Saturday, July 2, 2011

When the dust settles...

It was 2009. My divorce in 2007 had taken its course, yet our deep wounds were held under a thin layer of scar tissue. The slightest hint of opposition or indifference with my son’s well being usually sent us back into the courtroom. How does one manage to master the craft of fatherhood when your livelihood and projected goals are interrupted?  The chances I had to cultivate a family’s future had been derailed. Being in court demoralized any fortitude I had for optimism.
            California, along with western society, favors the mother. In my experience and from my attorney’s advice, the child has to be endangered by the mother by means of abuse or neglect. Statistics of better educational systems, paternal means of capability and geography and quality of life present no such argument. The divorce and custody filing took place in Kings County (in central California). However, my son’s mother, Bonny, is a member of a Native American tribe in Northern California. The tribe assumed custody of the matters in regard to my son’s case. This required a special attorney that specializes specifically in that tribe’s family law. Finding one was very hard because the tribe was small and everyone knew each other which made it excruciating for me to find representation. Above all, the judge presiding the case was Bonny’s uncle. I was advised to look past the potential for nepotism because if I pursued that as a point in my case, it would be one more person that I had against me, whom controlled the whole outcome of custody. A year of excruciating hearings passed and the prejudiced ruling rendered me resentful of anything akin to our marital collapse. All forms of communication were kept to a minimum and strictly about my son, Marcus Xavier’s welfare. I knew it was only a matter of time till I had to reestablish communication, and I’ll be damned if I was unable to attend any of his major undertakings in life.   
            In May, my mother and I were headed to Northern California to attend my son’s graduation of Head Start Preschool. This marked the first time I set foot back in the reservation after my messy divorce. We opted to fly to Arcata and rented a car to avoid the 12 hour drive up north. While exiting the plane, our nasal passages couldn’t warm and humidify the chilly air right away; acclimation for us took a little getting used to. The notion of driving there made me uneasy. We had to engage the winding and dangerous roads of the 299 Highway. We encountered logging trucks, water tankers and oversized vehicles in a narrow road with singular lanes. Aside from the vehicles, animals like bears, deer, and the like posed a potential for accidents as well. Rocks that rolled off the mountainous terrains fell onto the roads which required reflexive maneuvers. I can recall my mother saying, “oh my gahd, dis is wan windy road! I’m getting a headache!” in her endearing and slight Filipina accent. Sporadic signs of life revealed themselves every twenty to thirty miles: a gas station here, a diner there, a corroded vehicle next to an occupied home with a chained pit-bull and nothing but forestry-like surroundings in between.
            The town’s welcome sign presented itself as the road veered left. Bonny and I had discussed that I would pick him up from school that day. As we entered the school, my son was accompanied by his mother and two cousins, Brandon and Elijah. Brandon, now ten years old, established himself a place in my heart. When he was a year old, this blond haired and green-eyed lady killer attacked my face with baby scratches and bites on our first meet. He called me dad a few times at the age of two and three. Though it was embarrassing for his mother, I found it flattering that he looked up to me as a father figure. He let out a high pitched yelp trying to sound out the word “hello” as I was parking. His big smile transitioned into a frown then a cry. “Why don’t you come around anymore?” he says as he whimpers and slowly tries to gather himself.  “Auntie just decided to be here, and I have to be down there, come here and give me hug little man,” I said after stepping out of the car. “Hey, Marcus! You must have gained so much weight, you’re getting heavy!” I exclaimed as I picked him up. “Hey dad, are we going to your house?” Marcus asked. “No sir, I came to see you graduate. I’m so proud of you!”
