have courage. take heart. bear witness.
Eddie: I had no intention of joining the military. I wanted to go to college and pursue an artist's lifestyle of drawing and painting and being Bluto from "Animal House." I wanted to chase women, drink beer. Took an ASVAB test—Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. And I scored pretty high, and I started getting phone calls from everybody—Air Force, Navy, Army. And all their ideas were, "Here's the job training that we can get for you. Here's money for college," and all that, and I had no interest in any of that.
Anyway, the Marine Corps recruiter—I met him—and instead of talking about jobs, he was talking about being a Marine and the virtues in being that, and that really appealed to me. I was a French horn player in Grenada High School marching band. We were No. 1 in Mississippi, No. 3 in the South, No. 13 in the nation. And everybody was great at what they did and they wanted to be great. And to be part of that organization, where everybody tried so hard, to do the best job that they could. How many organizations can anybody say they've ever been a part of to do that?
And the recruiter shows up and he has the same thing? You join this fraternity of Marines, where every Marine is a brother of every other Marine. You may see somebody you don't know, but you recognize the blood stripe. You can go up to him and say, "Hey, brother," and we don't have to say anything to each other. It's just a . . . just a connection. And, yeah, being a part of that band helped me go into the Marine Corps.
I just wanted to be a Marine, just wanted to be a part of this fraternity, and went into the Marine Corps and they placed me in avionics. So I became an avionics technician, on F18s—Hornets. And so almost a year of school, straight—electronics and computers. Then I shipped out shortly thereafter to Desert Storm, where the squadron was part of an air group out of Bahrain. After awhile we came back home to Hawaii and did a couple of tours to Japan and got out in 1994.
During the course of the five years in the Marine Corps, I became kind of self-aware. Growing up in the South, there was no point of view other than the white, Protestant, Southern male point of view. Being in contact with other cultures, even though in the beginning, I thought they were inherently wrong because of my background, but still there was enough of me to listen. And the more I listened, the more I saw commonality between different cultures and people. And the more I saw commonality, the less black-and-white world that I came from—the less hold it had on me. And then I found a love for philosophy and psychology, and then I started going to school for psychology.
And then 9/11 happened, and I was very angry. And I was on the phone call, I'm sure, with probably half the country, trying to sign back up. And because of my prior service in the Marine Corps, I had to go through a prior-service recruiter out of Portland, and he was probably swamped with phone calls. They lost my paperwork, and mission was accomplished. There's President Bush on the aircraft carrier with the big ol' banner, and, oh, war's over. All right, might as well go back to college.
I'd get up in the morning, you know, make my coffee, get ready to go to class. There I am watching CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and I kept noticing Marines were doing house-to-house clearings. House-to-house clearing is what you see on TV—is SWAT teams, and everybody has their particular function as they enter a room, as they enter a house and what areas they're responsible of keeping their weapon trained on, so that we clear that room. We clear that building of all enemy activity.
So when I saw this every day, I left messages on everybody's recruiter tapes. And I said, "Here's my name, here's my phone number. The first one to come up with some paperwork for me, I'll sign it. But I want to go back over and be with my guys." So it was National Guard. They offered me a position working on Black Hawk helicopters, and I turned it down. I said, "No I want a rifle and I want to be on the ground."
And then, a couple months later, I found myself downtown Baghdad as a backfill, a casualty replacement for a unit that was already over there. I was a sergeant, leading troops in Iraq—Alpha Company, Third Platoon, Third Squad. And, actually, I couldn't go out for a couple of days, 'cause I had to get my weapon qualified—make sure the little red dot along the top of the rifle was sighted in, and such. So when you put your target on what you're supposed to be hitting, that you hit it.
I'm an expert sharpshooter, and I couldn't get my rifle sighted. And I had to watch as my platoon left on patrol. And I would sit in the room for a couple hours while my, you know, soldiers that I'm supposed to be with are outside the wire. And finally, we got in a bore sight, which is you use a laser and you match your laser coming from your bore with the laser on your target, in a dark room. And we were able to do that, and that counted, and so I was able to go.
