blocks onto parked cars below. Those around me joked at how this guy must have been crazy. Privately, I gave him extra points for creativity in addressing his need to recapture the thrill of combat.

And then there is my story. I returned home to a comfortable and privileged life, only to turn it upside down in many respects and start over. I needed to do this because a return to the predictable comforts would have driven me to dangerous and high-risk acts that would have hurt those closest to me, as well as myself. I had seen this demon in me when I came home on leave eight months ago. I tried to pretend I hadn't been changed, and the result was that I felt like an animal in the cage of my pre-war life. I had outgrown that cage.

The advice given by mental health professionals who deal with Veterans like me, is to accept the fact that we will never feel or find the euphoric heights of combat in a healthy manner here at home. We need to accept the pleasures, albeit mundane, that our daily lives have to offer. As sound as this advice may be to those who haven't been downrange, for me it's still a hard reality to accept. Giving up the need for this rush of action is like abandoning a close friend on the battlefield.

And any soldier will tell you, leaving behind a fallen comrade is something we just don't want to do.

Comments

Been back just a bit over 3 years. Been talking with the VA counselor for over 2 (had a period of denying what little I saw could effect me). I hear what you're saying. Since I've gotten back I do what I can to try to find the rush here at home. Mt. Biking, kayaking, 4-wheelin', even Jeepin'...it's not quite the same though.

The need for a "fix" isn't quite as bad as it once was, but it's always there on some level down inside. The biggest wake up for me was during convoy ops lanes training when we had a 45 minute fire fight with the ERPs and I was actually enjoying it...a bit too much from what one OC told me after the AAR.

Hang in there, try to find something (relatively) safe to help with the need, and keep in touch with your buddies. One of the best ways I've found to work through things is by talking stuff over with my fellow soldiers. We might not all have had the same experiences, but you'd be surprised how much we all have in common regardless of theatre or branch of service.

Stay safe man.

Tupp,

You know I am there with ya. I think you and I have talked about this already and everyone I have talked to over there that was with us feels the same way. Miss the Rush..

Well you could always go back to war. I have known returning warriors who have taken up high risk activities like Reding - some surf all year in Cali, sky dive, rockclimb, race motorcycles...the missing element is the rage to kill/defend yourself...but the rush...is there. Good luck!

I read your words in this blog, and my heart pumped fast. This is the unknown part of the war... I'm sorry that humans beings have to deal with war and those horribles situations... but you and your mates sacrifice yourself because you believe is the best for your country... so thanks you.

Hang in there...

The minute my niece came home from Iraq she ran out and bought one of those Japanese "crotch rockets" and started roaring up and down the back roads of rural Virginia. In speaking to her and many family members of returned Marines, and the Marines themselves, it's almost de riguer for them to buy the motorcycle upon their return. One Marine who is a 20 year veteran and now an accident reconstruction specialist at Quantico told me more Marines had died in high speed motorcycle accidents than in Iraq. Last year I met an anguished mother and fiancee of a young Marine who'd come home safely from Anbar province, bought the motorcycle, and wrapped himself around a tree one night in Florida. He was in the ICU and not expected to live. I guess I understand the craving of the adrenaline rush by returning vets - it's not that different from the craving for cocaine or methamphetamine - but it's incredibly destructive to friends, family, and society.

Here's hoping the problem can be recognized and treated appropriately before returning vets get involved in the legal system, harm themselves or others, and destroy their chances for productive futures.

Oh, well, you've still got the Freeways.

re; your words: "His messages tell of fist fights with his VA counselor, being kicked out of his father's house, and weekend-long alcohol-induced blackouts."

Not all vet centers are effective as the dunes cartunes alledge. You can come out worse that you went in. FWIW, any guy who's been through what you (your buds too) has the right to feel really pissed at the nonchalance generally exibited by real America.

The Shrink at our vet center was a real a-hole. He was one of those, "I OK, You're not." kind of guys. Eventually somebody shot him. Actually, they missed. On purpose. A warning shot to the head, you might say.

Worst of it is, he came back and now is the state shrink. We all just soldiered on and tried to just listen to each other. In the end, I just figured it was righteous anger, but generally civillians wouldn't, couldn't, didn't want to face it, understand. So seeing us a loosers, druggies and psychos made their warm fuzzy reality even fuzzier.

Which brings us to the present political reality. It's no fallen comerade. It's you, now. But this is the new, refined, forged in a firey crucible, never to be the same, lesser, man again. If you can get through the next two to five years, integrating your feelings into your new life, you will have a tremendous success.

BTW: if you get the motorcycle, come ride with the PGR. We do funeral escorts. We do a flag shield around the grieving family, so no protesters can get at them. Standing in formation at some one elses funeral gives you a real, deep introspection, and the time to do it. Make sure you get good goggles. That grit sure can sneak into your eyes.

Thanks for sharing the feelings.

I pray that all soldier posting and mentioned here get the support and proper advice to deal with the "rush" in a constructive rather than a destructive manner.
Even though I can never truly understand what you are all feeling, don't assume that we don't care. This is one of the greatest concerns I have for all 3 of my young nieces/nephew currently serving our country whenever they return. Please find a positive focus for your energy.....we don't need any more casualties.