            My mother and Bonny exchanged hugs and both of them held back tears through glassy eyes. “How are you honey?” asked my mother. “I’m good. It’s great to see you Brenda” said Bonny. She turned to me and said “Marcus can stay the night if you’d like, I have a bag packed” and I said, “Thanks. I actually bought new clothes that he’ll keep here once we leave. So, see you guys at the graduation?” Bonny replied with “yea.”
            Lynn, Bonny’s mother, invited me and my mother to her home before the ceremony. Lynn has always been fond of me and my mother. They found the topic of single motherhood as commonplace and built a relationship from there. We entered the home and I noticed that the place was altered; some familiar things caught my attention. My couch when I was married replaced the old couch Bonny’s mother had amongst other belongings that reminded me of the time I was married. What surprised me the most was a photo of me on her wall with Bonny and of Marcus at the age of four months. “It’s great to see you Brenda” says Lynn as she hugged my mother’s petite frame. “Would you like to sit together when we’re all there?” she adds. My mother replies “I would love to Lynn.” Brandon tugs on my hand from the side and asks, “Can I ride with you uncle Noi?” and without hesitation I said “Of course!”
            We made our way into the auditorium and were the only non Native Americans there. One can only imagine how rare it is to see someone of my ethnicity outside of Southern California and the Bay area. The flashing of cameras flooded the room as the new graduates walked onto the stage one by one. My son walked through the pathway holding an octopus stuffed toy. “Is he your child? He looks so cute, he looks just like you!” a lady says. I responded with a thank you and she interjects, “Are you Noi?” I said, “Yes, why?” then she said “Oh nothing, I heard you were coming.” I thought to myself that the whole town must’ve known we were coming. That was creepy at the least…
            The children were introduced before being handed their diploma, and I must say I was impressed with my son Marcus’ abstract creativity. As they were called one by one to receive their diploma, their introductions entailed their aspirations of what they would want to be when they grew up.
“Angie says she would like to work at the shop like her mom when she grows up…”
“Robert says he’d like to be fisherman like his dad when he grows up…”
“Marcus Xavier says that when he grows up, he wants to be a sea monster…”
While I basked in my profound paternal moment, I looked over and saw that Brandon had not left my side. He kept looking up towards me and analyzing my every move. It dawned on me that it wasn’t just my marriage that collapsed when Bonny and I embarked on our divorce. My son was affected, Brandon was affected, Lynn and my mother were both affected as well. Have we been so consumed in fighting for parental rights that we neglected to practice being parents and family members ourselves?
            At the end of the graduation, Amber, Bonny’s sister, invited us over for a pizza dinner along with her clan. Uncle Jack, a man of large stature approached my mother, introduced himself and said, “Hi I’m Jack. Now that we both shook hands, I want you to know that means we’re married…” This sent quite the laughter throughout the household. I felt a hand on me during this time and as I looked, I saw Violet (Marcus’ younger step sister). I picked this Cabbage-Patch doll up and I felt her chubby baby torso envelop my fingers with her baby fat. “She’s so cute! I just want to pinch her!” my mother says.
            At the end of our trip, my mother and I had a long conversation about our stay. The unexpected connection our families had took me aback, but it was definitely reassuring to know we were past the unpleasant period of severance. I had come to the conclusion that we were now working on a common goal which is to look past our differences to help each other nurture Marcus’ future. I had felt ashamed for allowing Bonny to get the best of me (and vice-a-versa) on our most vulnerable states, and even more ashamed to allow my son to witness those events as they took place.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My oh my...

