Remembering What Wars Do

Iraq Comes Home: Soldiers Share the Devastating Tales of War
By Emily DePrang, Texas Observer. Posted July 4, 2007.

Three veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan share the nightmare experiences that war has brought into their lives.

Statistics are one way to tell the story of the approximately 1.4 million servicemen and women who’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004, 86 percent of soldiers in Iraq reported knowing someone who was seriously injured or killed there. Some 77 percent reported shooting at the enemy; 75 percent reported seeing women or children in imminent peril and being unable to help. Fifty-one percent reported handling or uncovering human remains; 28 percent were responsible for the death of a noncombatant. One in five Iraq veterans return home seriously impaired by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Words are another way. Below are the stories of three veterans of this war, told in their voices, edited for flow and efficiency but otherwise unchanged. They bear out the statistics and suggest that even those who are not diagnosably impaired return burdened by experiences they can neither forget nor integrate into their postwar lives. They speak of the inadequacy of what the military calls reintegration counseling, of the immediacy of their worst memories, of their helplessness in battle, of the struggle to rejoin a society that seems unwilling or unable to comprehend the price of their service. Strangers to one another and to me, they nevertheless tried, sometimes through tears, to communicate what the intensity of an ambiguous war has done to them.

One veteran, Sue Randolph, put it this way: “People walk up to me and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ And I know they mean well, but I want to ask, ‘Do you know what you’re thanking me for?'” She, Rocky, and Michael Goss offer their stories here in the hope that citizens will begin to know.

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Michael Goss, 29, served two tours in Iraq. He grew up in Corpus Christi and returned there after his other-than-honorable discharge. He lives with his brother. He is divorced and sees his children every other weekend while working the graveyard shift as a bail bondsman. He is quietly intelligent, thoughtful and attentive, always saying “ma’am” and opening the door for people. He struggles with severe PTSD and is obsessed with learning about the insurgency by studying reports and videos online. He is awaiting treatment from the Veterans Administration. He has been waiting for over a year.

Michael Goss:

I gave the Army seven years. It was supposed to be my career. I did two tours in Iraq, in 2003 and 2005. But during the last one, I started to get depressed. I lost faith in my chain of command. I became known as a rogue NCO. That’s how I got my other-than-honorable discharge.

One night they said to me, “Sgt. Goss, gather your best guys.” I say, “Where we going?” They say, “Don’t worry about it, just come on.” So we get in the car and go. We drive three blocks away, and there’s six dead soldiers on the ground. They say, “You’re casualty collecting tonight.” I’m not prepared for that. I wasn’t taught how to do that. But you’re there. So you pick them up, and you put them in a body bag, pieces by pieces, and you go back to your unit, and you stand inside your room. And they’re like, “You’re going on a patrol, come on.” You’re like, “Hang on a minute. Let me think about what I just did here.” I just put six American guys in damn body bags. Nobody’s prepared for that. Nobody’s prepared for that thing to blow up on the side of the road. You’re talking, and you’re driving, and then something blows up, and the next thing you know, two of your guys are missing their faces. They just want you to get up the next day and go, go, let’s do it again, you’re a soldier. Yeah, I got the soldier part, OK?

It gets to the point where they numb you. They numb you to death. They numb you to anything. You come back, and it starts coming back to you slowly. Now you gotta figure out a way to deal with it. In Iraq you had a way to deal with it, because they kept pushing you back out there. Keep pushing you back out into the streets. Go, go, go. Hey, I just shot four people today. Yeah, and in about four hours you’re going to go back out, and you’ll probably shoot six more. So let’s go. Just deal with it. We’ll fix it when we get back. That’s basically what they’re telling you. We’ll fix it all when we get back. We’ll get your head right and everything when we get back to the States. I’m sorry, it’s not like that. It’s not supposed to be like that. All the soldiers have post-traumatic stress disorder, and they’re like, “Hey, you’re good. You went to counseling four times, you can go back to Iraq. It’s OK.” No. It doesn’t work that way.

Read the rest here.

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