Operation Recovery

The Fort Hood Testimony Report

Shauna Dione *

Spouse of an active duty service-member

 

Editor’s Note: At the time of Shauna’s interview in 2012, her husband Jay* was currently on deployment in Kuwait, and was anticipating being medically retired after the deployment. Jay is from a small town in Texas who enlisted in 2006, serving in an Infantry unit. He had already been on two deployments to Iraq prior to his current tour, and continued to struggle with post-traumatic stress and a possible TBI which remained undiagnosed at the time of the interview.

 

I wasn’t a big fan of the military, I never have been, but I really liked Jay* and when we first started dating he said, “It’s okay, I only have like, a few more months of this and then I’ll be out and then we can do whatever.” He said in May that he was gonna be out in November. And once we started seeing each other, it turns out that it wasn’t that November, he would get out in a year. Like, next November. And then, I think it was once I moved in with him, it was somewhere along the lines that he still had 2 years and some-odd months. After we’d gotten serious and probably after we’d gotten married he told me, “Okay, well, I have two and a half years. Instead of just a few more months.” So I was pretty much tricked into it.

I was like, “Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa.” I can handle a few months of like, I’m gonna be gone and then I can do whatever. But no, he was just like, “This is what I have.”

I don’t know what his hopes or expectations were [in enlisting]. I don’t think he really had a plan of what he was gonna do after high school… I’m not sure what he thought the military was gonna be. It was just like a job to him.

He grew up in this tiny little town. And it was that stereotypical thing, he played football, he was from a small town, and his older brother had joined the military and was probably telling him all sorts of good things. So he’s like, “Oh, well, I guess I’ll just join the military too.”

I’ve talked to him about different screenings and stuff like that. He said that it really wasn’t anything. Like, it was basically check off a box.

Editor’s Note: Shauna was asked if she, as a military spouse, had received any training or briefing on the warning signs of PTSD or TBI.

Absolutely not. I’ve received nothing.

If [Jay’s unit] did they probably didn’t really give a shit. Because there’s a certain mentality in the military, but there’s especially a certain mentality in infantry and special forces. All the other military they’re like, “Hoo-ah, I’m a badass.” But in infantry and special forces they’re even more like, just rub some dirt on it and move on. They’re even worse about it so they just don’t talk about it, they don’t deal with it.

There’s really a stigma of ‘broke dick’ stuff. That was the first time I’ve ever encountered it was at Fort Hood. We were at Ben’s,* the medic, for a barbecue, it was right after Jay went AWOL and had to go back…right after we moved down to Fort Hood.

One of the neighbors came over and he had some kind of leg injury but he was still current military. And he’s like, “Don’t worry, I’m not a broke dick. I actually have a legitimate injury.” And I was just like, “What the hell is a broke dick?” And apparently a broke dick is someone who has sustained some kind of injury, but they’re too much of a wimp to actually get over it, they use it as a crutch, they’re like, “Oh no, I have a profile. Oh, poor me.” They call them ‘broke dicks.’

[The stigma comes from] the military itself. The military literally cannot sustain itself if the soldiers keep getting injured and being chaptered out, so they just encourage them to move on and just get over it, just be a man, just tough it out. You have to tough it out for the sake of the mission.

[Jay] doesn’t really give a shit about the mission anymore, the military has worn him down enough that he doesn’t give a shit about either one. He doesn’t give a crap about the mission, but then if something happens, he gets injured, then he’s not gonna do anything about it because he feels that nothing’s going to be done about it. He’s not gonna go to the doctor’s ’cause they’re just gonna be like, “Oh well, just have the ibuprofen and move on.” It’s just a waste of time to him.

There’s just been too many times… I don’t know any specific examples because Jay can’t remember anything anymore, which is probably the result of a TBI that he got in his first deployment. But, they’ve just worn him down to the point, from what I feel, that he doesn’t care about his job, at all, he doesn’t care about the military, he doesn’t even really care about politics, he just wants to be out and free.

…He doesn’t talk about it. Jay is not a loquacious person, he does not talk. The only information I’ve gotten are from bits and pieces that he happens to remember over the past two years. Just random little bits. But he doesn’t really remember much of anything.