I was rifling through my computer and I saw something I made for a Psych/Soc class that I thought was good stuff. Pardon the Psych/Soc words, the purpose of the literature was to also incorporate those terms. I wrote it around 2008 (I think) and I wish I still had a hard copy because I made it into a book and it was mighty awesome. My professor asked me if she could keep it.  Hope you guys like it!

Betrayal of What’s Right

By Fortunato D
“Whether it is killing or being killed, a soldier must contend with the finite. But when he looks into the eyes of a child, __innocence is infinite.”

Anonymous Vietnam Veteran Quote from the movie “Soldier’s Heart”

It was late August 2005, when 3rd Battalion Fourth Marines came home from Fallujah, Iraq.  I remember banners on wire fences, signs with names of Marines made by their families, the word “Hero” being thrown around like confetti.  I also remember prior service members wearing remnants of what used to be their service utility uniforms filled with different “Moto” (Marine slang for motivation) patches.  Other retired service members and supportive mothers of other service members waving cell phones for use of lone homecoming Marines and Sailors.  An ocean of people swarmed around the buses and people on top of their vehicles to get a better view.  Most of all, I remember the smiles and tears of my family and the face of my soon to be one year old son.  Leaving the command from augmentation was a blur. Go here, do that. Return this, sign that. Now leave and go back to your previous duty station. There were 10 of us from our mother unit from Lemoore Naval Air Station Hospital.  There was JP, David, Nelson, Jim, Ed, a guy we called “Bob”, Manny, Hamman, Brock and I.  Among us that came home, I was closest to Ed, Jim and David. We faced similar problems and dilemmas from coming home.  I knew nothing about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  All I knew was that we all agreed that we hated so many things and people when we came home.  We just came home different.  David was a “Happy go lucky” kind of guy.  He was known for being friendly and sensitive to needs of others.  When he came home, he was less sensitive.  He was angry at some of the people in his department half the time.  Jim was the same.  One night his wife informed me that he “Geared up” and went into the prone position and stated he was holding security.  Ed was somewhat like me.  We both had the feeling of guilt, sadness and sorrow.  Ed and I usually spent some time with each other when we are off duty.  We talked about Iraq sometimes but we’d get teary eyed so we avoided it unless we felt strongly about some things on some days.  Our biggest topics about Iraq would usually be about the guilt of feeling the way we do coming home when there are guys that went two to three tours and seem fine.  Ed’s family is my version of a model family. He has a wife, three wonderful loving children, a dog, two cars, a motorcycle and a house with a pool.  He always held strong and seemed invincible yet nurturing as a father.  But away from his children and around me, he showed me how vulnerable he was.  How vulnerable we both were from coming home.  I faced the dilemma of feeling like I had a score to settle.  I felt like I needed to be back with the unit for the next deployment.  I felt like I needed to be back with the Marines I fought with.  I was numb towards my own feelings and my own welfare.  I was abrasive and very alert to everything.  I was mad at co-workers.  I hated anyone in uniform of higher rank except for a few.  The same hatred stemmed to higher ranking officers and enlisted members that never picked up a rifle and stomped their boots in the desert and acted like I needed to do as they say.  I have had incidents with patients because of the short fuse I had which I have never had before. I was in denial that I needed help. My PCM (Primary Care Manager) suggested I get seen across the street.  That place was the mental health division of the hospital. No one liked the name of that place because it seemed so much like a “crazy person” place. It was not what it seemed.  It was just a small clinic with a psychologist, a psychiatrist and two technicians and no wards nor beds.  She (my PCM) suggested I go and told me that everyone that came home was ordered to go as protocol.  I refused it and carried on with ignorance for a year. I always found an excuse for whatever was wrong at the time. On Veteran’s day that next year, I fell apart.

It was on a duty weekend which meant I was alone in the pharmacy that day.  I had a few patients from the outpatient side and some IV’s to make for the inpatient division of the hospital.  Around 1300 (1pm), I had a patient in my window.  Across the hall was a television playing CNN’s special on Veteran’s Day.  In that particular hour they focused on Iraq war veterans so I couldn’t help but listen while I tend to my patient. The “taps” tune in commemoration for the deceased started playing and in that moment, I felt a powerful rush of emotions and cried.  I went to the back of the pharmacy and grieved in between shelves and I couldn’t explain how painful it felt to feel the way I did. In that moment, I knew I needed to seek help.  I went across the street the very next day and made an appointment.  I knew that some of my friends were being seen there as well so I was compelled to ask of how their experiences were.  I received mixed answers.  Most agree that the therapy they were receiving was for the lack of a better term, “crap.”  Ed on the other hand, provided me with insight.  He said “It depends who you wanna’ be, do you want to be that guy holding a sign in the freeway entrance asking for money because you f’d up your life after, or the guy that took full advantage of the benefits that you (I) earned and get somewhere in life?”  That stuck to me till this day. He also gave me the idea that I should selectively pick between what would benefit me in those sessions with the psychologist.  I learned from experience that our primary groups change after a significant period of time. The veterans have a harder time adjusting to coming home than adjusting to being in the combat zone because the danger in combat is already expected. In my own words, I believe veterans put themselves in a completely different environment feeling like the world we knew will be the same when we come home. But unfortunately, nothing is the same. My mother was different, my sister, my spouse and my four-month old was a One year old. The society I knew has changed. The music, my friends’ interests and numerous other factors that disabled me from getting back to my picture of normal was non-existent. 

