“I felt my group leader couldn’t possibly know what I was going through… Boy, was I wrong.”
At the core of our mission at REBOOT are the individuals we serve, and there is nothing more powerful than to hear directly from our participants who are finding hope after trauma and are leading lives of joy and purpose. During our course, each participant is encouraged to go through the difficult process of writing and sharing his or her story. What follows is the story of a recent REBOOT graduate, written by him, as he shared publicly at his REBOOT graduation. Only small edits have been made for clarity and to protect the identities of those mentioned.
PAST & PRESENT… this is the story of SGT TAYLOR.
In June of 2009, at the age of 19, I raised my right hand for the Army, but because of the delayed entry program, I didn’t arrive at Fort Benning, Georgia for my Basic Training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) until late October.
I had no idea what to expect once I got there. I kind of figured that it would be like the movie Full Metal Jacket, with the yelling, the choking, and a LOT of physical training. Well, I was right about all three, except instead of choking, the drill sergeants would take the loud mouths to the laundry room – what happened then is anybody’s guess.
I made it through Basic and AIT fairly easily, other than the one speed bump after our Christmas exodus when I felt really strongly that I just wanted to go home. But I figure everybody was thinking the same thing after getting a taste of freedom – how the heck do I get out of this place?
My first duty station was Baumholder, Germany, and it seemed like the end of the earth. Plenty of 30-day field problems all over Germany were partnered with plenty of booze when we got home. Since the drinking age was only 16, all of us younger guys got a taste of what the bar scene was like a couple of years earlier than expected.
I remember getting caught in my buddy’s barracks room one day by an old squad leader, and instead of punishing us physically, he forced us to pass around a bottle of Goldschlager until it was just about empty. Knowing that we could get away with it, most of us developed a drinking problem that we didn’t know that we had – that is, until we returned home after our first deployment and found that we couldn’t stop drinking once we started.
In my first deployment to the Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan, the fighting season didn’t hit us until about month six. Some of us said that it was because of the new uniforms, the multi-cams, while others said that it was just because we looked squared away. Well, once the fighting started, it didn’t stop until we returned home.
During this deployment, my truck was hit with huge IEDs twice – both times on the same route, same type of mission, same time, and with almost the exact same order of movement. I knew that the first mission was a bad idea because we had gotten called out for a Quick Reaction Force mission at almost midnight to recover one of our sister platoon’s downed vehicles on a road called “Route Calypso.” This was some of the scariest terrain I’d driven – mountains on one side and cliff drop offs within a foot on the other side.
No sooner had we gotten out of the choke point, we were ambushed – IEDs and enemy machine gun fire all around. My gunner went down, and being the scared, motivated private that I was, I tried to jump into the gunner’s hatch from my driver’s seat, which was nixed very quickly. I remember my TC saying something about me sitting still and worrying about getting our truck out of the kill zone. Soon, the firefight ceased, but not without the help of the Germans who were rockin’ their machine guns mounted on top of their vehicles.
The second time down Route Calypso was exactly the same mission, recovering a downed vehicle, and we were ambushed in the same spot – only this time, we didn’t have the Germans for reinforcements. We were able to get out of there, but not before I got my truck stuck in a ditch and almost rolled us over.
There were a few more firefights during that deployment, but those were relatively easy. We all came home with no KIAs in our company and only a few injuries.
But that’s when the drinking really began. At least 23 beers before Physical Training formation… skip PT… and then go right back to one of our barracks rooms to keep drinking the previous night’s leftover liquor. I remember getting caught drinking a couple of times during the work day and just being told to keep it to a minimum.
I took my post-deployment leave at my uncle’s apartment in New York City, and we lived it up! That is, until something weird happened that had never happened before. I had a panic attack, or flashback, and I tried to fight my uncle. He didn’t know what to do, so he tried to put his hands on me to calm me down. We never really spoke about it after it happened, and still haven’t much, even to this day.
Once I came back, I continued to drink and party like every day was my 21st birthday. I remember almost not being able to change duty stations because my Company Commander and First Sergeant knew that I had developed a drinking problem and they wanted to throw me into the Army Substance Abuse Program. Luckily, my Squad Leader at the time stuck up for me and told them that it would only make me worse by holding me there.
So I changed duty stations to Fort Drum, New York, where life slowed down for a little bit – but only until I found out who the partiers were. They still didn’t party like we did in Germany, but I managed to make it work. I wouldn’t know that I had a problem until I met my wife, Jane, and it started to affect her.
So I deployed a second time, this time to eastern Afghanistan near Ghazni Province. Day and night, there were constant firefights and IEDs right outside the gates of our FOB (forward operating base). For a period of about three months during the summer, we took rockets and mortars every single day. You wanna talk about scared? Try hearing the crack of a recoilless rifle round go off and seeing the rockets get closer and closer to your tower while you’re pulling security with your buddy. 75 meters… 50 meters… 25 meters… and luckily they stopped, or that next round probably would’ve taken out our tower.
Then came the day when Sergeant Anderson was shot in the gut by a drive-by .50 caliber round. Fortunately, he was medevac’d out and lived. We also had multiple insider threats but caught them before they could carry them out. There were also several special operations soldiers who were continuously getting injured just outside our gate while patrolling the mountainside. And because our FOB was a joint FOB – half Afghan Army and half Americans – there were prisoners being interrogated and escorted around our premises all the time as well as interpreters and Afghan workers living there on our FOB.
