What you are about to read is a true story. Please share this story with anyone you know that could use it.
April 2004 I returned from my first deployment in Iraq. The struggles were real and many of us did not know how to deal with the emotions we had to deal with returning from such a horrific deployment. At the time I was assigned to an Infantry unit which was responsible for the capture of Saddam. It took some time to get back in the swing of things and living a normal life again. Our unit was scheduled to deploy again in about a year and a half which meant allot more time training along with time away from my family. My first-born child was born during my deployment and had already missed many months of her life, I could not see myself deploying again, at least not for a while. During my deployment I re-enlisted for another 3 years so the option for me to PCS to another duty location would be out of the question. At this point I was already struggling with lower back pain and early signs of PTSD. Dealing with more intense training and carrying heavy ruck sacks was out of the question if I wanted to be worth anything the rest of my career. Back then, there was no just thing as having PTSD. At least not in the infantry. You shrugged it off your shoulder and moved on. We talked to each other about it, grieved together and continued our mission.
July 2004 I finished my Primary Leader Development Course which all Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) have to go through in order to attain the rank of Sergeant (E-5). My vision to become an NCO was clear and felt that I was ready to lead other soldiers. Then I got some great news. There was a new brigade standing up right down the road and they needed leaders. After asking for volunteers to transfer to another unit in that brigade I was one of the first ones to raise the hand to go. This meant that leaders would have to be among the best to lead the new soldiers coming in to the new brigade. I was up for this challenge and had some great recommendations which gave me the opportunity. After a few weeks the brigade command sergeant major wanted to meet me in person and give me my assigned unit. My nerves were a wreck and I can’t even explain why. The CSM questioned the hell out of me like if I was going through a promotion board. The AC in his office didn’t work very well so you know I was sweating bullets on top of being under pressure. Thirty freaking minutes of questioning and he tells me he desperately needs me in his Cavalry Unit. Shit!!
I’ve accepted that I have to suck it up and drive on. Our unit had a total of maybe 20 soldiers when I got there and a staff sergeant as the 1SG (First Sergeant) and Battalion Command Sergeant Major. They weren’t lying when they stated they needed leaders and FRESH Unit. I’ve been in the Army for 15 years now and have only seen a unit stand up from scratch that one time. The clock was ticking and there was TONS of work to do still. Soldiers were arriving on a daily basis and within 2 months we had all the soldiers we were authorized to have. We were now a full strength unit which means the party is about to start. Equipment rolls in almost daily, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Hummers, tents, computers, office furniture and the list goes on. It was truly a busy 6 months of go go go. I was assigned as the Headquarters Platoon Sergeant and also the Headquarters Supply Sergeant at the time. Everyone was tense from all the work still ahead of us along with disciplining the new soldiers. It was truly a challenge that has molded my career and my decision-making process. A few more months pass and we’re at the ready phase with all the equipment and soldiers needed to begin actual training. Not much later we got the official news, we’re deploying in 10 months. Shit!!
All the NCO’s at this point including myself were extremely worried about the amount of time allotted to train these new soldiers. This went against every code, belief or mentoring any NCO has ever gotten in their careers. You can’t just train a new soldier in just 10 months and expect experts. These were young soldiers starting at 17-25 years old. We trained so hard day in and day out. Our leadership skills had to be sharpened and on point at all times. We took no shit from any soldier, we accepted no less than 110% and pushed until Cavalry poured out of everyone’s veins.
All great things must come to an end. Our unit is at full strength, equipment all lined up, containers packed, soldiers are readily trained and now we have some down time. Any military leader knows that with down time soldiers start to get in trouble. Think of your kids, as sergeants we play almost the same roles as a parent would with their child. If you don’t occupy your kids and keep them engaged in positive things they would turn to something because they’re bored. Soldiers party, we drink, drink and drink some more. If you’ve ever known a soldier you’d know that we know how to throw down. Especially Infantry guys, Cavalry Scouts, Tankers, Mortar Men and all the line guys. But sometimes even with our own children, no matter what we do right there’s always things that happen that can change their lives, your life or someone else’s life.
We are set to deploy late December 2005. Leave was granted to go and spend some time with our families, travel and visit family and just enjoy some time off before we head out. For a single soldier sometimes they’ll head out to a different state to visit family or sometimes just hang out in the barracks for 2 weeks which sucks if you ask me. Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday the soldiers would head out to the clubs and bars to have some fun. With deployment only a few weeks away these boys let loose and partied hard. Every group of soldiers that went out is trained by us NCO’s to have a dedicated driver (DD) in order to prevent DWI’s among many other serious matters we don’t want our soldiers to be in. A well-known group of soldiers and a few other NCO’s went out together for some beer, play pool and hook up with girls at the bar. They were all having such a great time, laughing, playing pool, drinking and flirting with the girls at the bar. Hours pass and they decide to leave around 2 am when the bar announced last call. One of the soldiers was nowhere to be found and the group anticipates that he left on his own without telling anyone. His car was not in the parking lot and they all begin to panic. One of the DD’s which only had a few beers was supposed to drive his car. When things get bad, they get real bad sometimes. The sergeants phone rings with news of the where about of the missing soldier.
The soldier is in the hospital with trauma and in critical condition. At this point the sergeant has no idea what happened but it’s evident that the soldier got into a car accident. He rushes to the hospital and on the way there he rides by the scene of the accident. The car was wrapped around an electrical pole. Tears roll down his face as he passes the scene and continues to the hospital. After everything settles down, the sergeant gets the news on the soldiers condition. The soldier is now brain-dead, cannot talk, recognize anyone or even feed himself. With only a few weeks away from deployment, the unit has already suffered a loss and it wasn’t even combat related.