My little bit about Iraq

At the time I was there, I knew nothing about the culture.  I was never good at world history either so I had to learn hands-on.  The conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites have been going on since the dawn of both religions. I believe it is very ethnocentric to believe that they are “Religious Warriors” and are there for Jihad (holy war).  I cannot impose that idea to them at the time because it was their way of life.  I also believed that I should not get myself too close to the subject especially for being nowhere close to that religion.  We were informed that one of our roles there after our surge of Fallujah (Also known as Conflicts “Vigilant Resolve” and “Phantom Fury”) is policing the area and keeping them from fighting each other.  Besides the conflict perspective between the categories, that military directive in particular reminds me of an “Interactionist Perspective” as described in class.  It is hard to say so because it is the country of Iraq that is being mentioned. How it is set forth to us to be accomplished is what I deem to be an approach of such the perspective.  The military instructs us to intervene and (or) guide its own rebuilding “city” from waging war against each other (which is what reminds me of a micro-sociological like order versus its macro, the country of Iraq).  Our main job after the surge was to teach their military our knowledge.  The language barrier and difference in culture made it hard.  Their folkways and mores made it even harder. Something as simple as going to the bathroom for them was so different that it made my Marines so appalled that they didn’t want to interact with them.  The Iraqi Army’s platoon was intimidated by my Marines.  Some were eager to learn, some were just there for the paycheck (they were more like deadweights).  Some could speak English but didn’t want to lead by example. Some were very motivated but lack the academic edge. Some were just dysfunctions there to create deviance in their own society.   In the small (for the lack of a better word) tribes controlled by the Iraqi government and US military’s peacekeeping, they seem to have a sense of observing religious tolerance.  In these small tribes, they were run by the elders of what reminds me of an achieved status.  Hadjis were the older males sought to be wise and the military’s liaisons when it comes to public affairs.  Hadjias were the females in all black. They were believed to have been sent or reincarnated by their prophets (as I can recall).  They had distinct tattoos, highly respected, revered and are always covered.  In small parts between these tribes, the conflict continues and overlaps into these tribes and creates casualties. We usually get involved and even more casualties occur.  This snowballing effect of chaos I believe contributes to the birth of new insurgents.

“On a tour of this country…  I have visited eighteen governmental hospitals for veteran.  In them are a total of about fifty thousand destroyed men…   Men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago…  Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks.  There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about-face”; to regard murder as the order of the day.  They were entirely changed.  We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all about killing or being killed.  Then suddenly, we discharge them and told them to make another “about-face!”  We didn’t need them anymore…”
-Major General Smedley Butler USMC
(Two time recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor from a
letter written and excerpted Washington 1995)
Penny Coleman’s Flashback, 2006

Personally, this book is a book that is written in a third person account on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Penny Coleman’s motivation on writing this book involves herself as well with a previous relationship with a veteran with similar problems. It is well written and not so much as your typical military book filled with military-like jargon. It is a book that starts off talking about the Iraq war but the meat of it is found in Vietnam’s war for the meat of its studies are from there.