Before we got married, I probably saw him for a total of two weeks in person. And then I went and saw him in October of the same year and that’s when we got married, so I probably saw him for about a total of about two and a half weeks before we got married, and then he moved down to Fort Hood, that December and I moved down to Texas but I was in San Antonio. I moved in with him at Fort Hood, or Killeen, about six months after that, and that’s when he went AWOL.

He just really hated the military, and he was like, “They’re not gonna notice if I go missing, if I just don’t show up, because they’re stupid like that.” And then once his mind frame was like, “I’ll just not go to work until someone notices and then I’ll just start going again or whatever,” whenever he first started, when he decided he was just going to skip a day, of course I didn’t know anything about the military. I don’t know how it works, I don’t know accountability, so I just kinda let him do what he wanted to.

He was just gone for a couple days, and a couple days turned into a couple weeks, and a couple weeks turned into a couple months and then I became really uncomfortable with it. I got to a point where I was like, “You need to go to work, this isn’t even ethical, who just stops going to their job and expects to get paid and stuff like that? That’s just ludicrous.” So I was pressuring him about that and then one day I got a knock on the door, he was probably an E-3 or an E-4, he’s like, “Is Specialist Dione* here?” And I was like, “Yeah he’s in the backyard.” And Jay had this beard and long hair and he was just dirty and he was digging in the garden and he came inside and looked at the dude and the dude is like, “You need to get ready and report in an hour. You’re in deep shit.”

And then I didn’t see him all day until 11 o’clock that night and I was scared shitless and I didn’t get a phone call, I didn’t know if they were gonna arrest him. I had no idea what the consequences would be, because I don’t know anything about the military. And then he came home and he’s like, “Oh everything’s fine, you know, nothing’s gonna happen.” I think this was a Monday or a Tuesday but he had to ship out to the National Training Center in California, NCT, Friday, and he’d be gone for a month. So he had to get all of his stuff ready and he just left all of a sudden, for a month. And I didn’t handle that well, because we had no money, I was alone, in Texas, where I literally had no friends to go to, there was no way for me to go out and do anything because we were broke. I just stayed inside all day, week after week, and I literally talked to no one, there were weeks where all I could do was talk to our dog.

It was rather traumatic. There were several times, or at least a couple times, where I called him up and I was just so angry at him. Plus, I wasn’t on his insurance because once we got married in Alaska they told him that he would just have to do all that paperwork at Fort Hood since that was his next permanent station, and then he went AWOL, so I had no insurance, I had no medication for my depression, and I was alone in Texas with no money and no way to do anything. I was completely isolated.

He ended up calling me and I fucking snapped, I snapped on him, in the worst of all ways, like screaming, and I had a voice that not even my mom would recognize, it was ridiculous, just screaming at him because I was so angry. I’m still angry, I’m still angry, it’s been over a year and I’m still angry at him for going AWOL and leaving me like that. And then, next thing I know I get a phone call, and he’s trying to get out of NTC because I’m freaking out and then he tells a couple of people, he tells his Chaplain and I don’t know what’s going on exactly, but Jay tried to use my depression as a reason to get out of the military. He tried to use me as a scapegoat. He literally took advantage of my illness for his benefit of getting out.

He wanted to come be with me, but at the same time he wanted to get out more. All he saw was an opportunity to get out of the military. And, of course, he saw it as him getting out of the military and then us being together and living happily ever after. But, I just saw it as he wanted to get out and he was going to use any means necessary, including taking advantage of me. Which I’m also angry about—still lugging it around.

I don’t know what he could have done [differently]. I know that a lot of soldiers go AWOL and that’s fine, they do it for really good reasons…

I feel like I’m the one who singlehandedly caught all of the shit from it, because after that they made us pay back every single cent that he got whenever he was AWOL. So, there were times where, I was sitting there, I had to go to a food pantry because we literally had no money. And who would I go to and be like, “Yeah, my husband fucked up, can you help me?” He was gone from five o’clock in the morning until midnight, so he was only even around for five hours between midnight and five. After they caught him [AWOL] they were like, “Okay, we’re gonna punish you with an Article 15,” they gave him 40 or 45 days of extra duty, which ends at midnight. And he still had to show up for PT the next morning.

…A lot of the military wives are scapegoated, where they say that’s the reason why the military’s so fucked up, because of the military wives… I’ve heard that the suicide rate isn’t because of the mental health, it’s because when soldiers come home they find out that their wives are cheating on them and they kill themselves. I hear that a lot.

