October 30, 2007

Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 10/30/2007
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Milblog url:

Lauren told me recently, "You're the most sentimental person I know." If you're one of the faithful few that have read my blog in its entirety, you're most likely to agree with her. I'm a sucker for milestones. I wrote about how it felt to be exactly one year away from getting out of the Army, and a fictitious account about coming home the day we were scheduled to, before being extended three months. A week after we returned home, I described what it was like to be back.

Now it has been a month since I've returned to the States, and this week I've come back to my actual home. At some point in Baqubah I developed a hernia, and waited until I made it back to Ft. Lewis to have it properly diagnosed and treated. I went into surgery last week and am recovering just fine. It still hurts to laugh (which is bad news for someone who giggles at his own jokes). They gave me two weeks for recovery and I decided to take that in my hometown.

Far away from a military base, the question arises with ferocious intensity: What does it feel like to be back? My usual short answer is, "It's nice to have a warm bed again." But that's not quite how it is. It almost feels like it gets harder, not easier.

Last week I was invited to a dinner hosted by Lauren's mother. Joining us would be Lauren's sister, her cousin who I had already met, another cousin I hadn't, and her fiancé. I retained my "quiet with a few clever puns" persona, and as such didn't contribute much to the conversation. It felt like I had nothing of relevance to say about the topics that came up. My grasp of news and politics was more than a year old; only the biggest stories made their way across the ocean.

By taking part in the biggest thing happening in our culture, I sacrificed being in the culture itself. I refused to be that guy who starts off every sentence with "This one time in Iraq...", but my options are slim. I could recall stories of my trip to Europe in April, but then it would be, "Dude, this one time in Amsterdam." There's only so many times you can regale people with stories about aggressive transvestite prostitutes.

With my Texan accent sticking out like a Dutch hooker's crotch, it was only a matter of time before Lauren's cousin asked where I was from. I told her I had lived in north Texas most of my life, and went back to poking around the sausage in my spaghetti. Lauren's mother then gave an updated biography, saying I had just gotten back from Iraq and that I chronicled my deployment in a blog (wink!).

After she asked what I wrote about, I launched into a tirade about applying personal experiences of the war to the larger aspect that isn't in the mainstream media. I must've looked silly, talking with urgency and saying more words in one minute than in the whole evening prior. I realized the conundrum I was in. The subject I didn't want to come up was the only one I could apply myself to. An elephant in the room that only I could see.

After a month I'm still not quite comfortable with being in small, crowded and loud places like bars. My senses are more refined now. I'm a more attentive driver, and I can see and hear things a lot differently. A club with a thousand different conversations used to be collective noise. Now I hear an endless number of distinct voices and every note coming from the DJ.

I'm agitated by people coming too close or brushing up against me like never before. I don't jump, twitch or moan when I hear an expected loud noise.You know the feeling you get when you narrowly avoid a car crash? That's what I get. I'm perfectly fine at first glance, but the blood drains from my face and my scalp tingles. I may or may not break into a sweat.

I didn't recall many dreams while I was in Iraq, but now they flood my subconscious. In one I'm riding in a bus and hanging out the window. Another bus in the opposite lane passes by, and Jesse Williams is waving to me from inside. I wave back. Another has me on a routine patrol when I find half a body on the side of the road. It's Chevy. His face is twisted but recognizable. His lower half is gone, despite his body having been intact when he died.

Despite the hardships we face alone, I feel incredibly lucky to have my family and friends here for me, who understand the best they can. It was fitting I started this entry with Lauren, wise and empathetic beyond her years. A month with these challenges seems minuscule when compared to the month of joy I shared with her.

For everyone else, the nature of this war prevents the public from a full grasp of understanding. In the wars of past generations, soldiers volunteered or were drafted by the millions. In the case of World War II, families endured rations and donated to the war effort. Almost every single American contributed to victory. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the war is squeezed into a half hour of prime time television. In WWII, in Korea, in Vietnam, we were a country at war. Now we're a military at war, with less than 1% of the population in uniform. Unless you have a friend or family member in the military, it's a separate reality. In airports and in living rooms, you can see for yourself the effect in the eyes of a soldier who's been at war for fifteen months at a time, hidden behind a smile that conceals a secret: you'll never quite understand what we did there.

Like Atlas, we carry the immense burden of the country on our shoulders, waiting for the day, seemingly long into the future, when the American people say, "That will do."


Glad to see you back safe, sound and readjusting to life in the good old USA.

Welcome home, sir.

I am a massage therapist. I thought I would suggest to you that you seek out massage therapy. Massage stimulates the parasympathetic (mellow) nervous system to do its thing, and signals the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system to stand down. It can help you a lot with the physiological side of your symptoms. Also, it just plain feels really good.
You could try Swedish style - smooth and gentle, or Deep Tissue -- more intense pressure, works out the knots. If you aren't comfortable taking off your clothes, try Thai massage or Shiatsu.

Good luck to you!

I second Rachel's suggestion. You are having very normal neurological responses and you need to help your system to reset itself. There's no virtue in enduring unnecessary stress. Get into the countryside; that helps too.

It's real. You're dealing. Have you tried Melatonin and DHEA? They're herbals, don't require a prescription, and work pretty well.

They just take the edge off, makes it easier to deal, and, oh yeah, people are going to ask the god-damnedest questions.

But, yeah, it's all normal. Lots of folks have absolutely no clue, referrent, or indicator they might be pulling your guts out with stupid remarks.

That stuff, too , is normal.

Thank you for all that you and your brothers have endured. Please know there are many, so many hearts here in America and the rest of the world that are filled with gratitude for the 1% of men and women who proudly wear that uniform. You,Sir, can stand to be counted. We are so proud of you and the rest of that one percent. Immensely happy that you are finally home. Prayers being said for your 're-intergration' back to this normal.

It took 23 years back from Vietnam to try a Vet Center. Don't wait that long.

That WILL do.

Yes, people ask the dumbest questions. But behind the question is a statement and a question..."I care about you, are you okay?" Thank you for your honorable service, We all are very proud of you and will never forget your sacrifices.

So glad your back in the USA! Don't lose your Texas accent - it's worth being proud of. May God help you rest and heal any pain. Might try - kicking off your shoes for a while and going fishing in a quiet lake. I know you've seen alot, but very glad for your long awaited return.

take care.

What a beautifully written account of your experience! Keep writing!
I have often wondered what it's like for you the military people I've seen in the airports. As a civilian, it's difficult to know how much or what to ask or comment upon. I really like it that you've kept your humor about the discomfort of such social situations. Personally, I am very interested in the challenges of readjustment. I've worked with vets and my dad was a WWIIer.
Those guys really never talked about any of this. I'm so glad you and others are talking. Welcome home!

My thought is somebody else started this war and sadly now the young men and women of our military have to finish it.

Alex, if it was up to the American people, we would have said enough is enough a long time ago. Thank you for your service. You may be only part of a 1%, but many of us civis feel deep gratitude for you. Lauren is lucky you can talk about things being the sentimental guy you are, and that is what will pull you through, together. I had a boyfriend who couldn't or wouldn't talk after he came back, and no amount of love could fix it. The hardest thing in the world is loving someone in that situation and not being able or capable of at least letting them know you just want to be there for them even if you will never understand.

It is great fun playing the role of the sniper in the paintball games. You need to pratice to get good at sneaking up on other people.

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