It says that in August 2003, suicides were increasing drastically in Iraq. That motivated the Army to send a team of experts to perform a study. The findings confirmed suicide rates as high three times greater than normal. I found it sociologically relative that among these suicides, it is the result of insufficient life coping skills. These involve examples such as marital, legal, financial problems, substance abuse and mood disorders. In her research, she states that in the DSM’s (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) original definition of PTSD as “Falling outside the range of human experience.”  PTSD has in fact been around since the civil war. Its ancestor went by the name “Irritable Heart” or “Nostalgia.” World War I had its popular name “Shell-shock.” World War II had “War Neurosis”.  Vietnam had “Post-Vietnam Syndrome.”  In the beginning of her book, you will find a foreword by Jonathan Shay. Jonathan Shay is the Staff Psychiatrist at the Department of Veteran Affairs Outpatient Clinic out of Boston, Massachusetts. He is highly acclaimed by her as an “Author, Psychiatrist and Classics Scholar”.  He describes PTSD as “A legitimate war wound and that the veterans who suffer its injury [carry] the burdens of sacrifice for the rest of us as surely as the amputees, the burned, the blind, and the paralyzed carry them.”  She also informs of his book “Achilles in Vietnam” which parallels the behaviors and symptoms of Achilles to veterans in Vietnam and finds them as strikingly similar. An example of this found in her book is Achilles’ rage at the death of Patroclus and sense of betrayal from his commander Agamemnon.  He then directs pain and atrocities against the living and the dead. One of the most important things he learned from his patients is that a betrayal of “themis” or “what’s right” is at the root of much of the psychic pain suffered by veterans.  He describes that there are three major categories of institutional failure in which themis is betrayed. Those are: a) Appropriate training and equipment, b) Unit cohesion and c) Competent, ethical and supported leadership.  I strongly agree with these categories because I can identify certain gripes I recalled saying and hearing (from my Marines). We had the “WORST” Humvees in my opinion. I noticed the edges of these Humvees were held together with 5/50 cord and zip-ties (Compared to the Army’s Humvees). The unit cohesion was great in the “Squad-level.” The Platoon level and up all the way to Company and Battalion levels was where the problems were. There was always the favoritism played between platoons by the higher enlisted and commissioned officers. Who gets the R and R, which platoon gets the “Dirty Work”, etc.  Our leadership was not the best leadership either. We had a fresh out of Officer Candidate School 2nd Lt.That the 2nd and 3rd timers didn’t trust and that they thought that he wouldn’t know what he’s doing.

I learned a very interesting word while reading this book. The term “Pseudo-Speciation”, a process for which is the ability of humans and primates to classify members of their own species as “other” so they can kill “Non-Specifics.”  During my deployment, I felt that there was never any time for thinking about compassion and niceties. I was either saving civilian casualties or policing in a stern and emotionless state. I went from pulling high valued individuals out of their car windows and homes to dragging old bloody civilians out of the line of fire to teaching the Iraqi Army basic medical knowledge in one day.  Major Peter Kilner, an active-duty officer who taught philosophy at West Point, says in this book “Soldiers who kill reflexively in combat will likely one day reconsider their actions reflectively… This guilt manifests itself as PTSD and has damaged the lives of thousands of men who performed their duty in combat.”  I feel like this is a very good reason why the specific wave of personnel who came from Lemoore augmented into 3rd
Battalion 4th Marines in Fallujah felt the way they did coming home. I believe that it is safe for me to say we have done our job keeping our Marines alive and ready for combat. We have also played our part very well and professionally in combat. I do know however, that some days, especially on our worst days we find ourselves as insensitive as the enemy we are there to eliminate when it comes to upholding rules, regulations and escalation of force.

On Call in Hell 2007

Cdr. Richard Jadick is a recipient of the Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor. He writes about his experiences in Fallujah as a war doctor and his efforts on bringing the most expedient medical assistance to the front lines. I favor this book foremost for it is the same combat theater that I was in on the same time this happened except their battalion was not the same as ours. The stories are familiar like I was there, but told from another man’s words. Though there is not much of PTSD and studies of it, he addresses it in his epilogue “Life after Hell.”  He tells of some of his Corpsmen and their emotions about the aftermath.  One in particular, a Second Class Petty Officer explains how he has
“shut down” around Nov, 2004 after an ambush.  His Second Class states that he has “No emotions anymore” and that “Once you’ve turned them off it’s hard to turn them back on again.”  Cdr. States that “No matter how tough you are, those demons are going to find a way to come out and haunt you.” He describes some of these symptoms as reactions from PTSD. They are severe anxiety attacks, depression, mood swings and even surprisingly an acquired stutter.  Among others, he describes some of his fellow Brothers-in –Arms and their ways of dealing with their trauma such as “hitting the bottle”,  self-isolation and detachment to a socially normal lifestyle.  The negative aspects were not the focus of his epilogue. They were actually the successes that his Corpsmen are achieving.  Some of them are keeping busy whether it is school or just keeping healthy. A Third Class Petty Officer states that he is now working on becoming an EMT. Another says “I try and tell myself that there are two attitudes to have in life,” he says “and that’s positive or real positive. There’s no time for negativity.” It is well understood that it is not always easy to do so but witnessing war out there can teach valuable life lessons which can be used to appreciate the life at home, even things as simple as indoor plumbing. 

