After the Long Walk
Let's put an end to EOD suffering through our peer-to-peer support network.
Adrian hopes that his story inspires others to think twice about taking their own life. Have the strength and courage to seek help.
Jeff's perspective on war and after the war.
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Landon's story reminds us that we are not alone.
I joined up six months out of high school, January 1991. I was initially a Combat engineer. It took me 7 years to find the EOD field. I went through EOD School in 1998, as well as my first divorce. My first EOD duty station was Fort Polk where I met Adrian, my first team leader, and Landon, one of my first teammates. Landon was in Kuwait when I first got to Polk, but we were instant buds when he got home. Polk was fun, lots of ordnance and lots of VIPs. I didn’t get to deploy until my second EOD assignment, at Moffett Field in California. We went to Bosnia six months after 9/11. My buddy, Jamie Maugins was deployed to Afghanistan at the same time. I emailed him the day he was killed to see who got hurt.
My second deployment was to Iraq for the invasion in ’03. Right after my second marriage. Iraq was fun as well, at first. My first taste of combat was when we were flown up to Nasaria following a lead that some American servicemen were buried under an under pass. Some guys, with bigger guns and beards, told us it was an ambush and they would take care of it, we watched the fight. It was pretty one sided. But if my rag tag bunch hadn’t been waved off, it probably would have been a different story. Joe Robsky was killed on 10 September 2003 and on 11 September I was down the street from where he was killed, shutting down my first real IED.
Kosovo was my third gig and it lasted a year. Pretty tame compared to the guys just before us. My teammate from Iraq, Paul (last name withheld) got blown up when some local shopkeepers decided the rich guy with the big store should redistribute his wealth. Paul survived and is still a great friend. If you find yourself in Albuquerque, look him up. During my tour, I got to pick up pieces of a guy that decided his neighbors should pay for believing in a different bible. The rest of him was still in the car, kind of.
After returning home, I was reassigned to Redstone and started running McKinley Range just about the time Scott Smith, one of the first EOD guys to teach me anything, was killed in Iraq.
After Redstone I got to Fort Bragg just in time to deploy to Afghanistan. I was a Platoon Sergeant, the Operations Sergeant, and acting First Sergeant. Guys got hurt and guys went home, but on that trip, none of my guys died, but boy do we carry scars. It’s not easy to talk a guy back into a JERRV that just did a back flip. It’s not easy to keep sending guys out. The guilt a leader feels when he sends a team out that gets hit is real. Of the guys I brought with me, we all made it home, most of us whole. But Brian (last name withheld) worked for me for a while. He was shot in the turret of his truck, after his team moved to a different Area of Responsibility (AOR). At the same time, my second wife decided that being married to me wasn’t such a great idea and decided booze (and who knows what else) could fill the void.
My final duty station with EOD and the Army was Fort A.P. Hill where, I had the honor of supervising the construction of the McMahon EOD Training Center. The thing about getting a building named after you is you have to be dead. Jason died shortly after we started running classes at A.P. Hill.
I hung up my uniform the day we dedicated the building.
I’ve been lucky. It was always the truck in front of me. We found the secondary and tertiary devices. I was just out of harms way quite a few times. Twenty bullets struck my truck one day. Another day, parts from the truck in front of me bounced off my hood. RPGs look funny when they fly past you. I’ve got more than a dozen buddies on the EOD Memorial wall, and a few that aren’t. My point is, we’ve chosen a rough gig, but there is always someone that knows what you are or what you have been through. All of us have seen and done things that no one should experience, but we can get past it and live a pretty normal life.
Debt, ex-wives, fear, confusion, anger, and injuries - nothing is new. There is always someone that knows what you’re feeling, what you’re up against, and how it happened. You can always talk to someone. When my first ex sent papers, Ben (last name withheld) was there to listen to me. Several years ago, Ben was riding his motorcycle in Italy and was struck and killed by a bus. This is another example of losing a friend and fellow EOD Tech.
Maybe group therapy isn’t for you. Pills, yeah they can block the feelings, stabilize the body, maybe even heal, but what helps most, at least for me is a brother, a friend, a guy who’s been there. That is what we are hoping for with “After the Long Walk”. When you realize that life might never be as cool as it was when you had a truck full of bang, when the bills pile up, and when things with the Old Lady are heading south… call me!