Jackie: So what was holding you back? Was there something wrong—the rifle just wasn't working well or . . .?
Eddie: Well, my Marine Corps training was with M16s. And the M4, it's a shorter rifle. And without going into a class about marksmanship and stock weld and eye relief and all this other stuff, when you change one of those little things, you affect how you shoot the rifle. I was also dealing with a brand new sight system—M68. I've always used iron sights. Never used an M68 before—didn't even know how to adjust an M68. Neither did the guys that were trying to run us through this range.
Jackie: Did that surprise you?
Eddie: That did kind of surprise me, because in the Marine Corps, we were experts at the rifle. "This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without my rifle, I am useless. Without me, my rifle is useless. I will learn my rifle as my friend." Well, I can, right now, take apart an M16A2 service rifle with my eyes closed, in a dark room.
The M4's a different thing, and it was a shock to me to see NCOs, staff NCOs, not know how many turns on a sight adjusts a sight. There are some great Army instructors out there, great NCOs—I don't want to take away from their accomplishments. But, overall, the Army does not place that same importance on learning a weapon. I have privates that are coming under my care in the Infantry, when we go to shoot—we're on a range—and, one, they don't know how to do basic rifle marksmanship. They don't know the steps.
When I walk them through the process, and I say, "Okay,
make it dope go down 2 and right 3."
And they'll look at me, like, "How do you do that?"
What do you mean, how do you do that?
"Well they wouldn't let us touch it in Army boot camp. The drill sergeants did it for us."
How in the heck are you training soldiers to go to out to war and they can't even make adjustments to their own rifle?
Jackie: Now, what's the consequence of something like that, in combat?
Eddie: Helplessness. Or, if not helplessness, uncertainty what to do. Even if you're a cook, in the Marine Corps you go to Infantry school, which means you know how to do defensive tactics, you know how to do patrols, you know what security is, you know how to operate not only the M16A2 service rifle, but also the M60, the AT4, pistol, how to utilize Claymores, how to set up defensive positions with concertina wire, all kinds of stuff. You know how to do this. Plus you've done some patrols on foot, and everything. You know how to take orders, you know how to organize. The Army doesn't do that.
Some Marines they're, "I could never wear the Army uniform." So I always remind them, well, in the Marine Corps, our motto is semper fi, which is short for the Latin, semper fidelis. And that means "always faithful." And when you ask a Marine, "What are we faithful to?" We were always trained in boot camp: we're faithful to our God, our country, our corps, our family, and our self—in that order. And to defend this country, if I had to wear a Girl Scout uniform, I'll wear a Girl Scout uniform—whatever organization I gotta belong to. We're faithful to our country before our Corps.
Eddie: Combat now in Bagdad has changed. When I was over there, Infantry was the safest job. Not to say that things can't happen when you get in a firefight—it can. That's just the nature of Infantry combat. But, generally speaking, we could not pick a fight. We would roll in areas we weren't supposed to go into. And they wouldn't fight us, because they knew who we were.
My Humvee alone had myself and a gunner and one or two other people. I carried several thousand rounds of ammunition. We had a 240 machine gun, a 249 machine gun, three M4s, a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun that I carried, an M9 pistol, three AT4s, probably six Claymores, lots of fragmentation grenades, a 203 mounted on one of the weapons. We had plenty of ammunition. And we were itchin' for a fight. They would not mess with us.
But you take one Military Police unit, or one Civilian Affairs unit, or one doctors unit that's going to go try to help a hospital, or one anything—these guys are not trained in combat infantry tactics. They're not trained in what to do if you're shot at. And the enemy knows this. They attack 'em. They lookin' for them.