Darling mother I’m so weary, from the stains of blue and grey.
Take my soul across the river, pull my hand and help me brave.
When I left Sarah was crying, promises she’ll wait for me.
Please don’t worry my untrue love; I’ll be home in a week or three…
Shiny buckles, the flags are waving, we both knew that God’s on my side.
The armies fall, the armies suffer.
I’ve watched the young men fall and die and I heard the angels cry.
And whiskey won’t stop the dreams, Feels like I’m living with the dead.
Oh the war goes on inside me.
No peace from the devils in my head.
I am bound a world apart, living with a “Soldier’s Heart…”

Stephen Allan Davis(Song from movie “Soldier’s Heart” by Brian Delate)
Soldier’s Heart by Brian Delate, 2008

The movie “Soldier’s Heart” tells about Elliot and his trials in everyday life in dealing with PTSD. He learns lessons in life regarding his inability to connect with past and present relationships. In this movie as well, he gains a better understanding of his father who is a WWII veteran and his long time best friend as well. He was a veteran with financial problems.  He invested in a water filter business that he struggles to try to get off the ground, also an aspiring actor who lacks the patience for demanding casting directors. He was called by a director in making a documentary about Vietnam. These interviews bear a striking resemblance to what I can recollect as if I would be the person interviewed.  His first questions were his motivation for entering the military.  He stated that he just wanted to be a hero. He wanted to equate to his parents and grandparents the way I wanted to see how I would do myself. My grandfather was a WWII vet. He was considered as a “War Hero” in his province in the Philippines. He even has a bridge in his name. I always looked up to him because he seemed invincible. Little did we know what he went through until he passed away. Upon his death was a suitcase filled with his memoirs and war stories that only his wife (my grandmother) kept safe. 

Other interview questions like “When did you first realize you were in Vietnam?” were asked. He tells of rockets everywhere and not as terrified as he should be mainly because there just wasn’t enough time to be scared. Mine was slightly different. It was sniper fire above a mansion in the city of Fallujah. He talks about his job as a casualty mover in a Huey chopper and while moving a casualty, a round misses him and kills his patient instantly. He goes into a frozen state and the crew chief (named Godzilla) shakes him out of it and gets him back into the chopper. He then asks himself “How come I didn’t get hit”? One striking part of the interview involves him talking about firing into a tree line and accidentally killing a child. He states that he didn’t care that day. But, he insinuates thinking of the child when he hears children in the background and that as the origin of his fears of having a child with his second wife. I thank God everyday for not having taken a child’s life.  But I do feel a tremendous amount of guilt for one child in particular.  His name was Khaled. To make a long story short (with my greatest need to do so), this innocent child had to witness his older brother and military age males in the household get taken away for living in the same home that the American beheadings took place. It was a special operation with the FBI. I watched my Marines raid through the homes fast and precise while this child stood there crying at the gates of this parents’ home. I took him into my arms and tried to comfort him.  I tried to tell him in my broken Arabic “Ente Zien” which means, “You’ll be ok.” I escorted him everywhere he needed to go to avoid witnessing anymore traumatizing events. I remember him walking barefoot everywhere, on glass, rusted tin roofing, gravel and broken glass so he could see his older brother and make sure he was okay. I feel that this event in my life has given me an appreciation to a child’s innocence and should never be tainted with the horrors of war. I love my son even more for this. Closer to the end of the movie, he reveals that his father never wrote to him in Vietnam and he seems to be hurt from it. Later on, he sees a shoebox of memoirs from his letters home and finds his father’s attempt at writing to him. It only says “Dear Elliot.” He figures out in the movie that his father really cared about him and that he wanted to write him. He just wasn’t good with those words (probably from being a war veteran with the same problems himself).  His best friend reveals that when he came home, he attempted to commit suicide via motorcycle and that Elliot’s father came to him and said “How dare you try to take your life while Elliot’s still out there.”  Those words stuck to his best friend and he kept it secret from Elliot out of shame. As he tells Elliot that story, He gains a new found respect for the love of his late father (who died with the movie’s progression). 

