September 15, 2008
Name: CAPT Ben Tupper
Posting date: 9/15/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, NY
Recently my friend Vandy came to visit me for a weekend reunion. When I picked him up at the train station I saw that his arms were covered in cuts and scabs. He was wearing a knee brace. His swollen and bruised knuckles suggested many punches thrown and landed. He told me all these injuries were the results of bar fights, some more successful than others.
From previous phone calls, I wasn't surprised to see these physical signs of a rough transition home. A few months ago, Vandy had called me excitedly after totaling his car in a drag race on a city street. I knew all this was not out of the ordinary for recently returned combat veterans.
Vandy's attitude at home now was much like his approach to war: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." He had had the closest life and death call of his tour just days before he left Afghanistan. This mission was one he didn't need to be on, but Vandy was the type who would volunteer to go. Most soldiers bunker down during their last days in country. But Vandy liked to run up the score.
As his convoy was returning to base, his HUMVEE was rocked by a suicide bomber. The blast came without warning, and he told me the destruction darkened the world like an eclipse of the sun, choking out the light with dust and smoke. Vandy continued to drive through the attack, as we are trained to do. As he went through the dust cloud, murky rays of sunlight peeked through the windows, obscured by the chunks of scorched dirt and wet flesh that clung to the vehicle.
Vandy told me he wished he had been able to go back to treat the wounded civilians, even though that could have exposed him to a secondary explosion or ambush. Had he been in charge of the convoy, I have no doubt that's what he would have done. Not all the risks Vandy took were bad ones.
During his visit with me this summer, I coerced Vandy into accompanying me to my PTSD counseling appointment at our local Vet Center. He was hesitant, but we spent an awkward and difficult hour scratching the surface of his war related issues with my counselor. Nothing miraculous happens in one counseling session, but maybe he took away something he can build on.
Vandy's visit was stressful for me, too. It was a reminder of what we went through in Afghanistan, and how it changed us. And it reminded me of how close I have been to that edge of fights and car wrecks and bad decisions.
In a few months, Vandy will return to a combat zone with his National Guard Unit. This time it will be Iraq. It wasn't easy to say our goodbyes at the train station, but I couldn't help but smile. Vandy is tough, and despite his missteps, he still keeps moving forward. Full speed ahead.