Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Nursing School or Basic Training?

On the 19th of August, I was in the college classroom for the first time since 2007.  It was interesting to be back in that atmosphere.  As I sat there, I started to see and hear some things that reminded me of my time in the military...and I mean Basic Training.

The first thing that I noticed is that we were all wearing uniforms,obviously.  This reminded me of sitting in a hot cramped room, waiting for the next step in the process.  Back in the "hurry up and wait" phase again. Our scrubs are blue and much more comfortable than the ACU.  Nursing may be an honorable profession, depending on who you ask, but it doesn't trump the feeling of dawning a tan beret every day.

As my cohort of 78 eager and anxious students sat there talking, another component of basic training was observed; everyone had different backgrounds.  The program that we are in is an Accelerated Bachelor's of Science in Nursing, so all of us have already received a four year degree.  There are individuals of different nationalities, careers, and ages; some of which are attorneys looking to make a career change.  And much like the military we have courses that are lecture type, and our clinical hours are the field training exercises. it's almost like the crawl,walk, run.

But who could forget the most important part of basic training?  Yes, that's right, the DS.  This time my drill sergeant wasn't wearing an intimidating hat, they were wearing a business casual attire.  They told us horror stories of individuals failing out and struggling to work and study.  How could it be that intimidating?  Well this program is 48 months worth of school compounded into 16 months.  Anxiety was running high, and my fellow students were scared, wondering if they got what it takes.

This semester, I am taking Pathophysiology, Pharmacology, Professional Nursing Concepts, Human Growth and Development, Nutrition, Dosage Calculations, and Fundamentals of Nursing.  It's a lot to take on, but is definitely achievable.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Round 2 of the Triangle of Death

Today's post is by Ranger veteran Jay Erwin

The next mission we were briefed on was going to be back at the same spot, The Triangle of Death. I knew that we were going to be going back and was a little apprehensive but very thankful because we did not have any casualties directly in my platoon. I knew it was just a matter of time that something bad was going to happen. You have to prepare for the worst but hope for the best in any combat situation. Alpha Company lost an E-4 SAW gunner when the enemy came out blazing his AK-47 after they breached a Connex. The enemy must have been holed up there for a while and knew he was out gunned and out manned. You see, Haj(slang for bad guy)- is good at getting lucky, this part of the war when the Muslim Extremists started using suicide tactics to take out the Allies. They would shoot a barrage of gunfire and then detonate a suicide vest as a last attempt to take out any Coalition Troops near him. This time I was close enough to the event that I heard the cracks of the AK rounds zipping above my head in a dug in position on the other side of the connex yard. He ended up getting one of our guys before the rest of the team pumped him with a blaze of 4-6 rounds ensuring his meeting with his promised 72 virgins.  That was the first time I heard the Company Commander get on the mike and announce the KIA (Killed in Action) battle roster number over the radio. It was a sad day but gave me more fuel and rage to eliminate the enemy. At this point, it wasnt about the United States, it wasnt about the War on Terror, it was about the guys there with me that were stuck in this war fighting. Fighting an unrecognizable enemy that used cowardliness as a tactic.. And  I did it for them, they were my brothers and they were the best guys I will ever get to serve with.

I truly cared about the guys I was fighting with and thought that it was awesome that just like myself they volunteered to fight this war. To me these are the greatest men of our generation and most of the guys I was with were true Americans. These guys were the freaks of the human beings, strong, mentally tough, and physically fit. We were all from different parts of the country, some from the south, some city boys, but most were from small town USA and loved the great outdoors. I found that most of them loved big trucks, any vehicle that went fast, and grew up shooting wild game. We all had so much in common it was unreal.  They did extraordinary tasks and did them well. I had a ton of confidence in the men I was fighting with, they were true american warriors and the bonds we all made will last a lifetime.

 A key member of our mortar team and my best friend Matt Bushong always said, "we arent fighting this war for anyone else, we are fighting this war for each other." Bush, as I called him, was a big burly country boy from Kentucky and had a deep southern drawl. He could quote the Vietnam War movie Platoon  word for word. He was a 6 foot 5 inch, 250 pound man that loved to get in on the action. And when we did a Mass Tactical Night Jump from a C-17 he was the first one to hit the ground and hit hard.  His hands were the size of a silver back gorilla and I am not exaggerating. I once witnessed Bush lift up our teams 6x6 Gator loaded down with equipment so a teammate could change the tire during a firefight. I mean a massive individual, his dad played football for the Green Bay Packers.