I think…some of it [is true]. I think there’s some women out there that, they make mistakes or do terrible things. You know, wait until the soldier’s deployed and then end up taking the kids and all of his money and everything, and he comes back and he has absolutely nothing, after he’s experienced all of this. I think that would definitely make someone commit suicide.

But at the same time, it’s really hard being an army wife. It’s really hard to put up with a lot of the shit we have to put up with from the military. And we don’t get enough credit, I mean, especially for the ones that do try. There’s a lot of military wives that are pieces of shit, but there’s also a lot of military dudes that are pieces of shit. You never hear about the military members that can’t keep it together, they have PTSD and TBI and they end up beating their wives and they drink too much and they spend all the money. And she’s stuck there without having a partner, because her partner’s fucked up, and then she’s gotta take care of the kids, and she can’t just leave, she can’t just move. I mean, puts you in a hard situation. And then half the time he’s not even around.

You’ve got these kids to take care of, you’ve got your husband to take care of, and then he’s deployed, and he’s gone, and you need a partner. You can’t really blame them all that much for being like, “I have to hold up this entire household, I just want someone that I can lean on, just a little bit.”

I don’t know if there is anything that can be done, because nothing’s gonna change the fact that you’re separated from your partner and that you both miss each other. The military is all for, “Yeah, we appreciate the family,” but the family’s always second. It’s always second place to the mission. And I mean, a marriage may suffer because you get a phone call once a week and that’s all you get. And they’re literally not around and they don’t exist in your life. You can’t really blame a relationship, you can’t blame either person in a relationship for a relationship disappearing when there literally is no relationship.

Editor’s Note: The interviewer asked Shauna if she thought there were pressures on spouses to act as de facto mental health care providers when their husbands are home.

Of course they are. The soldier’s mental health is usually his responsibility, but if he can’t remember to take care of any of his shit, then it’s gonna be up to the wife. I think that war affects the soldier very much, I have no doubt about that. But I think it equally affects the family. Equally, because I could not even describe to you the pain in the wife’s point of view or the child’s point of view, when the soldier acts out. Like when he gets triggered, or just the irritability, the mood swings, all that kinda stuff. Yes, the soldier is angry but they’re, in turn, taking their hurt and moving it to their family.

[The military] tries, they do their briefings every Friday, “Don’t beat your dog, don’t beat your wife, don’t drink too much, whatever.” But there’s not really anything that can be done, when you’re triggered, you’re triggered. There’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve been triggered before, and all you can do is just stand back and not get hit. That’s really all you can do, is just let them work it out, and be there when they’re done.

I have probably two Army wife friends, I wanna say. Jean* and Carrie.* Jean is at Fort Campbell, she’s the wife of Drew*…Jay’s best friend. I don’t think Drew, Jean’s husband, has a whole lot of problems. I think Jean would’ve said something. I think Carrie has had a little bit more problems, ’cause Brad* was deployed with Jay the first time. He was in the same company, but not the same unit. They didn’t meet until after they had both gotten back. But from what I’ve gathered with Carrie, Brad has problems. From what I understand. But I mean, we haven’t spent a whole lot of time talking about it.

I’ve had a really positive experience with the MFLCs. It stands for Military Family Life Consultant. I was fortunate enough that after Jay turned me in for my mental instability, trying to get out, we met up with an amazing, amazing woman. But she was basically a counselor. And I never could have picked a more wonderful woman to have as my counselor. She started counseling I think in the 80s, and she started with Vietnam veterans. And has worked with veterans since then, for probably over 30 years. So she was excellent.

But the only problem is, we were going to counseling with the MLFC lady for me, and I don’t feel that that should’ve been the case. I definitely think we should’ve been going for Jay. Because I can go get help. I can go and do my own thing, and that’s fine. ‘Cause the only real problem was the fact that I didn’t have any medication. I don’t need counseling. I’ve been counseled for forever. But he’s the one who’s never really talked about any of his issues.

We were both going, we were going as a couple, and the problem is that, if we were going for him, that would’ve been a totally different issue. He would’ve gone to a different counselor, it wouldn’t have been an MFLC lady. He probably would’ve gotten a lot of shit for it. Because he’s not allowed to have any kind of mental illness. I can be crazy as fuck! I’m allowed to be crazy as fuck. For some reason, as a military wife, I’m supposed to be crazy as fuck. He is supposed to be the sane one, with the crazy wife.