I mean, we responded to some MPs [military police] that got jumped. The MPs, my God, what were they thinking? Two Humvees rolling by themselves? Are you crazy? And they were making the rounds from IP station to IP station—Iraqi police. And they were at one station, and there was a large crowd of civilians, and they were yelling. And all of a sudden, somebody started throwing grenades at the MPs. And so the MPs took off. They ran.
Well, when they ran, the route that they ran down was dialed in with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]. The RPG team already had it scoped out. They were waiting for the MPs to run, and they ambushed them in the alley. Shot the heck out of them. They turned the corner down this wide-open area. The enemy started mortaring—dropping mortars in on them. MPs just kept running. They finally turned down, and they found a place near the Turkish embassy, which is shot up. And they pulled up 360 security, in wide-open field, told the machine guns, "Okay. We can't go any further. Shoot anything that comes this way. We're calling in help."
And we were listening to the radio and we heard this happening, and we ran down the street in our Humvees, couple blocks away, and put a security in. By then it was over. And I remember one of the Humvees had blood all in the right-hand side of it, and I think the person in charge of that unit was a woman. And I think two of the gunners were women.
And I bring that point up not to say that women shouldn't be in combat. I bring that point up that says anybody that says that women aren't in combat right now is just not listening. Everybody's in combat right now—men and women alike. All jobs. Now, everybody needs to go to a tough boot camp, learn discipline, military bearing, tactics, how to survive, and be trained in how to be a rifleman. I mean, because the nature of warfare right now, everybody's exposed.
Jackie: With all the training that you have in various weapons, did you ever have second thoughts about using them on people?
Eddie: Hmmm. Second thoughts? No. Man, that's such a loaded area. I am firmly committed that some of the best and brightest of a different stripe join the military, just like some of the best and brightest volunteer to go into the Peace Corps. I have, you know, a lot of respect for that. You know, if I had to do it over again, I'd probably go in the Peace Corps, who knows? This is not to say that the best and brightest type that go into the military is any better. But those best and brightest are being asked to do a difficult job. And that difficult job is fighting. Killing. And that is hard, it's hard to do.
And it's not natural for us to kill another member of our own species—it's not, really. So the way we train soldiers now, we have a common saying that's "train like you fight." We shoot each other when we go out in the field and we train. You put blanks into your weapon, and we shoot at Bob, who we just had a beer with earlier, and we're going to have a beer with later on—"Bang! You're dead." But not only "Bang! You're dead," there's the sound and the smell of actually shooting. You're actually smelling the gunpowder. There's knock-down targets on ranges now that are human-torso shaped. You can even buy ones that have cavities in the back, where you put a big ol' red balloon. So when you shoot it, it splatters red.
You keep doing this over and over again, your brain is, like: moving human shape; shooting it; it goes down, and there's red stuff everywhere. Not a big deal. You've done it a hundred times. So it's not a big deal. When you find yourself shooting at somebody, it's just a normal, automatic response just to shoot at that human-shaped target. You don't think about it—'til later on.
And when I start talking about that "later on," that turns off a lot of people. If something's bothering you—you're really angry—an easy way to get rid of that is just not care. That's a tactic that a lot of people use. They do care, but when you talk about what does it feel like to shoot another human being, some people don't even want to think about it. Because to care about that is to question my role as a soldier—question my role as a warrior. I can't allow that. I can't think about that, because if it tears that down, what's left?
Jackie: So my sense, is that it's not always clear cut who's the enemy.
Eddie: So, we don't
use the term enemy walking around in
Iraq. We just say Ali Baba, and that
means bad guy. They talk to Iraqi families and say, "Ali Baba"?
"No Ali Baba here. Ali Baba, Ali Baba, Ali Baba next door. Ali Baba," and they'll point down the street.
Jackie: Well, what if it's just a neighbor they don't like?
Eddie: We'll go arrest the guy. We've arrested a whole village before—men, women, children. And, like, okay, you can go, you can go, you can go, you can go, okay, ya'll can go, ya'll can go. Who are you? Come to find out there's a lot of explosives buried down in this village, south of Yusufiyah. Same area that last year, or so, some US soldiers came up missing and they found the remains. Had to do dental work to ID them. Same area. Yeah, lot of activity going on down there.