Courage After Fire 2006

This book talks about troops and their reactions to war, grieving and coping strategies to strengthen the enlisted member after coming home. It is a book beneficial to the service members’ families to aid their hero because coming home does not mean the fight is over. These chapters explain how the service members’ views change upon coming home. Some find themselves feeling like there is no future because of the psychological trauma involving an injury, an amputation, failed marriage and other problems.  At the end of this book lies a comprehensive listing of how one can receive help ranging from the Veterans Affairs to education to self –help advocacies and sleep help. A definite problem that returning veterans do not get educated on is to get help for themselves. It seems like veterans only care about coming home and “getting out.” The caveat of the urgency to leave hastily is that they do not pay attention to what they need to do when they get out. One thing is certain about this book about veterans coming home; the service member needs a good support system.

Gunny Ford

 I interviewed Jim Ford, a retired Gunnery Sergeant from the USMC who works at our building. He was the first black sailor aboard the USS Power DD 839. He left the Navy after his first term and decided to join the Marines. He states before our interview that he’s going to need to “brush off the cobwebs” in his mind before we do so. He tells me his perception that war is ugly, cruel and insensitive to human feelings. He remembers Vietnam as a bad dream, a dream we all cannot seem to forget but want to really bad. A lot of his friends were killed in battle, but they died fighting for their country. He also states, “Vietnamese and Americans should be praised for their involvement, but not for the political intrigue.” On a side note, he tells me how around the Marine Corps birthday he and his buddies used to spend time with each other before. That is harder now especially that they all live elsewhere. But around those days, all it takes is a phone call and the words “Semper-Fi.” I have the same relations with my war buddies. We do the same thing except it falls around July 7th, a day I will always remember in that deployment. 


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is definitely a contributing factor to post-war suicides and the numbers are increasing.  As long as there is war, there will be casualties. Sometimes, the casualties do not die until they come home.  Life-coping skills are definitely put to the test when the service member comes home and “what’s right” in his eyes feel changed once more. A person asked me how it felt coming home once, I felt very isolated at the time and I replied “It’s like I was put in a shoebox, then at least once a day I get shaken in this box. Now do that for eight months and then take me out and ask me to be normal.  My opinions have definitely changed after the war in Iraq. My opinions on the value of life, my coping skills and the way I see things. I have less patience for the petty, more love and appreciation for family. When I am at my lowest, war tendencies and survival instincts kick in. It helps to have them but it also brings me down emotionally when triggered.  

I am thankful that my mobilization brought me closer to God, my son, family and priorities.  My support system has been excellent. I have understanding friends and family. Till now, I cannot find the strength to tell stories about Iraq with out striking a nerve and I am happy that I managed to tell some (briefly) in this paper.  I can confess that my family and close friends not familiar with the military lifestyle do not know anything nor am I inclined to tell because of the feeling that they just won’t understand. I do however, talk to my war buddies about these events and the feelings I have about them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


It was karaoke night on a Tuesday when I heard someone sing "Me and Mrs. Jones."  It reminded me of her even though the (for the lack of a better term) relationship we cultivated had nothing to do with infidelity. It has been countless moons since I've seen her. My timing is antonymous to impecable when it comes to women. I've missed my window of approach is what I'm saying and if I were to tell her anything now, it will be this...

I received your last email about a year ago and forgive me if I wasn't receptive to your needs. At the time, we've been hanging out and I felt like you were growing emotion. Not just the kind of emotion related to fondness but also a "happily ever after."  I'm not ready to go there with anyone. Please forgive me for just disappearing. I've always seen you as a type of girl that is devoted to her relationships. Judging from our conversations, you deserve to have your prince charming. I'm nowhere to be found on that list. In fact, I showed up on Santa's naughty list 29 times. I know, I know... Not the best time to joke (as my ex-wife used to say).

