To Iraq and Back

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On the Way Home, 2008  with RP1 Nelson Lebron

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T.E. Lawrence wrote, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” 

It is hard to believe that eight years ago I was almost ready to return from to Iraq with my bodyguard and assistant Religious Program Specialist First Class Nelson Lebron. During our time there our mission was to support the American advisers to the Iraq 1st and 7th Divisions, the 2nd Border Brigade, Port of Entry Police, Highway Patrol and Police forces in Al Anbar Province.

We did our job well, and it was a life changing experience for both of us, even though we were no strangers to deployment or danger. In 2008 we returned to the United States changed by our experiences. It was also to test my marriage and even my career in the Navy. Both of which I thought might be lost within a year or two of my return.

To quote Charles Dickens “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I came back diagnosed with a case of severe and chronic PTSD as well as chronic Tinnitus and severely impaired ability to understand speech. Nightmares, and night terrors chronic insomnia, flashbacks, hyper vigilance, panic attacks and claustrophobia have all been part of my life since then. Nelson too, though now retired from the Navy has had his struggles.

The experience left me severely depressed, at times feeling the pain of despair and hopelessness, a loss of faith and its restoration.

Despite all of that I consider my time in Iraq to be the high point of my military career. It was a place that I was able to use every gift, talent and skill at my disposal to do a job that took me to places and allowed me to work with people that I could not have imagined. My tour in Iraq, though painful and life changing was also the best of times, it opened my eyes to things that I never thought possible, relationships unimagined and ministry unbound by the constraints of the terrible model of contemporary American Christianity.

I plan to go back to the articles that I first wrote I started to recall my experiences back in 2009. I was unable to complete them then because the memories were still to fresh and painful to relive. I tried a couple of other times but stopped because of how vivid and sometimes painful the memories still were. I found my notebook from my time there and hope that it as well as my memories don’t fail me as I try again to recount our time there. Of course when I do this I will have to recount my post-Iraq experiences as well.

Hopefully when they are complete I can get them published as a book. The goal, I hope is that others who have been through what I have been through, and those who have been through much worse will be able to know that what happened to them can happen to anyone that goes to war, including Chaplains and other care givers who are by nature of or calling and training supposed to be immune from such experiences.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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5 Comments

Filed under faith, iraq, PTSD, shipmates and veterans

5 responses to “To Iraq and Back

  1. I can’t wait to read your book. You will be helping others to deal with similar rough times.

  2. Padre,

    Confession Time for me. You do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself hear my confession.

    I have been delaying writing about the final two deployments that I did for precisely the same reason that you are writing about your experiences. My life was a wreck when I returned and I had serious reservations about the opportunity to stay married when I returned. It was less PTSD and more just being a poor example of a husband and father.

    I have been finding reasons to not start down this path for almost 18 months now. It is to the point that I am finding reasons to not finish what I started out to do and ditching the entire project all together. But then the guilt of not leaving my kids with a historical perspective of their Dad when he was at his lowest points in life feels like I am a huge chicken and full of hot air when I tell them to face their struggles.

    Just reading your honest and open assessment on that time period of your life makes me equally emboldened and terrified to re-open closed wounds.

    Thank you for hearing my confession.

    • padresteve

      Rob, thanks. Those wounds never seem to completely heal. I know that when I write about them and that period, or read the stories of others they are as fresh and painful as ever. Courage my friend, somehow you and I will get through this. Peace, Steve+

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