And there's a lot of decent people—we understand this. And there's also ten years plus of economic sanctions and everything has just destroyed that country. You should see some of the places these people are living in—with no electricity, no water, and you have to walk through filth and trash that's a foot deep to get to your house. And, if it was me, and somebody comes up to me and says, "I will give you $5,000 if you sit here and pull this trigger when a Humvee comes by." I'd take it. It's not, you know, this is not an anti-American thing. This is an "I'm trying to take care of my family" thing. Put yourself in the same shoes.
Even here, now, if this recession gets worse, you know, what are you going to do Mr. Law-abiding Citizen? Are you going to break the law, just to take care of your family? Likely so. So we recognize that. We're not here to shoot everybody. We're very good at being warriors.
But looking at those emotional landscapes, some guys I've talked to in the military that have done tours, or so, are so closed off to the notion of investigating that, because it's scary. They're afraid of looking into those things, and so they've made comments like, "If we get shot at from a building, we're taking out the whole building. If you, Mr. Innocent Civilian, don't want that, you should have helped us. You should have told us where Ali Baba was. You didn't. Guess what? Here it comes. Sorry. That's war."
And from my standpoint, just to close that off and say, "Well, you're just a callous bastard. You're just a killing machine. You don't care about human life"—just to say that, tunes you out of discussion. You're not looking for solutions.
So I try a different tack by saying, "Well, what is one of the first jobs of a squad leader? First job of a squad leader is command and control of his fires, of his machine guns, of his combat ability. If you just let your troops shoot all over the place, you're losing your effective command. Not only that, but you're engendering bad relationship with that area, which we—Oregon National Guard 22162—we enjoyed very good rapport with the civilians.
They liked us a lot better than they liked the active-duty Army, whose position we took over. We're civilians. We spend our time working in coffee shops and lumber mills, and so when we relate to people in a traffic jam in Iraq, we know what it is. We live in those traffic jams every day. The civilians, I mean, they associate a lot more with us than did the regular Army—a lot more. We didn't have as much of a heavy hand, but on the other side of that, the deployments are too long. Because by the end of the deployment, everybody was so emotionally worn down, a lot of guys didn't care anymore.
Walk into a family's house—the women are scared, the kids are crying, the husbands are trying to show a brave face. How do you show a brave face, though, to eight men with machine guns, who've just come into your house? I mean, this is my house, and now I have to do whatever these guys say? Which is true, but there's better ways of handling it than just grabbing people and throwing them around.
Walk into another room and it's a prayer room, with a prayer rug. Doesn't take a whole lot of cultural sensitivity to walk around the rug. But near the end of deployment, some guys are, like, "Oh, there a prayer rug? I'm walking across it." Bad idea. Don't do that. That's very demeaning. So cut down the deployment time. That would help a lot.
I don't remember what the original question was—got off on a tangent, there.
Jackie: Well, it was "Do you always know who the enemy is?" And if you want to add more, you certainly can.
Eddie: The Republican Guard has a tatoo of, like, a snake or a flower, or something like that on their arm. When Baghdad fell, one time we had orders to shoot to kill, on sight, anybody with this tatoo. They took off their uniforms, and they put on civilian uniforms and they blended into Baghdad. And we, we want to be mano y mano, good against bad—that's what we like! I mean, that's our American culture, there. And then to go find yourself fighting an enemy that will take a sneaky shot at you with a sniper shot, or a roadside bomb, and then blend into civilians, at first seems cowardly to us. Reading the history of Muslim militants, it makes a lot of sense from their perspective. I wouldn't say so much cowardly, anymore. It's just a different type of fighting. But it bothers us, and so we want even more to find 'em.
