When Uncle Sam Breaks Up With You

A while back I told you about my soldier who was fighting to stay in the Army despite his many injuries. The post was called Beating The Odds. I shared our unlikely friendship (we don’t have much in common) and how our paths would never cross except in a cafe in Iraq over a $2 donated cup of coffee (Cup of Joe.) I also asked for some supportive comments he could share with the Medical Evaluation Board. Readers responded and he and his family were very touched. This post is the update to that story.

It worked before

Staff Sergeant RD had been injured before and forced to medically retire before. He fought his way back by getting stronger and getting waivers. That was a good thing because when it came to being a civilian, his transition was like something out of a movie. Specifically, the second act of a movie where the hero is in trouble and the zombies are winning. It was a nightmare.

This is especially true when he took a few sleeping pills to deal with his insomnia. His mother didn’t know this and struggled to wake her groggy son. She grabbed his shoulders roughly. In that moment, he thought he was being attacked. He flipped her to the ground and it wasn’t until he had a knife to her throat that he realized that she was not the Taliban. He was so devastated by this event that he left. He disappeared for a year. It took him a few more years to get healthier from that point. But he did it. And Uncle Sam took him back.

10 years later

Since then, RD has done a lot. Most soldiers don’t like to talk about medals, but I found out that his include: 2 Purple Hearts, 2 Bronze Stars, and 2 Army Commendations. But along the way his injuries have gotten more serious, numerous, and include the bonus thrill of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) He was hoping to teach. To train soldiers and share the benefit of his knowledge. But the Medical Evaluation Board turned him down. He will be retiring in the coming weeks.

Most of the troops I know are active duty. A few have retired but that was their choice. I asked RD how he felt about all this.

RD: Borderline failure. The mission’s not complete.

ME: You wanted to go for 20 years? 

RD: I wanted to go till my grave.

ME: How do you feel about returning to civilian life?

RD: It changes. Sometimes it scares the shit out of me. I remember the first time, which was horrible. Then I think, well…I’m 10 years older, more life experiences… I’ll handle things better. Plus maybe doing it once before gives me insight.

ME: You also have a strong marriage and other connections you didn’t have before. And a job lined up.

RD: That’s true. And all that matters. It does. But it’s hard to lose the sense of brotherhood. I can’t talk to my wife or my mom about the things I’ve done and seen. I don’t want them to know. I don’t want my wife to roll over and look at me and think: What the “F” did I marry? And all the people I can talk to are dead or won’t be around me. Plus it’s hard to watch the news. To know I can’t do anything. To know that my brothers are there. I feel like I let them down.

ME: What could a family member or civilian do to help with your transition?

RD: I honestly don’t know. If I did know the answer to that, I wouldn’t be worried about transitioning.

ME: Are you okay if I share this?

RD: G, if it helps one person, it’s worth it. In fact, I participated in a study about PTSD at the college nearby. They hooked me up then showed me images of dead bodies. Friendlies, enemies, children…all sorts of horrible things. They measured how my brain reacted. MRIs etc. Then they made me talk about my worst stories. It tore me up. But I did it. Because if me being torn up for one week helps even one guy not suffer like this, it’s worth it.

ME: How does your wife feel about you retiring?

RD: She’s excited. And worried. You know, because she knows it was rough last time. It’s also something new…having me around. Me not leaving for 12-15 months at a time. It’s a new part to our relationship.

ME: Will you always feel like a soldier? Is that your identity?

RD: The day I turn in this uniform, is the day I’ll stop being a soldier. But I will always be a patriot. I will always care.

Second chances

I told RD that I was feeling hopeful. I readily admit that I am no psychologist. But looking from the outside, I see a man with a self-awareness that he didn’t have 10 years ago. RD knows his strengths and weaknesses. And he voluntarily put himself through personal hell to be part of that study. He chose to take his pain and try to make some good come out of it. I also think his strong family connections are vitally important. As is the job he lined up.

Maybe I’m being naive, but I believe in his resilience, passion, and determination. I believe in him. And I like his chances of moving on from Uncle Sam.

soldier's boots

© Gina left the mall, 2013

40 thoughts on “When Uncle Sam Breaks Up With You

  1. Very interesting post. Very interesting. Maybe one way that RD can put it into perspective is that at some point you must pass along the baton – to the next group that will carry on. I know that “leaving the brotherhood” is one of the most difficult and troubling aspects of retiring but perhaps RD can find a way to continue to use his experiences to help those brothers who are still active and deployed. Perhaps he should ask the community college group that conducted those studies what they might suggest.

    I witness soldiers who are back in the states giving advice to those getting ready to return stateside. Alot of them state….”Pay attention to what I say and don’t make the same mistakes or …. here are the pitfalls to look for.” And they are SERIOUS when the talk to the still deployed because again, they want to help their brothers.

    If RD feels that this is his calling, then he will find a way even if it’s a volunteer commitment and not related to his job.

    • Suzanne,
      I think that’s a terrific idea! I think any kind of mentoring would not only allow him to share his knowledge, but enable him to feel that he’s still contributing. That he’s helping his brothers. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. As a family who is living thru what RD and his family are right now. That family bond is most important. There is hope. As long as he continues to believe in himself like he has he will continue to thrive.
    ~Leslie

    • Mrs. Sarge,
      Thank you for this comment! Your words will carry much more weight than mine. I can cheer him on from the sidelines but, as you are living it, you offer him proof that thriving is within his reach…it’s within in. Along with his family, he has everything he needs.