Back to the mission, This time I was going to be driving a modified John Deere 6x6 Gator off the helicopter with our mortar system and rounds on the back of it. I think I had close to 20 rounds in the bed of the work horse. We had went black on ammo the last time and almost had to be resupplied. So we ensured we had enough rounds to last long enough to bring the pain to the enemy for a decent amount of time. Plus, its always good to bring a gun to a knife fight especially in the Triangle Of Death. Fire superiority wins battles and allows the good guys to close with and destroy the enemy. Something we knew we could all handle and at the very least we all trained very hard to do so.

We were sent to a small FOB (Forward Operating Base) that was heavily fortified by HESCO barriers and sandbags because of the frequent incoming enemy mortar fire. We staged there before the big infil of the next mission. The combat outpost looked like a reinforced coffin thrown in the middle of a desert, if it wasnt being mortared it was in a hellish type of sandstorm. All the elements that went along with the FOB were dangerous. Even the flies and spiders were 3 times bigger and you could hear them running across the tent floor or buzzing around looking for the next victim. It wasn't a pleasant place.

We would stage here for about 3 nights and do equipment checks and commo checks to get a warm and fuzzy on all the missions' moving parts. The infil of any mission is also the biggest unknown and to me is one of the more scary parts of any mission. Although we had a ton of intelligence on the area and some great aerial photos to plan from, taken by some of the most top secret drones and reconnaissance elements. The bad guys always has a way of blending in with the locals so its unknown how many are farmers by day and fighters by night. It was go time and I was ready, the next night we would load the bird and fly in the enemies back yard and stir the hornets nest. This is what every infantryman trains for and it was our time to shine.

This is a picture of a sandstorm in the middle of the day. You can barely see the tower below the sun that was usually easily visible. 

Thanks for reading the blog, stay tuned for Round 3 of the Triangle Of Death! God Bless!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Double Check Your GI Bill

Today's post is by Cory (Run Ranger Run) Smith.

For the past year, I have been knocking out prerequisite courses to get into Marian University's BSN program (Bachelor of Science in Nursing).  My first degree, before I went into the military, was a Bachelor of Science in Communication Public Relations.  So, I had to take all the fun courses like Human Physiology, Microbiology, etc. to get up to speed to start Nursing School.  Being back in school has given me a sense of purpose beyond being a father.

School can be stressful, and I'm not talking about the studying and test taking side of it.  I am talking about the financial side of it.  Marian University is a private school in Indianapolis, which makes for high tuition costs.  My Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay for a majority of the cost of tuition and some books. Although the GI Bill is an amazing thing to utilize, it has it downfalls that can add undue stress.  It is a third party form of financial aid, that requires communication between the liaison at your school's VA office and the individual who handles your claim at the actual VA.  With any form of communication, there is noise that can distort a message being decoded by the receiving end, meaning things get lost in translation.  And with that being said, the same thing can happen between your school and the VA.

Yesterday, I was reviewing my most recent letter from the VA.  It notifies me about my enrollment dates, amount being paid for, and also the housing allowance that I qualify for.  Being in an accelerated program, I start new classes every eight weeks, so I have gotten many of these letters in the past year.  Reading over the info, I noticed that I the VA wasn't acknowledging that I was enrolled in courses at the current time.  Although my courses were being paid for, someone had entered the ending dates of my courses four weeks to early.  For the past month, I had not been getting paid my housing allowance, which is a large sum of money for a single parent raising a child.  For the majority of the morning I was getting things all squared away, and have back pay headed my way.

For those of you entering your first semester dealing with the GI Bill, pay attention to all the working parts involved.  Double tap the resources that are handling your information because after all, its your money that you earned, and nobody deserves it more than you.  Good luck to all those starting school, and I'll keep you all updated on how Nursing School is progressing.  Graduation is December 2014, so far yet so close.     

Friday, August 9, 2013

Make A Choice

Today's post is written by GallantFew guest blogger and US Army veteran, Larry Zabel.  Larry has coordinated with Landmark Education to provide scholarships to veterans through GallantFew.  If you are interested in this program, contact Larry.  More to follow soon on our website.