They made a mistake of attacking our base one time, and, man, we came alive like a hornets' nest. We were happy. I mean, guys were running out in flip-flops to get into the fight. They [the attackers] didn't want any part of that. They shot a little bit and then they ran off. They were, like, "Oh, we shouldn't do this." They stuck with their tactics. And they'll shoot at us from within civilians.
So the firefight that I got my CIB—combat infantry badge—in, we were on this big ol' wide street in Sadr City. It's a million people in a square mile—of poverty and no sewers and no running water. So talk about a breeding ground of hate and discontent to anything. I mean, Mickey Mouse would probably get shot.
We were north of that, and we didn't see it, because we were so—don't get me wrong, I like the armor on the Humvees. For convoy security, yeah, give me some armor. But for infantry patrol ops, the armor kills us. Personally, I wore 70 pounds, at least, of gear. And I'm supposed to do running maneuvers?
You try running across the street, when you're being shot at, wearing 70 pounds of gear. And not now—no, first I'm going to have you put it on early in the morning, for a couple weeks straight, so that your back is all nice and tweaked and tired, in the 120-degree weather, and then, after all this, now—go! Let's see how you do then. Totally different. That's a lot of weight. We had to wear all kinds of armor. It's saving lives, but, you know, you've got armored turtles running around.
And we couldn't see. I've got the picture on my computer. I mean, it's dirt—everything's dirt. And there's a black wire that stretches across, and we didn't see it. And the wire goes to a roadside bomb. It was the Iraqi National Guard guys, like ten of them, in the back of a Datsun truck—they'd seen it. So we stopped, and we sent a security team to follow the wire. The trigger guy was gone.
And so we called EOD—explosive ordnance disposal—and they were going to come out and blow it in place, because you just can't leave bombs laying around. And so we sat there for a couple of hours—EOD is undermanned. And the sergeant that I was with was, like, "We're going to get hit soon. The streets are emptying out." Sure enough, we got hit. We were a big, round circle. The side that I was one was the side facing Sadr City, in front of a major intersection. And the guy was watching the scope down the road, he yelled out, "Hey, I got a team!" And the platoon sergeant said, "Take a shot." The mortar team had started shooting at us. That's how fast they are.
And, boom! Mortars started landing among us, and a friend of mine got a little piece of shrapnel in his finger. And my initial emotional response was, I was actually personally offended. Like, "What are you doing shooting at me? What the hell did I do to you?" And so we started getting fire from not only from the mortar team, but also from small-arms fire, from down the street. So what you do is you return fire. And I remember the platoon sergeant, "Kill every fuckin' thing down there!" I mean, we lit up.
I mean, two Humvees moved around and just started the machine guns, automatic grenade launcher, 50-caliber machine guns, plus all of our small-arms fire. I can't remember anything visual about that. I've been going to therapy for a couple years for that. But I remember I was really frustrated, 'cause I could see down the street, and it was just nothing but brown smoke. All the clouds and explosions and stuff going off there, there was just brown smoke. It was a brown wall. And I couldn't find the target of opportunity.
It was drilled in my head in the Marine Corps, "Shoot to kill. Find your target and shoot it." I couldn't find the target. I couldn't find anybody to shoot at. And the guy next to me punched me in the arm and he said, "Suppressive fire!" Suppressive fire is, basically, you're trying to put so much bullets down in that particular direction that the people duck and cover. And by them doing so, they can't maneuver, and then you maneuver another element to their side, and flank 'em and destroy 'em. So I remember doing that. I entered a couple of clips right there.
It was a busy street. And the repercussions of us shooting back were not pretty. So it means that people who had nothing to do with the fight died. So our culture of wearing the white hats, being the good guys, for at least me personally, that's been something I've been having to deal with—that I was part of a group of people that shot into civilians. And that's been something that's been really hard to deal with ever since.
