The Guilt

Everyone has times they’re down..Holidays, tragic events, even rain…My worst times revolve around 2 days. Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. I’ve never written about this and never even told anyone before but I feel the need to get it out of my head. I don’t know if I’ll make this post live but I just need to get it out..

First, some background.

I joined the Army in the winter of 1994 on the delayed entry program. I was excited, nervous, scared of what it might entail. My Dad was in the Air Force, my Brother was in the National Guard and my mentor at the time was in the Guard as well. I want to be like them. I saw the pride in the uniform and from the stories I’d heard about all the fun and shenanigans that went on I wanted to be a part of that.

I didn’t leave for basic until the summer of 1995, after high school graduation. I still had all those same feelings but the excitement took over everything else. I pushed myself hard and was rewarded with graduation from basic as well as advanced individual training. I wanted to be a medic. I’d read books about the medics in WWII and Vietnam and wanted a chance to push myself and save others while doing it.

My first duty station was in Korea. I was going to the Mechanized Infantry. I was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, D Company 2bn/9th Inf Reg. and on the first day when I was introduced to the 1SGT he said that until I earned the title “Doc” he was just going to call me medic. But, I did get a cool call sign that was used over the radio..D Co was known as “Delta Death” and my call sign was “Death Medic”..Actually, pretty funny now that I think about it!

Anyway, 2 months after I was attached to D Co we were in the field moving to another area of operation for training. We got the call over the radio “Death Medic, Death Medic to the front…Rollover, Rollover!”

One of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles had rolled off an embankment and was upside down. My senior medic and I went to work and pulled the gunner and, eventually, the driver out. The track commander was out of the hatch when the rollover happened and was crushed. He didn’t make it. After calling in a medivac we were both exhausted but the mission had to go on..1SGT walked up and put his hand on my shoulder and said “Good job, Doc.” He called me Doc from that day on until I left.

After getting over the initial shock of being so far away from home I grew to love those guys like brothers. My fellow medics, the ground pounders and everyone were like brothers…We worked together, we partied together and as their medic I felt an overwhelming duty to protect each one of them. They would yell at me on road marches because I would run up and down the line checking on them and making sure everyone was hydrating and changing socks, etc at rest stops.

Fast forward to 1999. I left active duty and switch to the National Guard. I left active duty for very selfish reasons. That old saying about the grass being greener on the other side was a big part of my leaving.

Initially I didn’t feel any guilt and I was glad I was out. But as time went on I started missing that camaraderie. I tried to find it other places like my civilian job and even in my NG unit..But it just wasn’t there. I thought about going back on active duty but talked myself out of it many times.

Then 9/11 happened. I was watching when the second plane hit and like most I knew we were at war. My first thought was of the guys that I’d served with who were still in. At this point I was no longer in the national guard and had transitioned over to the ready reserve which meant I didn’t have to go to monthly drill but I still had 2 years left on my obligation. I was also working at a blood bank and I’d just gotten off on 9/12 after working close to 24 hours straight. I drove to the Army recruiter and then drove right by and went home. I’d fully intended on stopping and signing back on to fight the group responsible.

I didn’t stop in because I was exhausted and wanted to have a clear head to make such a life altering decision..I didn’t mention my thoughts of going back in to anyone..Looking back I think that was so I was only accountable to myself and if I decided not to go back in (which I ultimately did) then I wouldn’t have to explain myself to anyone.

I pushed thoughts of going back in down and didn’t think about them…Until the first guy I served with was killed in action in 2003. By that time I’d completed my obligation and had received my honorable discharge paperwork..When I heard about him I felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt for not being in the fight but once again I pushed it down and over the years I’ve lost 5 friends in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’ve always felt guilty but kept pushing it down and telling myself that I should really go talk to the recruiter and go back in. And I did, at one point, seek out a recruiter but once I told him I was prior service he said I would need waivers for some service related medical issues to go back on active duty and then I never heard from him again..Check that, once he stopped calling I never followed back up with him.

Over the last 3 years or the guilt has become stronger and stronger. I feel like I let those guys down..I feel like I’ve let my brothers down. I know that my being there probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome..But what if I’d been able to patch them up enough for them to make it.. I feel like a failure and a coward. My life has now become a series of cookie cutter days and a lot of sleepless nights. During the week I look forward to the weekends so I can sit alone in my house and not talk to anyone.

I have addictions to things that I never thought I would have and it seems that every waking moment I’m just looking forward to the moment I can go back to sleep and not think about anything. I can’t watch anything related to military without going to a really bad place. But yet I watch a lot of military related shows … to punish myself I suppose? I feel so drained after watching those types of shows but it’s something I still do on a regular, almost daily, basis.

I don’t advertise my service because I don’t feel like I have any right to do that. On days like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day now I simply “go dark” and I don’t talk to anyone or go anywhere..And honestly it’s not like that’s a stretch for me since I actively avoid being around people anyway.

The guilt and stress has seeped into my everyday life and now I have a hard time staying focused on the simplest of tasks that I have to do as a sysadmin. I’m wracked by fear of failure to the point that I end up doing nothing and ultimately fail to meet timelines and deadlines.

Honestly, I feel so bogged down and buried most days that I don’t know where to start digging to get out. Some days I could just pack up and disappear and never look back..But in this day and age it’s next to impossible to do that.

I’ve debated actually posting this and I think I’m going to, for now. I’m turning off comments because I’m not posting it for public comment, just to simply just to get it off my chest and hopefully find a way to move on. If that’s even possible.