Go to family counseling, and pretty much scapegoat your problems onto your wife. It’s pretty much a backdoor. ‘Cause he could’ve gone to counseling with me all he wanted. He did. Like, he just, “Hey, I have to go with my wife, we’re getting couples counseling, for our marriage, or for her psycho-ness, or whatever.” They’re like, “Oh, yeah! Take care of your wife! Bleh, it’s fine!” But if he was like, “Hey, I need to go talk some issues out,” they’d be like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up.”

…Once he gets back [from Iraq], he automatically has to start his paperwork to get out of the military. ‘Cause he gets back in three months, and he gets out of the military four months after that. And he should’ve [already] started his paperwork for getting out.

The only time I’ve ever pressured him into getting counseling is after he came back for mid-tour R&R this Christmas. And he was fucking weird, is what he was. Like, staring at things that weren’t there, he was talking to people that just weren’t there. He got angry for no reason, just fucking angry! And I had no idea what his problem was. And, for the random anger he has, I can handle that. But when he starts seeing people, and talking to people, it has got to stop. So I waited until he got back [to Iraq], and I was like, “Okay, you need to go talk to someone.” And he’s like, “Okay, well, I’ll go talk to someone.” And then, he lied to me, and told me he was getting help, and he actually wasn’t. And that really, really upset me.

He said he was afraid of something actually being wrong with him. So his mindset was, “If I just ignore it, it’ll go away.” But the thing with schizophrenia or anything like that is, it never goes away, it only gets worse. So I really pressured him. I pretty much told him, “If you don’t get this done, that’s it. I’m done fighting for you if you won’t even fight for yourself. You gotta give me something.” And so, he went to the mental health building over in Kuwait. And they got back to his Commanding Officer, and he took Jay and some of the other people in his unit that also sought mental health, or had profiles, and pretty much talked down to them like they were pieces of shit. Like, “How dare you seek mental health? You bastard.”

I’m not sure what his rank was. He has to be up there, probably an O-5, O-6, something like that. I want to remember him, because I want to wait until Jay gets back, and I want to call that dude a douche-bag to his face. I just really don’t like him.

[Jay] did end up talking to a counselor, before that. And he said that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with him. That he was totally fine, and all that kind of stuff. So we haven’t really gone past that. I mean, it’s to the point now where I can’t really make him do anything, because I’m 5,000 miles away. I mean, I know the problems still exist. My focus right now is making sure that he’s happy, so he doesn’t snap and end up fucking killing someone. ‘Cause he does have anger issues.

Editor’s Note: Shauna was asked if she thought Jay killing someone was a real possibility.

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think he would have no problem mowing down half of his unit, with a saw, or something. Yeah, I totally believe it. And he’s had extreme tendencies to violence. Which is the other reason I like to keep him happy, because I don’t want to become anything in that line of fire.

I mean, he’s never physically assaulted me, but it’s come damn close. Damn close.

…He was really irritable… He’s never been really able to sleep. There’s been several instances where it’ll be like, four o’clock in the morning, and he’ll just get up and walk around, and stare out the window. I didn’t even know it existed until like, a month ago, but I’m pretty sure he has it. He has sex-somnia. Sex-somnia, where he will be sleeping, and then he will become sexually violent in his sleep… And then he doesn’t remember anything. Like, anytime that he has some kind of sleep episode, where he gets up and he walks around, or he talks, or he does stuff, or gets sexually violent, he doesn’t remember anything.

It [worries me]. Because…I don’t know how violent he’s gonna get. I don’t know if it’s gonna get worse. I know it’s gonna get worse after this deployment, ’cause I know he saw more action. I mean, at least before he went to Kuwait. But I don’t know how bad it’s gonna get.

I don’t know what can be done about it. I honestly, I really don’t know. I mean, I’m not any kind of counselor or anything, I don’t know what can be done about it. I know he needs therapy. I know he needs someone that is able to take care of him. And I know that I’m not that person. And that’s something that’s really, really hard to face, is the fact that I still love him. But I also realize that I’m not the right person for him. Because I’ve been through so much in my life that I’m unable to be a caretaker. I need someone to protect me, and take care of me, and to be a support system. But I’ve never gotten that from him. There’s been very few instances where he’s actually able to step up and be a partner.