And, so, when I train my soldiers, I train them not only in how to operate a weapon, but also in how to think for themselves. Just so when they find themselves in that position, they can maybe rise above it. I don't know what I would have done, because we were being mortared, and when we came back the next day, we found dozens of buried bombs along there.What was the right decision? If we had pulled one direction . . . there was one road where we found, like, twelve spots with multiple bombs in the road, waiting to go off. So we pull off that direction and you just wiped out a whole platoon. What is the right answer? There is no right answer. That's a tragic situation to be in, and the only thing you can do is make a tragic choice. But, hopefully, by training my guys as good as I can, if there is a way to make it a less tragic choice, they'll have the ability to do so.
Jackie: So you're still currently active in the National Guard, is that right?
Jackie: So when you said, "Hopefully, I'll train my guys to think for themselves," that seems to imply that they might get an order and decide not to obey it. Is that what you're saying?
Eddie: Yes. The best soldiers I've met are not robots. But you do need some obedience. Obedience is very important. You have to have that. In that kind of situation, to freeze is to die. To be still is to die. And so, sometimes, what people need is a swift kick in the butt.
But on the other side, I met a staff sergeant who was currently undergoing a fight against a court martial, and he was in, I believe he said it was Ramadi. His squad was sent to this street, in the middle of the night, and told to make this invisible line—they're going to shut down the road—and if anybody crosses this line, shoot 'em. This is a major street—the only street, also, on the way to the hospital. And they're told not to put out lights—no warning that they're there. Just, "Hey you crossed this line"—bam!
And he was, like, "This is not a good decision." So he told his guys, he's, like, "The people using this road are not the people that are fighting us right now—people trying to get to this hospital. So, I'm not telling you not to shoot, but I'm telling you that, we're going to be aware of what we're doing. And saying this can get me in trouble."
And I think that his example is what a staff NCO is supposed to do. Nowhere there is he saying, "I'm not here to do my mission." What he's saying is that there's realities on the ground that higher-ups are unaware of. And they're asking us to do specific things that are putting our lives in jeopardy and the lives of innocent people in jeopardy. This is immoral, this is wrong, and he decided not to do it. And I highly commend him for that.
Jackie: So there's a tension between the need for command and control and obedience and, also, an individual person's ability to make judgments based on the reality that they're facing, and to exercise that judgment. There's that tension.
Eddie: There is. It's not so much a tension within the group itself, as between the small group and higher. I'm sure that there are, maybe, some small groups that are just not put together very well. But, for us, our platoon was good to go, and most of the platoons we dealt with were good to go. Everybody knew each other, we, you know, we slept in the same areas together, we ate together, we, you know, did everything everywhere together. We knew each other and we cared about each other and that wasn't the issue. It was our relationship between us and higher.
My company commander, I mean, if he calls me up today and says, "All I got to give you is a wooden stick, will you go with me back to Iraq?" I'm there with him. He cared for us, and it's not about asking us to do tough missions, it's just using the judgment in what those missions are. If it's a suicide mission that means something, you'll find a lot of people joining for it. If it's an easy mission that doesn't mean anything, we don't want anything to do with it. Hmmm.
Eddie: When I came back from Iraq, and we were at Fort Lewis, Washington, firefights are a lot better than what they subject us to when we come back. I mean, just all day of, "I'm so-and-so, from such-and-such, and you're going to fill out this form. Make sure you put your name here, or there. Oh, you're an idiot. You used blue pen instead of black pen. Go back to the beginning of the line. We're here for fifteen minutes to talk about what benefits you can get, and . . ."
We don't care about any of that. We've been away for, you know, a year. You think I care about what claims I may or not be claiming now that I may or may not regret when I'm 60 years old? I don't care about that right now. We got one thing on our mind, and one thing only—getting back to our families. That's it. Nothing else matters.
Before we left Iraq, we had this Palm Pilot with questions:
Have you ever seen a dead body? Yes.
Have you ever been exposed to uranium ammunition? Yes.
Have you ever been in loud noises? Yes.
Have you ever wanted to hit somebody? Yes.
Have you ever felt violent? Yes.
Find me anybody in America today that hasn't felt any of those.