My job is to give you insight to my experience after leaving military service and share my experiences with you from my involvement with Landmark Education and the Landmark Forum. Landmark showed me the tools to use to get answers to the things that were bothering me that I didn't know were bothering me. It's like I got eyes on the inside of mind to see the things I put in my way that stopped me from living the life I want to be living. Instead I was just "stuck", but now I could see what was making me feel "stuck".

I came out of the army mad, angry, scared and hopeless. Not being able to get along in the civilian marketplace and polite society was agonizing. Not wanting to talk about if I deployed, what did I do? How many people did I kill (seriously)? What is the infantry? What does a Sergeant do? The questions never ended and it was the same questions over and over.

I got a complex about it. I created this story that caused me to avoid the subject all together.  Guilt set in. I felt that people were trying to find out if I was damaged in some way. In some ways I was, just wanted to be left alone. The Landmark Forum gave me the tools to be free from any guilt or shame I created around the subject. The difference now is that I now have the tools to be open about my experience in the Army. I can choose to share or not share.

The ability to choose is a powerful concept. When we have choice we have freedom. Choice is different than options. Options subject you to what circumstances dictate. That is a POWERFUL distinction. Choice allows me to dictate the direction I want to take -vs.- being left with a decision from what is leftover for me to pick from. Choice is a direction you take or a decision you consciously make to align your actions with your intentions. Choice is also being able to say no to something as well and not feeling bad about it either.

When your action, intention and choice line up you have a powerful force working in your favor and the best thing is that it is your own doing. It can also be your undoing to. If your choices, actions and intentions are out of alignment you leave yourself without the choices you say you want for yourself. So the direction you want to take or the conversations you want to have or not have are up to you.

I learned that I don't have to freak out every time someone asks me about my military career. I can choose to share or not share whatever information I feel comfortable talking about without my anxiety going through the roof, feeling guilty, or thinking the worst is about to happen or what ever. All that from a choice I made to do the Landmark Forum and the tools I got from it.

Landmark Insights: Breakdowns - the good, the bad, and the opening for action‏.

Choose Wisely,
Here For You

Larry Zabel

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Homecoming - a Powerful Look in the Mind of a Combat Veteran

Editor's note:  On Homecoming is reblogged from Operation Zeus. This is hands-down the best look into the mind and emotions of The New American Veteran and should be required reading for every citizen of the United States.  I've reformatted it for readability but have not changed the content.  Warning - it does contain strong language.