It’s been for the past two years, that I’ve had to take care of him. And I have this image that he’s this man-child, and I am this mother figure. And it drives him crazy, and it drives me crazy. But I don’t know how to handle it any other way. Just to take care of every single aspect of his life, to make sure that he’s okay. But I can’t do that. It’s not fair to me to be an advocate and take care of every little mood swing, and stuff like that. It’s too hard.

…He does have forgetfulness. I don’t know. I didn’t know him before. I don’t know if it’s just like, pure stubbornness, or stupidity, or a TBI, or what. But just everything he does, I have to go up behind him and make sure that it was done right. Most of the time it isn’t. I don’t know. I’m trying to think of some kind of specific instance. But I mean, he’s been gone for so long. The worst thing is, is that I remember when he left, right after he left, probably a week after, I was sad because he was gone, but at the same time I was so relieved. That was probably the biggest relief I’ve ever had in my life, because after he was gone I didn’t have anything to worry about. It was just me, and the apartment, and if I set something down, it was gonna be there whenever I came back.

[Jay’s history] is the part where I have the most difficulties, because what I know about Jay is things that I have observed. Like, one percent of it is from stories that he’s told me. Because he doesn’t remember anyone who he’s dated before me. He doesn’t remember friends from high school. He doesn’t remember things that happened in his first deployment. He doesn’t remember anything. He just doesn’t remember.

Like with the ex-girlfriends, he doesn’t remember any of their names. He has to think about instances in his last deployment. I’d ask him something like, “Were you ever blown up?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” And I’m like, “What happened?” And he’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

…He saw a lot of action on his first tour. He’s killed people. He doesn’t remember how many. He didn’t keep track. I’ve never asked him if he’s lost any friends. I’ve never asked him a lot of things. Now that I think about it, I think that it’d be really beneficial if he talked to another vet about it, because maybe he’s just not comfortable with me.

He’s switched command so many times. The commanding officers never know their actual soldiers. Like, they realize, “I have 12 pawns!” Like, “What do I do with these pawns.” And they never see them as people. Like, “This person is acting outrageous. Why is he acting outrageous?” Well, the dude’s been in for six years, and gone through three deployments, and must be really fucked up. The commanding officers don’t connect that.

Editor’s Note: Shauna continued by reflecting on whether she thought anyone in Jay’s command has been tracking his symptoms, or how many times he has been exposed to blast pressure. She also shared that Jay is not currently receiving any treatment for TBI or other symptoms.

I doubt it. And if they do have those kind of records, they’d be in Alaska, and they wouldn’t have been transferred down to Fort Hood, ’cause no one knows and no one gives a shit. But as for Jay and his forgetfulness, he realizes he’s really forgetful. I don’t think he remembers if he was forgetful before the deployment or not. He doesn’t remember—which is part of the problem. But he does realize, he’s aware that he’s forgetful. He just doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s bought memory books on how to improve your memory, and stuff like that. But it doesn’t work.

I don’t know [if he’s been screened for TBI]. I don’t think he’s had an MRI, or a CAT scan or anything like that, not that I know of. He hasn’t told me anything about it.

…I’ve asked him several, several times, like, “What kind of action have you seen?” All I know is that he’s been blown up. That’s it. That’s all he tells me. He doesn’t tell me anything else. Which is really hard on our marriage, because how am I supposed to trust someone I don’t know anything about? I love him, because I see the person that he is. But I don’t know anything about him before I met him. There’s 22 years of his life that I don’t know about at all. Because he can’t remember, and I think part of it is ’cause he refuses to tell me.

Editor’s Note: The interviewer asked whether Shauna thought Jay should have been deployed a second time.

No. They should’ve just let him go when he got the Article 15. And he got the Article 15 ’cause he went AWOL. They should’ve just chaptered him out, but they needed the numbers. They needed quota.

They just saw him as a delinquent. He was just a shit-head delinquent.

I don’t think [his going AWOL] had anything to do with his TBI. I think it had to do with the fact that he was tired of picking up candy wrappers off the sidewalk. He was tired of just sitting around and not doing anything. It’s like, “Why would I want to just sit around a desk, and just sit there and literally do nothing for hours and hours, when I can just do that at home?”

