Changes


As we go thru life we change. It is the way of things. We adjust to what we see, smell, learn and do. Sometimes it’s slow sometimes it’s fast. I am writing today on changes caused by events in combat that I experienced.

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CH-47 in Kamdesh, Afghanistan 2006 Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Ridgeway 

As some of you know, I have spent a great deal of time overseas. Those of you that have spent time deployed and I imagine First Responder’s know that you don’t remember every minute of every day on the job. You have defining moments that etch their way into your very soul and do not leave. I want to say first that I don’t want them to. Those moments are mine. Good and Bad they help define ME. I fear late life diseases that would strip them from me actually.

The talk of the errornet is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Apparently the simple act of deploying means you have PTSD. Like it’s issued or administered like my smallpox shot was. This isn’t true. Not at all. I will explain later why this is important to understand. Most of us have seen a traumatic event. Some worse than others and on more occasions. I am by no means disparaging those who suffer from PTSD, it is simply not everyone. What I am talking about is Post traumatic Stress Enhancement (PTSE).

On this day, May 5, 2006, in the dark hours I watched a CH-47 Chinook have blade strike and after the pilot applied full throttle and full collective, shed its blades and plummet into a shallow draw. The ensuing impact and fireball instantly killed all aboard. We had no idea how many people were on it when it crashed but we assumed the crew and the men that it was there to pick up. Luckily, this wasn’t the case. After my squad and I hauled ass from the mountain we were on down a valley and back up to the mountain of the crash we found out many were not aboard. In fact, only three from the OP were aboard, one man was nearly aboard when the bird lifted out from under him sparing his life.

Sunrise brought the grim reminder of death. As we searched I asked others if they had seen any remains yet and to my dismay our senior medic said one set was near me. On the ground less than 3 feet from me and hidden from view was Timmons. He was indistinguishable from the charred ground around him. The scene did not get much better from there on out.

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Needless to say, this was a traumatic event. I won’t go into the full details as they are not important to this writing. The investigation reviled many causes but two created scars. The first was the marking on the LZ confused the aircrew and second the LZ was too small. Herein lies my life regret and guilt. I chose the OP location and said that a bird could land there. In fact, the men on the OP had landed there on a Chinook much the same way. The fact remains it was my words and deeds that had a CH-47 on that spot on that night.

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Troopers from 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment in Afghanistan 2006 Courtesy of Jeremiah Ridgeway

Now, I could use this as a boat anchor to pull me into the abyss but I didn’t. How could I ensure that the next SSG Hess would NOT make the same call or make sure I didn’t make the same mistake again? Simple, get better. Stay current and up to speed. I attended Air Assault School 8 years before this event and was doing Air Assault things without being current with knowledge. Would that have solved the problem? Possibly.

On fixing the next SSG Hess, I became an Air Assault instructor many years after this event. While there I did my best to make sure people truly understood the boring part of Air Assault has was very strict on mistakes. I made myself better in response to that event.

In between those things, I continued to deploy and saw many other traumatic events. The next event that caused change was a gunfight while supporting a special operations team. We were ambushed with RPG’s and machine guns and throughout that fight I saw and felt many mistakes with firearms. Things weren’t going as advertised and one of my men was severely wounded. I truly thought he was dead. The medics were doing their best (thankfully the were some of the best 18D’s around) to keep him alive as we waited for the aircraft. My Soldier lived but has many permanent injuries.

My response to this was to get myself and my guys better with firearms and gunfighting. This path is still ongoing and frankly the reason that you are reading this on this blog. I have been working on those skills in earnest since that day. The journey has landed me in positions to write and run a marksmanship course, an urban operations course, and now write and publish the soon to be released Army manual on shooting.

Did these events and others like them break me? No. Am I broken because I make myself better than I was at that time? No. Do I have a disorder because I saw those things? No.

Those events brought me to this point in my life. At 41 I rarely drink, work out regularly, and feel very well. My life is in a very good spot as a SFC with 20+ years and the whole world at my fingertips. I made myself better in response to those events.

One last scar that I need to mention. Today as I was doing a Hero WOD called Fenty I remembered why we chose the OP location in the first place. We were took the lazy way during our recon. We were tired and weaker than we should have been. The OP was perfect location for combat ops and in the firefight we had there my Scouts had perfect observation and assisted in making the enemy pay for their transgressions.  And pay they did. Few escaped into the night and it was reported that there were actual Al Qaeda among the fighters. So during that workout as I felt weak and tired again it brought that fact up. It fueled me for the rest of the workout and I managed to finish it 2 minutes behind the guy who wrote its time.

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The memorial service of our Fallen from 3-71 Cavalry Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Ridgeway
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