Catzmaw. Your post;"Last year I met an anguished mother and fiancee of a young Marine who'd come home safely from Anbar province, bought the motorcycle, and wrapped himself around a tree one night in Florida. He was in the ICU and not expected to live."

We had over 75 thousand post-era suicides. That number jumped to over 100 thousand when they factored-in the risky behavior driver incidents. The numbers were just too staggering to be ignored any more.

It was complex, it was denied, it was a killer. The need to prove courage, skill, and ability against death was seductive and often fatal. In time it was accepted as suicide, not accidental.

I like my motorcycle, and it flies nicely across the ground, but I like being important even more, someone misses me when I am not around. I think the rush isn't as critical as the feeling of unimportance - the grass cutter is back, and I think I am still a killer - I liked being a killer, the hero standing between the barbarians and civilization, being dangerous but wanted is the height of my existance, bring it on! The tiger is never toothless...

The reason I hate this war is the similarity I see between it and Vietnam. It's like a bad dream come true. A friend came home without a scratch on the outside and slowly died of self-inflicted damage. I didn't see the excitment of combat, the bonding with those around him, the beauty of life on the edge. I saw the car accidents, the substance abuse, the divorces, the high-stress, dangerous job wearing a gun and a uniform. I can't believe you guys are having to go through this all over again. Please do your best to figure this out and stay sane, and have a shot at happiness!

This is why I and many others are opposed to this war, it is bad for the people of this nation. Bush and the other chickenhawks in Washington can call us cowards and unpatriot, but we knew this was coming. We knew that thousands of returning service men would wrap motorcycles around trees, would sit in front of blank TV screens for a year until they blow their brains out. This is a great loss to America, as a nation we don't need this, use your power and prestige as a vet to stop this war before more of your brothers are mentally wounded. The Vietnam war doubled the crime in this country, we now have nearly 10 times as many people behind bars as at the start of Vietnam era. You vets are stronger than the cowards in Washington, get out on the streets and into the halls of congress and stop them, they will cower before you.

You know it works the same for police officers who have worked high risk assignments. It's a hard thing to let go of when you retire.
I'm from the Vietnam era so I know both sides and you sound like you have a handle on it. I know some guys we lost who just couldn't cope after coming home.

Welcome home, I hope you can work things out.

I am a public defender. Last year I had a client that your post reminded me of. He was a Vietnam vet who had spent the last 25 years or so, trying to kill himself [drugs, alcohol, risky living].

Now, a broken up old man, he wanted me to get him sent to prison so he could be murdered there.

He showed up to court one day all beat up, his drug dealer had ambushed him, kicked the crud out of him and taken his VA check in payment for a debt. He refused to file a police report. After a stint in VA rehab, he was as together as he could be. He went on probation and was doing okay. He was still drinking, but he had quit driving drunk. I saw him occasionally, he even smiled from time to time.

He died last winter, in relative peace, of pneumonia. Another fallen soldier finally came home after 25+ years. Take care of yourself. Don't wait your entire life to come home.

Welcome home, I hope you can work things out.

I am a public defender. Last year I had a client that your post reminded me of. He was a Vietnam vet who had spent the last 25 years or so, trying to kill himself [drugs, alcohol, risky living].

Now, a broken up old man, he wanted me to get him sent to prison so he could be murdered there.

He showed up to court one day all beat up, his drug dealer had ambushed him, kicked the crud out of him and taken his VA check in payment for a debt. He refused to file a police report. After a stint in VA rehab, he was as together as he could be. He went on probation and was doing okay. He was still drinking, but he had quit driving drunk. I saw him occasionally, he even smiled from time to time.

He died last winter, in relative peace, of pneumonia. Another fallen soldier finally came home after 25+ years. Take care of yourself. Don't wait your entire life to come home.

I've never been in combat, but there was a time in my life when I had to give up a very rushy
life-threatening activity that I was too fond of.

I bought a motorcycle & worked for three years as a motorcycle courier in Washington DC -
dodging cars, weaving between lanes, to deliver pieces of paper between K street & the Capitol.
No killing, but lots of risk & rush. Some of my co-workers died doing that job.

So - there are ways to deal with that need that are at least somewhat productive.

Good luck.

My theory is, half the problem is airplanes.

In ancient times, soldiers had to walk all the way to war, or if they were real swanky they got to ride a horse. After years on campaign, they had to walk home again. Think of Alexander's troops, straggling slowly home on foot all the way from India.

With all that time on the road, a man had a chance to slowly wind down from combat. To pick a soldier up from the front one day and then, boom, 2 days later he's in Des Moines -- it's just too fast. The body simply can't adjust to the change in time to prevent trouble.

On a less theoretical note, try massage therapy, especially myofascial massage. It is a nice non-invasive way to stimulate the "relax-y" part of your system. Also, whether or not it works for you, it still feels mighty excellent.

And in conclusion -- thank you so much for your honorable service! I am proud of you and I hope you will be able to keep your shit together.

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