The only time he’s ever been on profile that I know of, was when he got a skin infection. And it was a combination of cellulitis and impetigo, which is a nasty combination. He was literally unable to go out in the sun, for probably a week. And he was hospitalized for it. Which ironically enough, the military didn’t even want to deal with him. I was forcing him to go to the ER, to Darnall, to seek help. Because his skin infection was so bad that I couldn’t even recognize who he was.

It was all over. It covered everything, it was all over. His face was swollen from the puss, and he was leaking it out of his ears, and just out of every pore of his skin. And he was red, and puffy, and leaking this yellow stuff… We went to the ER, and they’re like, “Okay, it’s just a sunburn, it’s okay. Just don’t go out in the sun.” And we came back, and he went to some 24-hour duty thing. And I went and I picked him up—it was eight o’clock in the morning. He walked up to my window, and I looked at him and I was like, “I don’t know who you are.” And he’s like, “Jay.” And I’m like, “Shit, we’re going to the ER now.” And that’s when they finally took him—it was probably the third time, I think, we went to Darnall, and I was finally just like, “This is not normal. You can look at him, you can look at his ID. That is not the same person.” And that’s when they admitted him into the hospital. But it took probably two or three times of going to Darnall before he actually was able get help.

He wasn’t on profile for very long. They pretty much hooked him up to some IVs and the infection went away really fast. Probably just as fast as it set on. But get this, even though the doctors gave him a profile, and were like, “Hey, this guy’s really fucked up,” because he was on extra duty, his commanding officer was like, “Oh no, this dude’s faking it. He’s full of shit. He’s going to the ER.”

So he went to his company, and walked in, and his first sergeant looked at him and was like, “Oh my God. You are fucked up.” And he told him, he’s like, “Benji,* don’t you ever go out in the sun.” Jay’s white, he’s white as hell. So it was probably the reason why he ended up getting the disease in the first place. But his first sergeant went to the commanding officer, and said, “I’ve seen this dude, he is not faking it. I don’t know how you even think something like that. “So he’s good.”

…I wouldn’t have let him go on back to extra duty. I would’ve gone back to his office and bitched him out, and been like, “You’re full of shit. And he’s gonna stay home. If you don’t like it, you can fuck off.” I have pictures of him, and it was just ridiculous. But yeah, the commanding officer was gonna make him go back on duty, ’cause he was thinking he was faking it. But it was ’cause the first sergeant went to him, and was like, “That dude’s not faking it at all,” that he was actually allowed to have the time off that he was allowed in his profile.

I doubt if [his unit] is really aware of [MEDCEN-01]. And if they are really aware of it, they don’t care. They’re just like, “Well, fuck that, I’m gonna do what I want.” So…I think Jay’s a little bit different though, ’cause his first sergeant, who’s usually supposed to be an asshole—in military terms, ’cause he’s the one who gets shit done—this is his last deployment. He’s retiring after this. So he doesn’t really give a shit. So when Jay went AWOL, he actually kind of viewed that as admirable. He’s like, “I wish I could go AWOL, I wish I actually had the balls to do that. But I’m career, so I’m gonna live vicariously through this Joe.”

So he’s kind of a celebrity in his own little company. ‘Cause everybody wants to go AWOL, but no one really has the balls to do it, so he did it. They call him “AWOL Bob.” That’s his nickname, AWOL Bob. No one knew his name when he got back. He was supposed to be in that unit for several months, and no one knew him. So he was AWOL Bob.

…When he was on extra duty, he with a lot of other dudes that I don’t know if they had a prescription medication problem, but he was Alpha Company, and all the dudes in Alpha Company, they were the AWOL guys. And Charlie Company, he said, was all the dudes with the cocaine abuse. But I don’t think he knows anything of guys with prescription medication problems. He might, it’s just another one of those things that he might know, he just forgot to tell me.

…I think multiple deployments is really harsh. ‘Cause you’re not the same person when you come back the first time. So you’re gonna be even less of yourself when you come back the second time. It’s like you sell yourself a little bit, every time you get on that plane.

It’s really harsh. It’s really hard on people. You can always tell a soldier who’s never been deployed, over one who has been deployed. Because you get one of those fresh-faced privates, straight out of boot camp, they’re like, “Yeah! I’m in the Army! We’re the greatest army in the world! I’m gonna kick some ass! It’s gonna be like Call of Duty, I’m gonna kill people! Ahhh!” And they’re like, “I can’t wait to be deployed.”