All of this was just part of the Infantry game that I signed up to play – until March 22, 2013, when Specialist Miller from our sister Engineer company stepped on an IED.
I was in the gunner’s hatch at the time when we saw a huge mushroom cloud from a nearby convoy. As we headed over, we heard panic and confusion over the radio, and the words “KIA, KIA!” being shouted over and over. When we pulled up to the scene, we saw their medic in tears, frozen on the side of the road, while an interpreter’s head was being bandaged. The remaining personnel were picking up body parts and putting them on a litter. It’s probably the most gruesome sight I have ever seen.
But once we got back to the FOB and debriefed, most of us were back to laughing and joking as if it was just another day in the office. That’s the only way that we knew how to cope. You had to force yourself to treat the situation like a video game, because the moment that you put too much thought into it, you were bound to crack.
A few more firefights and IEDs later, we returned home. I moved in with my girlfriend, she got pregnant, and things were good for a while. But over time, I slowly started to get angrier and angrier about life. Nothing in particular triggered it. I just kept finding myself in situations that normal civilians would probably be able to get themselves out of with ease, but I was ready to kill anyone and anything who got in my way. The only thing I knew that would keep me focused and on an even keel was the booze.
I married my girlfriend, and she put up with me for a while. We were on a roller coaster of emotions. I was always yelling, and she was always retreating. I didn’t realize how bad it was until Easter Sunday of 2014, during the middle of Expert Infantryman Badge training, when I attempted to take my own life.
I was drinking liquor by myself in the living room, my kids and wife were asleep, and something clicked in my head that told me the only way to make the pain and voices stop was to take my own life. I couldn’t stand the constant feeling like I was going to hurt my family. I couldn’t stand always being so angry for no reason. I knew that it was time for a change, and the only change I knew that would definitely work was suicide.
So, after going upstairs and having another flashback panic attack at the bedside of my
wife and newborn daughter, I tried to jump off of my second story balcony. But my wife grabbed me and pulled me back before I was able to jump. She called my Platoon Sergeant at the time as well as my best friend from my second deployment, and they were able to get me to calm down. I was okay for a few days.
I got my EIB and was on top of the world as I worshipped this badge, this little piece of rectangular metal. Idolatry at its finest. I decided to reenlist for Fort Campbell because I thought that if I just had a change of scenery, I would be able to put my problems behind me. Little did I know, my problems had only just begun.
My family and I drove down to our new house in Clarksville, Tennessee, and I had 30 days of leave to blow through. I continued to find myself bored, and that’s when the suicidal and homicidal ideations came back in full force. I continued to lie to myself and my wife, and I kept telling myself that if only I could get to my new unit, I’d be fine. Well, those days came, and I only made it a couple weeks in my new unit before I was checked into an inpatient facility in Kentucky for about three weeks. I left the facility on a bunch of medication and going to therapy twice a week. Again, the situation with my wife and kids was okay for a while, but the yelling and screaming only subsided temporarily.
While I was away at the inpatient facility, my wife told me that she started going to a church called Bethel Community in Clarksville and she loved it. She also told me about a program called REBOOT Combat Recovery. I told her that I’d try it, but deep down, I knew that I wouldn’t be caught dead going to an open discussion group about PTSD. I’d done it before, and the people that go to these groups are just a bunch of weenies with no heart.
But my wife insisted, so I attended the course. The first three weeks were awful, and I told my wife that I was done with it. But she proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t go back, she and the kids were gone. So, I went back once again. I remember walking out of one of the early weeks because I felt my group leader couldn’t possibly know what I was going through because I was the only one with my problems and he wasn’t a veteran. Boy, was I wrong.
While going through REBOOT, I learned a lot about myself – what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. I also found out that there were many things that bothered my wife during our marriage that I had no idea even existed. My kids slowly started to come around more as I progressed through the course, noticing that their dad was yelling less and not drinking anymore. Isn’t it funny how kids notice things like that and they know when to stay away?
Each week of the course, I continually learned more and more about myself and how the feelings that I had towards others and myself were not justifiable. I discovered that in the end, I was never in control – God was. I graduated from REBOOT and can’t say enough about the impact that it has had on my life.
Things aren’t perfect. I’m still on medication, I still go to therapy once every three weeks, and I still have off days. My wife and I still have arguments and we go to marriage counseling every now and again, but what matters is that each day, we make an effort to work at our marriage. Only God is perfect and nothing else ever will be and without Him, I’d still be lost, searching for my soul, not knowing that it was there the whole time just screaming and begging for Christ.
A few days ago, I heard someone say to think about all of the people you encounter on a daily basis. Those people can either be positively or negatively impacted by you. Now just imagine if you gave that one person a smile or told that one person “Hey! Have you heard the good news? Jesus loves you, no matter what.” Imagine how many lives you could save? The Gospel is in everything that we do and it should be in everything that we speak.
You just have to open up a little and take that extra leap of faith. You might be amazed at what you discover. I’ll leave you with this, from Romans 8:1-4… “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin; He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Now that’s good news!
A Note from REBOOT – Perhaps this story hits close to home. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD or the aftereffects of combat trauma, click here to contact us. We’ll put you in touch with a combat veteran or spouse who has been through our program. Our team will do whatever we can to offer help and healing.