  3. Leslie from Soldiers’ Angels passed along this message: Tell RD to check out teamrwb.org
    I’m adding the info here in case it can help anyone else. http://teamrwb.org

    Mission/Vision:
    Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

  4. Great post! Leaving the military before you are ready is like divorcing a spouse you are still in love with. I know many people in the throes of the same exact issue, and they all wrestle with the transition from life in uniform to life on the outside. Some are successful — after a period of time their perspectives change to the point that they can accept their “new” lives and move forward; others are not successful and never really make the jump. They seem to be stuck in “pause” mode, and it affects every aspect of their lives.
    I don’t have any earth-shattering advice other than there are literally tens of thousands of people going through the exact same thing. Find some others and help each other through the difficulties that come with transition. Believe it or not, they share a the same bonds that you do, and even though those bonds with active duty are being severed there are countless new bonds that can be made.

    • Mike,
      Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I think your first line sums up how he feels perfectly and everything else is just as smart and helpful. I can’t wait for RD to get off work today and read this (and the other wonderful comments.) He is very concerned about severing the bonds with active duty but, as you point out, there are many new bonds that can be made.

  5. Okay, GIna, this is breaking my heart. There has to be SOMETHING that my group or friends of MSNN can do for RD. Let me share this, pass this around. See if we can find some support groups – even if online only. Can you tell me city and state where he’ll be returning to? Or is that off limits?

    You can email me at KellyHafer@MSNNblog.com, if there is anything you can share.

    Thanks.

    Kelly

    • Kelly,
      Thank you so much for this!! I’m pretty sure it would be okay to email you his city/state privately, but let me just double-check with him. You know, so many times we face challenges without realizing that we don’t need to face them alone. Thank you in advance for any/all help. Thank you also for just wanting to take action. It truly touches my heart.

  6. Gina,
    Is is possible to send a card to you for RD? Another group that might be something of interest is Team Rubicon (?) Not sure if that is the name but it is veterans who get together and help during disasters, I know they helped out in Oklahoma after the tornadoes struck.

  7. Gina, this post was especially moving for me, for a number of reasons. I think the fact that RD is willing to talk about his experiences will be a great aid in helping him to adjust. I’m sure there must be veteran organizations as well where he can meet others who have traveled down the same road. I wish him the best of luck.

    • NP, as I was posting this, I thought of you and your family (for a number of reasons as well) I agree with you that being able to talk is a big plus for him. I hope he makes these connections with other vets. I think he needs that kind of knowing, empathetic support. And thank you for your good wishes. I want the best for him too.

  8. Gina ,
    Thank you so much for this story of what RD is going through…Personally im married to a vet (31 years worth) that has still the same problems RD has..and a Daughter that is med boarding out of the Marines …talking helps tremendously, supportive family also is a huge bonus for him! Please tell RD that there is life after the military and that he will indeed run into his brothers along the way. These brothers that are out already know exactly what he is going through and understand his feelings. Connect with them RD. You will make it through man, it wont be easy but you will be better. Thank You RD for your faithful service!! and God Bless!!!!

    • Lynn,
      Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words! I will make sure RD sees them. To know that others in his situation are thriving… that’s a gift that I can’t give him. Thank you for helping my friend. And I thank you and your entire family for your service.

  9. Gina,
    You find the most interesting facts about our military men and women. Most of the time I just sit by myself and cry, but afterwards I feel really good because there are so many people out there who really care.
    You keep us all informed and I want RD to know that we are praying for him and will continue to do so. P.S. I am one of your biggest fans !!!!!!!!!

    • Nana,
      I don’t mean to make you cry. But I am happy that you feel moved by the stories I share and that you can see you are not alone in caring for our military and their families. I will give RD your message. And thank you so much for being a fan 🙂

  10. Reblogged this on Melancholy Bluez! and commented:
    Ah-Ha! We have actually managed to correctly re log this article! Thank You, Gina, for sharing this – transition can be really hard on soldiers (I have personal experience, I remember my late father’s difficulties)…

  11. Gina, thank you so much for sharing this! We believe that transition back into “the civilian world” can be easy for some & more difficult for many (our late father was one of those who valiantly struggled after a career serving his country, but never really “transitioned” successfully). It’s important to let these men & women know that they are not alone…

    BTW: We’ve tried to follow your blog via the “follow” option & keep getting error messages (msg says subscription failed & try with a valid email address – we’ve tried 5 email addresses & continue to receive that error).

    • Phoenix,
      I am very sorry that your family has had personal experience with this. I feel that there is more awareness today than ever about transition challenges but that the “system” still falls short. While I am so grateful for all the people who have generously and kindly offered ideas, made calls and sent letters for RD, I wish it weren’t necessary. I wish he didn’t need our help.

      And for your father, please accept my both my heartfelt condolences and gratitude. Thank you for all the sacrifices you endured as well.

      Thank you for reading. And for trying so many times to follow! Sorry for the glitch. I will let WordPress know and try to figure it out!

  12. Pingback: Beating The Odds | Gina left the mall

    • I’ve had the honor of getting to know quite a few of our servicemen and women. All of them put their whole heart into doing what they do. I wish each one of them “felt the love” in return from the powers that be.

      While this is still a difficult time for RD, he was very moved by the comments and efforts of those that read this post. That makes me feel hopeful for whatever is next for him.

    • Thank you for sharing Mrs.Sarge! There have been some ups and downs (the sequester added bonus stress to the process) but hopefully, things are smoothing out. Thanks to a reader suggestion, he got interested in and made contact with someone at Team Rubicon. Hopefully that will work out and he was very touched by notes left here and that I forwarded. I just texted him that you reblogged this post. I wrote, “see how much you are loved?” This little piece of news brightened his day. So thank you for that!

  13. Hi Gina, hope you won’t mind if I ask you this, if you get to email RD again sometime. Will you tell him that I say “Thank You” to him for his wonderful service to our country!!

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