And then, once they come back, they’re like, “Dude, this sucks. I hate this. I never want to go back again.” And then they’re gonna send them back again. You can just always tell the ones that have already been, ’cause they’re like, “Fuck. I don’t want to go back. I know this is gonna suck balls. And there’s no way around it.”

The charm, the glamor, it wears off. Once you get over there, and you realize it’s not like Call of Duty, it’s mostly just picking up trash, or patrolling and not doing shit all day, or just like the sad jobs. Or, even worse, going over there and doing things like dealing with the villagers, and things like that, and realizing that these are some sad people. And they need help. And they don’t need to be governed over the way the military’s doing. And that they’re actual people. It’s even worse, ’cause it’s like, “Wow, this war is pointless. It’s absolutely pointless.” I think it’s once you see the pointlessness on your first deployment, you really don’t want to go back for the second one. ‘Cause you know exactly what’s gonna happen.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been an uprising among the Joes over there right now. Because they’re all just sitting around in Kuwait, not doing anything, when they could be home. But instead, they’re just sitting and waiting, and bored out of their minds. I don’t even know what he does over there. They do stuff like go to the range, and stuff like that. But it’s nothing they couldn’t do on garrison, on base. From what he told me, they’re pretty much trying to get battle-ready—they’re talking about deploying his unit to Afghanistan in 2014. So I guess that’s what they’re getting ready for. Jay’s gonna be out by then. But there’ll still be so many people still in.

Jay wants to get out. He would definitely be medically chaptered out, that’d be fine with him. A lot of the problem is, is that soldiers might want to get chaptered out, and they would be medically chaptered out, but then they have no job after. That’s a very key thing. A lot of soldiers put up with what they do because that’s a job. And they have the skills for that job. And if they leave that job, they have shit. You can end up going to some kind of government-related job that will take military members.

Jay’s already got a job lined up. But that was only because he was a military member, and he is going to have that veteran status. His mom just asked around, and was like, “Hey, my son’s getting out, he’s a veteran, anybody want him?” And there was just people, like manual laborers, were just like, “Hey, yeah, we’ll hire him.” I mean, he’ll make good money. I don’t know if his plan’s still to go to college, but he basically wants to operate a solar farm. He really likes solar power, for some odd reason.

I’ve heard stuff about sexual assault in the military. I would say Jay doesn’t have a problem with that in his unit, ’cause it’s all males. But even if it was guy-on-guy, I don’t think that’s happened to his knowledge.

I’ve been to the FRG once, maybe twice. I think just once. That was right when he was deploying. I showed up, and his CO was there. And he was like, “Okay, we’re gonna deploy. This is what’s up.” I was pissed. And…I didn’t go to the FRG because I had rumors circulating about me before I even showed up at the first meeting.

I went because it was that barbecue, over at the doctor’s house. I thought I was being friendly, Jay thought I was being friendly, like there was no kind of jealousy thing. But I was talking to one of his friends, Benji, just really friendly, just talking, everything’s fine. And next thing I know, you know—’cause Jay was trying to get me friends. Like, I had no friends, I might as well make friends with the military wives, maybe that’d be a plus. Which is pretty much how I met Alma,* is ’cause soldiers set their wives up on dates with other wives, so they can get friends. But yeah, Jay asked about Benji’s wife, to Benji later. And he’s like, “Ah, my wife doesn’t want to have anything to do with your wife,” because she said that I was flirting with him. And it was ridiculous.

Which is even funnier, because he had been telling Jay that he knows that his wife sleeps around. And he wants to leave her and divorce her, and stuff like that. And yet, she gets angry because I was just talking to him at a barbecue. And Benji’s wife is one of those—she was already in the in-crowd for the FRG. She already went drinking with the FRG leader, like the CO’s wife, and they get all chummy and shit like that. So I’m like, “I’m not dealing with this.” I’m not gonna show up at a meeting with a bunch of women that are just gonna shit-talk about me, and not even help me with any of my issues, and if I do have an issue, and I bring it up to them, the entire unit is gonna know. Because they’re gonna tell each other, they’re all gonna tell their husbands, and just this ridiculous rumor mill. Nothing stays confidential.