I graduated high school in 1991 and promptly joined the US Army at the age of 17. I enlisted as an Infantryman, completed basic training and Infantry School, and served with a Reserve Infantry Brigade. Shortly thereafter, I joined the active component and was reclassified into the Military Police Corps. While serving with a Military Police Company in Darmstadt, Germany, I received a phone call from my oldest sister. She was calling to let me know that our father had hung himself in the attic of his home. My father was a Vietnam veteran and struggled with (what I believe to be) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. He was an alcoholic, addicted to drugs, and suffered from compulsive sexual behavior. He was also the father of 5 children. At the time of his death, my youngest sister was only a few months shy of her second birthday.
After receiving the news, I traveled to Maine to attend my father’s funeral. I was heart-broken to lose my father in such a dark manner. I believe that my father took his life because he felt that he could not control his behavior and, he was destroying his relationships from the inside out. I believe that my father thought it was best to end his life so his family wouldn’t have to endure any more pain. I think that, somehow, my father believed this was a final act of compassion – an act to protect his family. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a saying related to suicide that I feel captures the truth, it’s: “Suicide doesn’t take away the pain, it gives it to someone else.”
After my father’s suicide, our entire family (especially my grandmother) struggled to understand why. Why would he do that? Why didn’t he ask for help? Why didn’t he turn to his friends and family for support? I will never know the answer to these questions, but I believe that it was because he was deeply ashamed of himself and his behavior. I believe that he felt that there was no escape from his addictions, other than suicide. In addition to losing my father, I lost my favorite Army EOD instructor to suicide and lost a former EOD First Sergeant, who was also a very good friend, to suicide. Shortly after attending my father’s funeral, I was deployed to the former Yugoslavia in support Operation Joint Endeavor.
While serving in Sarajevo, I saw the first dead body as a result of war. It was a young woman, who I later learned, had been viciously raped, killed, and her body was burned simply because of her ethnicity. It was a very surreal and disturbing moment in my life. This was not the last time I would witness such a horrible scene. Several years later, I volunteered for and was accepted into the EOD Program. While serving in the program, I deployed several times to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Uzbekistan.
Like many of us, I have responded to many Improvised Explosive Device (IED) incidents to include post blast calls involving wounded or dead service members and suicide bombers. I have stood in a suicide bomber’s brain matter and I have seen more than my fair share of dead women and children. Over time, I learned to compartmentalize the things I had experienced in order to survive. That was a very unhealthy decision.
Several years ago, I turned to a mental health physician and was diagnosed with profound PTSD. I am not ashamed to say that I am currently under the care of a mental health physician and take medication that assists in controlling my anxiety. I am fortunate that I live in a time where mental health issues are being studied more and more treatment options are available. I am one of the many EOD Technicians who have witnessed the true horrors of war and will be forever scarred by my experiences.
We owe it to ourselves, and our loved ones, to recognize and admit that we have made mistakes, some much bigger than others. We have to acknowledge that we are angry, that we are hurt, that we are sad, that we need help, and that some things are too big for any one of us to handle. Doing so reflects our true courage and strength.
I served 22 years in the United States Army. I have deployed to combat and have witnessed the horrors of war. Sometimes I am angry. Sometimes I am sad. There have been times in my life where I have made some very bad decisions, I have lost dear friendships... but I am human. I need forgiveness. I need compassion. I need empathy. I asked for help and received it. I am asking that you REACH OUT and do the same.
I joined the Army on September 11, 1996. Upon completing Basic training, I went straight to Redstone Arsenal for Ammunition Supply Specialist School. Following graduation, I began EOD School at Eglin AFB and then onto Indian Head, Maryland. After completing what was then Phase 3 at Redstone Arsenal, I was stationed at Fort Polk, LA with the 705th EOD. While stationed there, I TCS’d to Fort Leonard Wood to deploy with the 763rd EOD to Kuwait. That first deployment in 1999 was honestly one of the best times of my life. We performed a tremendous amount of EOD work, mostly on Udairi Range. I also built some lifelong friendships with several members of that unit, including a couple of other techs that have recently retired after serving as First Sergeants.
Following that deployment I PCS’d to Fort Carson, Colorado where I ended up deploying to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2004. I went on to be an instructor at Eglin AFB for a couple of years, and then went right back to Fort Carson, and deployed in 2009 to Iraq and back to Afghanistan in 2011-2012. But before that, some very critical things happened in my life.
