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Never Forget, They are Not Just Names… Reflections on War, Loss and Change: Iraq, Afghanistan and Deep Space Nine

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KIRA: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.
SISKO: How many this time?
KIRA: Including the troops lost at AR five five eight, seventeen hundred and thirty.
SISKO: Seventeen hundred thirty.
KIRA: That’s a lot of names.
SISKO: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

I have had trouble sleeping the past couple of weeks and I think that late last night or early this morning I figured it out.

I am remembering.

It was about this time of year six years ago I was getting ready to celebrate my 24th wedding anniversary with Judy knowing that about a week and a half later I would be leaving for Iraq for duty in Al Anbar Province with our advisors and wondering, if at the height of the war I would come back.

Of course I did come back and the following year in 2008 we celebrated our 25th anniversary as I melted down, collapsing due to PTSD. I was home but I wasn’t.

Every time I see or read a casualty report I still feel a chill, knowing how easily my life could have ended. I saw a report yesterday that four American troops were killed by indirect fire at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. Reading it I remembered the rocket the flew over my head the night I was flying out of Camp Victory for Anbar and how nonchalant I was when a young soldier ran up to me in his PT gear nearly in a panic asking me “what was that?” and my response, “oh it was just a rocket.” We were not far from the eastern perimeter of the base in an area of tents set out as transient quarters gunship helicopters flew over the camp and the city beyond the walls, machine guns rattled in the distance as explosions echoed in the distance as American soldiers and Iraqi security forces battled insurgents not very far from where we sat.

This past week a number of things have been triggering me. The Marines have been conducting exercises at Camp LeJeune and I have heard artillery in the distance and aircraft have been taking off and landing at the auxiliary airfield across the sound a couple miles away.

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Even though it is still two weeks until July 4th the tourists and summer rental types are already shooting off fireworks in the neighborhood near the beach. Last night I barely slept and tonight the tourist insurgents have been going mad with the fireworks. I was out walking Molly when some rather large commercial type fireworks went off a couple hundred yards away on the next street over. I nearly went to ground until I realized that they were only fireworks. I thought about July 4th 2011 when Judy brought Molly down and we went down to the beach to watch the fireworks. That night I was terrified and only the unflappable calm of Molly sitting beside me barking at the fireworks to protect me kept me together. Tonight Molly was as unflappable as ever, not bothered by the explosions. That made me laugh despite the near panic that I found myself. It is amazing what a little dog, now blind but still very relevant can do for someone like me dealing with the PTSD Mad Cow. I hate July 4th now, not what it means but all the explosions.

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Molly supervising my writing in 2008 or 2009

Tonight I was watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine on DVD and the end of the season seven episode The Siege of AR-558 got me a bit. At the end of the episode Captain Sisko and Colonel Kira are discussing the latest casualty lists, which Sisko posts each week for his crew. I quoted it at the beginning of the article and it really spoke to me.

Some 6700 American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen have died in Iraq or Afghanistan close to 50,000 more wounded and probably a couple hundred thousand afflicted with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury. Hundreds, if not thousands more, active duty, reserve and former service members have taken their own lives after returning. Of course those numbers don’t count the troops from NATO or the Iraq Coalition Forces, the Iraqi and Afghan troops that have fought and died alongside us or the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been killed, wounded or driven from their homes.

But they are more than numbers. Every one has a name, the dead and those who have come back in some way forever changed by war. It is important that we never forget that. They cannot be just numbers, otherwise we dehumanize them and avoid the real cost of war, especially the human costs. I think that Smedley Butler said it the best:

“This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

As I write the situation in Afghanistan is still dangerous and this week I saw another friend, a surgeon from my hospital depart for duty there. Likewise there is much debate about the US and NATO role in the Syrian Civil War, something that seems to me will eventually involve US forces in yet another war.

I guess that is why I can’t sleep and why some of my dreams have been so disturbing lately. I know that I will get through this as I have been through much worse over the past six years.

