A lot of people see Veterans Day as a single day to say thanks to those men and women who choose to serve in our military. I get that, I do.. I mean, they give up a lot. We got shit pay that sometimes amounted to $2 per hour; We did the math once. Some veterans see it as a “I get free stuff and wear my military shirts and hats” day. That irritates me. It doesn’t bother me that places like to give our veterans free stuff, so don’t flame me on that. It irritates me that Jo Bob, who served 2 years and got a less-than-honorable discharge, runs all over town gathering up his free meals. That’s what gets me. Kevin joined the Army because he enjoyed beer and his fraternity at Mississippi State University more than class. He was on an ROTC scholarship and made it one semester with a less than 2.0 GPA. He was smart and never studied in high school, but college was different. There weren’t rules and partying was a new thing. So he came home, and in his family, the men were all military in one form or another. He scored almost as high as you can on the ASVAB, the entrance exam for the military, and was offered any job he wanted. He chose the infantry… the fucking infantry. The entrance people tried to explain and talk him out of this choice but he politely declined, telling them that he fully understood what he was choosing. So, off to Ft. Benning he went and an enlisted infantry soldier he became. He was sent to Ft. Stewart and within days of arriving deployed to Somalia. Have you seen the movie Black Hawk Down? Well, that’s a pretty accurate representation of what happened and why he was there. He was 19 years old and was in combat, saw starving children and families, warlords, and who knows what else because he rarely speaks of it.
After marriage, several babies, and more rank down the road, he would deploy again. This time after 9/11. He was only one of a handful of soldiers in his unit that had seen actual combat and been deployed. That’s such a departure from the military of today and the kids we see come out of the service with multiple combat tours. He was in Iraq and I’ll never forget him taking along a foreign cell phone that a friend’s brother previously used overseas. We weren’t even sure it would work there but he took it anyway. Days went by and this was in the time of dial-up internet so I usually had a daily email at least. Then, a period of no contact worried me… a weeklong period. I was home with three small children alone. No help to speak of, though I felt both guilty and fancy because I had gotten a maid service to come every two weeks just to help me try and keep up. We could barely afford it, but it helped me feel sane. Things were getting scary on CNN; some civilian contractors had been hung from a bridge in Fallujah. By the 5th night, I was pacing and sick so I called the phone not knowing if anything would even happen. It rang and Kevin picked it up on the 6th ring, sounding as shocked as I was. I don’t even remember what exactly was said but he made it clear that they were moving soon and that communications were purposefully cut off. He also eluded to where they were going and didn’t have to say the words. I knew after growing up with him and being married almost 10 years at this point they were headed into Fallujah. He saw some terrible things there and ran the main road from Fallujah to Baghdad almost daily, where IED’s (improvised explosive device) exploded almost as often as the sun came up and set and where both contractors and soldiers were kidnapped and taken captive…it was a tense time. I spent my days at the YMCA trying to run off my anxiety and lift weights to not think about my fear. Routine and structure were all I had to thrive on so that’s how I spent my time. He came home having dodged some explosions, rockets, and who knows how many bullets, but the mental scars were so deep and hemorrhaging neither of us even knew they were bleeding. My dad also died suddenly during this time (a post for another time).
Kevin became more introverted at home, though he’s always been talkative and friendly at work and to strangers. We moved to Kansas at this point and things calmed down and became more routine for a couple of years. Then deployment number three came and he was back to Iraq for 24 months. Driving past the same spots where he had almost been blown up proved too much. He started seeing a long time friend who committed suicide after their last deployment in places like the chow hall and in crowds. He wasn’t sleeping and when he came home was deeply vigilant about cleaning his handguns and stockpiling ammunition. Loud noises startled him, crowds were a huge issue, his back had to be against a wall at all times, and we needed to know and identify all of the exits everywhere we went. It didn’t help that I was having my own mental health crisis when he came home and was blindsided by that. He had to table his own PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to take care of me. That’s a whole other post on a whole other day. Suffice it to say our marriage almost didnt make it, but somehow we grabbed on and pulled it together over several months. We moved to Atlanta for a job opportunity eventually, and didn’t have health insurance. I realized how bad his PTSD was when he was up all night not making sense and I was afraid he might hurt himself. We went to the VA (veterans affairs) and were told our prior income was too high to qualify for VA help and he hadn’t been rated for any disability yet… so basically, “Sorry. Hope you get help and good luck, here’s a pamphlet and an 800 number.”
Kevin transitioned to another job shortly after and we got private insurance. We were lucky. We had resources. Some veterans don’t. The lack of care for vets with PTSD and other medical issues in this country is astounding. Through medication, therapy, and some really great hobby-type workshops that have taught him coping skills, he is functioning a lot better today. He still has lasting effects of PTSD and always will. He ran the Marine Corps Marathon with me not long ago and that was tough (not the running but the crowds). The lack of walls, the pushing, the need to escape and nowhere to go was stressful. I will say that the staff of the MCM did an incredible job helping him when I couldn’t. I’m a much slower runner and he finished before me. The med staff helped him with getting away and giving him space as well as providing water so he didn’t have to push through crowds and possibly trigger a panic attack without his support person (me) there.
If you suffer from PTSD or mental illness of any kind, you are not alone. Running has been a huge therapeutic tool for Kevin and me both and so many people with these issues. Don’t suffer alone, we are here for you. Find us on Instagram, @muscleprincessruns and @harvestwoodworks