I met my wonderful wife Sarah, and married her on the 5th of June, 2000. Right about that time, the 707th EOD out of Fort Lewis was asking for volunteers to deploy to Kuwait with them. My Team Leader at the time, SSG Richard Boudreau volunteered for it and asked if I wanted to go with him. I said yes, I would love to go, still thinking like a single man. My wife was excited for me, but I could tell she was disappointed since we had just married. Rich could tell something was up with me and he figured out that I really should not go with him since I just got married and I had just returned from over there less than a year prior. I didn’t deploy.
On March 12, 2001, SSG Richard N. Boudreau II, SGT Phillip M. Freligh, and SPC Jason D. Wildfong were killed when a US Navy F-18 accidently dropped three MK-82 Bombs on them while they were positioned at OP-10 on Udairi Range. I found out the following day when our company commander pulled us all into the front office in our shop at Fort Carson. I was in shock and didn’t believe it. I had just received an email from Rich two days prior and he was giving me a hard time about getting my team leader certification done and going to the SSG promotion board. I didn’t think I was ready to be an EOD Team Leader, but he was confident that I was. I started to feel guilty because I was originally going to go with him, but didn’t, and that Phillip or Jason would probably still be alive if I had gone. This was something that bothered me every single day, and it built up over time.
On March 31, 2015, I was one turn of a key away from putting a gun to my head. I had gotten so deep in depression and anxiety that I felt life was getting too hard to keep living. Sleep became foreign to me, which didn’t help at all. When I did sleep, vivid nightmares of events from my early Afghanistan deployments haunted me. Sudden noises startled me and made me jump to a point of those around me asking if I was ok. My short-term memory had become so bad that I would completely forget what I was saying in mid- sentence, while I often forgot what I was doing right in the middle of tasks. Obviously this affected my job performance, I still got the job done, just had to work harder and longer, faking as if everything was ok. Faking was the only thing I was truly good at, I was lying to everyone around me that everything was ok. I lied so much that I believed I was ok, “just tough it out, keep Soldiering on” is what I told myself. So that is what I had been doing since the start of the war.
My wife was the only one that could see through the lie; she knew I had a problem and that I needed help. Even after my first trip to Afghanistan in 2002, my wife lovingly told me that I should get help and talk to someone, I didn’t listen to her, just told her “I’ll be fine." After my second trip to Afghanistan, things got even worse. My wife continued to tell me that I needed help. I never took it seriously, I just kept Soldiering on, training, and deploying, while moving up through the ranks. It wasn’t until after Iraq, and before my last trip to Afghanistan, that I finally went to behavioral health for counseling.
You see, I had grown to be so bitter and angry that I became miserable to be around. I yelled at my kids over little things kids just do. I yelled at my wife when she was trying her best to be a good wife and mother. Besides the occasional outburst at work, I was mostly nice to others outside of my family. I have always said that I loved my family, so why did I treat them so horribly and force them to feel my pain? After doing a few sessions with the doctor, I had told him a few things about how I acted and completely sugar coated the entire situation, I continued to live the lie.
Following my 2012 deployment to Afghanistan, my wife continued to put up with my terrible attitude and anger outbursts. She asked me, again, to go get more counseling. So I went in and got more counseling. Not because I thought I needed it, but because she wanted me to go. I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. Just like before, I only told part of the story and sugar coated everything. I was continuing the lie that everything is ok.
In 2013, we moved to Virginia. At first things were really good. We had a new house, new schools, new friends – it was great! It was the first time, in a long time that I was not preparing for a deployment. I was able to start doing family stuff; going to kid’s games, school events, family outings, and nights out with my wife. I felt like I had stuff under control pretty good.
But it was only temporary, the anxiety and depression returned in the form of anger outbursts fueled by the nightmares, which resulted in less sleep. In May 2014, a dramatic event occurred while we were driving and merging onto Interstate 95. My wife and I had been arguing and I lost it, I floored our SUV and came within inches of wrecking. My wife and kids were crying and I snapped back to reality and stopped the vehicle on the side of the I95. I got out and walked away in disbelief of what just occurred. I felt horrible and cried with guilt, but continued the lie that everything would be ok. Shortly after that, I went into behavioral health for more counseling, but it was the same as before. Nothing improved because I didn’t accept that I had a problem.
In March of this year, while yelling at my oldest son for something simple, I scared him so bad that he told me he hated me. Following that, he told my wife that I terrified him and he didn’t feel safe around me. A few days later, my wife asked me to help her with a simple chore and I flipped out and called her a derogatory name. Once again, I instantly felt horrible, but could not take it back. The damage was done. Knowing that my son was terrified of me is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had. I want my family to feel safe around me, preferably even safer when I’m around. After all, part of being a father is to protect your children, not the one they need to be protected from.