I feel like my moral compass would not be facing due north if I stuck around. I'm thankful for having restraint because I HAVE to admit, you have nice legs, a lean physique and a great...pair of jeans. It would be thrice as hard to say no if you were the pursuant. I'm kicking myself in the head now because I recalled being so flirtatious. I recall saying, "Watch out now, because the places we go to might just make you like me more and more..." I shake my head at that now, I didn't intend to be misleading. Even moreso, I'm thankful for having restraint two-fold. At 29, your daughter is old enough to date me, just as much as I'm old enough to date you. If there is anything I want to convey, it's that I'm sorry.

...I know, my man card warrants a demerit for sounding so sensitive. But as the theme of my blog dictates,

You've seen it, you've heard me, now shut your trap...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Crack(s) CAN kill...

"I will tell you (about me) in this ere' blogger, one paragraph at a time..."

At this moment, my compulsions are towards conversations. And this conversation I will never forget. Trust me, there's humor in it. Somewhere...

It was November, 2004. We reached Fallujah and ended up in the mansion. The Staff Sergeant (SSgt) says, "Here's the sat-phone. Get in line, call your families. Tell em' you're alive. Done in 5." The Marine Corps way was always geared towards "Troops First" which meant lowest ranking gets priority then up. If I recall correctly, that's how it occured that day. As a Navy Corpsman (and FNG), I got my phone call along with the E-3's. We were on the roof during this time. The reception was not gathering much of a signal. We had to take a step up near a diagonal section on the corner of the wall. Those extra 5 inches of height just helped that much more for the sake of a signal. As it reached my turn, I followed suit...

B(Ex-Wife): Hello?
F(Me): Hi.
B: (Indistinct crying and in combination with expletives)
F: Wait, I don't have a lot of time.
B: (More indistinct expletives and colorful language)
F: Umm... Timeout. I only have 5 minutes. I want to tell you I'm alive and...


I felt concrete hitting my face, I turned around and saw everyone face down on the floor. Paulie looks up and says, "Hey boot, you may wanna duck..." and I replied with, "Oh yea, thanks."

I thought to myself, "Welcome to Iraq." An hour later, my SSgt asks...

SSgt: Who was on the phone?
F: Me SSgt.
SSgt: Call your family to tell them you're safe.
F: I'd rather not.
SSgt: Why not?
F: We were arguing.
SSgt: Just call. It's a direct order.
F: Roger that.

B: Hello?
F: Hi.

Palm ----> face = palmface.

**This is not intended to ridicule my ex-wife. She had her own trials as a military wife with her own set of concerns during this time as much as I had mine. I hope you do see the same humor that I see in it now.

If the shoe fits...

Hello reader,

It's unfortunate that my first set of "brainfart-to-keyboard" vomitus entails a conversation I just recently had. I just got home and it's 2:41 anno-meridian, and I'm compelled to share a rather odd yet (I find) comical situation. It (the convo) transitioned into dating. My friend was bummed about a recent relationship and I needed to find a twist to ease his mind and get him out of a rut (for which I think he's in).

(Conversation leads to)
F(Me): Dating is like... Finding shoes.
C: Elaborate.
F: You go into the store, look around, find a pair you like, then try it on. If one shoe fits well, you try them both on. You walk around in them for a bit, but usually it goes back because it just didn't fit right. Then there are those times that you find that nice pair that's just right.
C: Ah... What about the shoe that you buy sometimes just because they look good?
F: Yea. But don't you notice, you wear em' for a bit then it ends up under your bed? It was nice to look at. but they hurt your feet at some point. Or it just isn't as versatile as you'd want em' to be.
C: Like a trophy shoe?
F: If you put it that way... Have you been to Road Runner Sports?
C: The one here in Costa Mesa?
F: Yea, they put you in a shoe dog or running dog machine of some sort.
C: What?
F: They put you in a treadmill, analyze your running, posture and gait and see how it relates to your feet. They suggest the perfect shoe, and even the perfect insoles...
C: Like the eHarmony of shoes?
F: I guess so... We're still talking dating in terms of shoes?
(Both laughs)
F: What I'm trying to say is, you gotta' get out there to see what's out there. Or in this case, get in the store and try out some shoes... You don't HAVE to buy them. Every once in a while, window shopping is good enough. You know, if the shoe fits...