Sunday, September 19, 2010

The continuing war at home


ON JULY 19, 2004, I didn’t die.

I can talk now about what happened that day, but it’s enough to know that I lost friends in a mortar attack in Baghdad. Pfc. Charles Persing, who had pushed me away and took the brunt of the blast, and Sgt. Dale Lloyd, my team leader who had run to help, both died that day. Two other friends, Sgt. Mike Ramirez and Spc. James O’Leary, and my team leader, Staff Sgt. Keith Adams, were injured.

Physically, I was unhurt, but I was living with the loss of my friends, recurring nightmares of the events of the day, and an overwhelming guilt for being alive. I’m not even really sure you could call it living. I felt worthless; although I was newly married with a daughter, I thought about suicide.

I didn’t know what to call it then, but I was suffering from survivor guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. The only people I could listen to were those who had been there with me. Hearing from them that they cared for me and that I could be proud of myself and my service meant so much more somehow than hearing it from my family, who love you in spite of a turmoil they don’t understand.

I had to get better not only to care for my family but to honor the friends we had lost by living a full life.

I underwent treatment at the VA, which involved group therapy sessions and meeting with counselors. But the thing that broke through more than any session was talking one-on-one with veterans of the Vietnam War. Those guys put me on a personal mission. “Don’t let your generation become like ours,” they told me. “Make your buddies aware, make the public aware.”

I could tell them things — one guy in particular. With all the doctors and social workers and other vets there, this big, tough Vietnam vet chose me to share a story that, although half a world and four decades apart, was a lot like mine. As he helped me, I was helping him, too.

This offered me a starting point. I didn’t have to open up completely then, but I could start, little by little, to unload the weight of my emotions and experiences.

If this set me on an upward slope, I reached a peak at a combat-stress retreat run through the Wounded Warrior Project. I didn’t say as much as I could have, and I can’t really explain what that week meant to me. I learned to look at things a different way and to process my feelings differently.

I won’t say that I was cured that week. There is no cure for post-traumatic stress or survivor guilt, just as there is no way to bring Lloyd or Persing back.

But I have fewer, less-intense nightmares. When I have a flashback, I know how to ground myself back into my surrounding reality. I have learned to control my symptoms rather than letting them control me.

A lot of combat veterans believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I will admit that I once felt the same, but reaching out saved my life. The help doesn’t need to come from a doctor. It can be another vet, or just someone you can trust. It can be hard to talk. But just take one thing out at a time, something small. You don’t have to dump it all out; just lighten your load, bit by bit, and you’ll get there.

PTSD is a wound. Like any other wound, it will fester and spread if you don’t treat it. Just like you would with a wound to your arm or leg, you treat it, you stop the infection. It may not work quite as it did before, and you may have a scar, but you will start to heal and find strength and ability to do things you didn’t before.

I am pursuing my education now through the TRACK program, working out and loving my wife and daughter. I won’t waste the life that was spared on July 19, 2004, and I will honor the friends I lost by living a better life.

Andrew Coughlan, a Michigan resident, served in the war in Iraq. He is participating in the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project’s TRACK program, which provides education and transition service to wounded vets in Jacksonville, Fla.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Afghan Troop Levels

NATO is approaching 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 45,000 hailing from countries other than the U.S., which is a positive sign according to Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy.

Pakistan Relief Operation

U.S. commanders in Pakistan say, although the flood waters there are beginning to recede, the need for humanitarian aid is mounting.

The Department of Defense is looking for bright stars with brilliant ideas.

SSG Salvatore Giunta

Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

Veteran Care

Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy John Campbell says America has greatly improved its care of military veterans.

Afghan Air Force

The Afghan Air Force is flying refurbished helicopters to help fight the insurgency.

9/11 Wreath Laying

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs ADM Mike Mullen says America still honors those who lost their lives on 9/11.

Gates 9/11 Ceremony

Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid tribute to America's servicemembers during a ceremony Saturday honoring those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hurricane Earl Preps

Hurricane Earl is gaining strength as it makes its way toward the East Coast.

Newman's Own Awards

This year's Newman's Own Awards for innovation and ingenuity have been announced. The awards support veterans, wounded warriors and caregivers.

Iraq Drawdown

As the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq continues, the focus is turning to what is needed to sustain troops.

Petraeus on Afghan Gov

General David Petraeus highlights the accomplishments of the Afghan government in eliminating corruption.

Typhoon Kompasu

U.S. forces in Korea are recovering from a powerful typhoon that slammed the Korean Peninsula Thursday with strong winds and heavy rains.

CO Guard Pot Airlift

The Colorado National Guard is assisting local authorities in airlifting thousands of marijuana plants found at two illegal grow sites.


Defense officials announced only 5 of 10 states that applied for waivers to the MOVE Act have been approved to extend deadlines for accepting absentee ballots past election day.

Hurricane Earl Latest

The Coast Guard and National Guard continue to prepare for Hurricane Earl which returned to Category 4 strength Thursday with winds over 130 miles per hour.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Today´s Top News 01 September 2010

Former U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, General Ray Odierno praises Iraqi Security Forces and Defense Secretary Robert Gates thanks troops for their service in Iraq.

Operation New Dawn II

With the U.S. combat role in Iraq at an end, U.S. military officials on Wednesday launched Operation New Dawn.

Monte Cassino CPO Air Date Sep 1, 2010

DNU Flash - Chief petty officer selectees at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, get a lesson in naval history and heritage.

Flu Readiness

DNU Flash - All Sailors are required to get the new influenza vaccine.

Hurricane Earl Preps

The threat of Hurricane Earl is putting servicemembers along the East Coast on alert.

BO Irvine Safety Stand Down

DNU Flash - Comedian Bo Irvine conducts a safety standdown at Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

Headlines for September 1, 2010

DNU Flash - Headlines from around the fleet: President Barack Obama announces the official end of combat operations in Iraq; the Navy Reserve offers career options for Sailors who want to leave active duty but not the Navy.

26th MEU Goes to Pakistan

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is deploying aboard the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group to join the flood relief efforts in Pakistan one month early.

GEN Austin Takes Over

GEN Lloyd Austin officially assumed command of U.S. Forces-Iraq Wednesday during a change of command ceremony in Baghdad.

GEN Odierno speaks at CoC

As General Ray Odierno stepped down as commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq, he reflected on the accomplishments during his time in Iraq .

Operation New Dawn

A change of command ceremony in Baghdad Wednesday marked the beginning of Operation New Dawn.

Obama on Afghanistan

President Obama says with combat operations at an end in Iraq, U.S. forces can now focus on Afghanistan.

Obama Speech

In a speech to the nation from the White House Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced the official end to the combat mission in Iraq and thanked U.S. troops for their service.