After nearly 15 years of my wife standing by my side, being the best wife a man could ever ask for, she put her foot down and said we were done unless I got some serious help. She said that I needed to make some drastic changes and start treating her and the kids the way they deserved to be treated. I didn’t realize it then, but that was the best thing she could have done for our family.
The next day I called behavioral health and couldn’t get an appointment, but I was able to talk to a doctor for a little while. The following day, I went to behavioral health and tried to make an appointment. They said it would be about three weeks. My wife and I separated for a few weeks and I stayed with friends.
During this time, thoughts of suicide began to surround me as I grew more and more depressed about the thought of losing my family. I was depressed about my inability to improve and began to think that my family would be much better off without me in their lives.
These thoughts lingered for a few days until March 31st when I had stopped by our house to drop something off for my wife. While I was there, I was home alone and sitting on my bed. I started planning how I could take one of my firearms and go out into the woods, away from where my family would be able to find me, and end the pain. A calm came over me that I have never felt, it was a feeling of relief. Like I had no more worries. I got up from the bed and walked into my closet, put the key into the gun case, but didn’t turn the key. I’m not sure what stopped me. Maybe it was the sight of my wife’s cloths hanging in the closet or maybe the thought of my children growing up without their father. Whatever it was, the next thing I know I had driven myself to the emergency room. Honestly I don’t remember driving there, but I did.
I ended up being admitted to in-patient behavioral health for two weeks. I spoke to numerous psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, chaplains and for the first time I didn’t lie. I finally let out the entire truth about my deployments, how I treated my family, and my thoughts and feelings. Talking about my feelings helped me to start feeling better. I started doing yoga, art, writing, music, and leveraged other therapy tools while hospitalized. I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. Something that I had always refused to even consider was taking any type of medication to help with my struggles. I am here to tell you that medication is not the only answer, but they do help when properly prescribed and taken.
Because I opened up about everything, a report was filed with Family Advocacy (FA), but that was ok with me. I was ready to stop living the lie and do whatever it took to get my life going in the right direction. They interviewed my children and my wife. Thankfully, the FA review board found that I had not met the requirements of abuse, even though I know I treated my family very poorly. I will be working very hard, for a very long time, to make things right with each of them.
Following my discharge from the hospital, I started an intense six-week outpatient program, where I attended daily sessions related to mindfulness, anger management, combat trauma therapy, mood enhancement, medication management, and recreational therapy. I thought I would be the highest ranking there, but there was a Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, a Captain, a Sergeant Major, three Master Sergeants, several Sergeant First Classes, and a lot of Staff Sergeants and Sergeants. I found that many of us had different situations, but very similar symptoms and responses to our situations; especially the other NCOs. Hearing their stories was like listening to myself.
In my experience, I had full support from my Chain of Command and NCO Support Channel. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but they never even entertained the idea of relieving me or replacing me. They wanted me to do what I had to do to get the help I needed and return to work.
You may be wondering why I am sharing all of this with you, I am wondering the same thing. But the thing is we have a huge problem with suicide in the military. As you know, it is becoming a growing problem in EOD as well. As leaders in the Army we must encourage Soldiers, AT ALL LEVELS, to get the help they need. But before we can encourage others to get help, we must look at ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are taking take care of ourselves first. We cannot continue to Soldier on and tough it out any longer. PTSD doesn’t go away, it just gets worse with time if you don’t learn how to cope with it.
I know some of you here are going through similar situations and some of you have sought help for it. But if you are still struggling, I am urging you to please talk about it with us or whomever else you feel comfortable with. Encourage your Soldiers to talk about their struggles. Talking about them. and proving that life still goes on, plays a huge part in making a difference. The key is helping others before they get to a point where they have decided to take their own life. Once one makes that decision, there is very little that can be done to stop them.
As a young EOD Team Leader, I felt invincible. Years later, and as I near retirement, I have learned that selfless service doesn’t always mean putting others first. Sometimes you must put yourself first so that you can continue to serve others.
Thank you for reading my story, please feel free to share this with anyone that you think it could help. I am doing well, but still struggle. I will always have to deal with thoughts from my past, but I have learned methods that help me get through the days and how to be content with my life. Best of all, I have all of my EOD brothers and sisters out there that I know I can count on when I need to talk. All of you have my ear anytime you need it.