I mean, in Iraq we were fine. When we're in Iraq and howitzers went off—boom! We weren't expecting it. None of us flinched. No big whoop, we're used to it. But yet, driving down the street, Fourth of July, somebody sets off a cherry bomb next to the road, and I nearly come unglued.
But they give us these presentations and, "Now, PTSD, if you've ever experienced a traumatic event or felt helpless or fearful . . ." I'm a combat vet. I've been in more bar fights than you've probably had bowls of cereal. You're going to talk to me about being fearful? I'm the guy that goes into those fights. I'm the firefighter that goes into those burning buildings when other people are running out, afraid. I'm the guy looking for "Where's the problem?" Don't talk to us like we're fearful, scared little kids that are—want mommy to come help us.
That's the impression we get when the chaplain and VA reps and psychologists from so-and-so school, and all these other places come talk to us. Look at the room. All the soldiers are tuning out—you can see it: click, click, click, click, click. Besides, we felt fine. We're fine. All we want to see is our families. Everything's peachy keen. You know, you don't go to work for a month, you do nothing but have sex, eat pizza, drink beer, and play video games, and go fishing and hiking, and that's pretty much it.
And then you go back to work. And then, six months, or so, emotional reactions start to happen. And my company that I was within, started noticing conversations were, like, "I can't sleep. You know, I'm taking a lot of sleeping pills." Or, "Did you hear about Staff Sergeant So-and-so? He's having trouble with alcohol." Common stories.
It's, like, wow, I didn't even quite make the connection. And I was in a class on psychopathology, at Portland State, and we were talking about anxiety disorders. And so I started, you know, debating. I was, like, "All right, I'm sure somebody here has had a stalker. That changes how you view walking across college campus. You know, you start to look at people." I said, "Amplify this, and snipers, and all kinds of stuff."
And this guy came up to me and said he had done some volunteer work with this group called ReturningVeterans.com—practitioners, in the Oregon area, that volunteer their time for veterans. So I called one of them up, and I said I want to come talk to her, see what she and the organization has to offer, and then bring that back to my unit. And when I went and talked to her, it became a weekly thing. I went twice a week; sometimes I'd go once a month.
Jackie: What was it that went from "I'm just getting information," to "Huh, this could be useful?"
Eddie: It just kept going, really. Talking about what was going on, just kind of, like, sharing information between each other, and it was, like, "Okay, you want to meet again next week?" And at first I felt kind of weird because, like, "Well, I'm wasting your time, because there's nothing wrong with me." And sometimes I still tell her the same thing. Her great answer was, like, "No, no, you're not wasting my time. You don't have to be a certain craziness to come."
And the founder of the organization, she said, "It's not about you having to be a certain level of disturbed to warrant our time. You've done what this country has asked you to do. We're just trying to repay some of that debt." And I was, like, "Huh, okay. I didn't think about looking at it that way."
So I've been going for about two years, or so. I had no idea that I needed to see anybody, because the language used didn't apply to me. I wasn't fearful or scared or anything like that, but I did have some other symptoms, and all this stuff really came out. So it was really helpful for me.
I started to distance myself from my past reactions. I said, "Holy cow! Here's a bunch of signs and symptoms that I had that I wasn't aware of when I was in it. Holy cow, I was hyper-vigilant. Holy cow, I was getting anxious when a group of eight Arab students were behind me in line at Portland State, and they were talking in a foreign language I couldn't understand. And all the hairs on the back of my neck were up. And I was, like, "Okay, where's the threat coming from? And I'm going to go get it." And the other side of myself was going, "These are just students. What is wrong with you?"
Scanning rooftops as I'm walking down the street, you know? The first time I drove down the street, I was following a friend who loves to speed, and so I had to speed to keep up with him. And we're zooming down Portland to get to this comedy club. And as soon as I walked into the comedy club, I went straight to the bar and got a shot. And, like, "What's up with you?"
