Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me. I pray that you make me an instrument of your judgment, help me find the strength to keep going, help me find the wisdom to make the right decisions, before myself keep my brothers safe.
Every day I left the patrol base, I said that exact prayer in a whisper to God and myself. Now every day I wake up and pretend to live this normal life. I’m terrified. I have no orders. I have no mission. I have no brothers fore and aft like I grew to love. I walk through campus staring at rooftops and look for likely enemy ambush sites. I play out in my mind how the panic would unfold after the shooting started. Where would I find cover? I feel where my SAW used to be. I think about my .45 next to my bed. I wish I had it with me. I would feel safe.
I look for disturbed earth as I run down the trails through town. My memory screams at me, “Don’t step there!” My common sense tells me to get over it; there is not an IED there. Its almost time for the spring offensive to start. I hate spring. Flowers remind me of poppy, poppy reminds me of IEDs and AK rounds, IEDs and AK rounds remind me of fallen brothers, fallen brothers remind me of grieving families, and grieving families remind me of a country trying to forget that we are at war while the rest of us try to reason and move forward with our lives.
It’s almost time to walk out my door again. The scariest day of my life was the day I left my family in California. The 185 dip-spitting, shit-talking Marines who made up my war dog family. They had my ass through the darkest time of my life. Though it gets easier to deal with, it doesn’t go away.
As I sit here knowing I need to turn in an assignment, I cannot concentrate on it. I get anxious as if I am imprisoned behind this computer screen. I pace and tell myself to sit down and try to type something, but the research just turns into a gaggle of knotted sentences. Trying to decipher them only makes me more impatient. I can only think of “over there.”
I don’t need to talk to anyone. I have tried that, and it only made it worse. I need to figure out how to power through, like I always have.
I am not broken.
I am stronger than most, but I am lost.
I used to have a point of attack. With school I feel like I am chasing my tail. As I sit here, the gates open and the words pour out. Why can I write about the way I feel, but when it comes to an essay where I simply need to interpret what other people said and mention who said it, I want to pull my hair out?
I hate everything about it.
I lay awake through the night. I should be cold, sleeping on the ground somewhere. Instead I am warm and comfortable in my bed. I used to sleep through gunfire, but the sound of trickling water or a slight rustling in the corn stalks jars me awake. I am always ready. The loudest noises on the street outside will not bother me, but if my roommate’s three-year old tip-toes above me, I spring up.
How do I conquer these burdens?
I know I am not the only one experiencing this. This is the weight a combat veteran carries. For others, I would gladly carry more. It’s all I know how to do anymore. I thought if maybe I went shooting often enough, the range therapy would solve it. Not the case. Little kids make me smile, but ultimately they remind me of the ones I saw on patrol everyday: dirty, malnourished, with drug addict parents, sexually molested, barefooted, innocent kids trapped in a holy war.
For them we did our best to create peace and bring stability.
My best friend was killed “in order to prevent the enemies’ freedom of movement.” I go to the gym when I feel like I do right now, where the anger builds and I need to escape. I know I am programmed to be an Infantry Marine. I am perfectly OK with that.
I found out in March I am considered 60% disabled by the VA. Monetarily that is a blessing. Ultimately it has taken the wind out of my sails. I feel like my entire purpose on this rock has dissolved with the abuse my body has taken. My drive to succeed physically and motivation to be the best is at an all time high, but the recovery time is much longer. I hurt more than ever. Still I would go back if they let me.
I will never give up on life. That would dishonor those who gave theirs for me, and I am not weak. I could easily crawl into a bottle of Jameson again, but that is a temporary solution to a permanent problem.
My only hope for success is to find a new niche and face my fears of carrying on without my brothers around me. This is what I think about all day, everyday. While I am at work, while I am in class, all day.
Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Afghanistan War veteran Chase Vuchetich, who deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines from March to October 2011. During this deployment, 1/5 took part in two separate combat operations. Upon completing this rotation, they were awarded the Navy Meritorious Unit Citation award.