Coming home on leave (16 days at home about 2 times a year) was always fantastic, it really made me appreciate the world I lived in. After shit hit the fan in 2007, on a 15 month deployment where 8 dudes from my 30 man platoon got killed, and I got out, coming home for good, it wasn’t so nice. 
I moved back in with my mom (I was stationed in Germany), and had no idea what to do. Like 30 grand in the bank since I couldn’t really spend money deployed for 15 months, and absolutely no direction or desire. My mom called me out on being drunk for literally the first two days I was home, I mean not sleeping at all, I just stayed up all night, smoked cigarettes, and drank beer and 40s while looking at pictures of my friends who were still in, and those who died. She heard me sobbing at like 3 in the morning and came and sat with me, but I didn’t want her to, I didn’t want any relationships with anybody. I immediately missed everyone I served with. 
So I started sleeping and eating, and not being drunk EVERY day, but I didn’t know what to do. 23 or 24 years old, no one was around to tell me what to do anymore, and it sucked. I was depressed all the time, I couldn’t connect with my childhood and high school friends because we were so drastically different. I spent most nights driving two cities away, about 40 minutes, and getting shit faced until last call. Not trying to pick up girls, not having fun, just sitting at a bar drinking nonstop and playing pool with myself, then I would drive back home and go to sleep. I woke up after noon almost every day. 
Eventually I got pinched for a “Super Extreme DUI” (an Arizona thing) which netted me 45 days in jail and a total cost of about 9,000 dollars. I don’t remember if I was suicidal, but I had absolutely no emotion for anything going on in the world around me. 
I took drives to Oklahoma, where my buddy I told you about was from, and found solace in hanging out with his girlfriend, friends, and family (I didn’t move in on his girlfriend or anything, we were just friends). Being back home in Arizona was worse after going to Oklahoma. I tracked down two guys I served with who lived in North Carolina, and I threw everything I owned in my car, and drove across the country to live closer to them. I lived on my friend’s couch in West Virginia for about a week, but got burnt out by seeing him deal with his state job and his newly bought house, so I left him there. Made it to North Carolina, and my friends helped get me on track with college, I picked up a girlfriend, and lived in my buddy’s living room for about a year while I tried to figure everything out. 
Now, years later, I’m 5 classes from a BA in Communication Studies, and I still don’t really know what to do. I still drink a lot and have severe anger issues. I was a happy guy before Baghdad. So it sucks, man. 
I’m reflective enough to know that a lot of dudes like me lost any potential they may have had, depending on their time in the service. It’s not just that “war is ugly,” it’s so much more dynamic than that. No one I served with, no one I liked anyway, believed in the mission or the war, we just wanted to stay alive and go back home. A couple of us had been to Iraq two years earlier, and in 12 months we didn’t have to kill anybody. So we were like “Good. They left us alone, we’ll leave them alone.” But when we got to Baghdad the motherfuckers wouldn’t leave us alone. We weren’t kicking down doors or harassing people. We were just driving around for our patrols, checking out the city and talking to people, then going back to the base to jerk off, listen to music, sleep, and wait for the deployment to end. 
Then the bastards started killing us. 
First guy got shot in the back by a sniper, getting back into the hum vee to end the patrol. We cried, we learned to be more careful, and we learned that it wasn’t going to be the same. 
Then the fucking IEDs started coming. 
Dudes would dig big ass holes and stick hundreds of pounds of explosives in them, and we would drive over them and experience mass casualties. A guy laying in the road with no legs, his still booted and clothed legs lying on the curb a few feet away from him, and dudes full of shrapnel holes laying in the street, calmly saying “get me the fuck out of here,” through dirty, bloody grimaces. 
No Saving Private Ryan bullshit where dudes are hysterical, screaming for their mothers. Just wincing back tears, trying to look tough, even though a leg, or an arm was mangled like a plate of spaghetti, and they were completely defenseless. 18 year old guys, 19 year olds. Fucking teenagers, bleeding and dying in the streets. 
Anyway, we started to get mad. We started to hate the people for not warning us about bombs in the road, for not giving us info on the assholes who were hurting us. The Iraqis wouldn’t help us, and they wouldn’t help themselves. They just wanted to be left alone. But when your friends die in pieces, you get angry, you want blood, vengeance. It’s not about politics, nations, patriotism, revelry, or anything other than cold revenge. And we were armed to dish out that vengeance.
Unfortunately, we were fighting ghosts. We hardly ever got to kill our killers, so we had to pent up our anger and wait for an opportunity to release it. My platoon eventually quit, after one of our Bradleys (it’s like a tank, only a bunch of guys sit in the back of it) got flipped upside down, ripped in half, and killed all 5 of our soldiers inside of it. The driver burned alive, some dudes said they heard him screaming as they tried to get through the flames to save him. After that, my platoon quit. 
We told our leadership, straight up, “If you send us back into that city, we are going to kill everyone we see. We will go if you let us do that, but we are not going if you will not let us.” We all got punished, split apart, sent to other units. 
All our brotherhood and camaraderie was ripped from us. 
Then we got back to Germany. Then, guys like me, got out of the Army and went home for good, alone. Went home and took all that anger, all that resent, and all that fucking loss. It’s still there. It waits for a driver to cut us off, or some college kid to bitch about the war, then it comes out. 
Some of us drink to control it, to soothe it, to keep it at bay, but at a certain point alcohol just fucking amplifies it. Then, we do things like break our hand on a street sign, beat the shit out of some punk kid for saying something ignorant, or shooting a hole in our apartment wall because we were too drunk and nihilistic to give a fuck if the gun was loaded or not, sometimes it gets us into fights where we wake up in the street outside the bar after being choked out. 
Some guys kill themselves. Some keep themselves occupied with wives and kids, or 60 hour work weeks. Some of us just slip through life, hoping to be left alone. 
On Normandy Beach, when the Germans mowed down soldier’s buddies, the soldiers could take all their anger and frustration up the beach and throw it in the enemy’s face; they had a release. Our war doesn’t typically give us that, and it fucking sucks. It is crippling. so we survive. 
If you’re still with me here, there’s the short answer: Coming home sucks, and we just try to get by and act like everyone else.
— Words and image by anonymous (printed with author's permission)