And I was, like, "Intersection, three people—two people had a backpack. There was a group of people inside that alley. There was x number of people on the sidewalk as we were passing by. I mean, every person on the side of the road, on the rooftop. Did you see the person on the fourth-floor window, looking down at us as we were driving by? I saw the person."
Sleep? Forget about it. I slept all the time. Some people have the opposite reaction. Some people can't sleep. Me, I slept all the time. Anger issues. Trust issues. I can trust my guys, but I can't trust the people I work with. I mean, a guy came behind me at work and put me in a choke hold and without even thinking. He was just playing. Well, this guy wasn't very smart, because I got out of the choke hold, and I turned around and I slammed him against the oven, had my hands around his throat, and I was squeezing.
So looking at all the different signs and symptoms, and stuff, that I had since Iraq, I'm, like, holy cow, I didn't see this when I was in it. But now that I've gotten help for myself, I can see that I needed a lot of help. And I'm as open as I can about what I go through. Sometimes it's embarrassing, but if I can go in as deep as I can into what I'm feeling, and find out the commonality between myself and somebody else, maybe I can help them find their way out. That's the hope.
And there's a lot of us veterans, there's a lot of psychologists that don't even like the term PTSD. Some researchers in Canada are proposing different terms, such as combat stress injury, to where the perception is that just like, you sprained your ankle, you're not going to, you know, walk around with 80 pounds on your back for another couple of days, and it's going to heal, and then you'll be fine. We don't have the same mentality when it comes to PTSD. The mentality that we have is, you've been in combat, you're forevermore a killer, you're forevermore emotional and aggressive, quick to anger, quick to flare. You're now defective goods. You are different.
And I find that in my job all the time when I get angry, and I can see the reaction from the manager is, like, backing up a little bit. "Oh, my God, he's a combat vet and he's going to snap any second now. He's going to go off with an M16 machine gun and shoot up this small town, just like in 'Rambo.'"
And what makes it hard to fight that is because there is some truth to that quick flare. We're trained for this. But it's a stereotype for our culture and our guys, you know—guys don't have emotions. So we have lots of men who are unaware of their emotional depth or how to handle those emotions. And so instead of actually looking at it, they repress it even more. They push it down even more. They drink it away even more. They ignore it even more.
And then when this person comes up and talks about PTSD, that's the same kind of dialogue that they're not wanting to admit for themselves. So they're not even listening. There's tons and tons of stuff out there for soldiers and their families. But the way it's presented is not relevant. It's not good enough for us to say, "All right, my door's open." That's not good enough. Find out how to get that resources out there.
So I've got this presentation where I talk about, you know, I was a Marine, National Guard, I volunteered fire department in Houston—you know, guy's guy—so, I'm safe. I'm not here to give you a hug. No. I talk about our training—train to kill, and how this changes the pathways of the brain, and I deliver it in terms for people that they don't seem that now they're broken. And it's not all just talk therapy where you go sit on the couch and cry. I mean, there's virtual reality therapy; there's cognitive behavioral therapy, which is some really interesting stuff; storytelling—there's all kinds of stuff.
But the 2005 Oregon Violent Deaths Report—pretty much across the board, the rates were higher for veterans—suicide rates. But the rates for 18- to 25-year-old veterans, compared to nonveterans, were five times higher. And with multiple deployments, problems increase.
When I give this presentation, NCOs and officers and everybody—"Well, I'm fine. You know, I'm a 12-year, 15-year, 20-year military. I'm hardened steel." That's awesome. Not everybody goes through these emotional reactions. I went through these reactions. Chances are, somebody under your direct command is going through these same things. Chances are, they may be at risk for suicide. Now my question to you is, what kind of NCO, what kind of an officer are you to ignore these facts and to not try to get help for your soldiers? That is negligence of the care that has been bestowed upon you.
And it's not only about taking out that machine gun, it's also looking out for the welfare and well-being of those troops under your command. And by not learning about this, and learning what resources are out there, you're failing in your command.