Another episode of Deep Space Nine entitled Paper Moon that I watched tonight dealt with the young Ferengi officer Nog who was wounded at AR-558, losing a leg and his struggles after returning to the station dealing with the trauma of war, loss and change.

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Nog tells his holographic friend the lounge singer Vic Fontaine played by James Darren When the war began…I was eager. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to prove I had what it took to be a soldier. And I saw a lot of combat. I saw a lot of people get hurt. I saw a lot of people die, but I didn’t think anything was going to happen to me.” I didn’t think that anything would happen to me either, I thought that I was immune from trauma and PTSD, I was an expert in dealing with trauma but I came back changed.

At the end of the episode as he comes to terms with his loss and the change he is asked by his father’s new wife “Are you okay?” and he replies “No. But I will be.”

I will be too. Tonight I hope to sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, middle east, News and current events, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Too Young…Naval Medical Center Portsmouth loses another one of Its Own

 

Lieutenant Eric W Inge, Medical Corps, United States Navy 20 August 1979-13 February 2010

Creator, Father who first breathed

In us the life that we received

By thy power of thy breath restore

The ill, and men with wounds of war

Bless those who give their healing care,

That life and laughter all may share

 From the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save

Today the Staff of Naval Medical Center remembered the life and work of a shipmate, colleague and friend.  LT Eric Inge passed away last week from apparently natural causes. Eric was a junior resident our Psychiatry residency program and I had the pleasure of working with him and spending time in class as well as doing some PT with him. Back in December we took a PT test together.  Though he was quiet we often talked to each other and he had a good heart, sharp wit and obviously cared for people and wanted to do his best to serve our Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and their family members that he saw in clinic or on the floor. 

 He was quiet, unassuming and did not draw attention to himself. He was remembered today as a friend, a committed physician who could always be found working with his patients and who was a very good psychiatrist even though he was still early in his residency. 

 He was born at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Denver on August 20th 1979. He graduated with distinction from Duke University earning a degree in Biomedical Engineering. He worked in that field and then attended medical school at the University of South Florida where he graduated with his MD in 2005.  He completed an internship in Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University in 2006 and entered a Neurology program that he withdrew from realizing that his passion in medicine lay in Psychiatry.  Passing up numerous civilian residency programs he entered the Navy and was accepted into the Psychiatry internship program from which he matriculated in June of 2009 and then began his residency at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.  He served his patients, his shipmates and his country well.  He is typical of so many of our young Naval Physicians and other professionals in Navy Medicine.  Eric will be missed by his friends, colleagues and the patients that he served so well.  Please remember his mother and father, Elsa and Kenneth Inge and sister Tina in your prayers. 

 His death came as another blow to a department that has lost two other staff members in the past 7 months and to a medical center that has said goodbye to far too many shipmates in the past year.  Additionally we have hundreds of our staff deployed in harms way in Afghanistan where they are actively treating US and NATO soldiers and Afghan civilians in places like Khadahar, Camp Bastion and Bagram as well as many places too small to register in this country. Others serve in Iraq, the broader Middle East and the Horn of Africa.  Many were shipped out with only hours notice to deploy on the USNS Comfort to care for victims of the cataclysmic destruction in Haiti, which many veteran and even senior staff who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan find more horrifying than anything that they experienced in combat.  While all of these professionals deploy the staff here picks up the load.  Unlike units that rotate in and out of combat to be rested and refreshed these proud and selfless men and women of Navy Medicine go into the fight or into places of cataclysmic devastation and then return to carry on with the mission of caring for our Navy and broader military family at home. 

 Please keep all of these professionals, caregivers all in your prayers as they serve with dedication and distinction all over the world and even now mourn the death of one of their own.  I do not pretent to understand why young people like Eric die, I trust God yes, but I wonder sometimes and ask the question which has no answer “why?” I will miss Eric and trust that his soul and the souls of all the departed will rest in peace.

 Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, Pastoral Care, shipmates and veterans