…While Jay was in the hospital on base, for his cellulitis and impetigo, I went driving around on base, which is the first time I’d ever really just kind of did my own thing. And I think I was going to a Burger King or something, to get him something to eat. And I went by the gym, which is right by the hospital. And I was like, “Oh sweet, there’s a gym,” went inside, I got information, and found out that all their classes, all their exercise classes are free. So I started going to yoga at the Fitness Center. And that’s where I met Chris. He was the only non-creepy guy in yoga class…

And he came up to me afterwards, and he’s like, “Hey, I’m going to this place called Under the Hood. They’re having an art show. Maybe you could enter some of your photos.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool.” And he was also talking about painting it too. They were gonna do like, murals. So that was the actual reason I was pulled in for the first time, ’cause they wanted me to do a mural for Under the Hood. And I came here, the first time, I met Kyle, Chris was there, and Aaron. And we just sat and chatted, we didn’t talk about military stuff. And they made fun of me for being a hipster.

…But I still came back. And yeah, I kind of just came here, just chilling. And it was definitely different, because I come from a small town in Missouri. And I’m damn liberal for being from Missouri. But I looked at these guys, and I was listening to what they said, and how they said it, and I was like, “Wow.” Like, they’re politically correct, and there’s a certain way about all of them…It’s really hard to make observations on myself. Because I can see that I’ve changed. But I can’t name specific instances on how I’ve changed. I know that I’ve started doing things differently, and I’m more politically correct, and I stopped shaving my legs. But you’d probably have to ask somebody like Jared,* who’s my bestie from Missouri, who’s definitely gonna know some changes, once I get back.

…But as long as we all acknowledge that the military is not perfect, and there is problems that need to be fixed, I think that’s like, the common denominator [at Under the Hood]. It doesn’t matter if you like or do not like the military, you cannot argue that the military is perfect, and that there’s nothing to change. Because I know veterans that were in the military for 30 years, and are all sorts of fucked up. And they would still fight tooth and nail, and say that the military is good, and that everyone should join the military, and it’s a good thing. But at the same time, they are fucked up, and they need to start taking care of their soldiers more, because there’s all sorts of these problems that are being swept under the rug.

So we should be able to agree on that much. And I think the only people that would disagree with the military, and be like, “No, the military’s awesome, and if you don’t like it, you can just fuck off,” are the people straight out of boot camp, that have no idea what they’re dealing with. I think anyone who has actually ever seen action in the military will agree that there’s something wrong with the health care, and the treatment, and stuff like that.

What do I want to see…I don’t know. I don’t know what would be possible. I would like to see more screening. I want the security of knowing that if you are deployed, when you leave and when you get back, you will be thoroughly examined, to make sure that you are mentally stable and physically stable, and emotionally stable.

I want to have the ability to say without a doubt in my mind, the soldiers are being taken care of. Without a doubt. From the moment that they entered boot camp, to the day that they died, you know, once you’re a vet you’re always a vet. I do think that there’s some people that think that military should get benefits for the rest of forever. I think there’s certain kind of logistics we have to work out. Like, financing. I know a lot of people have problems with the military right now, ’cause like, “Oh, well, so many people are going undiagnosed for PTSD.”

They also have to stop and think about the doctors and the qualifications that you have to have to be diagnosed PTSD… The government gives so much money for the VA each year for disabled vets. And of that money, there are more people injured than money that can cover all of these injuries. So the doctors have to take the worst case scenarios and give them the adequate amount of disability, so they can get funding. So it’s hard to get disability from the VA, ’cause frankly they don’t have the money to give everyone… So the doctors have to go through and pick and choose who’s more fucked up than the other person, because person A may have TBI, but person B is missing both of his legs. Who do you think is gonna get the funding? The guy with no legs. ‘Cause he’s the one that they’re gonna wheel onto football stadiums, homecoming, and you know, be like, “Oh, he’s a hero! He lost both his legs!” But they’re gonna look at the TBI guy, like, “It doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with you.” It’s the visual that they need… I think there’s frankly not enough funding for the VA.

…I think the people that need the disability the most are the people that can’t advocate for themselves.

The VA is back-logged claims by like, $900,000. And it’s the fact that there’s not enough funding… The government doesn’t have money to be spending on the military. The nation’s deficit is trillions of dollars, and yet we’re still pouring money into the military, which is not profitable. If we were gonna be charging stuff on our credit cards, it’s better to buy food than a TV. I mean, that’s kind of how I feel at this point. It’s all just fucked up. It’s all just fucked up.

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